On January 31, 2013, at 9:00 a.m. Administrative Law Judge, Gomez, will hold a hearing regarding establishment of a medical exemption to Xcel Energy’s tiered rates for summer with Colorado’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC) at 1560 Broadway, Suite 110, Hearing Rm. B, Denver CO, 80202. The public is invited and I specifically encourage you to attend. To review, see HRG: 11R-707E Prop Rules for Exemption from Inverted Block Rates.
Now approaching 3 years, Xcel’s tiered rates amount to a tax on disability. Xcel is a monopoly and we are its captive customers.
I have multiple sclerosis and in 2010 I contacted the CO-WY Chapter of the NMSS and asked if anyone there was doing anything about the pending Tiered Rates system being implemented by Xcel Energy. The response was that Sharon O’Hara (the Chapter’s Executive VP), her staff, and me to attend a PUC meeting and where we were told nothing could be done because the State Constitution forbade giving one group preference over another.
At that point, Sharon O’Hara and her staff worked with then Colorado Senate President Pro-tem, Betty Boyd, and other State legislators to unanimously pass Senate Bill-11-087 Medical Exemption Tiered Rate Plan that was signed into law by the Governor in 2011 giving the PUC and public utilities the authority to create an exemption from tiered electricity rate plans based on a person’s medical condition.
THE COMMISSION MAY ADOPT RULES CREATING AN EXEMPTION FROM ANY TIERED
ELECTRICITY RATE PLAN BASED ON A CUSTOMER’S MEDICAL CONDITION OR USE OF
AN ESSENTIAL LIFE SUPPORT DEVICE.
The bill further states:
“The general assembly hereby finds, determines, and declares that this act is necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, and safety.”
Granted: no funds were allocated by the Legislature, yet the PUC and Public Utilities were directed and granted the authority to make this accommodation as a matter of “public health and safety.” NOT on profitability. However the PUC and Xcel continue to baulk at providing any meaningful relief as now allowed by law. It appears these entities hope we’ll get tired and go away. That said, Sharon O’Hara, the NMSS, people who have MS, and I have refused to give in and go away.
Xcel’s insistence on a means test is not consistent with the law. Income threshold is an excuse. People with MS who perhaps make $60k a year could easily have medical bills of $30k. No agency or charity is set-up to perform means testing for multiple sclerosis.
The inclusive nature of Senate Bill 11-087 was a positive; yet much of the original effort to fairly accommodate MS medical necessity got side-tracked by the “me too” medical reasons and other interest groups so we are refocusing the effort on the original goal of solely addressing Multiple Sclerosis heat sensitivity.
“We ask the PUC and Xcel NOT to focus on the cost — which we believe to be minimal — rather on the State’s objective of ensuring “immediate preservation of the public peace, health, and safety.”
Xcel has taken the unlegislated social consciousness (conservation) approach and imposed a surtax via Tiered Rates. How much extra revenue has Xcel Energy received as a result of this “penalty tax?” Was that income projected? Is not that as relevant as the cost to Xcel? Xcel originally stated its Tiered Rates system was “revenue neutral.”
Per Xcel’s own website on 24 May 2010, regarding its Tiered Rates: “Designed to be revenue neutral, company leaders and regulators hope it may inspire consumers to reduce their energy usage during summer months.” “Hope?!” What about due diligence?
The PUC itself acknowledged that public notification of the invitation for testimony was likely lacking. Instead, Xcel and the PUC imposed what amounts to a tax on disability. Xcel’s “Projected revenue” is not fact. Yet Xcel uses that as its excuse. Projected income is an educated guess based on assumptions and a business necessity. HOWEVER, when it comes to projecting income from real data, Xcel washes its hands of the action and places the responsibility on individuals and Charities.
“Public” Utility? If that were true the PUC and Xcel would take action on the State’s granted authority.
Is Xcel so afraid of lawsuits that it won’t act on legislated authority?! Blaming it’s inaction first on the State Constitution then feigning poverty and undue burden on its other customers is an attempt to wash their hands of any duty to this small segment of its customers and the specific intent of the State Legislature. Is Xcel concerned about setting a precedence? Perhaps not in the legal sense, but by encouraging other groups to pursue similar accommodations if this is implemented.
By its own inference Xcel didn’t need additional revenue generated by Tiered Rates, yet has gained a windfall generated on the backs of the disabled. Multiple Sclerosis heat sensitivity is not something that just makes its sufferers feel better: staying cool is essential to functioning.
Tiered Rates were implemented as an environmental conservation method: sending a message and to “punish” those who use “too much” electricity for A/C in the summer. i.e. “you can put up with being a little hotter.” In establishing Tiered Rates Xcel and the PUC seem to have brushed aside collateral medical consequences in favor of Social Accommodation and Environmentalism.
Xcel’s 2010 article continues “By letting customers know they will pay more for energy use above 500-kilowatt hours we hope they will be more informed about the cost of electricity and consider reducing their use during the summer when it costs the most to buy and produce energy,” said Karen Hyde, vice president of regulatory affairs. “To offset the increase during the summer, the lower Tier 1 rate will be in effect during the remaining eight months of the year. The program is designed to be revenue neutral for us and give customers incentive to conserve energy when our costs our highest.”
For the last two-years-plus the PUC and Xcel have NEVER demonstrated any intent to give a medical necessity accommodation to ANYONE who isn’t already impoverished.
It is pretty sad. Those who are affected are the very people who find it difficult to attend a hearing like this because of their health. Thus, I believe Xcel and the PUC don’t see the issue as important enough to take any kind of effective action: [As in] “obviously it isn’t important since very few people bother to come to the hearings.”
I’m neither appointed nor paid to be at this meeting. But this is personal.