Lower Valley fails to price power fairly

Large houses like this drive up power costs for everyone.

Faced with rising electricity costs, Lower Valley Energy again has raised the rate for all residents, rather than charging more to the heaviest consumers of power.

This marks the second time in five years that Lower Valley has passed on higher costs to everyone, instead of raising rates for those who use the most electricity and thereby drive up the costs for the cooperative as a whole.

Board member Ted Ladd

Lower Valley’s board of directors voted June 30 to charge a higher residential rate in winter. The rate will stay the same in summer, when there is less demand for electricity. The new rate will take effect in October.

The board dismissed another option for a tiered system, in which residents would pay a higher rate above a certain threshold for power consumption. Such a system would have created a strong financial incentive for conservation.

Now, the higher winter rate will fall on the shoulders of low-income residents who are more likely to be living in poorly insulated homes. Power hogs with heated driveways and large homes will pay the same rate as skids.

The tiered system would have mirrored the way Bonneville Power Administration charges Lower Valley for electricity. The cooperative must pay a higher rate for power above a certain quantity BPA provides.

Board member Ted Ladd made the motion in favor of the seasonal rate, according to the News&Guide. Pete Cook, Fred Brog and Nancy Winters joined him in approval, while Dean Lewis and Linda Schmidt voted against it, advocating instead for a flat increase for all seasons.

According to the News&Guide, trustees had a “brief discussion” about the tiered system, under which households that use more energy would be charged a higher rate. Tram Whitehurst reports:

But that idea was quickly put to rest, with board members questioning where the division would fall and reluctant to punish large homes.

Brog spoke for most of the board when he said, “I’m still convinced that large residential should not have to subsidize the smaller guys.”

No, instead the smaller consumers who conserve the most will wind up subsidizing trophy homes.

In addition to hiking rates, in recent years Lower Valley raised the base service charge for all residents, from $5 to $15 per month. This fee is to recoup the costs of infrastructure — power transmission lines, transformers and such. The same fee is charged whether residents use 200 kilowatt hours per month or 2,000, even though the larger consumers require greater transmission capacity, especially at times of peak demand (i.e. Christmas-New Year’s).

Even with the seasonal change, under the current pricing system large consumers of power “aren’t paying their fair share,” says Denny Emory, a Wilson businessman who has served on LVE advisory committees. “Not even close.”

Salmon are going extinct on the lower Snake to heat driveways in Jackson Hole.

Lower Valley began restructuring electricity rates in 2006 to reflect BPA’s limited supply of cheap hydropower; BPA had informed local utilities that because of growth and drought in the Pacific Northwest, it would not be able to meet all demand for electricity beyond 2011.

At that time, about 70 percent of Lower Valley households used less than 2,000 kilowatt hours per month. However, 10 percent used more than 18,000 kWh per month. The average house in Lower Valley’s service area, which includes Star Valley and Jackson Hole, used about 1,500 kWh.

Before the restructuring began, the pricing was even worse, with large consumers of power paying a cheaper rate.

It’s dismaying to hear our cooperative’s board of directors sound so beholden to owners of large homes. Instead of putting real price incentives for conservation into the rate structure, Lower Valley will plod along with token, feel-good measures such as free lightbulbs and the Energy Sustainability Project.

Hardly anyone pays attention to LVE elections, and in fact this year’s election was called off after no one challenged three incumbents. Perhaps it’s time we put up candidates who are not afraid to make power hogs pay their fair share.

(Dam photo via Save Our Wild Salmon)

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Posted under Economy, Environment, Politics

24 Comments so far

  1. Woolly July 12, 2011 9:55 pm

    Wow, great story. When is the next election?

  2. Woody July 12, 2011 10:55 pm

    Thanks for the heads up. I’ll keep watch for next years election. Please repost this story a couple weeks prior to next years election, to keep myself and others accountable.

  3. gringo July 13, 2011 1:41 am

    What a disgrace. Instead of trying to inspire conservation we have ‘young political hopefuls’ trying not to piss anyone off. Instead we will continue to import energy from halfway around the world, an develop every last square mile of BLM land in the pursuit of a hassle-free, snowless (and shovel-less) driveway.
    Ted Ladd, you should think twice next time you want to call yourself part of this community, Thanks for nothing Chump.

  4. BigWinterElectricUser July 13, 2011 9:13 am

    I live in a poorly insulated 600-square-foot shack and pay up the ass for electricity in the winter ($200+ bills Nov., Dec., Jan., Feb., March., April). I understand we have some of the cheaper electricity in the country, but his new pricing structure means a higher bill for me. Lower Valley Energy claims this new policy will keep our cost of electricity the same for the year over all. But this can’t be true. I don’t run electric heaters in July. As far as those free lightbulbs … It would have been better if they handed out candles — they were 13 watt bulbs — can’t even read under them. I think I speak for us all who struggle to pay the electric bill when I say: F*ck these assholes. That picture of Ted Ladd makes my skin crawl.

  5. Harry Backside July 13, 2011 10:57 am

    I’m still convinced that most elected officials are self serving. Subsidizing the smaller guys? Looking past Brog’s total misuse of the word “subsidize”, I’m pretty sure neither Ted or Fred have any trouble powering their ranches and homes. Paying a higher rate to power a massive homestead isn’t punishment, it would be a check against excessive power consumption. Still, maybe it’s not fair. But it doesn’t seem as though fairness was the issue.

  6. js July 13, 2011 1:15 pm

    Whoa, although I disagree with him on this issue, I like Ted. I’m just frustrated that our community never seems to make the tough decisions, preferring window dressing and baby steps instead. I covered the rate restructuring for the News&Guide back in 2004-06, and I met most of the board members (there is that little turnover). They are nice people.

    For what it’s worth, my home is heated mostly by natural gas (which is efficient), so my electric bill is minimal year round, usually fewer than 200 kWh. So I don’t stand to gain much one way or another, although it irks me that I pay the same service fee as someone who uses 100 times as much power. It’s a bummer that we have to hit the people who have the least ability to pay, while the top end certainly has the means.

  7. sc July 13, 2011 1:46 pm

    Once again the big piggies in resource sucking McMansions win out over the little guys. Nice to know the garages and driveways will be cozy and warm this winter. Hey, they probably even have air conditioning for summer too.

    I keep my heat at 60 all winter because it is too expensive already. An electric space heater helps somewhat for the drafty doors and windows but not really.

    Too bad it is still too expensive to go off the grid.

  8. D July 13, 2011 2:23 pm

    Ahhh Natural Gas it has a good ring to it.

    Gringo: on this issue we don’t import the energy we have plenty of Coal & Natural Gas in this state/country.

    On thing I will never understand regarding electricity is why we allow Windmills to go up in Wyoming to power the west coast. If we are going to have them in our state they should first supply this state then send the leftover down the line. The same goes for the rest of the energy developed in this state.

  9. Chad July 13, 2011 8:01 pm

    Speaking of a/c, I’ve mentioned here and there an idea: Prohibit a/c in JAC homes under a certain sq. footage, which are only one level, or which exist in certain high-density neighborhoods. The purpose being to a) reduce electricity consumption while b) keeping hoods all around jackson free from the buzzing that plagues most in the US. With more people moving here from places where tons of a/c is the standard, we run the risk of becoming a buzzing collective of closed doors, stagnant cold, and chilly skin. Gross. Open a window.

    The realistic concession being that large or multi-level homes sometimes simply need a/c. Thats where more progressive rate structures must come in to play.

    Anyway, just thinking out loud. For the record, its agreed; heavy use should pay a heavier toll.

  10. hoogeloper July 14, 2011 8:32 am

    Heated driveways should pay the heaviest toll.

  11. D July 14, 2011 9:05 am

    Ban A/C really? Try moving to China if you want the government to tell what to do!! The problem is not A/C or usage it is the pricing structure. Make people pay for what they use, and 90% will conserve on their own.

  12. Brad July 14, 2011 10:31 am

    My first question is this: just because no one went up against the incumbents, was the Lower Valley board’s election cancellation legal? Someone should check the bylaws.

  13. Chad July 14, 2011 2:19 pm

    Nice hyperbole D.

    In residential areas, govt. prohibits (among other things), open fires, excessive noise, and home sizes. HOA’s have even more restrictions. Get over it. Government tells us what to do all the time while the absence of such is anarchy. (Cue market-as-savior commentary). If you want less government, study Somalia and report back on how that country compares to China in the prosperity/health index. Or vs. Sweden, Germany, etc., etc. Point being, if we don’t collectively and creatively promote energy conservation today, we’ll be mandated to accept rations down the road.

    While we’re at it, I’m betting you’re on the side of old light bulbs as well. Why stop there? Lets bring back the whale-oil lantern. Its glow can not be duplicated.

  14. joe July 14, 2011 5:04 pm

    seems to me this is more of a base service charge issue. higher loads create more costs to the community system. everyone needs to pay their fair overhead share, lvpl can still help with insulation and other ways to save money. people could then waste or save their own green as they saw fit. or we could talk bizarro politics and smilin Ted keeps smilin

  15. D July 14, 2011 7:34 pm

    @Chad
    Your HOA is your problem… and a fire is a little different then A/C don’t you think? If you buy into a neighborhood or piece of land knowing what your getting yourself into, its a lot different then someone coming in after to tell you what you can and can’t have. Light bulbs are wayyyyyy down on my list of shit to care about, but FYI I have the new ones. I am all for conservation and trying to teach people better ways. I have an A/C unit and run it only a few times a year, but I am also not one to role over every time someone has a wild hair to save the planet and make a new law or ordinance. It’s the same debate as idling, its all good till someone starts to make the laws you don’t like. If there is one conclusion to draw from your post its there are plenty of rule/law on the books already.

  16. danno July 14, 2011 8:52 pm

    The larger homeowners do pay for what they use, they just pay at the same rate as everyone else. They pay more by using more. They should not pay a progressive rate, i.e. they use more so should pay a higher rate. By that logic then SUV’s should pay more per gallon of gas than a hybrid. Should pass holders at the Village pay more for their lift access because they use it more than other people do? Fairness is that everyone has skin in the game and some electric rate payers should not pay a higher rate so some other rate payers get a lower rate.

    Now we even have liberals trying to redistribute wealth via their electricity bills.

  17. joe July 15, 2011 6:30 am

    you don.t understand electrical grids,and their expansion costs. they dont have much to do with suvs or ski-lifts.

  18. Chad July 15, 2011 2:38 pm

    D,I should mention that I support grandfathering; Your precious a/c would be untouched in my regime. But how are HOA’s different from government? After all, ‘government’ is simply the word applied to behavior we collectively decide to implement.

    I will leave everyone with this food for thought; even nature subscribes to progressive conservation of energy. The closer one gets to the speed of light, exponentially more energy is required to accelerate. Perhaps God is a liberal after all.

  19. js July 15, 2011 2:53 pm

    @danno: No, you have it wrong. Large consumers of energy cost everyone more money for two reasons: Bonneville sells power to Lower Valley for pretty cheap, but above that limited quantity, electricity is more expensive. We all pay a higher rate because some cooperative members are using excessive amounts. Second, the cooperative must pay for infrastructure — lines, towers, transformers, etc. — that can handle peak capacity, even though demand typically is lower most of the year. So when large homeowners show up at New Year’s, crank the heat and melt their driveways, Lower Valley has to have a bigger system than it needs the rest of the year. We all pay for that. If gas were $1 a gallon for the first 100 gallons and $1.50 above that, everyone pays more (when costs are combined), even if they’re using a small amount of fuel. The only wealth redistribution that has taken place in America recently has been upward, with the richest taking an ever-increasing share of total income.

    The people this winter rate hike hurts the most are renters. Owners of old homes that are energy inefficient, and more likely to be heated by electricity, don’t have to pay the bills in winter. Renters do. Those homeowners have no incentive to take advantage of Lower Valley’s energy audits and various subsidies for efficiency upgrades. The poor renters, mostly young, are stuck with the bill, which is bound to be higher this winter.

  20. TeeJaw July 16, 2011 10:09 am

    Here’s an idea.

    Instead of whining over not having your electric bill subsidized by your fellow citizens, and instead of making the wholly fallacious and idiotic claim that you are subsidizing them, why not support safe, clean, abundant and cheap electric energy generation?

    That can only be accomplished by building more nuclear power plants. If you’re against it, then stop complaining about your electric bill.

  21. D July 16, 2011 3:23 pm

    Teejaw I will give you one of three. abundant…..safe clean not so much.

  22. joe July 16, 2011 3:56 pm

    at the moment we are supporting safe, clean, abundant and cheap insulation, and the economics of conservation. sorry for being such idiots.

  23. TeeJaw July 16, 2011 10:35 pm

    The safety record is better than most other industries and it is clean, the spent fuel rods being the only issue and that one can be solved. And it’s cheap relative to the alternatives if you include all direct and indirect costs. As more is produced economies of scale are achieved.

    The majority of electric power in France is from nuclear. If we’d been building nuclear power plants for the last 30 years no one would even be talking about Lower Valley’s rate structure. Of course, the same result would obtain if the government and the enviromental extremists would allow us to develop the abundant natural gas that lies in the ground waiting to be produced and used.

  24. joe July 17, 2011 12:22 pm

    in wyoming we drill for naturel gas and mine for uranium, while trying to conserve and preserve our natural beauty. put your order in and we’ll sell you some.

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