This article addresses the economic impact of SMPA’s installation of “High-Demand Meters,” triggering large rate increases for certain consumers, an issue to be explored at the Multi-County meeting of County Commissioners and Administrators to be held on January 9, 2012 at the 4-H Center in Ridgway. This will be an opportunity to understand SMPA’s recent policies and the high-demand rate already affecting some area residences and businesses. Ouray County, San Miguel County, Montrose County and San Juan Counties will be represented, as well as SMPA.
I became aware of high-demand meters when an SMPA employee appeared at my house last June to install a high-demand meter that would digitally register a usage rate in excess of 20,000 kw’s in any 15-minute period (ever!). He stated that my already high electric bills could more than double based on my potential to place high demand on the grid. This would be based upon one very small measurement claiming to demonstrate potential to place higher and more rapid than normal demand on the grid rather than actual use of electrical power. After confirming this with Marcus Wilson my elected board member, I met with SMPA’s Kevin Ritter and Brad Zaporski to discuss my concerns.
I was told by all three that SMPA’s principal obligation is to supply all the electricity that could ever be called into use at any time for all of their 13,500 accounts. High-demand means that SMPA must purchase higher cost energy from Tri-State their parent company during periods of peak demand, and therefore must identify those accounts that pull many kilowatts (kw’s) over a brief period of time.
I suggested that SMPA pre-identify and notify potential high-demand users and hold classes about conservation techniques instead of just showing up to change the meter.
I suspect many people were unaware they were candidates for a rate increase. Kevin and Brad admitted SMPA could have sent a warning letter to those so identified based on a preliminary measurement of 5000 kw’s used in a single billing period, a measurement they had used to predetermine possible high-demand accounts. However the high-demand meters continued to be installed without warning through the fall, blindsiding angry customers according to several anonymous SMPA employees. Recently I learned that SMPA was sending letters giving consumers an opportunity to mitigate their demand rate, however this letter when read to me seemed more threatening than helpful.
To date, SMPA has identified 125 high-demand accounts. According to Bill Riley, a systems engineer at SMPA, this will be the total number of accounts to be placed on high-demand rates for now. These 125 accounts represent businesses, landlords, and individuals or families who may have extenuating circumstances or may be driven out of business or out of their homes because of this unexpected expense.
It is difficult or impossible to compare high-demand billing amounts with normal-demand bills because the formulas used to determine billing amounts are not comparable. Therefore businesses and families cannot anticipate and plan for these billing changes, nor can they predict or budget for actual amounts.
Last summer I invited Brad to meet with me and my electrician to tell me how I could avoid excessive demand and higher bills. Brad made several suggestions which I implemented, and on my electrician’s advice I converted my outdated electrical heating system to natural gas resolving my high-demand issue while lowering my utility bills. However the economic impact on SMPA’s four-county service area remains for others, placing businesses and residents in financial jeopardy in an already depressed economy.
This leads one to ask: Is SMPA serving two masters? Their parent company Tri-State is positioning itself to meet the speculation that Colorado’s population will double by 2050, so they can continue to meet all the electrical demand there could ever be in Colorado and other states, while SMPA’s mission statement requires environmentally responsible electrical service. How can both these conditions be met? If people use less electricity, their bills will go down, and less energy will be purchased fromTri-State, causing Tri-State to default on loans already secured to support unmitigated growth.
We elect Board Members who are paid by SMPA. Are they representing the community’s interests or rubber-stamping policies recommended by those with competing priorities? Are board members apologists for unbridled growth, or will they influence SMPA to educate consumers about conservation and grid demand?
SMPA claims that the measurement of 20,000+ kw use in a fifteen-minute period which triggers rate changes can be offset by an uninterrupted year of less than 20,000 kw readings in any 15-minute period. First, one measurement showing a high reading in a brief span compared with a consumer’s lifetime with the company is a meaningless statistic. Second, a year is an excessive requirement to offset a single 15-minute measurement of 20,000+ kw. Third, who will insure that this return to previous low-demand rates will in fact be implemented by SMPA?
An article in the Ridgway Sun (12/29/10) stated the following when asked why previous erroneously applied high-demand rates were not refunded despite admitted errors on the part of SMPA: “Basically, the board didn’t offer any refunds because it was nobody’s fault,” Green said. “It’s unfortunate that it happened like it did. That’s just standard utility practice. You can imagine what it would take to look at those bills every month and verify that everyone’s on the right rate.”
Green’s statement is untrue. It was SMPA’s fault and refunds should have been issued. This implies at the very least a need for an audit. And how much will meter installations and re-installations of both high-demand and TWACS meters cost? Furthermore, information furnished by the TWACS system will render the demand-meters redundant and obsolete within approximately one-and-a-half years, so why are they being installed at all? And, the TWACS meters will identify more accounts that will be placed on the high-demand billing formula.
I have to wonder: Is it legal to charge real dollars for the potential to use a commodity or product at a faster rate?
All SMPA co-op members are invited to the upcoming Multi-County public meeting on January 9 at the 4-H Center on Highway 550 in Ridgway. This agenda item will begin at approximately 10:45. Any of us could be next in line for higher electric bills. Let’s get educated now!