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Utility rates reasonable council issue

posted Oct. 16, 2015 2:50 p.m. | updated Oct. 19, 2015 12:00 a.m. (CDT)
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Some members of the Eau Claire City Council last week confused a public utility with other businesses when they said it’s not their place to weigh in on Xcel Energy’s proposal to more than double the monthly fixed rate charge to local customers from $8 to $18 and lower the usage rate. The council ended up voting 6-5 against a resolution opposing the increase.

Citizens turn to government for assistance on matters they are unable to solve by themselves, and what the area power utility charges to provide heat and electricity qualifies. That’s why the state government’s Public Service Commission must approve all utility rate increases. 

The council’s vote either way isn’t likely to matter. The PSC already has approved other utilities’ requests for much higher fixed charges and lower usage charges. Xcel contends that all users benefit from the wires, poles, equipment, etc., and all should share equally in covering those costs. Plus, Xcel officials note that the $8 fixed charge hasn’t been raised in 10 years.

A past City Council once approved and later rescinded a plan to buy an electric car to take a leadership role in encouraging energy conservation. A much higher fixed rate and a lower usage rate proposed by Xcel discourages conservation by increasing the payback period on residential solar panels, etc. Also, why worry about turning down the heat in the winter if the cost of that energy is lower because the fixed rate is higher no matter what the thermostat is set at?

Also, it seems wrong that a struggling young couple or college students end up paying the same much higher fixed charge as the wealthiest homeowners in town. 

Finally, unlike weighing cost when choosing whether or not to buy coffee, clothes, groceries, etc., consumers can’t just up and leave Xcel Energy.

No, the City Council isn’t obligated to take a stand on the issue, but it definitely is within its realm of looking out for the public interest in doing so.

— Don Huebscher, editor

• • •

Let campuses decide 

Should the Second Amendment right to bear arms extend to public university and technical college buildings? Some state lawmakers think so, and they’ve introduced a measure to allow just that.

A growing list of campus shootings around the country has people on edge, and the thinking is if students and faculty trained and approved to carry firearms are sprinkled throughout the campuses, they might be able to take down a shooter rather than be helpless targets in a classroom slaughter.

That has to be weighed against the possibility of a gun going off accidentally in a classroom, a misunderstanding leading to gun violence, or a tragedy if police respond to a call on campus and are accidentally shot or mistakenly shoot an innocent student.

This decision should be left to the individual campus administrators after consultation with police, faculty, staff and students.

— Don Huebscher