Conservation spotty despite higher cost of water, electricity | AspenTimes.com

Conservation spotty despite higher cost of water, electricity

Janet Urquhart

New, higher rates for Aspen water and electricity apparently prompted some residents to conserve on both during the hot, dry months of summer, but some of the biggest residential users clearly weren’t swayed by higher bills.The city’s water and electric utilities are beginning to analyze the impact of new rate structures that went into effect last February, in part to encourage conservation.June and July produced the weather most likely to have residents cranking up their air conditioners and watering their lawns regularly. But it’s difficult to definitely say just yet whether an eye-popping July water bill spurred residents to cut down on their sprinkling. For one thing, it started raining regularly in August, and Aspenites may have turned off their hoses for that reason, rather than in response to their July water bill.”Two months of hot, dry weather is really too soon to know how people will be affected in the long run,” said Phil Overeynder, city utilities director. “The anecdotal evidence says some people are [conserving] and some people aren’t.”The city’s water department did get phone calls when residents noticed their water bills had spiked compared to last year’s, he said. The city advised callers to cut back on the hours per day their sprinkler systems operate and to set systems to activate every other day instead of daily. There’s evidence to indicate some people did cut back.Electricity and water use through July were about steady with last year’s levels. Since there are more customers on both systems than there were a year ago, that suggests some individuals took steps to conserve in response to the new rates, Overeynder said.On the other hand, revenues from water and electricity are up through July, compared to last year. The water utility collected 54 percent of its projected revenue for the year by the end of July, compared to 45 percent by July 31, 2004.”It probably means people aren’t conserving as much as we thought people would overall,” Overeynder said.Clearly, the city isn’t facing the vicious cycle the Denver Water Board experiences. Denver Water raises rates to foster conservation, then sees its revenues drop off so much when customers respond by cutting back that it has to raise rates again.”We haven’t seen that cycle,” Overeynder said.Aspen’s new utility rate structure places users into tiers based on usage. Residential customers who use the most water and electricity also pay the highest rates. The increase in revenues through July suggests that big users haven’t cut back in response to the new rates, according to Overeynder.”We’ve got some people who don’t seem to be very concerned,” he said. “If that’s the price they pay to keep their properties green, then that’s what they pay.”One residential customer used 500,000 gallons of water in one month.”That’s a lot of water,” Overeynder said.When the city adopted its new rate structures, the plan was to phase in water rate increases over four years and electricity rates over two years. City Council approved only this year’s rates, however. The council is expected to take action on next year’s rates sometime in November.Before then, the utilities will review this year’s revenues and water/electricity use to see if the planned rates for 2006 need adjustment, Overeynder said.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com