Jul 31, 2014 8:49 PM by Andy Koen

Wind energy to increase Pueblo utility bills next year

HUERFANO COUNTY - Drive 20 miles east of Walsenburg on CO Highway 10 and you'll find at least a dozen Vestas wind turbines churning away creating clean renewable power for Black Hills Energy.

While the wind is free, the turbines aren't and the utility wants to raise rates to recoup their costs.

Company executives applied on April 30 to the Colorado Public Utility Commission for a 3.7 percent rate increase.

"The purpose of that rate increase was to recover the costs associated with the $50 million wind farm," explained Christopher Burke, Vice President of Colorado Utility Operations for Black Hills.

Residential customers were notified that their bills would go up by about $4.70 a month from average of $94.36 to $99.06.

Puebloans already pay some of the highest electric rates in the state due in part the $500 million it cost Black Hills to build a new natural gas power plant.

Although coal is still cheaper, Burke says state and federal regulations have steered them away from choosing that fossil fuel in future energy production.

"Coal is becoming increasingly costly and it's based on the amount of carbon emission that a particular fuel puts into the atmosphere," Burke said.

This latest rate increase won't be the last. Black Hills wants to expand their Pueblo gas plant to shore up supply after closing an outdated coal-plant in Cañon City.

"The bulk of the costs for that expansion, to the extent that they manifest themselves, would be recovered through a future rate proceeding," Burke said.

If approved, the rate increase would take affect January 1, 2015.


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