Off-peak rates

La Plata Electric, others right to take on Tri-State over regressive rate structure

La Plata Electric is part of a coalition that filed a complaint Monday with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission about the new rates being charged for electricity by Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association. It was the right thing to do.

At issue is Tri-State’s recently revised rate structure. The electricity producer switched to a system that charges according to average usage. Before that, its arrangement had allowed LPEA and the other co-ops to charge consumers different rates at different times of day to encourage them to shift their usage to periods when demand was lower.

Called a “time-of-use program,” that did two things. It gave savvy consumers a way to save on their electric bills and it worked to even out demand. Rather than trying to build a system to accommodate huge spikes in demand – and then sit underused at other times – all concerned could operate more efficiently and without paying for unneeded production and distribution capacity.

Over time, such more balanced usage can save ratepayers money by reducing the need for more infrastructure. It could even forestall the need for another power plant or two.

Consumers responded well to that. LPEA has 5,000 customers signed up for its time-of-use program. And some who welcomed it the most are the biggest users.

With LPEA in, this is an impressive and diverse collection of entities not always seen as obvious allies. Among them are two other electric co-ops, White River Electric in Meeker and Empire Electric in Cortez. But also included are some big players in the gas patch – BP, Encana Oil & Gas, Kinder Morgan and ExxonMobile. And all of those are essentially lining up in support of a program popular with environmentalists.

That seemingly unusual alignment makes perfect sense. LPEA and the other co-ops serve members who care about the environment and the effects their personal decisions can have on it. The gas companies may have similar concerns, but they are also large consumers of electricity and the most capable of taking advantage of the off-peak pricing.

From both perspectives, Tri-State is acting as an impediment to progress. Since Tri-State’s new rates went into effect Jan. 1, LPEA’s time-of-use customers have seen roughly a 30 percent increase in their electric bills. And for what?

LPEA was correct to join this challenge. Let us hope the PUC agrees.