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Utility rates rise, lights go down

Zach Koppang | Shale Plays Media

Energy production in the state of Colorado is changing, and the results have trickled down to the residents of Pueblo, according to a recent report by The Washington Post. The story paints an interesting portrait of Sharon Garcia, a Pueblo resident, who is taking pragmatic but sometimes dramatic measures to combat the rising costs of electricity.

Garcia routinely places post-it notes with dollar signs written on them to her home’s light switches, serving as a constant reminder of the increasing costs. Using the oven is off limits in the summer because it warms the house, and the air conditioner is rarely used. Even the fish are living in the dark if nobody is in the room.

As Colorado shifts its energy infrastructure from coal-fired plants to renewable energy, it seems that residents such as Garcia are feeling the increasing costs of this transition the most. Black Hills Energy, having purchased local utilities, promptly began converting inexpensive coal plants to run on natural gas, leaving ratepayers to foot the bill at home.

Related: Black Hills takes heat over rates

Pueblo, Colorado, has a poverty rate of 18.1 percent, incomes well below the state average, and a third of its population is receiving public assistance. The sudden transition from coal power to natural gas has resulted in greater stress placed upon the ratepayers who are already stretched financially thin.

Lydia DePillis of The Washington Post reports:

It’s true, the state of Colorado has pushed its utilities to move away from dirty fuels — years before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued regulations on existing power plants, which are expected to shutter hundreds of coal boilers nationwide by the end of the decade. But there are better and worse ways to transition to renewable sources of energy.

“Black Hills is a utility that has moved beyond coal,” says Leslie Glustrom, research director with Clean Energy Action. “The way that Black Hills has moved beyond coal is not the way we want to do it.”

Pueblo had previously been receiving its electricity from a coal-fired plant in Canon City and two natural gas power plants that were constructed in the 1940s. The utility company Aquila, which formerly serviced Pueblo also had the option to purchase power from Xcel, should there be a need. But when Black Hills Energy bought Aquila in 2008, Xcel decided to cut the power supply in favor of servicing the more lucrative Denver area.

As Colorado continues to shift towards renewable energy production, cities like Pueblo might be leading the charge of expediting the transition to more affordable energy, though they might be writing letters to their representatives by candlelight.


Click here to read the full story at The Denver Post.

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