Energy company calls cities’ lawsuit ‘baseless’
Officials at Kinder Morgan have deemed the lawsuit in which its billing practices are being questioned by the cities of Aspen and Glenwood “without merit and baseless.”The class action lawsuit, filed Thursday in Garfield County District Court, claims the natural gas company didn’t take into account the altitude of cities on the state’s Western Slope when billing for services.At high altitudes, the atmospheric pressure drops, and gas expands. The cities use laws of physics to note that when natural gas expands at this altitude, a given amount of gas has less heating content value than it does at sea level.Therefore, the suit claims, natural gas consumers on the Western Slope use more gas to heat their homes and have been paying too much for it for years.But Kinder Morgan officials claim that they do adjust their billing for towns and cities at altitude and have for years. In a press release on Monday, the company states its billing practices have been approved by the Colorado Public Utilities as “just and reasonable.”In an interview on Friday, Dan Watson, the company’s retail president, said the company bills Western Slope customers based on thermal content of the gas, rather than volume of gas. But the calculation is not shown on the consumer’s bill, Watson said, partially because officials are always making decisions about what calculations to include on invoices.”We’re always trying to balance the information [consumers] need [with] keeping the bill simple,” he said.When asked to respond to Kinder Morgan’s assertions that it already adjusts prices to factor in consumers at higher altitudes, Aspen City Attorney John Worcester said he’d simply like to know the specifics of how the company does that.”They say they make adjustments, taking into account altitude and lower atmospheric pressure. Well – how?” he said. “It’s a simple question.”Watson couldn’t be reached yesterday to respond, but Kinder Morgan’s Rick Rainey, in charge of media relations, indicated that the adjustments are made at “border stations” for each of the 28 cities and towns named in the lawsuit, based on altitude.These are the points where gas flows into the town from Kinder Morgan’s main transmission lines. But Rainey could not be more specific about mathematical calculations until Watson could be reached.The company has also asserted that the complaint should be taken up with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, rather than filed in district court.”To get a complaint like this at the district court level we think is wrong,” Watson said on Friday. “We’re a public utility, and our rates are regulated under the jurisdiction of the PUC. The matter should be in front of the PUC. We’re fairly upset about it, and we will strongly refute these allegations and state that they’re without merit.”Worcester said that filing the suit in district court was the logical step for Aspen and Glenwood Springs, since the towns have gotten no help from the PUC in the past.”Yes, we could have filed this before the Public Utilities Commission, but they’ve been aware of this for a number of years and haven’t done anything,” he said. “So we felt district court was the proper place to take it.”Under Colorado’s Consumer Protection Act, consumers can take their cases to district court, Worcester said. Even if there is an alternate procedure to undergo before the PUC, the cities aren’t precluded to go before district court, he added.Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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