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Coloradans Grapple With Co-op Over 'Highest Rates In The Entire State' & Solar Issues

BUENA VISTA, Colo. (CBS4)  - The Sangre de Cristo Electric Association (SDCEA) services 14,000 homes and businesses over a wide area of Colorado, mostly within the Rocky Mountains. Right now, they're hearing from more than 100 people about proposed rate changes that would significantly increase costs for some customers.

The proposed plan that was approved by the board last year would change monthly service availability charge costs from $31.83 to $46.15. SDCEA also plans to reduce subsidies for solar power customers who invested in panels.

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"So in essence they're saying, 'We're going to charge you a distribution fee for any power that you are putting on the grid,'" Tom Plant, a Sangre de Cristo energy user explained. He believes that to be illegal under Colorado law, referencing House Bill 08-1160.

Subsidies for solar users were cut in half and reallocated to the rest of the customer base, according to Paul Erickson, CEO Sangra De Cristo Electric. He wanted to make it clear SDCEA does promote green energy initiatives, but they need to think on a bigger scale than just individual solar users in their district, which he says accounts for somewhere near 1% of total customers.

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"We can't keep cross-subsidizing," Erickson said. "Cost causers have to be cost payers."

His explanation was the co-op can purchase solar energy for a much cheaper price from larger producers than getting solar from individuals in their co-op, providing them with the subsidies. He said this change will now place them on even price rates, which will decrease the amount of money solar owners will get back.

Plant believed that will discourage people to purchase solar altogether, along with a plan that provides lower rates for customers who use more energy, and higher rates for customers who use less.

"So you are reducing the amount that people can invest in energy efficacy and save on their rates," Tom said, frustrated. "Co-ops are different. We are member-owned. We do what our members want, but I can tell you no one has ever asked the members what they want!"

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Erickson said the board is just trying to balance the budget with some of the most difficult challenges a utility can face in the state.

"Nobody has central air conditioning. There are no Walmart's. There's no factories, so we have extremely low sales and extremely high operational costs," Erickson said. "We have to get this right because we have the distinction of having the highest electric rates of any provider in the state of Colorado."

After Wednesday's meeting, the board voted to push back the rate change until April 1 to allow for more discussion.

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