Having had the privilege of serving the people of Pueblo for more than 20 years, my oath of office to you was my bond to serve the people and not my interests. When issues arose where we might have disagreed, I would abide by your decisions.
Today, it appears values have changed for self-serving interests.
The people petitioned the City Council to allow the electorate to decide if Pueblo should pursue Pueblo power or remain at the mercy of big money from another state which controls our growth and destiny. The council agreed to allow the electorate to decide, by a 7-0 vote.
In my opinion, it is disgraceful to say “yes” to the people then publicly jump on board with the opposition. Such is the case with Council President Dennis Flores. He either represents the people of Pueblo or Black Hills Energy. One cannot serve two masters.
At a recent council meeting, City Attorney Dan Kogovsek raised an issue: BHE almost certainly gave $700,000 to one entity, which transfered money into a second entity that works to defeat Pueblo Power. Flores said “no” to pursuing the source of dirty money.
Why is BHE hiding it? Flores questioned the resolution: “Are you trying to embarrass BHE?” Really? The weak-kneed council voted 4-3 not to question BHE.
Another serious issue: BHE playing Las Vegas style “craps” with Pueblo ratepayers’ money. The company lost $30 million from our bills playing gas futures. What did the Public Utilities Commission say? “Naughty. Be careful.”
How many struggling Pueblo families must decide to pay their electric bills, medicine for family needs, groceries or struggle with Dad or Mom being laid off due to COVID-19? That $30 million could have helped. Heartbreaking!
Also, BHE’s corporate subsidiary built a power plant at the Pueblo airport for $200 million. The subsidiary sells that power to BHE, which pays the subsidiary and marks it up to Pueblo ratepayers, profiting BHE and the subsidiary. That looks like double dipping at Pueblo ratepayers’ expense.
Voting “yes” on ballot issue 2A notifies BHE that Pueblo will pursue ownership of its distribution system, just as in 29 municipal utilities around the state.
Flores said the idea “is too risky.” Really? If Fort Morgan, Wray, Gunnison and other smaller communities can do it, why not Pueblo? Are we chump change?
How would Pueblo Water and Electric function? The water board is in the city charter as an enterprise utility. It is presently managed by Seth Clayton, a guy who knows his numbers.
The administration and billing would be through Pueblo Water and Electric. The day-to-day management of power lines, meters, poles, substations, etc. would be managed by a contracted utility partner such as San Isabel or another. The water board's record for service and customer relations is stellar.
The water board is a large BHE customer as it consumes lots of electricity pumping water to Pueblo customers. It’s another Black Hills cash cow. It takes energy to pump water.
That’s one reason our water bills increased over time, to pay BHE. The water board consists of five elected members. They ensure Pueblo has the best water at an affordable cost.
Pueblo Electric could merge as Pueblo Water and Electric. Its board would directly listen to Puebloans. Ratepayers would own the decisive voice, not the PUC.
The water board does not play “craps” with cash from our water bill.
If Pueblo successfully acquires BHE, the funds for purchase most likely will be municipal utility bonds through the water board. The board helps pay the cost of that acquisition by eliminating the profits and “craps” money BHE bills Pueblo customers today.
It would eliminate other costs, including a portion of dividends sent to BHE’s Wall Street investors today. Bond payments would be covered by payment of regular monthly electric bills from all Pueblo Electric customers. Savings beyond the cost of daily operations and maintenance could go to either lowering bills or other priorities.
When the bonds are paid off, Pueblo Electric will have further funds to invest in Pueblo’s future. This could be in the form of aesthetic improvements, a cleaner community, more amenities and "more pride in progress for Pueblo.” Or it could be targeted investment in economic developments ― whatever the majority of Pueblo people wish for a more progressive and growing city.
More specific information can only be achieved by allowing 2A to pass and allowing Pueblo to proceed. Vote “yes” on 2A.
Michael Occhiato is a former president of the Pueblo City Council.