January 12, 2001

Businesses feel helpless as fuel bills soar

Business Report Correspondent

There’s little relief in sight for businesses struggling with skyrocketing heating bills. Rate hikes in the past year mean most will could see heating bills twice as high as last year.

The Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC) approved a 40 percent rate increase Jan. 5 requested by Xcel Energy for its customers in Colorado. The hike took effect the next day. Together with two other hikes in the last

year, it means many heating bills have doubled in the past year.

At IBM in Boulder, “we’re up against the same type of increases,´ said spokesperson Ray Blomgren. IBM’s heating bill for November 2000, he said, was about 50 percent higher than November 1999. Blomgren said IBM budgeted for the higher heating costs and is not turning down the thermostat to save money. “We have 5,000 to 6,000 people on site ? we want to be as conservative as possible, but we need to be as efficient as possible, to make sure employees are comfortable and productive.”

Guests and employees at the Hotel Boulderado won’t feel a chill, either. “It’s a colder winter and what are we doing? We’re paying our bill. There’s not much else we can do,´ said Mary Ann Mahoney, public relations director for the downtown Boulder hotel. “We’re in the hospitality business. (Customers) are here, doing business, paying their price at home and every business is paying their price.” Mahoney said the hotel’s heating bill, like IBM’s, was up 50 percent in November from the same period a year earlier.

And though business in winter is slower to begin with at Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, Shift Manager Erin Wilson said the shop on the Pearl Street Mall is keeping its doors open — literally — for business. “We leave the doors open during the day, and most of the time at night,´ said Wilson, who added that it makes the store seem “more open and friendly.”

Xcel says it won’t see any boost to its bottom line from the hikes, including the latest one that totaled $360 million. “We don’t produce gas, we don’t explore for it,´ said Xcel spokesperson Mark Salley. “We purchase gas in the marketplace; as those costs fluctuate, we pass the costs on to customers.”

Salley said spot prices for natural gas have quadrupled in the past year, prompting Xcel to ask and receive three rate hikes from the PUC. Xcel has requested a separate rate increase, totaling $39 million, to cover

costs of pipelines, meters, and the like.

And while the PUC has leeway on whether to grant the latest request, commission spokesperson Barbara Fernandez said it had no choice but to grant Xcel its request for the $360 million hike. “There really is no option ? we just administer the commodity costs,” she added.

While there’s little help for businesses’ record-high bills, residents have a number of resources available to help with their utility expenses. The federal Low-Income Heating Assistance Program (LEAP) offers help to pay

heating bills.

Paula McKey, division manager for the Boulder County Department of Social Services, which administers the LEAP program here, said applications for the program are up 46 percent. “Anyone who is eligible (for the program) is entitled to receive benefits,” which range from $100 to $700 and can be claimed by both homeowners and renters, said McKey.

Other help is available through the Colorado Energy Assistance Foundation (CEAF), a non-profit organization that distributes funds to agencies throughout the state. Karen Brown, executive director of CEAF, said requests for help are the highest she’s seen in 10 years with the agency.

She added that anyone eligible for LEAP benefits is in line for help from the Energy Saving Partners Program. The agency is run through the governor’s office and will, free of charge, help those in need to

weatherize their homes, and will even replace faulty furnaces.

Business Report Correspondent

There’s little relief in sight for businesses struggling with skyrocketing heating bills. Rate hikes in the past year mean most will could see heating bills twice as high as last year.

The Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC) approved a 40 percent rate increase Jan. 5 requested by Xcel Energy for its customers in Colorado. The hike took effect the next day. Together with two other hikes in the last

year, it means many heating bills have doubled in the past year.

At IBM in Boulder, “we’re up against the same type of increases,´ said spokesperson Ray Blomgren. IBM’s heating…

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