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Utility ratepayers throng a hearing in Pueblo.
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State Senate embraces greater transparency for utility bills

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Ratepayers steamed at their local public utilities likely will cheer an effort that advanced at the Capitol Thursday requiring greater accountability on monthly power bills.

Senate Bill 105, which easily passed the state Senate 26-9 with bipartisan backing, requires investor-owned, state-regulated public utilities like Xcel Energy serving the Denver area and Black Hills Energy in Pueblo to provide their customers with “comprehensive billing statements.” Utility bills would have to meet a range of standards set out in the proposal, including a line-item representation of all monthly charges and credits; a breakdown of controversial tiered rates, and the rate and usage for the current month and each of the previous 12 months.

Whether the proposal winds up being more substance or sop for consumers — we’re unsure at the moment how many power bills around the state may already conform to some of the bill’s requirements — the measure’s author, Sen. Leroy Garcia of Pueblo, clearly was hoping to address ratepayer discontent in his hometown. There, power rates are by many accounts among the highest in Colorado, and the community has been the scene of ratepayer outrage more than once in recent years in the face of successive rate hikes.

Garcia’s legislation doesn’t directly tackle the utility rates themselves — those are governed by the Colorado Public Utilities Commission — but it does at least seek to provide a dose of accountability ratepayers may feel is missing.

The legislation, which now goes to the House, follows the state Senate’s confirmation earlier this month of Gov. John Hickenlooper’s two picks — Jeff Ackermann and Wendy Moser — to fill two openings on the three-member Public Utilities Commission. Both nominations had been given a grilling earlier in committee, and Garcia was among a handful of senators who opposed both to the end. He told the Denver Business Journal of his disappointment at their approval:

“I believe that we have a responsibility to ensure that the PUC is acting in the best interests of the rate payers…In southern Colorado we are paying some of the highest electric rates in the state, and they have allowed Black Hills Energy to pass these increases to customers.”

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