A Libertarian solution to the Black Hills problem

Author: John Pickerill

Publication: Pueblo Chieftain


Thanks to the Jan 20 editorial in The Pueblo Chieftain, Pueblo taxpayers finally got a peek into the $122,000 feasibility study they paid for. According to the editorial, EES Consulting, the study’s author, concluded it is “feasible” for the city to start its own municipal electric utility. EES went on to say that Pueblo could save $160 million (over 20 years) by ending its contract with Black Hills Energy, but admitted that city taxpayers would be required to spend $255 million to $334 million up front to buy Black Hills’ transmission lines and switching stations. EES calls that financially feasible??

Pueblo city ratepayers really should be asking themselves: “When has government ever lowered the cost of anything it has taken over?” Education, health care, college and housing all have gotten more expensive the more government got involved. Why should Pueblo expect a municipal electric utility will be any different?

Maybe we should try a different solution, one with a proven track record: The free market. Let individual electric consumers choose for themselves which electric company is best. Allow any electric company to compete for their business by providing the most reliable power for the lowest price.

I might use San Isabel Electric. At the same time my next-door neighbor could use Black Hills. The guy across the street might use Xcel. The same with individual businesses and industry. If Xcel jacks up rates on the steel mill, EVRAZ should have the option to simply switch to San Isabel or Black Hills or another electric company altogether.

It would be a lot like how we choose a cellphone service among AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobil, or Sprint. They have to constantly compete with each other to provide consumers with the best products at the lowest prices. Same thing works with internet service providers and cable companies (including alternate providers like Netflix and Hulu). And just as the free market reduced costs to make these things affordable for everyone including the poor, it will significantly reduce the cost of electricity.

All that has to happen is for government to get out of the way. Electric companies shouldn’t have to ask permission from a government bureaucracy (e.g., the Colorado Public Utilities Commission) to provide electricity to a willing customer. And to make things fair, no electric company should be receiving any government subsidy. No electric company should get any special tax break that isn’t also given to every one of its competitors, regardless of the energy source. Solar, wind, natural gas, coal and nuclear should all have to compete with each other on a level playing field. None should get a special government privilege or penalty. Government’s only role is to stop any that are causing harm (e.g., pollution).

And so instead of starting a municipal electric utility, the Pueblo City Council and the new mayor should work with the Colorado General Assembly (via Senate President Leroy Garcia and Joint Budget Committee vice-chair Daneya Esgar) to allow each individual Pueblo electric customer to pick any electric company he or she deems best. Freedom is always the best solution.

Followup: Pickerill’s opponent, now Senate President Leroy Garcia, is introducing a bill about this subject.

John Pickerill is the former Libertarian candidate for Colorado Senate District 3. He holds a degree in physics from Purdue University, served as a nuclear engineer in the United States Navy and served as the energy manager for R.R. Donnelley Crawfordsville Manufacturing Division for over 10 years. He advocates for individual liberty, free market economics, private property rights and constitutionally-limited government.


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