IREA customers have seen at least a 16.5 percent increase in the cost of heating and lighting their homes since the beginning of December and should prepare for an additional 6.5 percent boost starting Jan. 1.
However, IREA will freeze rates after the Jan. 1 increase in an effort to cap rising energy costs that are passed along to its 138,000 households, according to Bill Schroeder, manager of public affairs for the Intermountain Rural Electric Association.
The two rate increases come because the cost of electricity has gone up. The December increase was to defray rising costs at IREA. The January increase is a result of Xcel Energy, which supplies the majority of IREA’s electricity, being granted a 6.5 percent increase by the Public Utilities Commission. Xcel’s original request for a 16 percent increase was denied.
IREA is not an energy-producing organization. It purchases 93 percent of its electricity from Xcel Energy, Colorado’s largest supplier.
The remainder comes in the form of hydropower purchased from the Western Area Power Authority. That organization alone has increased its rates by 20 percent since July, according to Schroeder.
New power station
The IREA board voted to freeze the rates until it can re-evaluate costs after the Comanche 3 Power Station Expansion fires up sometime in January.
“We’re hoping that will it will come online at the first of the year, but it won’t be at full capacity for a while,” Schroeder said.
Once the plant is in operation, IREA will buy half of its energy from Xcel and half from Comanche 3. IREA owns 25 percent of Comanche 3.
Currently, it costs 6.5 cents per kilowatt-hour to buy electricity from Xcel, and that cost will drop to 4.5 cents when Comanche 3 is up and running.
“When the plant comes on line, the board will look (at the increase) again,” Schroeder said. “Their goal is to stabilize the rates and have no more rate increases.”
Still, Schroeder said additional carbon taxes are looming, and IREA has tried to prepare customers.
“Those taxes could be huge in the long run,” Schroeder said. “If that takes place, it’s still our goal to keep the rates steady.”
If those taxes don’t become a reality, and IREA ends up with more revenue, then it’ll look at lowering rates plus returning money to customers through capital credits.
More delinquent accounts
Closer to home, Schroeder acknowledged that more households are having problems paying their utility bills.
Last year, 37,000 households had delinquent accounts, but this year that number has almost doubled to 72,000. In addition, IREA is waiting a shorter time before final shut-off notices are sent.
In the past, final notices went out at 90 days past due. Now, final notices show up much sooner, at about 30 days.
“The higher you make the rates, the harder it is for people to pay their bills,” Schroeder said.
Energy Assistance Programs in the Conifer Area
Evergreen Christian Outreach — 303-670-1796
Seniors’ Resource Center (ask for Sharon) — 303-674-2843
Mountain Resource Center — 303-838-7552
Salvation Army (Conifer extension) — 303-838-9285
Energy Outreach of Colorado (Heat Help & LEAP) — 866-432-8435 or 303-825-8750
LEAP — 303-271-4399