2021 Leg Session, Columnists, Energy, Featured, Jon Caldara

Caldara: Legislature stacking the deck against energy ratepayers

Imagine you’re hauled into court. The prosecutor is paid to get you punished. We all get that.

Now imagine the law changed so that the judge’s job is also to get you punished. And finally, imagine if your defense lawyer has to work against you.

Well, that’s pretty much what has happen to you as an energy consumer. Power utilities play the prosecutor; the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) is the judge, and the Office of Consumer Council (OCC) is your court-appointed defender.

Senate Bill 21-103 will make sure everyone in the process who is supposed to financially protect you — gets paid to nail you.

Providing power in Colorado is a monopoly, competition not allowed. A power company could charge whatever it wants, and we’d have to pay it unless we wanted to burn dung in our apartments to keep warm. It’s why utilities like Xcel Energy are highly regulated — to protect us ratepayers from being fleeced.

To that end the state created the Public Utilities Commission with one overriding mission — make sure that Coloradans are paying the least cost for their power.

Keep in mind that the PUC still guarantees the power company a profit.

Let’s reflect on that. Guaranteed to make profit. WHATEVER they can convince the PUC is their product cost, they get to slap a big fat profit on it, and we have to pay it.

So, to make even more profit, all they have to do is make sure their costs go up. And environmentalists are happy to assist this goal.

They passed the law to convert coal generators to natural gas, so companies are now paying off two plants instead of one. This old double dip is passed on to us.

The PUC could require the shareholders of the power company to pay the cost, like in a competitive industry, but they don’t. Mandated wind farms and solar means more things to buy, increasing cost. Then add the profit on that, too.

Most folks don’t know that wind farms and solar need backup generators because the wind doesn’t always blow, and the sun doesn’t always shine, and new power lines are needed to get to those backup generators.

Forget double dipping, it’s quadruple dipping. Energy companies aren’t in the power business anymore. Their incentive is to be in the building-stuff-to-pass-along-costs business.

Good thing the PUC’s first and overriding goal is to keep prices down! But wait. That’s no longer their goal. A few years back, the PUC changed its mission to environmental protection, but you know, in a cost-effectivy way, of course.

Power at least cost is the polar opposite of feel-good green energy.

The PUC stood as the judge, the referee to make sure utilities played fair. With this change in their mission, they might as well take off their ref’s zebra uniform and put on the energy company’s uniform and enjoy the cheers from the greenies in the stands.

The very last bit of consumer protection working families have is the under-powered Office of Consumer Counsel, the defender you get free when you can’t afford a good one.

The OCC’s job is to act on behalf of us ratepayers and argue in front of the PUC that they (the PUC) shouldn’t approve a rate increase.

Good thing the OCC’s first and overriding goal is to keep prices down! But wait. That might not be their goal anymore.

Senate Bill 103, sponsored by Stephen Fenberg and Faith Winter, would change the mission of the OCC from protecting your wallet to promoting environmental activism.

It would require OCC to work on “statutory decarbonization goals,” “just transition” and “environmental justice,” rather than cost when deciding to fight a rate increase.

Nothing says looking out for the working family’s pocketbook like forcing them to pay for “environmental justice.”

It takes away the agency’s autonomy and puts it under the control of the governor’s office via the head of his Department of Regulatory Affairs.

That cabinet member works explicitly for Gov. Jared Polis — who has been green-whipped by the looney wing of his party — not for you or your pocketbook. Welcome, dear defendant, to Colorado’s kangaroo energy court.

Jon Caldara is president of the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Denver.

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