Opinion

‘Colorado Energy Plan’ is a raw deal for the state’s low-income citizens

Author: Derrick Hollie - August 27, 2018 - Updated: August 26, 2018

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Derrick Hollie

Last summer, Xcel Energy introduced its “Colorado Energy Plan” (CEP) to great fanfare and hype. The Minneapolis-based public utility, which provides electricity to 1.4 million Coloradans, proposed a $2.5 billion plan to shut down affordable baseload power in favor of intermittent wind and solar, and it claimed it would save customers money.

Lower electric bills and clean air! That sounds like good news for low income and minority communities, right? Unfortunately, Xcel’s proposal crumbles under even the slightest level of inquiry. If the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (COPUC) approves the plan, the most economically disadvantaged Coloradans stand to suffer the most.

Let’s use some common sense. Xcel Energy, which gets cost plus 10 percent for building more capacity, wants to close 660 megawatts of efficient, affordable, environmentally superior coal power so it can build more than 2,000 megawatts of wind, solar and batteries. How is that going to save customers money? It won’t – not for decades to come, if ever. Show me a low-income community or individual that can live on a promise of lower bills that “might happen” some three decades in the future.

As president of Reaching America, a non-profit focused on policy matters affecting the black community, I’ve developed a pretty good eye for false promises. After all, when the public good is undermined, the least privileged of society are among the first to take a hit.

That’s exactly what would happen if Xcel’s plan is approved by the Colorado Public Utilities Commission. A host of organizations, economists, and issue experts have dug into the Colorado Energy Plan, and what they found is troubling. The plan is unlikely to ever pay for itself and that Colorado ratepayers would be on the hook for rate increases, possibly a half billion dollars’ worth or more.

In its unrelenting quest for positive media attention, Xcel has been vigorously pushing for what really amounts to a self-enriching policy benefitting only its Minneapolis-based executives and its Wall Street shareholders while Xcel customers would assume all the financial risk.

That is not what most of us would describe as an enhancement of the public good.

One of my organization’s key issues is energy policy, specifically energy poverty. In underprivileged communities, families often struggle to pay basic bills, including the dreaded monthly utility bill. In the summer and the winter, these costs can become prohibitive.

We are in the midst of a domestic energy renaissance, producing more energy at home than ever before. Costs to American consumers should be stable, perhaps even dropping. But over the past 14 years, Coloradans have seen their electricity rates rise 62 percent; that’s over 50 percent higher than the national average during the same period of time.

Xcel’s 1.4 million Colorado customers have no choice but to pay the bill. And worse, less than 15 years ago, Xcel customers paid $190 million for environmental upgrades to the very plants that the company now plans to close, decades ahead of schedule!

Some people are enamored with the promises of green policies, including fuel switching schemes like the CEP, but the reality for low income families isn’t good. Bill increases could mean choosing between heat or medicine.

Xcel might get away with this. Confident executives brag on investor calls about what the CEP could mean for the company’s asset base. They know if the COPUC approves their plan, they’re getting paid, no matter what it means for Colorado customers.

That’s exactly why the commission must reject Xcel’s scheme. Lower-income people already are often unable to pay their utility bills on time or in full. Xcel’s plan would bring pain to Colorado’s most disadvantaged communities.

As a society, we can do better by our fellow man, and we must. Let’s hope the commission agrees.

Derrick Hollie

Derrick Hollie

Derrick Hollie is president of Reaching America, in Washington, D.C., and host of the "Reaching America on Demand" podcast.