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Office of Consumer Counsel Advises Small Businesses To Review Contracts With Competitive Energy Suppliers

May 12, 2021

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Copyright 2010-21
Reporting by Paul Ring •

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The Colorado Office of Consumer Counsel (OCC) said in a news release that, "As natural gas charges from February’s extreme weather event continue to impact residents and businesses alike, the Colorado Office of Consumer Counsel (OCC) is advising small businesses, multi-dwelling residential, and institutional property owners in Colorado to review and assess their natural gas service contracts for terms, conditions, requirements, and consumer protections."

"As a result of the President’s Day Weekend winter storm that froze power plants and taxed natural gas supplies in the Midwest, many municipalities, small businesses, and residential buildings across Colorado who receive their natural gas service from alternative gas providers have been hit with significant increases to their monthly bills that have often exceeded their annual budget for energy costs," OCC said

"In Colorado, alternative gas providers are not regulated by the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC) unlike investor-owned utilities such as Xcel Energy, Black Hills Energy, Atmos Energy Corporation, and Colorado Natural Gas," OCC said

"Alternative, non-regulated natural gas providers may offer discount rates, but it is important to note that these entities do not fall under the consumer protections and oversight provided by the PUC. Customers of these non-regulated entities are subject to natural gas price market fluctuations caused by weather events, supply and demand issues, and other factors. These non-regulated natural gas providers may offer reduced rates when compared with regulated utilities, but they also expose customers to unforeseen rate increases and unexpected charges," OCC said

The Office of Consumer Counsel (OCC), Colorado’s utility consumer advocate, recommends that all natural gas customers review their contracts and billing statements for the following:

• Energy service provider;

• Is this provider regulated by the Public Utilities Commission? (for example, Xcel Energy, Black Hills Gas, Atmos Gas, Colorado Natural Gas);

• Terms of Service;

• Length of contract;

• Conditions for termination of contract;

• Consumer protection clauses;

• Avenues for dispute resolution;

• Current rates and conditions for rate changes;

• Explanation of charges

-- How do these prices compare to the regulated utility?

-- Is it a fixed or variable rate that changes monthly?

-- Is the rate an introductory rate, how long it will last, and what the new rate will be.

-- What are the monthly fees?

-- What are the exit conditions and charges?

"Customers of non-regulated natural gas providers should be highly informed and active in managing these contracts and are encouraged to reach out to their natural gas utility to discuss their terms and conditions to evaluate if these unregulated contracts are the right fit for their business, residential building, or institution," OCC said

"The PUC has opened two proceedings (21I-0076EG and 21M-0130EG) directing investor-owned utilities to prepare and file a report detailing their planning and actions taken before and during the winter weather event. The Commission has also requested voluntary participation from the state's public and cooperative utilities," OCC said

The OCC encouraged customers to submit public feedback on how the February winter event has impacted their energy bills.

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