Ritter Signs Utility Bill

A bill that would make it easier for utility regulators to help low-income residents with their energy bills was made into law this week, after sailing through the House and Senate.

The law will allow the state’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC)-consisting of three members who are appointed by the Governor for four-year terms-to consider electric and gas rates for customers who are at or below 185% of the federal poverty level.The bill does not detail a specific plan to help low-income residents, but it does empower the PUC to come up with such a plan, a first step in helping those who have trouble paying their utility bills.

In February, Colorado Confidential reported on a committee hearing of the bill:

Cameron Graham, representing the Colorado American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), testified that state-wide survey found that 78% of association members were concerned about rate increases, while 13% said they had cut back on purchasing food or prescription drugs to pay their natural gas bill.

The federal Low-Income Energy Assistance Program (LEAP) operates in Colorado during the winter to assist those who are having problems paying their energy bill, but as one speaker pointed out during the hearing, the program bases energy needs on weather from previous years, which can leave many out in the cold if the following winter proves to be harsh.

While the Rocky Mountain News has come out against the measure, saying it will turn the PUC into a “welfare agency,” this appears to be one of those rare cases where progressive legislation has been passed without a political struggle.

Erin Rosa was born in Spain and raised in Colorado Springs. She is a freelance writer currently living in Denver. Rosa's work has been featured in a variety of news outlets including the Huffington Post, Democracy Now!, and the Rocky Mountain Chronicle, an alternative-weekly in Northern Colorado where she worked as a columnist covering the state legislature. Rosa has received awards from the Society of Professional Journalists for her reporting on lobbying and woman's health issues. She was also tapped with a rare honorable mention award by the Newspaper Guild-CWA's David S. Barr Award in 2008--only the second such honor conferred in its nine-year history--for her investigative series covering the federal government's Supermax prison in the state. Rosa covers the labor community, corrections, immigration and government transparency matters. She can be reached at erosa@www.coloradoindependent.com.