Dear Eartha, my monthly utility bills have gone through the roof the past few months. I’m not doing anything dramatically different, so why are my bills so much higher? Is there anything I can do to bring that cost down?
I’ve been hearing this question A LOT lately. Chilly weather and a near doubling in the price of natural gas over the last year have left Summit County residents with staggering bills. These soaring bills can quickly throw your monthly bottom line into a tailspin, even making it difficult for some to make ends meet. Even if you have your monthly utility payments on autopilot, it’s definitely worth putting a critical eye on how much you’re paying for energy this winter.
The main culprit: natural gas
Natural gas is the most common source of fuel used to heat homes in Summit County. In recent years, and especially in recent months, the price for natural gas has risen dramatically. In fact, the average residential utility bill in Colorado increased by 54% when comparing December 2022 to a year ago. Yowzah!
What’s going on here? Gas is an extremely volatile fuel source. When the market price increases like it did consistently throughout 2022, utility customers pay for it on their bills. On top of that, Xcel Energy requested and received approval from the Public Utilities Commission – the agency that regulates utilities in the state – for additional fees to charge their customers. These fees are largely going towards costs of building additional natural gas infrastructure and to make up for losses incurred during extreme weather events in 2021, which drove gas prices sky high.
Some customers only purchase electricity from the utility and might be thinking they’re in the clear. Unfortunately, right now that isn’t the case. Xcel Energy’s electric grid is currently powered roughly 40% by renewables like wind and solar, 30% by coal, and 30% by natural gas. And in light of recent supply chain issues around the coal industry, Xcel has been leaning more heavily on natural gas to power the electric grid. That means even on the electricity portion of your bill, natural gas’ volatility and price spikes are adding fees and costs.
Save money with energy conservation and clean energy
It’s true that some of these factors are out of our control, but there is actually a lot you can do to minimize rising utility expenses.
One of the best things to do first is to get a home energy assessment. Information is power, and the assessment report you receive provides specific details and recommendations on how you can save energy in your home. In 2022, customers of the High Country Conservation Center’s Energy Smart Colorado program were saving an average of $572 annually after completing energy efficiency projects. These investments will have greater payoffs the higher energy prices climb.
There are also a lot of simple things you can do around your home to conserve energy, and those can include thermostat setbacks, swapping to LED lighting, and sealing up air leaks.
Renewable sources of energy, like wind and solar, offer much more price stability and cost savings than finite fossil fuels. For those who can afford the upfront cost, putting solar on your roof insulates you from electricity price increases, providing major returns on investment over the life of the panels. Sign up for the local Solarize Summit program for a head start and assistance getting solar on your roof.
Explore your options
Finally, for anyone that is truly struggling to pay high utility bills there are some great assistance programs to help. Energy Outreach Colorado (EOC) is dedicated to supporting Colorado residents by providing home energy assistance and help paying bills. They can be reached at 303-825-8750. The Weatherization Assistance Program, Colorado’s Affordable Residential Energy, and Low-income Energy Assistance Program are all excellent resources for qualifying households to take greater control of energy in their homes. Another amazing option is EOC’s low-income solar garden program. This program guarantees you monthly savings on your bill and on average households save 50% on electricity costs for the year.
You’re not alone. Energy costs have been eye-opening for everyone lately. Focusing on what you can control and steering towards a more reliable, efficient, clean energy future will reward you with utility bill stability and more cash in your pocket.