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Coloradans brace for winter heating bills

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Eric Galatas

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(Colorado News Connection) After Coloradans cranked up the heat to welcome family members for Thanksgiving dinner, many are worried about the price they will pay when their utility bill arrives.

Denise Stepto, chief communications officer for Energy Outreach Colorado, which helps struggling families meet their energy needs, said her team saw an especially high volume of calls for help after this season's first cold snap. She noted many are still behind on their utility bills, and do not know how they will keep their homes warm this winter.

"The heat helpline has received 11,000 calls," Stepto reported. "It's a 131 percent change from the last week. My point is that it tells us that people are not solid going into this winter."

After Coloradans saw bills for natural gas rise by 75 percent last winter, Governor Jared Polis issued an eight-page letter calling on state regulators to take any and all actions to lower utility bills. But Polis also warned long-term relief would only come after the state transitions away from fossil fuels to free energy sources like wind and solar.

A City of Denver initiative, which is installing solar canopies over school parking lots, is expected to save hundreds of low-income families up to $700 a year on their utility bills. Energy Outreach Colorado is also partnering with Xcel Energy to identify households qualifying for free Community Solar subscriptions.

"We subscribe households to Xcel's community solar gardens," Stepto pointed out. "That is directly offsetting the cost of electricity in their home. Anything that brings that bill down gives a little bit of relief."

Keeping homes at healthy temperatures is especially challenging for older adults, veterans, people with disabilities and low-wage workers. Cold homes in winter can create serious health problems, including respiratory illness and pneumonia.

Stepto added families needing assistance should call their heat helpline at 866-HEAT-HELP or 866-432-8435.

"People who have children often tell us that they are wrapping their kids in winter gear to go to bed," Stepto emphasized. "It's not healthy for them to be breathing in that cold air. And so you have to keep your home at a manageable, healthy temperature."