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Local News

Summer Heat Brings Little Relief for High Utility Bills

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Eric Galatas, Producer

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

The same families who had to apply for emergency assistance when heating bills skyrocketed this past winter could face similar challenges this summer, especially if they need to run their air conditioners during peak hours between 1 p.m. and 7 p.m.

Denise Stepto, chief communications officer for Energy Outreach Colorado, said keeping homes cool when temperatures spike is just as important as staying warm when it is freezing outside.

“We know from a health perspective that being too hot in your home, particularly for households with children, or older people, or people with disabilities, this is very unhealthy,” Stepto explained.

A spike in natural gas prices this past winter saw Colorado energy bills double and even triple, making payments extremely difficult for low-wage workers and people living on fixed incomes. Energy Outreach Colorado’s Bill Payment Assistance program saw a 21% increase in applicants for assistance over the previous year. The group paid 55%, or $4.5 million more than last year, on past-due bills.

Xcel Energy blamed rising natural gas costs for high utility bills, yet the company’s gross profits in 2022 were 10% higher than the previous year at $8.3 billion. Colorado lawmakers responded by passing legislation to limit some of the costs utilities can pass along to customers, but Stepto argued more needs to be done to address volatile utility bills across the state.

“There was attention, and I think we’ve heard lawmakers actually say ‘we have to start addressing the issue,'” Stepto recounted. “It’s the beginning, and hopefully it will continue.”

Stepto added many families are still trying to pay down their winter bills, and she worries people facing difficult choices could put themselves at risk by turning off fans or air conditioners.

“They’re making dangerous choices in their home,” Stepto emphasized. “They’re juggling, whether I pay my utility bill, or do I buy food, do I buy my medication, do I pay my rent?” 

Disclosure: Energy Outreach Colorado contributes to our fund for reporting on Energy Policy. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.

This story first appeared in Public News Service, a member-supported news site to engage, educate and advocate for the public interest.