Aspen set to adopt rate hikes |

Aspen set to adopt rate hikes

Janet Urquhart

Aspen’s electric and water rates, stable for more than a decade, will begin increasing next year if proposed rate hikes win City Council approval today.The council is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the rate changes when it meets tonight, but Aspen’s 2,600 electricity consumers and 3,300 water customers haven’t offered much in the way of objections thus far. The proposals have been the subject of several council reviews since last June, but the public hasn’t shown up to participate. More recently, utility customers were invited to stop by the city finance office and review the potential impact of the changes on their bills. No one has, according to Phil Overeynder, head of the city’s water and electric utilities.”I think we’d prefer that people were aware of what’s going on and participated,” he said. On the other hand, other utility increases – like the skyrocketing cost of natural gas – may be consuming their attention, Overeynder mused.Aspen is considering the restructuring of its electricity and water rates, along with rate revisions. The changes are aimed at maintaining an adequate capital reserve fund to keep the water and electric systems in good repair, promoting conservation of water and power by the city’s customers, and purchasing additional energy from renewable sources.”I think what’s significant about these changes is we’re changing the structure of the rates to encourage conservation,” Overeynder said. “The significant thing on water is most of the people who are affected by this will be affected during the irrigation season,” he said. “What we’re hoping is people will adjust their use patterns.”This isn’t so much about changing revenues as it is about changing people’s use patterns for conservation.”The revamp in water rates would create four tiers of charges, based on usage, along with rate hikes spread over four years. The typical residential customer would see an increase from $14.56 per month for water (the current median bill) to $18.12 per month by 2008 under the proposed rates.A two-year rate hike by the city’s electric utility would increase the median residential bill from $37.31 to $40.25 by 2006.About 30 large commercial users potentially face the biggest increases in electricity charges. The rates will be structured to encourage those consumers to shift their demands for power to off-peak times.Only the 2005 rates would be implemented if the council adopts them tonight; hikes in future years will be re-evaluated and be the subject of future hearings. The city’s electricity rates have remained unchanged for 12 years; water rates have not increased in 17 years.The changes are expected to generate an additional $150,000 per year in both water and electricity revenues for use in conservation programs, Overeynder said. If the new rates are adopted, they would go into effect with meter readings after Jan. 15, he said.The council’s meeting starts at 5 p.m. today in council chambers at City Hall.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is