“BLACK HILLS Energy customers show widening opposition to adding one more rate hike to the previous increases granted since the company became the Pueblo area’s electric provider in 2008.
In testimony here last week, Steve Andrews of the Pueblo’s Energy Future group said Black Hills has acknowledged it has raised rates by 60 percent in the eight years since taking over the local electric utility franchise.
So it’s understandable that people are upset about the request for yet an additional 4.8 percent rate hike currently before the Colorado Public Utilities Commission. Black Hills’ request amounts to $14.8 million a year — $4.99 a month for a typical household and $17.31 a month for a small business — to cover the cost of a new $65 million, 40-megawatt turbine northwest of Pueblo Memorial Airport.
All in all, Black Hills’ 94,000 customers in the Pueblo region pay the highest electric rates of any urban area in the state.
To be fair, the rising costs cannot solely be put on Black Hills. In every case, the company must receive Colorado PUC approval for building new generating capacity, investing in additional energy sources and for the rate-driven revenues needed to pay for it all.
So the PUC shares responsibility for the rising rates, as well. We commend Frances Koncilja, a Pueblo native and the newest PUC appointee, for getting her two fellow commissioners to join her in Pueblo to hear from the people most affected by Black Hills rates.
The Colorado Legislature also must share responsibility for rising energy bills across the state.
Legislators have passed a law mandating that Colorado’s two investor-owned utilities — Black Hills and Xcel Energy in Denver — must increase their use of renewable energy, principally wind and solar, to 30 percent of their entire energy portfolio by 2020 — less than four years from now.
Despite the constant touting of environmental advocates for renewal energy over fossil fuels, the simple fact is solar, wind, biomass and other renewable sources are far more expensive and far less reliable than coal and natural gas.
In addition, Xcel Energy has a much larger, more densely populated market, nearly l.4 million electric customers in and around metro Denver, to spread the costs of government mandates over a wider rate base than Black Hills can muster from its 94,000 customers in the Pueblo area.
When it comes right down to it, the PUC must be sympathetic to Pueblo-area customers facing yet another utility-bill shock in these economic times.
The PUC already allows Black Hills and Xcel to include a good percentage return to their shareholders in their rate base.
It’s well past the time for Black Hills to ask its shareholders to contribute a small percentage of their investment earnings toward the cost of building an additional turbine that evidently is not needed to meet our customer demand.
At long last, Pueblo-area consumers deserve a break.”