Mar 17, 2014 Joe Genco Uncategorized
In response to questions from village residents, village officials again addressed the matter of high power bills for Skaneateles, at its March 13 meeting.
Trustee Sue Jones said she brought it up because she had heard from two residents with questions about unusually high utility bills for February.
“People were concerned and really wanted to know the facts,” Jones said.
The village power utility purchases its power from the New York Municipal Power Authority. If it experiences a peak demand that exceeds its given hydroelectric power allocation, it must use “purchase power” to cover its remaining needs, which typically happens six or seven months a year, Director of Municipal Operations Bob Lotkowictz said.
Residents’ power bills have been high this winter, due to increased usage and the increased need for purchase power, Lotkowictz said.
Purchase power rates have been abnormally high this winter due to a nationwide increase in demand for electricity and natural gas caused by an especially cold winter, according to a statement released by the power authority in February.
Officials also addressed the notion that increases on electric bills have been caused by the Skaneateles YMCA and Community Center, which was converted to village electric from National Grid in December 2013.
According to figures provided by Lotkowictz, the community center used 137,100 kilowatt hours (kWh) in January 2014, accounting for 3.5 percent of the village’s total usage. The village’s total need for purchase power in January was 1,194,000 kWh — a 14 percent increase from last year (see sidebar).
Though the community center has contributed to the recent increased usage, it provides a level load on the system. Managing the peaks and valleys of usage are what can prevent the village from needing to use too much purchase power, Lotkowictz said.
“My point is 3.5 percent does not cause everybody’s bill to go up three times,” Lotkowictz said about the data.
Also, in 2012, the village received a 100 kilowatt (kW) increase from the power authority in its maximum capacity for hydroelectric power, bringing it to 5,200 kW. This means the village can now stay on hydroelectric power more of the time.
The increase was granted in connection to the community center being added to the village grid as well as the increased usage from the facility expected with its planned renovation to add a second sheet of ice, according to an article printed in the July 25, 2012 Skaneateles Press.
Discussion of the effects of adding the community center to the village grid has been going on among officials since 2011.
Though it was never adopted by the village board, the village municipal board researched the possibility of adding a new category of power users, who would then be charged a higher rate, according to meeting minutes from 2011. The village already has three different rates based on usage, though the board did a study to see if they could add a fourth level for its biggest users.
In a letter to the editor printed on April 24, 2013, former municipal board member David Blackwell wrote that the village should restructure its rate system in a similar way to Fairport, N.Y., which has a commercial classification for power customers. This would prevent an increased need for purchase power from effecting the bills of residents, he said.
“The addition of such a large consumer is a major, potentially expensive change to our community. It is a one time event, and modifying the existing tariff would eliminate a continuous penalty (a tax) on village ratepayers,” he wrote in the letter.
Residents who live outside the village have also reported high utility bills this winter.
In anticipation of this, National Grid, the utility company that serves much of the region, released a statement at the end of January stating that to avoid a 20 to 30 percent increase on the bills of its New York customers, it has deferred some of the increases to future months.
“Costs for electricity supply — the actual energy itself — for upstate New York have increased substantially in the past few months due to colder-than-normal weather conditions and a dramatic rise in the cost of natural gas that fuels many electricity generating stations. These increases, coupled with much higher than typical usage, prompted the company to take action to help stabilize energy costs for its customers,” the statement said.
Joe Genco is the editor of the Skaneateles Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.