Friday, February 11, 2011

Colorado bill would give the medically impaired a break on energy bills

Lawmakers agreed Thursday that Coloradans with medical conditions requiring them to turn up the air conditioning or use medical devices—and run up their power meters—should not be subject to higher electrical rates on their utility bills.

Xcel Energy, with approval from the Public Utilities Commission, last summer, began charging customers who use higher-than-average amounts of electricity during the summer months under a tiered rating system. Under tiered rating, customers who consume more pay more per kilowatt hour. The program has been hailed as an incentive to conserve by its fans and derided as punitive by critics.

All nine members of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee approved Senate Bill 87, by Sen. Betty Boyd, D-Lakewood. The bill shields those with medical conditions or who rely on life-saving devices from the surcharge, leaving it up to the PUC to make the determination of what constitutes a warranted medical condition or life-saving device. A recommendation from a doctor could suffice, for instance.

Among the proponents of the measure is the Colorado chapter of the Multiple Sclerosis Society. Kirk Williams a member of the society who has MS, said it’s a quality-of-life issue for folks like him.

“For those of us with MS, we have a low tolerance to higher temperatures and when we have to run the AC more than most people to live normally and our utility rates go significantly higher—it has an impact on us,” said Williams.

Sharon O’Hara, the organization’s VP, said her population doesn’t always have the option of conserving. In the first few months of the program, requests by members for assistance with utility bills has surged from zero to $6,000.

SB87 is now scheduled for the full Senate’s consideration.

Via - Colorado News Agency

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