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After decades of saving ratepayers money, Colorado’s utility watchdog has a new name and expanded responsibilities
DENVER - After 37 years of critical watchdog work that has resulted in nearly $2 billion in savings for utility ratepayers, the Office of Consumer Counsel will be the Office of the Utility Consumer Advocate (UCA) moving forward. Reauthorized by the Colorado General Assembly this year for another seven years and with modernized responsibilities and additional resources and staffing, the UCA has new momentum to advocate for affordably-priced, safe and reliable utility service.
“The decisions made by utilities have huge impacts on our health and the rates and costs we pay to light and heat our homes,” said Danny Katz, CoPIRG executive director. “For utilities like Xcel Energy and Black Hills Energy, many of those decisions happen in proceedings before the Public Utilities Commission. They are complicated to say the least. While the utilities have the resources to ensure their voices are heard, consumers and ratepayers would not without the Colorado Utility Consumer Advocate. For decades they have asked the tough questions and saved ratepayers hundreds of millions of dollars.”
Since it was created in 1984, the UCA, or Office of Consumer Counsel as it was called for decades, has represented the public interest and the specific interests of residential, small business and agricultural consumers in electric and natural gas proceedings before the Public Utilities Commission, federal agencies, and the courts.
“We are excited to be given continued authority by the General Assembly to represent the Public Interest and utility consumers in the important decision-making about their energy bills and utility services,” said Cindy Schonhaut, Director of the UCA. “We will continue our intense focus and fierce advocacy on behalf of the Public Interest in state policy-making proceedings and before federal agencies. And the General Assembly decided to add to our mission the extraordinary responsibility to give due consideration to state decarbonization goals and legislative priorities regarding just transition and environmental justice to ensure all consumers are represented in a robust, transparent and accessible manner.”
In the last five years, the UCA’s advocacy led to a number of accomplishments including:
- Saving consumers hundreds of millions of dollars in recent cases in which electric and gas utilities - Xcel Energy and Black Hills Energy - sought to increase consumers’ bills
- Ensuring that consumers facing the significant financial consequences of the COVID pandemic would not have their electric and gas services disconnected because they couldn’t pay their bills; requiring that any customers who were disconnected would be reconnected without having to pay any fees or deposits; and safeguarding customers’ ability to pay their past due amounts over time
- Fought for customers facing major bill increases for electric and gas service provided during the extreme cold on Presidents’ Day Weekend in February 2021 and continuing to provide robust advocacy on the utilities’ proposals to pass extraordinary fuel costs on to customers; the incremental costs for fuel to keep the lights and heat on that weekend amount to approximately $750 million
- Watchdogged various Xcel Energy and Black Hills Energy proceedings to ensure excess profits were shared with ratepayers
“The utility space has changed significantly since 1984 and the cases have gotten even more complicated. As utilities and the state quickly move to reduce air pollution and tackle climate change by ramping up renewable energy, energy efficiency programs and plugging in cleaner vehicles to the cleaner electric grid, it’s critical that the UCA is working to support those shifts in ways that protect consumers and ratepayers. It’s what they have done for years and I’m glad we’ve got this consumer watchdog for years to come,” said Katz.
The Colorado Office of the Utility Consumer Advocate (UCA, a division within the Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA), represents residential, small business, and agricultural utility consumers as a class in electric and natural gas proceedings before the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC). The UCA does not regulate; it advises and advocates on behalf of consumers. The UCA helps consumers by lowering or eliminating proposed utility rate increases and by ensuring that utility rates, regulations and policies are more equitable for residential, small business, and agricultural consumers. Visit uca.colorado.gov for more information.
DORA is dedicated to preserving the integrity of the marketplace and is committed to promoting a fair and competitive business environment in Colorado. Consumer protection is our mission. Visit www.dora.colorado.gov for more information or call 303-894-7855/toll free 1-800-886-7675 outside of Denver.
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