As a commissioner on the Public Utilities Commission for four years, I watched Black Hills Energy take position after position in numerous proceedings that benefited shareholders, but damaged Pueblo. The company is unstoppable ― scorched earth litigation at the PUC, high-priced lobbyists, access to the governor.


Pueblo voters now have the opportunity to control your electric costs the same way the Board of Water Works controls your water costs. Below are just a few of the exorbitant costs Pueblo has been paying and your possible savings.


First, save millions of dollars in interest payments. Black Hills charges you $18.5 million of interest every year on $350 million of debt at 5.29 percent. Interest rates have been at historical lows for almost 10 years, but Pueblo does not benefit.


Black Hills assigns to Pueblo the higher, in some cases, the highest interest rate. Other Black Hills entities get the benefit of lower rates.


Furthermore, Black Hills refuses to refinance the debt, claiming, in sworn testimony from Fred Stoffel, its director of regulatory affairs, a prepayment penalty prohibits a refinance. That is false.


The company has refinanced some debt to benefit other subsidiaries, but not Pueblo. The PUC has issued two orders in the last year admonishing Mr. Stoffel for lying to the PUC.


Second, eliminate almost $1 million of holding company costs that Black Hills collects from Pueblo every year. Black Hills charges Pueblo $675,326 in annual operating expenses to operate the $63 million peaking plant that runs one or two days a year. It charges Pueblo an additional $854,361 a year in indirect costs to pay the corporate overhead for headquarters in South Dakota.


There are numerous ways to allocate indirect costs ― the value of the facility, the amount of revenue the facility produces or the days it runs. Black Hills picked the method that costs Pueblo the most ― $854,361 as opposed to $4,800 per year.


Third, eliminate the costs of natural gas purchases. Black Hills has passed onto ratepayers its hedging losses on gas purchases of $31,547,135. The PUC ordered Black Hills to develop a gas mitigation plan to protect ratepayers from the volatility in price of gas used to operate the generation facilities. Gas prices have been at historic lows in the last eight years.


Somehow, Black Hills managed to enter into hedging contracts that lost huge amounts of money every year for the last six years. You paid for it.


You will not have to hire lobbyists to protect you from the end run that Black Hills makes to the Legislature. In 2016, Black Hills asked the PUC to authorize the company to use ratepayer dollars to “invest” in natural gas exploration and production. Put another way, company officials wanted Pueblo ratepayers to fund speculation in wildcatting.


The PUC said no. Black Hills then tried to get the legislature to pass a bill requiring the PUC to approve this scheme. The Legislature declined. Then Black Hills sold all of its gas-producing properties because they were too expensive to maintain or drill while the price they could get for the gas was at historic lows.


Black Hill’s business model is predatory: Buy utilities in small communities, usually poorer with less money to spend fighting at the PUC; acquire more customers; pay 30 percent premium to book value for these utilities; cut back on maintenance and then ask the PUC to order huge rate increases to pay for the deferred maintenance.


Staff of the PUC was able in the pending gas rate case (but only after a fight) to obtain parts of the business plan of Black Hills, which confirms this plan with one added twist: Delay filing rate cases.


After three to five years, when the company has wrung every dollar from the purchase to benefit shareholders, ask the PUC for a large rate increase. In the pending gas case, they want $70 million to replace 24,000 yard lines.


So, the “offer” they made to Pueblo to freeze rates and stay out of a rate case for three years was not a real offer, but part of their predatory corporate strategy.


The residents of Pueblo have been at the mercy of Black Hills and these draconian policies and prices for more than 12 years. A prudently run electric utility is your only hope to reduce rates and you will not get it from Black Hills.


It is time to control your own destiny and so I urge you to vote “yes” on 2A.


Frances Koncilja is a former member of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission.