Do they or don't they?

Do they or don't they? That's my question. Do the City Commission members and the 'staff' of our fine city intend that the local power utility, Electric City Power, will sell power to local residents? Or, as they recently claimed, do they merely intend to sell to a few local industrial customers?

It's an important question for a variety of reasons. If the intended customer base is comprised of some local businesses, that will affect the economies of scale that will or will not be achievable by the utility. If the intended customer base is comprised of all of us, it means we could be captive, and could end up paying the costs through higher rates if the whole thing becomes a boondoggle.

Here's what the City Commission said recently on the issue:

Power for the People? Not. Finally, Public Service Commissioner Raney mentions "the people of Great Falls" and "citizens of Great Falls" as if they
were going to receive and pay for Highwood electricity.

Mr. Raney well knows that according to Montana laws, the city could not offer electricity beyond its currently authorized 20-customer pilot program to residents generally, even if it were free. Nor can the city, by law, obligate its citizens for the revenue bonds that will be sold to finance the plant.

Except for certain large customers, as Great Falls citizens we must buy electricity from NorthWestern Energy, or whichever global entity ends up owning it, with the oversight of the PSC.

Even though we will not be able to sell electricity to most residential customers, the city is participating in the Highwood project to provide stable electrical rates to business and industrial customers that provide jobs and economic activity that benefit the community; and to public, tax supported agencies whose electric bills residents pay through their taxes.

In sum, all residents will benefit from a stronger economy and lower costs to their governmental agencies.

(By the way, aren't you curious about who actually wrote this letter? I seriously doubt that "the Commission" wrote it. It is far more likely that one person wrote it and the Commission 'signed off' on it. Who wrote it?)

So, according to the Commission, residential customers will not buy their power from Electric City Power. But I wonder, though, if this is the whole story. This might be the case now, but what does the City intend to happen in the future?

I recall from the very first post I ever made on this weblog, that the City once before tried a 'bait and switch.' Way back in '05 the City was disclaiming an interest in residential customers while at the same time a bill was pending in the legislature that would have made us captives of the City's utility:
Let's start with HB642, the proposal to allow the City of Great Falls to become our default power suppliers. The Tribune recently published an editorial in which they supported the bill. They use this editorial point out what they call the "irony" of advocates of deregulation opposing this bill which the Trib Editorial Board claims would create more choices and competition in the energy markets. They claim that HB642 is a "a mechanism by which local entities could provide such competition, and the party that brought us deregulation is standing against it." What they didn't point out, though, is that if the City utility survived a Public Service Commission review, it would thereafter be not only our default supplier, but for the average consumer, it would be the only supplier from which we could buy our power. Is that choice??? And they didn't point out that the City would be exempt from PSC review to ensure it provided services at "just and reasonable rates."
So pardon me, please, if I am somewhat skeptical when the City says it has no interest in residential customers, or that "state law" prevents this utility from serving residential customers. Some recent research only compounds my skepticism.

First, there is the initial ordinance creating the utility, Electric City Power. Back on November 1, 2005, Coleen Balzarini, the Executive Director of Electric City Power, testified before the City Commission. She stated that ECP would provide "electricity supply services to consumers and others located within or outside of the City." She went on to state that the utility would "secure and provide reliable, long-term supplies of electricity to the City, its residents and electric consumers. " [Emphasis mine]

In May 2006, the City's resolution spoke to the need to "secure, reliable and economic supplies of electricity at stable, cost-based rates for all residential, commercial, industrial and other electric consumers within the City." [Emphasis mine]

In October 2006, Balzarini noted that the PSC had restricted the City from serving its residents for now, but instead required a 5-year test program with just a few residential customers. As Balzarini explained, the test program "will be a good opportunity for the City to familiarize itself with serving small electricity customers." [Emphasis mine]

It's anyone's guess what the utility's true intentions are, but should it be a guess? It appears that the City has intended to serve residential consumers all along, and that it was only after the PSC imposed the test program that we are now hearing the contrary.

Look, a City-owned utility may or may not be a good thing. But the lack of transparency and the possibility that certain representatives are not being entirely forthright about their intentions certainly do not engender much confidence in the process.

Here's an open letter to all City Officials involved in the Electric City Power decision-making process:

Hey! We might not be as smart as you all, but we're not stupid morons either. You work for us! What are your intentions? Do you plan to become our default supplier? If you do, you better tell us now instead of springing it on us later or trying to sneak something through the legislature. This is our town, and our money and we want to know.

How much have we paid for this whole power plant so far? How much do we owe? Are you using credits to artificially deflate the cost of power right now? If so, tell us. We want to know how all the financing is occurring. No more bureau-speak! No more hiding behind 'complexity.'

And you know what? If you explain all of this to us, we might oppose the whole damn thing. That's our right; that's the way this is supposed to work. If we oppose it, you shouldn't do it!


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You series of articles on the proposed power plant are some of the best I have read so far. Thanks for the info.

Larry Kralj, Environmental Rangers!