DMEA's proposal to increase its customer rates for electricity will hit customers who have worked most diligently to participate in the utility's conservation programs.
During a public hearing on proposed rates last week in Montrose, ratepayer Pat Finch told DMEA that she and her husband were getting a "double whammy" from the proposed rate hikes.
Finch, a retired DMEA employee, said they have installed a geo-exchange in their home in addition to being on the time-of-use rate. Now their personal and financial investment in an energy-conserving lifestyle is at risk of higher rates under both classes of energy use.
Time-of-use ratepayers would see their off-peak energy costs more than double; from 3.73 cents per kilowatt hour to 8.1 cents per kWh under proposed rates unveiled at the hearing on Oct. 22. Geo-exchange rates would go up too, but by a lesser amount. DMEA has over two dozen different rate classes subject to changes.
The DMEA board will take action on proposed new rates at its Nov. 26 meeting.
Overall, the "average" residential increase would be $7 to $8 per month, explained DMEA general manager Dan McClendon. But the proposed increase for "average" time-of-use ratepayers with a $100 monthly bill would be much higher — $18 to $19 per month he estimated.
"We have received comments from people who are quite upset about the time-of-use rate being increased dramatically," McClendon said. He explained that wholesale supplier Tri-State's rate structure adopted in 2012 made current time-of-use rates a money loser for DMEA.
Three consecutive years of rate increases from Tri-State have made new rates a financial necessity for the utility, he said. He characterized the new rates as "not a DMEA increase."
Tri-State is hiking costs 1.4 percent next year. In 2013, wholesale rates went up 4.9 percent, an increase DMEA did not pass along to ratepayers. A 4.8 percent increase from Tri-State in 2013 also was not added to DMEA electric rates; but, DMEA responded with a new rate structure of its own which added cost to come customers and which has led to increases this year in the time-of-use and other rates.
"We are trying to pick up some of what we have lost" in recent years, McClendon said. Seventy percent of DMEA's costs are for purchased power.
Two speakers at the Oct. 22 hearing were not swayed by references to Tri-State's policies as reason for local electric rate hikes. Former DMEA board member Mark Eckhart, and former board candidate Kay Heinschel aimed critical remarks towards DMEA's own policies and relationship with Tri-State.
Heinschel said, "It looks like Tri-State owns the (DMEA) board."
He faulted DMEA for not representing its members and standing up to Tri-State on rate increase issues. Prior to the 2013 board election cycle last spring, members were promised a tough stand on Tri-State rates, Heinschel said. But after the election, "Nothing changed. "I am very disappointed with (DMEA's) continuous rate increases. The public can't see what you are doing about it," he said.
Tri-State wants to continue building "low-efficiency, coal-fired power plants," Heinschel said. It should focus instead on more efficient gas-fired plants with long-term fuel contracts. "Tell Tri-State you want rates held steady or lowered. I don't see anyone trying to do it," Heinschel said. "You need a plan to try and affect what is going on over at Tri-State," he told the board.
Eckhart agreed with Heinschel saying, "There is no transparency for DMEA ratepayers. None."
He questioned board member Marshall Collins on his work as DMEA's representative to the Tri-State co-op board. Colllins explained that he had voted for the previous two Tri-State increases in spite of "disagreeing with a lot of it. The new rate design will be a better economic fit for everyone involved," Collins said.
Eckhart made several other points that weren't directed to the electric rates under consideration at the hearing.
The DMEA board will have the option of adopting or changing the proposed rates when it meets on Nov. 26, explained DMEA board president Nancy Hovde following the hearing.
"I can't predict what the board will do with rates at the November meeting," Hovde said and added, "The board does listen to the members."blog comments powered by Disqus