Steve andrews seeking alternatives to black hills energy pueblo chieftain electricity generation in california

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Two potential partners who have expressed interest in linking up with Pueblo include San Isabel Electric Association — which got blasted last week in The Pueblo Chieftain by Black Hills Energy in an advertisement — and Guzman Energy LLC. Pueblo’s Energy Future will introduce both entities at a public town hall meeting Tuesday.

Guzman Energy LLC is a specialty energy company that participates in energy markets across North America. Over the last few years, this privately-owned entrepreneurial company has been an active partner in supplying wholesale energy to several new nonprofit utilities, including several in New Mexico.

In Winter Park, Fla., that city of 30,000 residents broke away from Florida Power (now Duke Energy) back in 2005. Electric rates are now 12 percent lower than Duke Energy’s, system reliability has improved and the city’s leadership and citizens are happy.

ENCO is a California-based corporation that provides full retail electric distribution services, primarily serving local governments and municipal agencies. The company consulted with Winter Park prior to the take-over, then took over all service calls, maintenance and operations during the breakaway and for a decade afterward. The only service that Winter Park initially provided was customer billing.

Hermiston’s partner that made the current deal possible is a neighboring nonprofit, Umatilla Electric Cooperative. Hermiston contracted with Umatilla to provide all operations, maintenance, billing and service calls. Hermiston’s one employee, general manager Nate Rivera, handles transmission issues, efficiency programs and purchase power agreements with Western Area Power Administration, which supplies Hermiston’s power.

"The City Council maintains (the breakaway) was the best decision the city ever made," said Rivera. "The new utility is responsive and works with the community’s best interest in mind. The cost savings are notable and a lot of money to buy electricity that used to leave town now stays in town."

In New Mexico, Kit Carson Electric Cooperative‘s 30,000 customer-members decided in 2016 to separate from its wholesale supplier of electricity, Tri-State Generation & Transmission. The co-op sought longer-term fixed contracts for electricity. Additionally, the co-op wanted to add more renewable energy than its contract with Tri-State allowed.

In the cases described above, all breakaway entities eventually saved money on their electric bills, despite paying millions to break away. To that end, it’s worth noting that, nationwide, customers of municipal utilities pay 13 percent less for electricity than customers of for-profit utilities.

To learn more about possible benefits of partnerships for Pueblo as it studies its options to Black Hills Energy, consider attending the town hall meeting from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in Hoag Hall at Pueblo Community College, 900 W. Orman Ave. Representatives of San Isabel Electric Cooperative and Guzman Energy LLC will explore various partnering options for Pueblo. In several follow-up meetings over the spring and summer, we’ll explore additional alternative organizational structures to the investor-owned utility for our fair city.