Colorado Editorials

EDITORIAL: Pueblo ratepayers face another big hit, thanks to Black Hills

Author: The Gazette Editorial Board - July 28, 2017 - Updated: July 28, 2017

Black Hills energy wants even more money from residential ratepayers in Pueblo, who already report bare cupboards, shutoff notices, evictions and foreclosures related to the company’s high and escalating rates.

As reported by this week, State Sen. Leroy Garcia is infuriated that Pueblo energy customers face another rate hike. As explained by reporter Joey Bunch, “they already pay some of the highest rates in the state.”

The customers earn an average of $20,000 less than Colorado’s median household income. Predatory Black Hill has imposed rate hikes at every opportunity. It blames Colorado’s Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act, which forced utilities to invest in cleaner power sources.

The company packs rate hikes with new pension costs, executive perks and other careless expenses that don’t related directly to clean energy mandates.

In addition to recent support from Garcia, Pueblo residents can thank Public Utilities Commissioner and Denver attorney Frances Koncilja for defending them. When Black Hill sought a major rate hike in December, Koncilja said no way. She went through every line of the request for $8.5 million in additional revenue and reduced it by more than $6 million.

Koncilja called Black Hills a “turd in the pocket of Colorado ratepayers.”

Black Hills appealed the reduced rate hike and is demanding Koncilja recuse herself from further decisions. They claim she has a conflict of interest because she grew up in Pueblo. It is a patently ridiculous complaint. PUC Commissioner Wendy Moser worked as a Black Hills executive before her recent appointment to the commission. That’s a conflict of interest.

In its latest ask, Black Hills wants to create tiered rates for customers who use higher amounts of energy. As reported by Bunch, the company also wants to raise its minimum monthly residential rate from $16.89 to $20.13. The minimum charge covers fixed cost such as connections, meters and billings to extend service to homes, separate from the amount of energy used in the home.

“Net-metered solar customers could pay up to 50 percent more,” ColoradoPolitics reports. “The utility is asking for a monthly charge of $25.45 to recover the cost of a second meter, which measures solar energy production, as well as a higher energy use charge.”

The complicated rate hikes sound like a lot of jiggery-pokery no average customer can figure out while trying to feed kids and stay on top of bills.

“Energy to cool our homes, heat them during the winter, keep our rooms lit, and cook our meals is a basic need that shouldn’t be held hostage by a big corporation trying to line its pockets with mysterious fees,” Garcia said in a statement this week.

A spokesperson for Black Hills issued a statement for ColoradoPolitics: “In short, the Phase 2 filing is not a request for a rate increase, it is simply a plan to appropriately allocate among customer groups the revenue that was approved by the PUC in December 2016 (and implemented on January 1, 2017) as part of our Phase 1 filing. The proposed Phase 2 changes to customer bills must be approved by the PUC and are revenue-neutral, meaning they would not result in any additional revenue for Black Hills Energy. We expect any changes in bills associated with this filing will not become effective until March 2018. Through smart meter data, we found that residential customers, making up 90 percent of Black Hills Energy customers, are responsible for more energy use than is recovered in their current rates. As a result, other customer groups, like business customers, have been paying a disproportionally greater share of the cost of service. This prompted the proposed changes to customer groups.”

Fair enough, perhaps, but the net result will be higher rates on residential customers who already suffer and cannot afford more.

Something must be done to relieve this economic assault on working class households in one of Colorado’s finest cities. We applaud Sen. Garcia and Commissioner Koncilja for defending the public. We hope others in public service will join them and try to bring relief to the households of Pueblo and other communities with soaring electric rates.

The Gazette Editorial Board