Letter: MPE chooses to be unfair to members by building fiber-optic backbone for internet service
As a retired electrical engineer with 42 years of experience in the electric utility industry, I am used to monopoly utility providers (e.g. Mountain Parks Electric) having regulators assure that major investments are needed before those costs can become part of the charges for electric service. However, MPE is unregulated, and so they have the authority to build a fiber-optic backbone system for local internet service and to charge all costs to electric customers rather than to users of the fiber-optic system. This is clearly unfair to all electric ratepayers! MPE chooses to do business this way when other cooperatives have obtained millions of dollars in grant funds to construct such fiber-optic systems and then operate them as a self-sustaining subsidiary business. I doubt MPE has even applied for available grants — that takes time and effort. It is much easier to hide a 1 or 2 percent increase in revenues in everyone’s electric rates. I never dreamed I would witness a member-owned utility choosing to be so unfair to its members.
MPE spent over $90,000 for one of the two consultants’ studies to evaluate the feasibility of entering the broadband internet business. Although they refuse to share copies of those reports, it is obvious that there is no sustainable business case for such a venture. The board and management of MPE agreed to proceed anyway with their multi-million-dollar project to build a “middle mile backbone system” by forcing electric customers to foot the bill. They decided for all of us that we can afford to subsidize this scheme. I might expect such a socialist decision in extremely liberal Boulder, but not in conservative Grand and Jackson counties.
Initially I thought this decision would not adversely affect MPE employees. However, as I consider this further, it seems likely that in just a few years when the board notices that MPE electric rates are higher than others in the state, they will seek to reduce operating costs somewhere. The only viable option is reducing employee wages and benefits, perhaps by a reduction in force. I hope not, but such possibility seems likely.
MPE has mentioned the possibility of using this new fiber-optic backbone system to improve electric service. That capability should already exist in their technology solutions with a backbone communication system installed just a few years ago at a total cost less than $300,000. The fiber-optic system is not needed to provide nor to improve electric service. So why is MPE not being straight with us now? Unless deployment of those improvements was mismanaged, there is no new benefit to electric customers to build a fiber-optic backbone at a cost of millions — it is only to provide broadband internet service. MPE opted to buy the Chevy several years ago, but now they decided to buy a fleet of Cadillacs, too, and at an additional cost more than 10 times that of the Chevy! Of course, if that is the MPE cooperative way, why not also subsidize the following needs in electric rates: affordable housing, medical care, public transportation, trash service, a supermarket in Walden, gasoline stations, propane service, newspapers, etc.? If you think this is poor management of your cooperative, I ask that you call MPE to complain before it is too late to stop the waste of millions of your dollars!
If MPE chooses to be the first cooperative to hide costs for broadband internet in every customer’s electric bill, I think we need to petition the State to make them the first in Colorado to fall back under the jurisdiction of the Public Utility Commission!
Les Shankland, Grand County
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