Aspen appeals gas-pricing suit
Aspen is appealing its class-action lawsuit against natural gas supplier Kinder Morgan with hopes of establishing a legal principle, according to city attorney John Worcester.District Court Judge T. Peter Craven dismissed the case last month, ruling that a lawsuit regarding utility rate practices properly belongs before the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, not in district court.The City Council could have chosen to take its complaint next to the PUC or to file an appeal, or both, but decided to appeal.The heart of the lawsuit – the city’s claim that Kinder Morgan overcharges Western Slope customers because the company’s rates don’t adequately reflect the loss of heating power in natural gas at higher elevations – isn’t the basis for the appeal.Rather, the city is appealing Craven’s ruling that the deceptive-trade claim as it relates to utility rates belongs first before the PUC, Worcester said.”I think it’s an important legal principle – that the Colorado Consumer Protection Act applies, separate and independent of anything we might pursue at the PUC,” he said. “I think that’s an important legal principle to establish.”Aspen and the city of Glenwood Springs jointly filed the lawsuit against Kinder Morgan, claiming the gas company has falsely represented the quality and characteristics of the natural gas it sells to Western Slope customers. They claimed the company bills customers for gas based on its heating content at sea level, though when natural gas expands at higher elevations, each liter of gas has fewer molecules – and a reduced heating content.Kinder Morgan countered that it does take altitude into account when billing customers on the Western Slope, taking an average of altitudes and billing all mountain residents at a measure of 5,900 feet – about 2,000 feet lower than the city of Aspen.The company sought dismissal of the lawsuit; Glenwood Springs ultimately dropped out, voluntarily dismissing its claim.Attorneys with the nonprofit Colorado Consumer Legal Foundation are pursuing the class-action case on behalf of Aspen with the financial backing of Aspen resident Jack Grynberg, president of Grynberg Petroleum Co. in Denver.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail is email@example.com
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A recent survey of Aspen residents shows that people are happy here, feel safe but are financially insecure.