Winter storm could make Colorado natural gas, electricity bills skyrocket

Matt Whittaker

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Blue flame coming out of a gas stove burner.Ervins Strauhmanis/Flickr

By Matt Whittaker / NewsBreak Denver

(Across Colorado) State officials warn utility customers that the winter storm starting Tuesday evening could lead to sharply higher energy prices similar to last year during Winter Storm Uri

"The very cold temperatures coming to Colorado starting this evening may lead to tight natural gas supplies and significantly increased energy prices for Coloradans," the Denver-based Colorado Office of the Utility Consumer Advocate said Tuesday afternoon.

The National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning for the slow-moving system that moved into the Front Range, I-25 corridor and adjacent plains Tuesday afternoon. The weather service predicts the storm will remain in Colorado through Wednesday, producing snow, subzero temperatures and hazardous travel.

"The snow will come to an end Wednesday evening, but temperatures will be very cold," the weather service said. 

The service's station at Buckley Airforce Base in Aurora predicted a low of 11 degrees Tuesday night, minus 4 Wednesday night, 3 Thursday night and 14 on Friday night.

Coloradans urged to reduce energy use

With those frigid temperatures, Colorado officials urge electric and natural gas consumers to reduce their energy use to avoid higher utility bills from this week, reminding residents of last February’s storm, which caused an unprecedented surge in natural gas prices to around 50 times higher than normal.

"When there is a nationwide increase in the cost of natural gas, due to supply and demand pressures, an average residential customer in Colorado who uses the same amount of energy this winter as last winter will see an increase in bills," Colorado officials said.

Electric customers who don’t use natural gas appliances still could see higher prices because utilities use natural gas to generate electricity. 

To save on energy costs during this week’s winter storm, the state's Utility Consumer Advocate urges both electric and natural gas customers to reduce their consumption by:

  • lowering thermostats, especially when asleep or out of the house
  • reducing shower times, taking baths only when necessary and limiting the use of washers, dryers and dishwashers
  • sealing air leaks around utility cut-throughs for pipes, gaps around chimneys and other spaces
  • covering drafty windows with heavy-duty clear plastic
  • unplugging cell phone and battery chargers that aren't in use.

Coloradans already face high energy prices

Even without this week's severe weather, Coloradans already face sharply higher energy bills this winter as global demand for natural gas outstrips supply.

Natural gas prices have been rising as the worldwide economic recovery from the pandemic generates more demand for natural gas to power businesses and homes. At the same time, supply hasn’t recovered, partly because there is less drilling for oil, which is often pumped out of the ground alongside natural gas. 

Prices abroad are generally much higher than they are in the United States, which thanks to the shale fracking boom, is the largest producer of natural gas in the world. That price difference has foreign companies eager to buy natural gas in liquid form from U.S. exporters, helping keep the domestic supply tight. 

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Matt Whittaker writes about natural resources industries, including oil and gas, mining, renewable energy, agriculture and cannabis. He's been based in the Denver metro area since 2013. You can follow him on Twitter @mattswhittaker.

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