At the end of February, much of the country was gripped by an arctic blast known as a polar vortex. Yet amid the frigid temperatures were heartwarming stories of people helping people.
In Chicago, one woman paid for hotel rooms for 70 homeless people — an act of generosity that highlighted the plight of homeless and low-income families during the winter months.
Here in Colorado, we dodged the polar vortex, but our state is no stranger to sub-zero temperatures. And for hundreds of thousands of Colorado families, staying warm while also managing to put food on the table is a daily struggle.
For those with a lower income, energy costs account for a significant portion of their limited budget. In Colorado, as of 2017, more than a quarter of a million households lived in “energy poverty” — broadly defined as spending more than 10 percent of one’s income on energy bills.
For families at 50-100 percent of the poverty level, energy costs eat up 17 percent of their annual income; for families below 50 percent of the poverty level, it’s more than 30 percent.
Given these statistics it’s alarming that affordability isn’t one of Gov. Jared Polis’ chief concerns in his broader energy policy. In fact, some of the governor’s initiatives seem to turn a blind eye to the troubles of hardworking — but struggling — Coloradans.
Case in point: Gov. Polis’ lofty pledge to have Colorado powered by 100 percent renewable energy by 2040 is inspired by a plan many acclaimed researchers say includes “significant shortcomings” and “errors, inappropriate methods, and implausible assumptions.” And in accordance with this push, his administration has doled out $10.3 million to a California company to install electric vehicle charging stations. The governor’s pledge has even brought renewed life to renewable energy bills working through the Senate, including a measure that would allow public utility companies to construct and maintain electric vehicle stations and force ratepayers to foot the bill.
We all want cleaner air and more fuel-efficient transportation, and electric vehicles may one day be a part of that. But at this time, electric cars are simply too expensive for many Coloradans. A 2017 Carmax survey revealed that most electric car owners earn more than $75,000 a year.
Bottom line: the $10.3 million our state government plans to spend on this project and the measure making its way through the legislature will benefit an already privileged few. According to the most recent data available, only 0.25 percent of cars on the road in our state are electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles. Do these people really need a subsidy?
In the 2016-2017 winter season, home-heating costs increased dramatically: propane prices increased by more than 100 percent, the cost of natural gas increased by more than 91 percent, and fuel oil by nearly 13 percent. In 2016, the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program helped to cover 88,849 energy bills in Colorado. The next year it covered 50,908 bills. There remain many low-income families at the mercy of fluctuating energy prices who aren’t getting any help.
Making current fuel sources more affordable would be a more positive step lawmakers could take. Yet, that doesn’t seem to be on the to-do list, either. Just the opposite, actually, as legislators and activists say this session they will seek to make it harder for companies to access and develop our state’s abundant energy resources.
Such measures threaten more than energy prices. They also threaten Colorado jobs and the local economies that depend on the energy industry.
Cleaner, abundant renewable energy is a worthy cause — and there are many dynamic companies accomplishing exciting work in this field. But when it comes to energy policy, our elected leaders should put the people they work for first.
Jesse Mallory is Colorado state director of Americans for Prosperity.