Council OK's electric increase
Last updated 11/4/2020 at 11:53am
Fountain electric customers will see a 4-percent increase on their bills beginning in January 2021. The City Council voted last Tuesday to approve the rate hike, along with an identical one starting January 2022.
Mayor Gabe Ortega acknowledged the concerns of some people who spoke against the proposed increases during the virtual meeting, which had been switched to completely online instead of in-person only a day prior.
“I get the concerns,” Ortega said. “This is going to affect me too.”
However, he said the need to improve the city’s entire electric system to deal with current and future growth and provide reliability was a greater good that needed to be considered. Although there is probably never a “good time” for an increase, he said the planned system improvements were “long overdue.”
“These things – they suck, but we have to do it,” Ortega said.
The council voted unanimously to approve the two rate increases following a presentation by Utilities Director Dan Blankenship and John Krajewski of JK Energy Consulting LLC, as well as comments from a few customers who questioned the need for the increase and the timing of it.
A resident of the Cumberland Green neighborhood, Mrs. Colon, said the increases were just another blow after a series of financial difficulties faced by area residents this year, including impacts from the COVID-19 shutdowns and recently increased water rates.
“The timing is just so wrong,” she said, suggesting the matter should be put to a public vote.
Some people said they only recently heard about the proposal and said some of their neighbors didn’t know about it at all, limiting their chance to provide input. However, the proposal was first mentioned at the Sept. 8 council meeting, which was reported in a front-page article in this newspaper the following week; a public notice was published in the newspaper on Sept. 23, the same day a full-page notice was mailed to electric customers. The notice was posted on the Utilities website beginning Sept. 25. It was mentioned again on the front page of this newspaper in the Oct. 21 issue.
In addition, some were unhappy that the meeting was not held in-person. City officials said they made the last-minute decision to go online based on the limited interpretation of new guidelines set forth by Gov. Jared Polis.
Based on current calculations, the average residential customer will see an increase of $3.25 per month with the 2021 increase. The most recent increase was 3 percent in 2019.
The future increases will help pay for a second electric interconnection to provide service to Fountain Electric territory, which also includes thousands of residents in Widefield and part of Security. At this time, there is only one main entry point for electric service into the area. Officials say the second interconnection is vital to providing reliability for current service but also to accommodate the existing and future growth of the area. If that one line were to experience a major outage, that second point could allow for service to continue without interruption.
Utilities officials and JK Consulting say a total of five annual increases may be needed to cover the costs associated with the new infrastructure; however, the council has voted only to approve the first two years at this time.
“The preliminary estimate of the cost of system improvements needed through 2025 is approximately $55 million,” according to the consultant’s report.
Officials noted that assistance continues to be available for customers struggling to pay their bills through the Lighten the Load program, currently administered by The Salvation Army. Information is available on the Utilities website or by calling customer service at 322-2010.
Editor’s note: See related story on the state’s LEAP assistance program on this page.