‘Trust us’ isn’t good enough for gas customers
We were glad to see the cities of Aspen and Glenwood Springs take Kinder Morgan to court last week. Natural-gas customers deserve to be billed appropriately, and deserve to know exactly how their rates are computed. And that’s not happening right now.Generally speaking, lawsuits are a costly and inefficient way to solve problems, but at the least, this one should provide customers with more information and may even result in a better billing system.First, some background.In a class-action suit filed in Garfield County District Court, Aspen and Glenwood Springs have claimed that thousands of Western Slope natural gas ratepayers are paying too much for their gas. The reason has to do with physics: Because atmospheric pressure drops at high altitude, natural gas expands. That means there is less actual heating value per unit of natural gas at 5,000 or 8,000 feet than there would be at sea level.The cities believe that Kinder Morgan should be adjusting its bills to account for altitude. The suit seeks a monetary judgment to be paid to all the class members for the alleged overcharges, and a court order requiring the company to adjust its bills to account for varying elevations.Speaking to the Times, a Kinder Morgan spokesman didn’t dispute the physics, but said the company already makes such adjustments. The calculations aren’t shown on customers’ bills, however.According to Dan Watson, Kinder Morgan’s retail president, Western Slope customers are billed at an adjusted rate that reflects a 5,900-foot altitude. Denver metro customers are billed at a mile-high average, and northeastern Colorado customers get a 3,500-foot adjustment.Kinder Morgan has said that the cities should have taken their complaint to the state Public Utilities Commission, which regulates the gas and electric utilities. The cities counter that the PUC has known about the problem for years and hasn’t acted.This lawsuit appears to be an appropriate use of the court system. Watson’s description of the regional billing adjustments sounds to us like a one-size-fits-all solution that could use some fine-tuning.Bottom line: There’s nothing wrong with forcing the gas company’s hand by insisting that the company tell the court and its customers exactly how it adjusts its rates for altitude.Anything less amounts to the gas company essentially saying: “Trust us.” And Kinder Morgan’s 45,000 Western Slope residential ratepayers deserve better than that.
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