Oct 192009
Authors: Matt Minich

Ratepayers for Fort Collins Utilities could pay almost $10 each month if city officials agree on a rate increase that will go before Fort Collins City Council this evening.

The 9.5 percent increase in the city’s light and power budget has been proposed as part of the city’s budget for fiscal year 2010. If passed, the increase would result in households spending an estimated $9.95 more a month when utility use is at its peak in the summer.

The rate spike is the largest in recent history, a fact that has led many community members to wonder whether citizens enduring the current economic climate should be asked to bear the additional burden of larger monthly bills.

“I think it’s ludicrous to raise Fort Collins residents’ utility rates beyond necessity at this time,” said City Council Rep. Aislinn Kottwitz, D-3.

The bulk of the increase is a pass-through increase from the Platte River Power Authority, the electric utility company that provides power for the communities of Loveland, Longmont and Estes Park as well as Fort Collins. These costs cannot be avoided, but the additional increases are poorly timed, Kottwitz said.

About a third of the increase is unrelated to the pass-through and is directed toward energy efficiency education and the installation of an Automated Metering Infrastructure, which would provide a digital electric meter for Fort Collins homes and businesses.

The meters would measure energy usage in real time, allowing users to see the effects of certain lights or appliances on their overall consumption.

Making this information readily available to ratepayers would result in reductions in energy waste and increased efficiency in the community, said Wade Troxel, the City Council member representing District 4.

Troxel said he supports the increase but does not expect that it will survive the council vote tonight.

“Everybody qualifies that it’s a good thing,” he said, “Just not now.”

Local energy activist Eric Sutherland has challenged the proposal, claiming that the city’s actions violate state law.

According to state law, ratepayers must be notified of a utility rate increase 30 days before it is put into effect. Though Fort Collins issued a notification to ratepayers outside the city on Sept. 30, no notification been issued for the overwhelming of majority of people living within city limits.

Steve Roy, the Fort Collins city attorney, said the accusations against the city were little more than a difference in interpretation of the law by Sutherland.

For rate issues regarding Fort Collins Utilities, the city is only required to comply with its own city charter, which only requires two readings of the increase and a notification within seven days, Roy said.

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

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