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Rising utility bills unsustainable for many Colorado households, LEAP available

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Eric Galatas

(Colorado News Connection) Experts are warning Colorado households utility bills currently making their way to mailboxes are likely to be even higher than the supersized bills people received for November's energy use.

Denise Stepto, chief communications officer for Energy Outreach Colorado, said as energy prices have remained stubbornly high, December brought an arctic blast and subzero temperatures right in time for winter holiday celebrations.

"This next bill, we think, is going to be the higher one, much higher," Stepto explained. "It was a holiday, so more people were gathered in a home, lights on, things cooking, everything going."

It is a problem, Stepto said, because many Coloradans may have already tapped one-time-only assistance through Energy Outreach Colorado and the state's Low-Income Energy Assistance Program.

Calls to Energy Outreach Colorado's Heat Help Line are up 43 percent compared with the same time period last year. The week ending Dec. 18, they received more than 16,000 calls, up from 9,000 the week before, which is the largest call volume in two years of tracking.

Stepto pointed to one call she fielded this week from a mother trying to get help for her veteran son with a disability who was struggling to afford his high energy bills. She pointed out there has been an increased sense of desperation, especially for fixed and low-income households.

Stepto worries higher-than-average utility bills, while not sustainable, are likely to continue through the winter months.

"People are not abusing their energy use," Stepto argued. "They're keeping their thermostat as low as they can. They're being energy wise, it's just the cost is the cost. So there's only so much that folks can do."

During the week ending Jan. 8, Energy Outreach Colorado released more than $473,000 to help 728 struggling households who applied for assistance to pay utility bills. People can still get help -- to make sure utilities are not disconnected, and connect with other programs for which they qualify -- by calling Energy Outreach Colorado's helpline: 866-432-8435.