Bill introduced to save Colorado utility watchdog

Photo: Electric meters (AP Photo)
Electric meters like this track how much energy consumers use.

A state office that advocates for lower utility and telephone rates will disband later this year if state lawmakers don’t act. But a bill to keep it going is causing concern among some of the office’s supporters.

The Office of the Consumer Counsel advocates on behalf of customers when gas, electric, and telephone companies ask the state for permission to raise their rates.

The agency says it’s saved consumers $1.7 billion since its inception 30 years ago.

But supporters of the agency are concerned that the bill reauthorizing the office is only being introduced in the final days of the session and that the OCC would no longer advocate in telephone cases.

Danny Katz, director of the Colorado Public Interest Research Group, worries that by stripping away telecom oversight, 911 service and rural phone access may suffer.

“It's pretty shocking that the telecommunications piece was taken out and it's pretty shocking that it's taken this long to even have a debate on it,” Katz said.

But, Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, who is carrying the bill, says Colorado is already in the process of deregulating telecommunications. And that otherwise his bill does little to change how the office operates.

“I anticipate it'll fly through both chambers," Sonnenberg said. "I don't anticipate much opposition.”

Lawmakers must reauthorize the agency by May 6 or it will shutter on July 1.