The 37-year old state Office of Consumer Counsel has a new name, the Utility Consumer Advocate, and broader responsibilities.
The watchdog was reauthorized by the legislature this year to add resources, staff and modernized approaches to making sure utilities are affordable.
“The decisions made by utilities have huge impacts on our health and the rates and costs we pay to light and heat our homes,” Danny Katz, executive director of the Colorado Public Interest Research Group (CoPIRG), said in a statement. “For utilities like Xcel Energy and Black Hills Energy, many of those decisions happen in proceedings before the Public Utilities Commission. They are complicated to say the least. While the utilities have the resources to ensure their voices are heard, consumers and ratepayers would not without the Colorado Utility Consumer Advocate. For decades they have asked the tough questions and saved ratepayers hundreds of millions of dollars.”
The Office of Consumer Counsel has represented the interests of residential, small business and agricultural consumers on electric and natural gas rates considered by the state Public Utilities Commission, as well as federal agencies and in court.
“We will continue our intense focus and fierce advocacy on behalf of the Public Interest in state policy-making proceedings and before federal agencies,” stated Cindy Schonhaut, director of the office. "And the General Assembly decided to add to our mission the extraordinary responsibility to give due consideration to state decarbonization goals and legislative priorities regarding just transition and environmental justice to ensure all consumers are represented in a robust, transparent and accessible manner.”
Senate Bill 103, signed by Gov. Jared Polis on July 7, also reauthorized the consumer protection office for another seven years, as well as granting the name change.
The four-person office is expected to cost the state budget $553,071 this year, and grow to $674,874 next year, including one more staff member.