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Black Hills Energy proposing rate adjustments for customers

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PUEBLO -

We heard another heated public hearing Wednesday night, as the Public Utilities Commission considered Black Hills' Phase 2 rate request.

It was a considerably smaller crowd there than last year's PUC hearing in Pueblo, but it was still an emotionally charged one.

"Pueblo and it's citizens value fairness, transparency, and supporting the common good," said Reverend Kevin Olsen, with tears in his eyes.

Harris Adams is the senior hearing judge for the Colorado Public Utilities Commission who is overseeing the rate request.

Phase 1 was the rate increase request--where Black Hills was approved for 1 million dollars of the 8.5 they were seeking.

Phase 2 is a restructuring of existing rates.  BHE isn't asking for more money, but a lot of customers could still see a rate hike.

The rate restructuring system would be good news for residential customers using under 500 kilowatt hours per month, because it would mean they'd be paying less per kilowatt hour on their monthly bill than they have in the past.

"The allocation is something we look at to make sure all customer classes are treated fairly.  In other words, they're paying their fair share of the cost," said Black Hills VP of Operations Vance Crocker, who has been with BHE for about a month.

But the average residential customer would see around a $3 increase to their monthly bill.

kHW usage that exceeds 500 becomes more expensive per kilowatt hour.  The current rate is $.0865 per kWH in the summer and $.0668 in the winter.  The new proposal would bump both of those figures up to $.1591 per kWH.

"That's concerning because thousands of people in this community live on fixed incomes--medicare, social security," said Pueblo resident and BHE customer Joe Latino, during the public hearing.

Some of the speakers told the PUC 500 kilowatt hours isn't enough for most people, suggesting that guideline be bumped up to somewhere between 600-625 kWh instead.

"The average is about 591 kilowatt hours for the people that are considered in the 'poverty area.'  So this would give them a chance," said Marti Osborn with Pueblo's Energy Future.

The PUC also heard from a number of solar groups and customers--a few of them applauding the restructuring efforts.

"Black Hills offering people a way to conserve and be efficient--that is something solar providers and those who use solar energy should be proud of--is saving and conserving," said Emily Haggstrom, with Consumer Energy Alliance

Though solar customers questioned why they wouldn't be saving money through this new proposal.

They're looking at a 50% increase to their fixed monthly charge, which is about $10 more, plus almost double the price per kilowatt hour--which they have to purchase if their solar panels are unable to produce as much energy as they use in a month.

"Singling out net meter [solar] customers will be a disincentive to the people who are taking a stance against environmental pollution and unsustainable use of our natural and renewable resources," said one solar customer during Wednesday's hearing.

"As you invest in the grid, those costs do go up," Crocker later explained to News5.

"And you see those costs going up nationwide, not just with Black Hills Energy," he added.

The PUC will take public comment into consideration before making a decision.

They will have the power to make changes to the proposal, which will be addressed in future hearings.

If you could not attend the meeting, but would like to submit a public comment, click here, and then scroll down to the "How to Comment" section.

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