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EDITORIAL: Black Hills crushes Pueblo with rate hikes

By: The Gazette editorial board
August 19, 2016 Updated: August 19, 2016 at 1:42 pm
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photo - Courtesy KKTV
Courtesy KKTV 

Colorado's Public Utilities Commission should hesitate before granting Black Hills Energy another rate hike in Pueblo.

Hundreds of ratepayers packed into the Pueblo Convention Center on Tuesday and painted the picture of a publicly traded utility financially pillaging a town.

Black Hills serves about 94,000 customers in Pueblo and other parts of Southern Colorado, having acquired Aquila in 2008. Since coming to town, Black Hills has imposed one rate hike after the next. The Denver Post reports the company has grown the area's rate base by 376 percent, from $136 million to $511 million, in just eight years.

The community has some of the highest electric rates in the country, while the median household income is $20,000 below the statewide median.

Dozens of speakers pleaded with members of the Public Utilities Commission to say "no" to another increase. One woman said she can barely afford food after paying a household electric bill of more than $500 last month.

Sister Nancy Crafton, of Sisters of Charity, said more than 6,000 residents face shutoffs because rates are so high. She told of one family, with disabled children, that has been without electricity for three weeks. They won't have the $500 needed to get power restored for at least two more weeks, and local charities are tapped out.

Others said the community's exorbitant electric rates are keeping prospective employers away, eliminating hope for higher- paying jobs.

Black Hills Vice President Christopher Burke, in an interview with Channel 11, partly blamed rate hikes on the Colorado Clean Air Clean Jobs Act. The 2010 law requires state-regulated utilities to replace coal plants with solar, wind and natural gas generation.

The company's most recent quarterly gross profit margin is nearly 75 percent (difference between sales and cost of goods sold divided by revenue). Asked about it by KKTV, Burke said the profits are owed to shareholders and cannot be used to pay for clean energy.

Gazette editorials have long warned about unfunded state renewables mandates regressing to harm low-income households. In Pueblo, where an electric utility won't burden stakeholders with clean energy costs, this outcome is on painful display.

The Public Utilities Commission's website carries a mission statement:

"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."

The state should take reasonable measures to protect our environment. It should also worry about the "reasonably-priced" part of its mission. It should not shortchange that part about upholding "values of our state."

Colorado values do not include imposing some of the highest electric rates in the country on a community that is among the least able to afford them.

the gazette editorial board

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