Pueblo voters decide whether they will free themselves from extractive, monopoly investor owned utility

Council agrees to put electric supplier issues on the ballot, By Ryan Severance in The Pueblo Chieftain

The City Council voted unanimously Monday night to allow Pueblo voters to decide whether to dump Black Hills Energy and form its own electric operation.

The vote came after ample public comment and discussion among council members.

Council President Dennis Flores said he voted to put the question to voters even though he doesn’t favor municipalization.

“I believe there’s a big portion of the electorate and citizens in the community that are very confused about a lot of things,” Flores said before voting. ”I intend to be one of the persons to give the people info that’s valid so they can make an informed decision.”

If the ballot question is approved in that election, the City Charter would be amended to authorize the Pueblo Board of Water Works to operate a community-owned water and electric utility. If voters reject it, Black Hills will stay in place as Pueblo’s electric utility.


Steve Andrews, wearing a T-shirt distributed by Bring Power Home, does some research on his laptop prior to the Pueblo City Council meeting.


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Voter approval of the question also would authorize the purchase or condemnation of the electric distribution, transmission and generation systems of Black Hills in Colorado as determined necessary by Pueblo Water.

Ten individuals spoke in favor of council passing the ordinance, including former council members Chris Nicoll and Ted Lopez, and former member of the Colorado House of Representatives Dorothy Butcher.

Only one person, former City Councilman Randy Thurston, spoke in opposition to the ordinance, saying there are too many unknowns with the plan and what all of the costs would be.

Under the proposed plan voters will consider, the Pueblo Board of Water Works would oversee a community-owned water and power enterprise that would include a regional power supply authority as well as a regional distribution authority.

Seth Clayton, the executive director of Pueblo Water, said the process will take an estimated 5-8 years to complete and get the public power company up and running. That time frame includes the anticipated legal battles and the condemnation process.

San Isabel Electric has offered to act as a thirdparty contractor and handle the day-to-day operations of the electric system, while Pueblo Water would be responsible for oversight of that contract, long-term planning, and setting rates. Even though San Isabel has offered, a request for proposal process would have to be done to determine who the third-party contractor for electric distribution would be.

Pueblo Water is the only other entity besides the city of Pueblo that has the power of condemnation, which may be required in transitioning Black Hills into a public power utility, officials have said.

Following council’s vote on Monday, Julie Rodriguez, a spokesperson for Black Hills, issued a statement: “The ballot measure approved by Pueblo City Council is asking voters to approve a measure that will allow a takeover of the electric utility with no cost controls and no TABOR (constitutional spending limits) protections,” Rodriguez said. “This is a blank check for the Pueblo Board of Water Works to attempt to seize the electric system that provides clean, reliable energy to our customers today. On May 5, Pueblo voters will be asked to sign on the dotted line without knowing the price tag. This is a costly, risky ballot initiative, especially when voters consider the better, safer alternative of a cooperative agreement that provides $300 million to $500 million in value, including customer savings that will result in lower energy bills.”  rseverance@chieftain.com Twitter: RyanSevvy