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A Tale of Two Utility Companies

I live in Parker, Colorado, which is a suburb of Denver, about 25 miles southeast of downtown Denver. I have lived here for about ten years, and I have seen Parker grow quite a bit (to a population of about 30,000), but it still has a small town feel.

By some accident of history, most of Parker gets natural gas service from Xcel Energy, and electric service from Intermountain Rural Electric Association. This is despite the fact that for at least the last 10-15 years, Parker has been pretty hard-core suburbia, with an SUV in every garage (but not mine), and a Golden Retriever in every backyard (I have two dachshunds).

Unfortunately, IREA is run by a very misguided set of directors, who are absolutely against energy conservation or any form of renewable energy. They also claim that climate change is either not true, or it is not caused by humans. I am not guessing at these positions, since they choose to broadcast them virtually every month in the “Watts & Volts” propaganda rag, I mean newsletter that comes with each bill.  Additional proof is the fact that IREA does not offer any rebates or other incentives for energy conservation or use of renewable energy by consumers or businesses, which is very unusual for a utility company.

Most utility companies have long since figured out that it is much cheaper to encourage conservation than it is to build new power plants, and most investor owned utility companies are under government mandates to use renewable energy for a certain percentage of their power generation needs. Not IREA, though…

The real reason for this behavior from IREA is that they own a substantial percentage of the upcoming 750MW Comanche 3 coal plant in Pueblo, Colorado, which is due to go online this Fall. Hence their philosophy, of anti-conservation and anti-renewable energy, since more electric use will allow them to pay off that plant as soon as possible.

Xcel Energy also has a newsletter that comes with each month’s bill, called “Energy Update”, which is full of tips on how to conserve energy and details on incentives and rebates for energy efficiency. For example, they offer an “Insulation Rebate Program” that pays for 20% of the total cost of materials and labor for insulation improvements, up to a maximum rebate of $300.00 per customer per natural gas meter. They will pay you $35.00 to come take away an old, inefficient refrigerator. They offer rebates of $3.50 per DC watt (which is about half the cost) for residential solar PV systems. I could go on and on with the various incentives and rebates offered by Xcel Energy. but you probably get the idea by now. I really hate IREA. I wish Colorado allowed people to choose their electric provider, like they do in California. Maybe I will get lucky, and Xcel will buy IREA, or some sort of State or Federal mandate will encourage IREA to change their evil ways.

In the meantime, I have done a lot to decrease my electric consumption, including these items:

A 14 SEER air conditioner and a programmable thermostat

Every light bulb in the house is a CFL

Every appliance in the house is Energy Star rated

My computers all use Sleep mode, and they are all built with low power usage components

I recently had an Energy Audit (that was subsidized by Xcel Energy)

Even though my house is 2300 square feet, plus a 900 square foot finished basement, I typically use about 500-600 KwH of electricity a month, which is not too bad for a house that size. I am also very close to pulling the trigger on a 5 KwH solar PV system from Namaste Solar, which would cover close to 100% of my electric usage, which will be sweet revenge against IREA!


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