You think Excel Energy is jacking up fees, check this Sh*t out!

By Barbara Soderlin Journal staff

Black Hills Power customers pressed the utility at a forum Monday night to invest in renewable energy, cut its reliance on coal-fired power plants and avoid the 26.6 percent rate hike the company has requested from state regulatory officials.

Rapid City is full of working families who make just enough where they don’t qualify for home heating assistance, but will struggle to pay higher heating bills, resident Jenny Robertson told utility officials.

“We’re just on the cusp,” Robertson said. “This is scary for us.”

The meeting on the issue sponsored by the South Dakota Peace and Justice Center drew about three dozen people to the Mother Butler Center and was less formal than the Public Utilities Commission hearing on the same topic Nov. 24 at The Journey Museum.

In a room with a picture of Pope John Paul II on the wall, people passed around paper cups of coffee, slices of cake and a hat to collect donations.

For nearly two hours, they challenged Black Hills Power’s vice president of regulatory and governmental affairs to defend the rate increase request and answer questions about the utility’s stock prices, lobbying costs, charitable donations, conservation programs and commitment to wind power.

Kyle White gamely took questions and engaged the audience in a discussion of the economics of electricity.

He said Black Hills Power needs to increase rates to pay for a new power plant in Wyoming that serves this area, and to add infrastructure to serve a growing population of residents who are using more electricity per capita than ever to heat their bigger homes and power computers, cell phones and flat-screen televisions.

About the new coal-fired plant, White said, “It’s our lowest-cost option for continuing to provide safe and reliable service.”

But several in the group said the decision to rely on fuel that produces greenhouse gases is irresponsible given the link to climate change.

“I truly believe that our earth is at a critical point,” Mary Jo Farrington of Rapid City said, urging the utility to add more renewable resources like wind power to its energy portfolio.

White said that would be possible, but expensive: “We’d need a bigger increase.” The same goes for adding programs that help low-income people with their electric bill. He encouraged residents who want to save to look for ways to better insulate their homes.

White said South Dakota is not one of the states that mandate a renewable energy standard, and people should bring public policy decisions like this to their elected officials.

Jim Petersen, chairman of the Peace and Justice Center’s West River operations, encouraged the group to contact their mayor for advocacy on the rate increase and the state Legislature to push for mandates on renewable energy resources.

“These aren’t the bad guys,” Petersen said. “Our problems by and large rest in Pierre.”


#1 Ghost of Dude on 01.13.10 at 7:22 am

He encouraged residents who want to save to look for ways to better insulate their homes.

If folks are struggling to pay their electric bills, how are they going to afford to re-insulate their houses?

#2 Costner on 01.13.10 at 7:24 am

I hate to take their word for it that the increase is primarily due to the need to build a new power plant, but that might be the case.

I hate the idea of yet another coal burning plant being constructed however. I really wish we could just convince people to use nuclear energy in this area – the long term costs and so much less it isn’t even comparable.

Wind energy is great, but there are limitations and it really is only sufficient to be a backup source of energy… it will never be the primary.

#3 Costner on 01.13.10 at 7:25 am

If folks are struggling to pay their electric bills, how are they going to afford to re-insulate their houses?

I believe there is still federal tax credits available for homeowners to add insulation. That might help offset some or all of the cost.

#4 l3wis on 01.13.10 at 7:40 am

Nuclear is efficient, do it like they do in France and recycle waste and if works great.

As for insulating their homes, maybe they could do it like they did in the dust bowl days by dipping cloth in glue and flour and sticking it in the cracks of the windows. Wonder if there is a government program for that?