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Colorado utility bills may increase 10% over four years to pay for wildfire mitigation

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(The Center Square) – Monthly Xcel Energy bills will increase approximately 10% or more by 2028 to pay for a wildfire mitigation plan submitted to the Colorado Public Utilities Commission.

The utility emphasized its primary focus is safety for both the communities it serves and its customers in a media release announcing the submission. If the agency approves the plan, residential bills will increase through incremental bi-annual amounts until reaching approximately $8.88 a month by Jan. 1, 2028.

“Our goal is to ensure that no catastrophic wildfire is started by Xcel Energy assets,” Bob Frenzel, president and chief executive officer of Xcel Energy, said in a statement. “And, while we’ve made significant wildfire safety progress in Colorado and achieved key goals, there is still work to be done to meet the evolving threat.”

The plan is a response to the Marshall fire, the costliest wildfire in Colorado history, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The fire evolved in one hour from a grass fire into a suburban firestorm and killed two people. It destroyed 1,084 homes and seven commercial buildings as it swept into the Boulder County suburbs of Louisville and Superior. The county estimated damage at more than $500 million. Hundreds of lawsuits have been filed.

An 18-page summary of the investigation of the fire by Boulder County Sheriff Curtis Johnson and District Attorney for the 20th Judicial District Michael Dougherty stated two fires merged into one. The probable cause of the second fire was ignition of hot particles discharged from Xcel Energy power lines.

Xcel Energy said it’s expanding its work and programs to minimize risk associated with wildfires possibly caused by electric equipment.

“This plan lays out our proposed path forward to help build a more fire resilient Colorado, working in partnership with others who are also fighting to protect our communities,” Frenzel said.

The utility’s “Public Safety Power Shutoff Program” will be refined to include interactive web maps reflecting outage areas and a back-up energy rebate program.

The utility proposes investments and improvements to existing technology. It will include integration of industry’s new knowledge, evolving risk-assessment methodologies and new technology.

The proposal includes the addition of hundreds of weather stations to provide detailed information near power lines and equipment. It will triple the number of cameras utilizing artificial intelligence for early smoke detection.

The utility plan includes updating the schedule for pole and equipment inspections in wildfire risk zones. A multi-year program will identify and replace or upgrade equipment, underground targeted power lines, replacing and repairing poles and rebuilding transmission lines in high-risk areas.

The Colorado Public Utilities Commission will review the plan and offer opportunities for the public to provide feedback during the regulatory process.

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