Sep 232009
 
Authors: Matt Minich

Fort Collins Utilities customers could pay as much as $10 more per household per month in 2010 under the city’s proposed budget for the 2010 fiscal year.

The increase is due largely to a 9.5 percent increase in electric rates, caused by a combination of factors, said Brian Janonis, the executive director of utilities at Platte River Power Authority.

The PRPA is a municipally-owned power company that provides energy for the cities of Fort Collins, Estes Park, Loveland and Longmont.

Janonis and Steven Catanach, light and power manager for Fort Collins Utilities, met with Fort Collins City Council Tuesday night as part of a work session to discuss the new budget proposal.

Of the 9.5 percent increase, 4.6 percent is caused by an increase in rates to Fort Collins from PRPA, which are then passed on to FC Utilities’ customers.

The remaining fee increases are intended to fund FC Utilities’ renewable energy and energy efficiency projects.

Most notably perhaps, a 2.08 percent rate increase was proposed to fund the city’s Advanced Metering Initiative, also known as a Smart Grid.

The AMI’s funding increase would involve the mandatory installation of new electric meters in homes and businesses across Fort Collins that would manage electrical use within the home or business with the intent of improving energy efficiency, Catanach said.

The project would carry an estimated price tag of $21 million, but reduce overall utility costs, by $2 million annually, after its complete implementation in 2012, Catanach said.

While all members of the council agreed that implementing the AMI project would ultimately benefit Fort Collins’ ratepayers, they debated the timing of the rate increase.

“I think smart metering is the wave of the future, but is the future here now?” asked City Council Rep. Ben Manvil, D-1.

Fort Collins Utilities is actively seeking stimulus funding for the project in the form of a $15 million grant from the Department of Energy, City Manager Darin Atteberry, who is working with City Council to draft the final budget, said. The availability of stimulus funds is a large part of the reasoning behind applying the rate increase during a recession.

“I wish the timing wasn’t now. I wish the timing was eight years ago,” Atteberry said, explaining that if the energy improvement projects were started a few years back, the rate increase would likely be avoidable.

If awarded, this grant would go toward elements of the project not currently funded by the rate increase, Catanach said. Stimulus funds would go toward the installation of “smart thermostats,” which would display real-time energy consumption within homes.

Whether the utilities rate increases will go forward remains to be seen. Local energy activist Eric Sutherland said the increase would surely cause problems in the Fort Collins business community, which has long reaped the benefits of the city’s extremely low utility rates.

The proposed increases would not go into effect until after the official adoption of the budget, which is scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 20.

Senior Reporter Matt Minich can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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