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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6 Responses to A Tale of Two Utility Companies

  1. Ken says:

    Thank you for going public on this. It is frustrating …I hope you find a way to get an energy grant for your solar system via the Governor\’s Energy office.Xcel is behaving well due to Amendment 37, so I\’d credit the Colorado voters with part of their progressive renewable policy.

  2. Glenn says:

    Hi Ken,I had not heard that the Governor\’s Energy Office was making grants for PV Solar. I had heard that some of the counties were giving rebates for insulation work. Its ironic, since many residents of Douglas County are in a pretty good position to afford a PV system, but we are stuck in IREA territory…

  3. Nick says:

    I here you. I work for Real Goods Solar and recently purchased a home in Centennial not thinking it was in IREA ready to install a solar system
    . Come to find out my block is about the only block in the area that is IREA territory and I am mad as hell. Not only is IREA not offering solar rebates they charge about 20% more than xcel and they are a bunch of rude pricks to top it off.

  4. John says:

    Not to mention now instead of raising rates to show the true cost of their new power plant they tack on a $10 ” BASIC SERVICE FEE ” to increase their profit.

  5. Mike says:

    Wait, so the problem is that IREA won’t raise electricity rates for poor folks in order to subsidize solar arrays for those few who can afford them?

    • Glenn Berry says:

      If you actually did some research, you might realize that solar-PV is fast approaching grid-parity from a cost perspective in many parts of the U.S.

      Many more people can afford solar arrays now as the cost has come down dramatically since I installed my system. IREA is against grid-tied solar primarily because they own a big stake in the fairly new Commanche coal fired generation plant down in Pueblo.

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