Coal Law

I know or have met all of our present City Commissioners. I truly respect all of them for what they do for our community on an essentially volunteer basis and I do not doubt that any of them act out of anything but sincere feelings toward what they believe to be our best interests. Disagreement does not a conspiracy make.

It is with some wonder, then, why it seems that all five of them are so willing to follow our City staff down the proverbial primrose path on this coal plant. Don't get me wrong; I am not making this comment because I think the Commissioners are 'wrong' because they disagree with me.

I am making this comment because of what I perceive to be the lack of any sort of serious inquiry commensurate with the backgrounds and intellect of these elected officials. Why aren't they asking the hard questions? Why are these five bright, committed individuals allowing themselves to be viewed as a mere rubber stamp on such an important issue?

Last week, an astute, though anonymous, reader reminded me that we actually have laws about our local electric utility, Electric City Power. Not too long ago, starting in 2003, the City Commission adopted Chapter 5.20 of the Great Falls City Code relating to ECP. Let's take a look, shall we?

Let's start with Sec. 5.20.050. It states, in pertinent part, that: "The Corporation shall operate for the primary purpose of securing and providing reliable, long-term supplies of electricity to the City, its residents and electric consumers." [Emphasis Added] So, when representatives of the City write editorials in the paper suggesting that the question of residential service remains for decision, why doesn't the City Commission speak up? Why doesn't a member say "Excuse me, that's not quite right. Actually, we have made the decision to try to sell power to residents and Rep. Deb Kottel will be carrying the bill."

Or how about this doozy, Sec. 5.20.070: "The Board of Directors of the Corporation shall from time to time consider and recommend rates and charges for electricity supply and other services provided by the Corporation. Such rates and charges shall be designed to enable the Corporation to operate on a self-sufficient and self-sustaining basis and to produce revenues at all times sufficient to pay all operating, maintenance, debt service, repair and replacement costs of the Corporation and to provide reserves necessary or desirable for working capital, capital improvements and replacements and rate stabilization purposes. All rates and charges recommended by the Board of Directors of the Corporation shall be subject to the approval of the City Commission, by resolution adopted subsequent to notice and public hearing as required by Title 69, Chapter 7, Part 1, Montana Code Annotated, as amended." [Emphasis Added]

First, it is clear that the City Commission's law requires that the Board of Directors of Electric City Power set the rates for the utility. It's quite clear that that has not happened. A Resolution showed up at the last Commission meeting. This Resolution would set the ECP rates for the coming years. This Resolution was not "considered and recommended" by the Board of Directors of Electric City Power. In fact, it is not even going to be considered by the Board until one day before the City Commission will vote on it. Nowhere, by the way, can one find the studies or other basis for the proposed rates. Tell me, then, how the public can offer any meaningful input into this process. Answer? They can't.

Second, the City Commission's law requires that all rates be set to allow ECP to operate on a "self-sufficient and self-sustaining" basis. The law does not say anything about subsidizing rates with a "water credit." The law does not say anything about selling power below cost. These proposed rates show up at a Commission meeting with no visible means of support, they come out of thin air, they are, in part, to set rates at less than cost, and no one asks a question?

Wait a minute. The City passed an ordinance and then does not follow it? Is that legal?

But back to where I started. Can you believe that not one of our Commissioners has asked these questions publicly? Not one thinks that this whole thing smells a little...hinky?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have often wondered the same thing-not just regarding the coal generating plant--but also with regard to other issues--the Lewis and Clark debacle, the Mackenzie Pizza parking issue, funding Lawtons retirement plan, the golf courses-to name a few.