By Jenny Paulson / Southern Colorado Independent Magazine
Shocking figures showing that Pueblo has some of the highest energy costs in the State of Colorado were given at the City Council meeting February 8th by Pueblo’s Energy Future, a grassroots network of citizens, business owners, service organizations and the faith community.
David Cockrell said Pueblo pays 42 percent more for residential electrical service and 35 percent more for commercial compared to other cities in Colorado nd that rates are predicted to continue to go up.
Rates have increased tremendously since 2010 due to Black Hills Energy’s building of new generation assets that they are passing along costs in part to citizens in Southeast Colorado, the highest rate area in Colorado.
Anne Stattleman, director of Posada, said that the high rates put an undue burden on her homeless agency and other service agencies. She said unlike other companies, Black Hills Energy disconnects electrical services in sub zero temperatures. After being disconnected the company charges 3-4 times the amount of a bill due in deposits and fees, sometimes forcing families to become homeless because they can’t afford to reconnect. She said that there isn’t one agency in town that has assistance for residents who are shut off.
“The Public Utilities Commission has been a rubber stamp that has not stood up for Pueblo rate payers,” she said. “Black Hills Energy and their policies are unjust and lead to economic hardship for people and businesses.”
Cockrell organized a recent study of the electric bills of about 20 area businesses, saying that Black Hills Energy uses a different type of system than Excel energy based on a break rate. He said that Black Hills is contributing to discouraging businesses from moving to Pueblo and dissuades businesses from staying.
One example given was a company called American Iron and Metal, located in Pueblo, which paid $767,000 in electric expenses to Black Hills Energy in 2015. The owner Jim Warren was quoted saying that “their electrical rates are enough to break us.”
A small medical office with just 3163 square feet paid over $5,000 in electrical bills in 2015 and the doctor said that the electrical rates went up 300 percent in just five years.
“Black Hills high rates have hurt all participants in Pueblo’s economy,” said Cockrell.
Susan Perkins said that City Council has the primary responsibility for assuring that Pueblo residents and businesses have access to reliable and cost effective energy. She said that the City went into a franchise agreement with the City of Pueblo with the passing of Ordinance 8186 and that parties had agreed to regular meetings, was to have a Pueblo liaison and that the Council should be advocating for better rates.
She said that the City of Pueblo has the right to terminate the agreement under certain circumstances, receiving applause from citizens packed into the City Council meeting.
She asked that the City create a Citizens Utility Advisory Board as well.
City Council president, Steve Nawrocki suggested a work session to further discuss the issue, saying that SRDA, which he manages, pays $4,000 a month for electrical costs.