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Plotting Utilities' future

Local View



The Colorado Springs City Council, through its role as the Utilities Board, is dedicated to ensuring that our city has a vibrant, diverse and sustainable economy and our local utility remains a partner in helping Colorado Springs develop the most business-friendly environment of any city in America.

Our community has undergone transformative changes in the past year. The Council/Mayor form of governance is allowing us more time to focus on Utilities in addition to our legislative role on behalf of citizens. As part of the board's role, we have held lengthy discussions on Colorado Springs Utilities governance and last month launched an effort to evaluate the future role of Martin Drake Power Plant. The board will discuss these matters again at the June 20 board meeting.

Recently, the board has received input concerning the scope and timing of the City Council/Utilities Board initiative on governance and the Drake plant. My fellow board members and I appreciate the many comments, and they will be included with other stakeholder feedback. All ratepayers are welcome to attend the monthly board meetings, a tremendous opportunity to learn more about Utilities operations and the important issues we face.

As a reminder, the Utilities Board and City Council are elected by and completely accountable to the citizens of Colorado Springs and, per the City Charter, have full authority to direct Utilities operations.

Through the years City Council has directed governance studies by appointing various groups to analyze how peer utilities are governed, explore the mechanics of how a board would be selected and operate, and to study the possibility of selling Utilities.

More recently, the Utilities Policy Advisory Committee (UPAC) made specific recommendations as to a future governance model. Though well-intentioned, the recommendation tended to focus on which external entity, governing body or elected official has the authority to direct how Utilities operates, rather than addressing the fundamental issues outlined below. Recommending an appointed board fails to recognize the lessons we are still learning from the recent Memorial Health System governance controversy.

Today, our conversation is focused on answering the more relevant questions:

• How does Utilities benefit the community and are there additional benefits that can be derived from community ownership?

• Should Utilities be a funding source for the municipal government over and above the current $30 million-plus annually?

• Are there compelling reasons to change the current authority?

Until input on these questions is obtained, by a more comprehensive approach than a handful of people on a task force, we cannot make a responsible decision in the long-term best interests of all citizens and customers on the mechanics of governance or the potential costly relocation of a power plant.

Concerning the Drake plant's future, we need to remember that the key to Utilities' competitive rates and reliability to date can be found in our ability to generate most electricity for the community at our local power plants and by keeping operating costs low through efficient operations. By operating our own generators, our community is not subject to expensive, long-term power supply contracts nor have we been exposed to the vagaries of wholesale electricity markets.

However, in our quest to ensure that our city develops a supportive climate for business, last month we directed Utilities to lead the way by studying all aspects of closing Drake. This includes a technical and environmental analysis, gathering public input and preparing a forecast of potential economic development opportunities associated with removing the plant from downtown, as well as the impact of potentially higher rates with a decision to close the plant.

Utilities provides essential service to every citizen in our community. We believe a comprehensive approach is needed to keep rates affordable and to ensure the benefit provided by owning Utilities is fully realized.

The bottom line is that Utilities has competitive rates, high reliability and excellent customer service, all evidence of efficiencies gained and responsible management. And because of local control, our community can have a conversation about our power plant's future and not be held to the whims of non-local owners.

My colleagues on City Council and I invite you to participate as we discuss these important issues and the long-term viability of our community.

Scott Hente is president of City Council and chair of the Colorado Springs Utilities Board.

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