An effort to reverse a decision last month to increase residential electric base rates failed at the La Plata Electric Association’s meeting on Tuesday with a split 6-6 vote.
In November, the board approved on a 6-5 vote a new rate structure that will cost local residents about $5.25 more per month on their electric bills, based on usage. Commercial and industrial users will see an estimated 4 percent decrease on next year’s bills.
Dan Harms, manager of rates, technology and energy policy, said the changes reflect recent restructuring at Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association to rectify a 2013 Tri-State action that caused rates to increase 18 percent for commercial users and fall 4.4 percent for residents.
“What we’re seeing is a reversal of that,” Harms said. “(Businesses) are not getting a break.”
However, Tuesday’s main point of contention was last month’s decision to raise the residential base rate from $20.50 to $21.50 a month, which had several board members concerned that the increase would “exacerbate inequality” in the region.
“If we continue to do this, we are harming and discriminating more and more against our members,” said board member Jeff Berman in reference to the 60 percent increase in base charges over the last five years. “I cannot support a base charge increase that exacerbates inequality and discrimination.”
Member Mark Garcia said the board was headed in the wrong direction to charge residents more than what a “cost of service” study suggested. He proposed an amendment that would have exempted residents from the increased base charge, but that motion failed on a 6-to-6 vote.
Those opposed to the amendment maintained that the new rates reflect the cost to provide services. Karen Bargar, who voted against Garcia’s motion, said the increase will keep the LPEA “healthy.”
“If we don’t cover what it actually is costing us to operate, then we’re going in the wrong direction,” Bargar said. “And I think making sure those hard costs are covered keeps us healthy.”
Many on the board also expressed a deep dissatisfaction with this year’s voting process. The LPEA approved the rate changes in November, and then sent out word to the public, making it more difficult to change the original proposal.
“Making a decision and asking questions later is a bad way of operating,” member Jack Turner said. “We were under the impression we’d have another chance to vote. So we tried to pass these amendments to at least try to offset some of the increases.”
The new rates will take effect Jan. 1. But the real effect, Turner said, is the impact increased fees will have on struggling families.
“What we’re creating, from a socioeconomic perspective, is not good,” he told the board. “More than half our kids in public school are in the poverty level, and there’s a huge gap between the rich and poor. We’re supporting that gap.”