2021 Leg Session, Energy, Featured, Gold Dome, Sherrie Peif

Increased gas and electric fees to pad funding of non-profit with big-salary employees

DENVER — A Colorado non-profit that already spends about 10 percent of its revenue on salaries and benefits is about to get a large, ratepayer-funded payday thanks to House Bill 21-1105, which will raise fees on electric and gas consumers of investor-owned utilities in Colorado.  The bill passed out of the legislature this week and awaits Governor Polis’ signature or veto.

According to the most recent IRS Tax form 990 filed by Energy Outreach Colorado for 2020, the organization paid out nearly $3 million of its $30 million in revenue on the salary and benefits of its employees, including more than $300,000 in salary and benefits for its executive director, Jennifer Gremmert.

Energy Outreach Colorado is a non-profit that is currently funded primarily by the Colorado Energy Office via state and federal tax dollar supported grants. It partners with industry, state and local entities to, among other things, subsidize low-income Coloradans’ energy costs.

Gremmert’s base salary in 2020 of $272,606 is twice that of Gov. Jared Polis ($124,000), and more than nearly all the K-12 superintendents across the state, including Denver and Jefferson County, the state’s two largest districts ($234,000 and $175,000, respectively). In most cases it is nearly triple.

In fact, Energy Outreach Colorado’s deputy director Jonathon Ilderton also makes more in base salary than the governor and most superintendents ($155,000), followed by the chief financial officer Marna Steuart ($121,000), chief communications officer Denise Stepto ($121,000) and the chief operations officer Lauren McClanahan ($99,000).

In addition to to the base salaries of its key officials and director, Energy Outreach Colorado also reports spending just under $2 million on benefits, taxes and other “salaries and wages.”

Under HB 1105, the nonprofit will benefit by an additional $18 million, (or more than a 50 percent increase) in revenue the first year and $27 million more in the second year of the new fee (nearly double Energy Outreach Colorado’s current revenue stream).

Under the bill, investor-owned utility customers will see an increase in their electric and gas bills by 50 cents per month for from October 2021 to September 2022, 75 cents from October 2022 to September 2023 and then increased based on inflation every year after that.

“Every day Colorado becomes less affordable for the middle class and poor because of bad public policy decisions at the state level,” said House District 63 Rep. Dan Woog, R-Erie, in a recent opinion piece in Colorado Politics. “There is nothing voluntary about House Bill 1105. Your utility costs will increase, and an unelected and unaccountable government agency will communicate information (that some might think is confidential) to an unelected and unaccountable organization.”

Woog was referencing the fact the money collected will flow directly from the utilities to the non-profit, with no government oversight or intervention.

“No one objects to charity — but the thing about charity is this: it’s a choice,” Woog said. “We need a government that helps, not hurts. … In the wake of COVID-19 and awash in billions of federal dollars, can the state stop demanding more money from the rest of us?”

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