Tupper Lake resident questions electric rates

TUPPER LAKE – As people deal with major increases in their electric bills, one resident here is asking questions.

The topic was brought to the floor during last week’s village board meeting by resident Ron LaScala, who said he has received several phone calls from village residents who are worried about paying their energy bills.

Municipal Electric Department Supervisor John Bouck explained that the village had 11 million kilowatt hours delivered by the New York Power Authority in January. Anything above the village’s energy allocation and proportionate hydroelectricity is called incremental power, which is sold at a higher rate per kilowatt hour.

That increase is reflected in the purchased power adjustment, or PPA, on residents’ electric bills. LaScala said he understood the process, but not where the additional energy is being used.

“We don’t have the OWD open anymore, Big Tupper isn’t making snow anymore, Ames plaza is virtually empty, Aubuchon’s plaza is virtually empty, and our Park Street, everyone knows what’s going there,” LaScala said. “I just don’t understand.”

Bouck said the village has explored its options in the past, which included possibly buying a block of incremental power from NYPA. He said the risk of that is there’s no way of knowing if the village would use the entire block.

“Many years ago, just so you know, the village had options to go separate from the power authority or to stay with the power authority,” Bouck said. “The board at the time decided to stay, and I agree with that.”

LaScala was especially concerned about the department’s budget and suggested raising the electric rates to generate more money and eliminating the village’s electric heat moratorium for new construction. The village recently borrowed $450,000 to pay its electric bill.

Village Mayor Paul Maroun said the village board plans to meet with power authority officials soon to see where the village stands.

Bouck said raising rates would require a rate review and would have to go through NYPA.

“They (NYPA) won’t just give you a rate raise for the sake of raising money,” Bouck said. “You have to justify why.”

LaScala also mentioned that a couple of electric department employees are retiring within the next few years. Since it takes several years to train a lineman, LaScala asked how the village planned on paying for that training. Bouck said that’s a village board decision.

“We’ve been looking at it for about a year,” village Trustee Tom Snyder said.

“My other concern is that we’re getting nailed with a PPA during our slowest season of the year in this village,” LaScala said. “Not only are our people struggling, but our businesses are struggling, too. So we’re sucking all of this money out of our local economy instead of breaking it up over time. The PPA charge is coming up all at once. Isn’t there a way we can break it up to make it a little easier for people?”

LaScala said he has heard from several residents, including a single mother who is struggling to pay her electric bill.

Village Trustee Rick Donah asked if the village could use more foresight in billing its customers in the winter.

“The Lake Placid municipal (department) does a budget and spreads it out over a flat rate,” Donah said. “They have a much larger allotment than we have here, and they try to budget it. Their payments are around $250,000 a month. Have we ever looked at doing that?”

Bouck said late payment plans can be arranged, but the village can’t break up the cost.

“The purpose of the PPA is to balance what you bill your customers and what you’re billed by the power authority,” Bouck said. “You can’t average it because it fluctuates every month. There are events in the New York Independent System Operator – they control the energy market.”

Donah pressed the issue.

“It seems like we can do something better than react in such a short-term fashion,” Donah said. “That’s what we’ve done in the last few years that I’ve been on the board.”

Bouck said residents with a zero balance on their electric bills can opt for a budget plan, which is similar to what Donah suggested for the village.

“We’ll take your bills for the year and calculate a flat payment year-round,” Bouck said. “We encourage people to come in in May or June and build up a decent credit for the winter months. You get a bill that says ‘X’ amount due, and you say fine and pay the $100. When it comes to the winter months, that bill is still $100. That’s a budget plan.”

Individuals are not the only ones being stretched thin by high electric costs. The Tupper Lake Middle/High School has also been hit with a large bill, and it came at a time when the school district is struggling to balance its budget.

District Manager Garry Lanthier told the Enterprise the middle/high school’s February utility bill was $26,842.29, $10,870 of which was the PPA. The previous bill was $19,210.

The school is the second largest consumer of energy in the village, next to Sunmount, according to school officials.

“A few years ago, the village electric did an updated rate structure,” Lanthier said. “They structured it so the more kilowatts you burn, the higher your rate is.”

May through October, the non-winter rate is 3.576 cents per kilowatt hour. The winter rate is the same for the first 1,500 kilowatt hours, but the rate more than doubles to 7.675 cents from 1,501 to 4,500 kilowatt hours. The rate more than triples from the base rate to 11.224 cents per kilowatt hour for energy that exceeds 4,500 kilowatt hours.