Summit County restaurant owner asks state to implement program that gives utility bill discounts to small businesses
Michael Spry — owner of Sunshine Cafe, member of Silverthorne Town Council and legislative affairs chair of the Summit Chamber of Commerce — is pushing government officials to use creative solutions from other parts of the country to help businesses here in Colorado. Specifically, Spry caught wind of a program in Minnesota that gives businesses a break on their energy bills, and Rep. Julie McCluskie thinks a similar program is feasible in Colorado.
Spry wrote a letter addressed to McCluskie and Sen. Bob Rankin explaining the program and asking them to consider a similar one in Colorado. According to the Minnesota Star Tribune, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission approved a 25% discount or credit to small commercial customers of Xcel Energy that experienced a loss of business due to COVID-19 restrictions. Xcel Energy spokesperson Michelle Aguayo explained in an email that the cost of the program will be shared by all customers through a future rate review.
“As the new session is just getting underway, this seems like an opportune time to get this discussion on the table and get some assistance to those businesses that are still being capacity constrained at a beginning of a year where the key themes should be recovery and restoration,” Spry wrote in his letter.
In a phone call with the Summit Daily News, Spry said a reduction in his energy bill would help his business’s cash flow and that he believes it could make a big difference for a lot of business owners.
“Cash flow is cash flow,” Spry said. “Would it be a deal-breaker for me? No, probably not. But I think there’s a lot of businesses out there where $200, $300, $400 a month is a big deal.”
McCluskie said she’s aware of the program in Minnesota and is exploring whether a similar program would work in Colorado. She said that as she wouldn’t want other customers to cover the cost, there would need to be a state financing solution. McCluskie said the state has had utilities on its mind as a possibility for relief aid.
She noted that it’s not unusual for a constituent to bring up an idea to state representatives and have it brought to the Legislature.
“This is a really novel, creative approach,” McCluskie said. “It’s exactly how it should work: our business community bringing forward innovative ideas and finding ways the state can partner to help support those ideas.”
McCluskie explained the process for getting state funding for a program like this, which would start with conversations with state departments that might be involved and stakeholders outside of the state, which would be businesses and utility providers in this case. Then when the Legislature reconvenes Feb. 16, McCluskie said it would be an opportune time to bring the idea forward, work with a bill drafter, continue to work with stakeholders for more input, refine the policy and bring it through the legislative process.
McCluskie noted that the Joint Budget Committee, on which she serves as vice chair, is meeting currently and that there is a lot of discussion in the budget process around stimulus and money for recovery. She said the program Spry suggested would fit into the recovery conversations the committee is having. McCluskie referenced a legislative special session that took place toward the end of 2020, when funding was allocated for small business relief, child care and food banks.
“I can anticipate we’ll see that again in February,” McCluskie said. “Our only challenge is we need to keep the economy moving forward and make sure we’re making smart decisions now because we know the state’s budget is going to be very tight. And we’ve got to think a bit conservatively as we go forward so that we’re prepared for the long haul of the impacts of this economic downturn.”
As different types of relief programs take shape, Spry said residents should continue to ask whether they can be implemented locally.
“It’s important that when we see programs that are out there and that are working and have been put in place for the support of business communities, then let’s not reinvent the wheel,” Spry said. “Let’s utilize those same programs in our community.”
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