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Solar panel arrays are pictured on numerous rooftops in Golden on May 25, 2020. (Andy Colwell, Special to The Colorado Sun)

The Sangre de Cristo Electric Association board last week rescinded a plan to restructure its electric rates that raised protests from residents using solar panels. 

The rural co-op’s board canceled its plan that raised costs for members who used less electricity, raised its fixed monthly fees and increased electrical rates for owners with solar panels on their homes. 

This story first appeared in The Outsider, the premium outdoor newsletter by Jason Blevins.

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“We are not anti-solar. We don’t have a vendetta against net-meter members and we are listening to you,” said co-op board member Dan Daly, who proposed the motion to re-engage the provider’s consultant to suggest a new rate structure plan.

The board last fall approved the new plan, which co-op CEO Paul Erickson said shifted the cost of electric service to “cost causers.” Erickson said the goal was to squeeze more revenue from the association’s growing number of second-home owners, who do not use as much power as full-time residents. 

The plan did not raise revenues for the 13,000-member association but increased costs for users who consumed less than 590 kilowatt hours a month and raised the fixed rate for electrical service to $46.15 a month, up from $31.83. Many members protesting the plan expressed concern for residents on fixed incomes who were trying to save money by conserving energy. 

The plan sparked a revolt among members, with more than 700 residents in Chaffee, Custer, Fremont and Lake counties signing a petition asking the board to cancel the plan. Owners with solar panels said they felt punished by the plan, arguing that the new rates violated Colorado’s 2008 net-metering law that requires cooperative electric associations to credit solar-paneled owners one kilowatt hour for every kilowatt hour they generate. 

More than 100 members signed onto the board’s online meeting on Wednesday, many with prepared statements that urged the board to change its plan. The board’s first action was to cancel its plan, leaving those residents with moot scripts. 

Susan Griener, a local resident who helped organize opposition to the proposed plan, said the co-op should not create rates that charge less for more electrical use.

“I believe a new business model is necessary. One that takes all members into account,” she said. “Models exist for solving perceived issues without larger fixed costs.”

Tom Plant, a Buena Vista homeowner who once directed the Colorado Energy Office, urged the board to steer clear of plans that vied to turn “cost causers into cost payers.”

“That language tends to pit members against each other,” said Plant, asking the board during the meeting to instead identify overarching goals on energy efficiency, protecting lower income members and encouraging new energy sources. “That would help you craft and construct any new rate schedules. There are lots of different ways to construct rates and I appreciate your willingness to revisit this process.”

With more than 100 members attending Wednesday’s monthly meeting and more than 140 at the board’s January meeting, Plant sees a benefit with more members following board policy.

“In these co-op situations, most people don’t pay much attention,” he said. “One of the things that are really positive coming out of this is that people are engaged.”

The Colorado Sun — Email: Twitter: @jasonblevins