Colorado’s Public Utilities Commission won’t be the Grinch Who Stole Christmas.
The commission denied Black Hills Energy executives most of their request for another aggressive and oppressive rate hike. The decision gives hope to an economically struggling community in which too many families live without power and adequate food supplies because of soaring electric rates imposed by a for-profit monopoly.
The commission voted 3-0 on Nov. 30 to cut more than 80 percent, about $6 million, from the rate hike proposed by Black Hills.
The mission statement on the PUC’s website says: “The Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC) serves the public interest by effectively regulating utilities and facilities so that the people of Colorado receive safe, reliable, and reasonably-priced services consistent with the economic, environmental and social values of our state.”
As reported in this space, Black Hills has grown Pueblo’s base electric rate by 376 percent, from $136 million to $511 million, in just eight years. While paying some of Colorado’s highest electric rates, Pueblo’s median household income is $20,000 below the statewide median.
The utilities commission heard from Pueblo residents at a heart-wrenching community meeting in August, where hundreds packed into the local convention center with stories of bare cupboards, failing businesses and shutoff notices caused by swiftly increasing energy bills. Protesters held signs that said “Black Heart Energy.”
Black Hills executives blame Colorado’s clean energy mandates. The latest rate hike request is supposed to help pay for a $70 million turbine at the company’s Pueblo Area Generating Station, a gas-fired electric plant built and expanded to meet state-imposed clean power mandates.
While consumers have paid for mandates, the company has felt no pain. Profits have soared over most of the past decade. A recently quarterly report showed profits of nearly 75 percent (difference between sales and cost of goods sold divided by revenue).
During the three-hour meeting Nov. 30, as reported by the Pueblo Chieftain, Commissioner Frances Koncilja emerged as a defender of families and small businesses. She’s a Denver lawyer but a Pueblo native who wasn’t about to allow more gouging of her hometown.
Koncilja challenged “almost every portion of the utility’s request for higher revenue,” the Chieftain reported.
By the time Koncilja was done chipping away at the Black Hills proposal, the fat was on a chopping block. The commission scaled back the return the utility will get for its purchase of the turbine. Koncilja also gutted an executive incentive plan, payments for a pension plan and other expenses deemed unnecessary for the plant upgrade.
We applaud the utilities commission, and particularly Commissioner Koncilja, for defending our great neighbors to the south against a giant utility’s profligate use of hard-earned ratepayer funds. Sometimes the system works.