Protests and letters to the editor show just how frustrated Pueblo ratepayers are with rising electricity bills and their service provider Black Hills Corporation. I sympathize with those ratepayers, but their anger is misdirected. The real villains are former Governor Bill Ritter and Colorado’s largest investor utility Xcel Energy.
Beginning in 2006, Ritter and Xcel along with activist regulators and special interest groups worked to pass some 57 different laws that make up the “New Energy Economy.” These laws included a phantom carbon tax; a Soviet-style green energy production quota; and, far and away the worst, mandated fuel switching, which became one of the “building blocks” for the Obama Administration’s controversial, costly carbon emissions scheme.
Xcel has 1.4 million ratepayers from which to recover costs. Black Hill must comply with Xcel-championed laws, yet it must recover costs from only 93,000 ratepayers.
Also, remember it was Xcel that decided not to sell some 300 megawatts of power to Black Hills because Xcel claimed it needed the additional capacity to meet ratepayers’ electric demands. Apparently, Xcel overestimated demand and then tried to recover the cost of NOT selling that power to Black Hills. Black Hills subsequently built a $487 million plant to supply power it once purchased from Xcel, the cost of which was passed along to Black Hills’ ratepayers.
Both Xcel and Black Hills ratepayers suffer because of Xcel’s inability to anticipate demand.
While Xcel twisted legislative arms and negotiated privately with regulators all with Governor Ritter’s blessing, Black Hills usually didn’t get invited to the table. Eventually Black Hills testified against Xcel and in favor of ratepayers. Take SB12-178, a bill that would have increased Colorado’s renewable mandate by 20 percent. (Xcel didn’t take an official stance but sources in the legislature said they were working hard on passage.)
Black Hills’ Wendy Moser (newly appointed PUC commissioner) testified against it because the company estimated “rates will rise 25 percent in order to pay for the increased mandate. The increase will stifle all economic activity because energy costs will needlessly take a larger percentage of consumers’ and businesses’ budgets.”
Governor Bill Ritter never admitted, “electricity rates will necessarily skyrocket” as candidate Barrack Obama did in January 2008. But that is the legacy of the “New Energy Economy” that he championed along with Xcel Energy, and Colorado ratepayers pick up the tab – residential rates have gone up 63 percent since 2004, nearly double the inflation rate.
So maybe Black Hills ratepayers should consider protesting Xcel Energy. I’d march with them.