A Utah power group says power rates in several Utah County cities could go up drastically in the future unless residents take action to prevent changes in the way power is produced and sold from Glen Canyon Dam.
The Intermountain Consumer Power Association, with more than 30 member cities, is asking its members to lobby against changes in the marketing criteria for the Western Area Power Administration, the agency that sells power from Glen Canyon Dam. It says the changes could adversely affect the cost of power locally.Most central and south Utah County cities are members of either the Intermountain Consumer Power Association or the Utah Municipal Power Agency. Both buy power from Western.
Several environmental and outdoor groups say power operations at the dam are destroying the Grand Canyon. The amount of water that flows through the dam fluctuates during peak power periods, and the groups say that the fluctuation is destroying wildlife habitat.
In response to legal challenges from environmental groups, Western is conducting an environmental impact study on its marketing criteria. According to a letter mailed to all Intermountain Consumer Power Association members, the environmental groups have sent thousands of letters to Congress and other federal agencies asking for changes in the criteria.
But the association says new power supplies will have to be built to replace lost power if flow through the dam is reduced, which will result in increased power rates. It says consumers need to be as active as environmentalists to prevent the changes from occurring.
However, environmental issues are not the only ones that could change Western's marketing criteria. According to Cal Baxter, Springville electricity superintendent, Western is receiving pressure to do away with preferred customers such as the Intermountain Consumer Power Association and Utah Municipal Power Agency. Preferred customers are those who guaranteed payments to Western when the dam was first built.
"Most people don't realize that those federal dams were built with loans, not grants. And cities like ours were the ones willing to secure those loans," he said.
Baxter said that if preferred customers are eliminated, it would not be cost-effective to buy power from Western. Western would be able to sell power to cities that are willing to pay more.
"It would definitely affect the utility rates that citizens are now paying," Baxter said.
Last year Springville paid 1.14 cents per kilowatt hour from Western and 2.41 cents from its supplemental sources. However, Western's rate did increase recently by 46 percent to pay for new construction costs. But Baxter said it is still the cheapest source of power available.
Springville receives about 24 percent of its power from Western, about 2 percent from its three hydroelectric plants and the rest through the Utah Association of Municipal Power Systems. Provo and other members of Utah Municipal Power Agency buy about 60 percent of their power from Western.
"The citizens hear about it but they don't realize what it could do to their power rates," said Glen White, operations supervisor at the Provo City Power Department.
It's frustrating for electrical suppliers because environmentalists don't like coal-burning plants, nuclear plants and are now fighting several hydroelectric plants, Baxter said. Springville's Whiting Power Plant has already been restricted to 40 percent production because of air-quality standards.
"It gets to the point that you have to take a stand somewhere or we're not going to have any power to buy," Baxter said.
Letters have been sent to all power association members asking them to send a card to Western and let them know their power rates could be affected by changes in their marketing criteria. The public comment period for Western's environmental impact statement ends Monday, Dec. 31, and all letters have to be postmarked by that day.