Showdown coming over Colorado utility watchdog

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

The state House and Senate appear headed toward a showdown over an office that says it has saved Colorado utility customers $1.7 billion since its inception 30 years ago.

Legislative action is needed to continue the Office of Consumer Counsel, but Republicans and Democrats have different ideas about its future.

The office represents ratepayers in front of the Public Utilities Commission. The office will expire this year unless lawmakers pass a bill to continue it. But the process has broken down over the question of whether the office should continue to advocate in telecommunications cases.

Colorado is deregulating the telecom industry, so a Republican bill to continue the office takes telecom entirely out of its authority. But Democrats say the office still can still play an important role in overseeing 911 and some rural phone service.

The bill is up for a House hearing Tuesday and Democrats on the committee are likely to amend it to include telecommunications oversight. That means before the session ends Wednesday, both sides will either have to reach a compromise in conference committee or let the office shut down.