Soaring utility bills send huge waves of people scrambling for help keeping heat and lights on in Colorado |

Soaring utility bills send huge waves of people scrambling for help keeping heat and lights on in Colorado

More than 100,000 people have called for aid paying gas and electric bills, but the help is available only once per customer.

Mark Jaffe and Nancy Lofholm
The Colorado Sun
Lee LeFear lives in a townhome with his wife in Denver. At about 1,100 square feet, though he is on a budget billing plan, his Xcel energy bill ballooned to more than $800. An Air Force veteran, LeFear lives on Social Security disability and cannot afford to pay the bill.
Kathryn Scott/Special to The Colorado Sun

When Cheryl and Paul Ricks opened the December Xcel Energy bill for their mobile home in Clifton, they were panicked by the $1,080 charge. Lee LeFear’s reaction to his $872 bill, 245 miles away in Denver, was much the same.

“I thought I was keeping up,” LeFear said. “There was no way I could pay that. It’s a hell of a thing to get two weeks before Christmas.”

LeFear, 66, is on Social Security disability and health problems have sidelined the Rickses, both 57, from working. The utility bills were beyond their means to pay, sending them to social service agencies for help.

The two households are part of an unprecedented wave of people scrambling for assistance with utility bills, which have soared with rising natural gas prices and a series of electricity and gas rate increases by Xcel Energy, the state’s main utility provider with more than 1.5 million customers.

The big bills come as inflation is pushing up the cost of living and as sources of aid, such as funds for rental, food and job loss assistance under initiatives such as the federal American Rescue Plan, dry up. 

And as bad December bills have been, aid agencies fear January bills, boosted even more by the arctic cold blanketing the Front Range, could be even worse.


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