Pueblo takes early steps toward a new life without its old public utility
Author: Dan Njegomir - January 26, 2018 - Updated: January 26, 2018
It is by now a given that Pueblo’s civic leadership is fed up with Rapid City, S.D.-based utility Black Hills Energy, which provides most of the city’s residential power. The utility’s repeated rate hikes over the years alongside other contentious policies have rankled residents and local elected officials alike. The tension culminated in a vote by the Pueblo City Council last September to explore how it could pull out of its franchise agreement with Black Hills and maybe even take the bold step of starting its own, municipal utility.
But exactly how do you get there from here? That’s what the city’s newly impaneled Electric Utility Commission will try to figure out. The commission met for the first time Thursday, and the Pueblo Chieftain’s Ryan Severance was there to report on the proceedings as commission members mulled their options. Foremost among those options at this early stage?
Panel member Chris Markuson, Pueblo County’s economic development director, said he’s researched other communities in situations similar to Pueblo’s, and their first step commonly is engaging in a feasibility study.
Next? Hire a lawyer:
Due to the various legal components of what the commission is tasked with — determining if the city can exit its contract with Black Hills Energy 10 years ahead of schedule and create a municipal utility in its place — it was also recommended that members begin looking into hiring an attorney adept in energy issues who can help navigate the city through the process.
“I think you can find a consultant that starts a process of the feasibility study and then build that legal component as soon as possible,” Markuson said.
Though going solo poses a formidable and complicated challenge for the city of 110,000, it is hardly unprecedented. There is a number of long-standing, municipally owned and operated utilities in Colorado that could serve as a model. The largest is just up the road in Colorado Springs, where the city’s utility — governed by members of the city council who also serve as the utility’s board — provides local power, gas and water.
Actually ending the Pueblo’s franchise agreement with Black Hills requires the approval of city voters, who had agreed to a 20-year franchise with the company in 2010.