Power Outage: Colorado Energy Company 'Inadvertently' Charges Customers for Campaign Costs

Xcel Energy, the utility giant that serves much of Colorado, was ousted by Boulder voters last year in favor of a city plan to create a public municipal utility. The battle leading up to that vote was drawn-out, overtly political and full of dirty tricks.

Now, customers across the state are being asked to foot the bill. In a request to the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC), Xcel asked for a 4.9 percent rate increase, which amounts to an extra $5 on the average residential monthly bill. During the campaign, Xcel insisted campaign spending would be an expense coming out of shareholders’ profits, not out of ratepayers’ wallets. So when PUC asked Xcel to “please admit or deny” whether it had included “any expenses spent on campaigning against municipalization of utility service in Boulder” in its request for a rate increase, things got awkward: a payment of $460,000 to InterMountain Public Affairs — a firm that organized the anti-municipalization campaign — had “inadvertently” been placed in an account used to calculate cost of service.

Xcel spokeswoman Michelle Aguayo said the error was innocent — a simple mistake — that will be promptly corrected.

On the other hand, critics contend the city inappropriately used taxpayer money to advocate for its own ballot measure. (There were two ballot measures: one, backed by Xcel, to ostensibly kill the municipalization effort and one, authored by city council, to keep it afloat. The latter passed.) The city reports it spent $188,023 on “communication and outreach” to correct misinformation disseminated by Xcel during the campaign.

All in all, Xcel spent $772,359 — more than double the spending by all municipalization proponents combined.

Missing from Xcel’s campaign finance reports is any mention of InterMountain Public Affairs.

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