Columnists, Energy, Environment, Jon Caldara, Public Utilities Commission, Uncategorized

Caldara: Monopoly utilities, PUC team up against captive ratepayers

So, while China is building a new dirty coal-fired power plant every week, who should pay the price to “save the planet” with expensive green energy? Well, we the captive ratepaying customers, the working people of Colorado of course!

How do Colorado’s crony energy companies get away with it? To use the Godfather analogy, it happens because the chief of police, the Colorado Public Utilities Commission in this case, works for the mob boss.

Since there’s no actual competition for a monopoly; you can’t switch to a less expensive competitor for your electricity and natural gas here (like you can in other states), and there’s no force to keep energy prices down.

This is why the Public Utilities Commission’s job was (key word there) to fight for the least cost energy while protecting our environment. That mission has been turned on its head. Least cost is the PUC’s very last priority. This suits the greenies and the corporate cronies just fine.

Energy companies, like Xcel, are guaranteed a “rate of return.” That’s guaranteed profit on whatever they do. Anything they do! Thus, their business model is not providing power. It’s building stuff. Any stuff!

Consequently, they love “environmental” mandates.

For every windmill they put up, they get to charge you for building it. And then they get to charge you for the backup generator for when the wind doesn’t blow. And then they get to charge you for the transmission lines from both windmill and the backup generators.

All this while they keep charging you to pay off the mortgage on the coal-fired plant they just turned off.

It’s not a double dip. It’s a triple dip. And the PUC enables it.

Here’s a little case-in-point:

A couple of years back, before Polis’s current screw-the-poor PUC, a group of customers banded together, with the help of the Independence Institute, in a coalition to formally object to a bloated Xcel windfarm project.

Now get this, to officially object to the PUC about any project which is going to cost you gobs of money, you must beg for permission to object from…the PUC. Basically, before you go to the police to report a crime you must beg permission from the police chief for permission to report it.

This Coalition of Ratepayers found expensive errors in Xcel’s proposal, which they had to fix. Good thing the coalition was granted permission to save ratepayers millions.

Fast forward to today. Xcel wants to shutter some of the cleanest-burning coal plants in the world, Comanche in Pueblo, for their patented triple-dip scheme. The Coalition of Ratepayers begged to intervene and object to it at the PUC.

Xcel told the PUC not to grant them permission. So, guess what? Polis’s PUC, the police chief under the Godfather’s control, denied them permission to present an argument on why captive ratepayers shouldn’t be forced to pay for it.

We captive ratepayers are supposed to be placated by the government’s own crack team of consumer advocates, the Office of Consumer Council (which is getting the fluffier name Utility Consumer Advocate). The rub is that this office now answers directly to a governor appointee, the same governor demanding expensive energy.

This is a truly evil arrangement. Our governor-appointed PUC, and now his OCC, which are supposed to protect us from this type of corruption work now facilitate it instead. Colorado’s system is rigged against customers.

There are two reforms that the legislature should make (and when they don’t should be put on the ballot via citizens initiative).

First, since the PUC should represent the interests of the people, they should be chosen by the people. It shouldn’t be the political plaything of any governor. Just as we elect the board of regents to run the University of Colorado (and unlike energy, no one is forced to buy their education only from CU) we should elect the PUC board.

And secondly, if we are going to be forced to pay for all these new toys, ratepayers shouldn’t be the only ones to bear the cost of the triple dip. They should be evenly split with the owners of the monopoly.

At some point, if environmentalists truly want to do something about climate change, they’re going to have to embrace nuclear energy and take on China. Anything else is virtue signaling, at the expense of the working poor.

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

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