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High price of power in Snowmass

Ann Larson
Snowmass Correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado
Ann Larson/Snowmass SunSnowmass Village officials hoped to avoid an unsightly substation like this one in Carbondale. In Snowmass, existing substations are hidden in barn-like structures, but the cost of burying power lines and hiding the substation mean an added cost to customers.
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SNOWMASS VILLAGE ” Snowmass Village resident Bob Hemley wants to know why his electric bill has gone up so much over the past few years.

He missed the brouhaha in August 2003, when both the Snowmass Village Town Council and Pitkin County commissioners voted to install underground power lines up Brush Creek Valley to a new substation on the edge of town.

Elected officials also agreed part of the project would be paid for by Holy Cross Energy customers in the service area that includes Snowmass Village, Brush Creek and Owl Creek through a surcharge on their monthly electric bills.



The added charge has been bugging Hemley ever since, and he wants to know how long he has to pay it. For the rest of his life is the answer from Steve Casey, Holy Cross members services and materials administrator, unless the octogenarian lives more than the 35 years it will take to pay off the loan.

Burying the power lines alongside Brush Creek Road from Highway 82 to Highline Road and over to Hidden Lane was a milestone for the state of Colorado. It was the first time something like that had been done locally. Although many other communities were given the opportunity to do this in the past, they always balked at the extra cost associated with the aesthetics of burying the unsightly lines.



While there was little contention from Snowmass Village residents during the Town Council vote, there was an uprising from local users in Brush Creek Village who felt no need to have the power lines put underground. County commissioners made the decision for them, leaving the consumers to foot the bill for an extended period.

Holy Cross would have paid for the overhead power lines and a regular substation, Casey said, but the utility could not pay the extra money to install underground lines or the state-of-the-art electric distribution substation that the town agreed to house on Hidden Lane.

Users in the area will pay for the approximately $8 million in additional costs over the original project.



The need for a new substation was not a matter of contention. With the growing development in the county, the Aspen Airport Business Center substation could no longer give reliable service to the area. A new substation in Snowmass Village was considered a must, and that included running power lines to it. This was before the resort’s Base Village development even began.

“The surcharge may also reflect other costs,” Casey said, “such as line extension policies, local government-mandated facility changes, maintenance, taxes, depreciation and debt service that will be amortized over 35 years.”

The bad news is that it will take decades to pay off the loan, which raised Holy Cross customers’ bills by 14 to 16 percent at first, according to Pitkin County Commissioner Jack Hatfield, a Snowmass Village resident.

The good news is that, as a result of the increased use of power and an increase in the number of customers, the rate has now dipped below 10 percent. With the development of Base Village, it will probably drop even more.

“The rate fluctuates on two parameters,” Casey said. “It varies by the total number of users and the total number of kilowatt hours used. Weather plays a huge part of the equation. Last winter was unusually cold, resulting in more energy being used and thus a decrease of the surcharge. The building of Base Village will spread out the charge to more users.”


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