It was a three-way deal and it was done.
t least until two members of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission put on the brakes and turned the tables on Commissioner Frances Koncilja.
Black Hills Energy was poised to donate to the Pueblo Board of Water Works the rights for the water that fills the channels of the Historic Arkansas Riverwalk of Pueblo.
The electric utility wants to demolish its old Downtown Stations 5&6 and had reached an agreement with the water board as well as the city of Pueblo to donate the water that served those plants and now flows down the HARP channels to the Arkansas River. The city would get the pipes, gates and infrastructure that puts that water in the HARP.
The three-way agreement has been sitting before the PUC for final approval.
But PUC Chairman Joshua Epel and Commissioner Glenn Vaad put that deal on hold during the commission’s Dec. 7 meeting. Just the week before, Epel and Vaad had gotten an earful of criticism from the newest commissioner, Koncilja — the Denver lawyer and Pueblo native — who repeatedly charged the PUC has been too lenient in awarding Black Hills rate increases.
Epel clearly didn’t like getting blamed for Black Hills’ high rates. He answered Koncilja by arguing the commission had done its best to hold down rates, which he acknowledged were among the highest in the state.
At the meeting, Vaad and Epel questioned why the utility is donating water rights valued at $280,000 instead of selling them: a move, Vaad argued, that could benefit ratepayers.
On a 2-1 vote, the commission last Tuesday issued an interim order giving the utility until Dec. 20 to answer that question.
Koncilja voted against the interim order, calling its questions “red herrings.”
“Rather than congratulating Black Hills, the (Board of Water Works) and the city for expeditiously entering into an agreement that appears to be a win-win for all parties, including the ratepayers, the majority of the commission requests answers to questions that I believe are irrelevant, and the responses will likely cause Black Hills and ratepayers to incur costs,” she wrote.
She noted the other commissioners initially wanted another appraisal of the cost of the water rights involved but pointed out the current appraisal is less than a year old.