Rate Rider FAQs

Board Approves Rider to Aid in Wildfire Mitigation 

Questions & Answers

Ultimately, individual property owners and SDCEA have a shared, essential goal to protect life and property through wildfire mitigation.

To work toward this goal, many of our consumers have voluntarily removed, worked with emergency or forest management agencies or have been required to remove vegetation by their insurance company to mitigate the threat of loss of life or property destruction from wildfire damages.

SDCEA is also actively working to mitigate the threat of wildfire damages for the same reasons. SDCEA’s mitigation work complements efforts made by property owners and other regional leaders and entities committed to creating better wildfire resiliency.

SDCEA mitigation crews will be working on removing vegetation on 20 feet of either side of our power poles to reduce the possibility of vegetation ignition as the result of contact with an energized line.

There is a legal precedent that a utility was determined to be liable for wildfire sparked by an energized electric line. A wildfire and similar legal determination locally could result not only in the loss of lives and property, but in a financial settlement that would likely significantly increase the cost of service to all of SDCEA’s consumers, as well as affect the reliability of service provided in our region.

While the rider and resulting mitigation program may be difficult for some of our account holders to support, we ultimately hope that through this commitment, we can better protect lives, the quality of life and the environment for those living in our region now and in the future.

In 2020, the SDCEA board approved a $6 per month rate rider for 2021, with an incremental increase of $1 per year until it reaches $10 (2025). SDCEA published, in the newspapers of record in our service territory, a legal notice in November restating the annual increase.

The rate rider will be used for a limited time and for the specific and necessary purpose of accelerated funding of activities related to vegetation removal to mitigate the threat of wildfires on our system. Funding raised through this rider will be used only for wildfire mitigation and will not be absorbed in SDCEA’s general operating budget. The rider will be charged to each service account (security lighting and line retention excluded) on our system. The wildfire mitigation rider will be reviewed periodically for effectiveness by the board. The monthly charge will “sunset,” or be removed from SDCEA bills, when the wildfire mitigation rider is no longer necessary.

Residential or business service accounts with more than one meter create more demand on, and as a result of that demand, more maintenance needed on SDCEA’s power system. The Wildfire Mitigation Rate Rider is charged by service account (meter) to spread costs among users based upon the demand they place on the electric system.

No. No staff will be added and no salaries will be increased with proceeds from the rider.

The rate rider charge is a standalone charge that goes only to, and is earmarked for, wildfire mitigation through augmented vegetation management efforts. SDCEA has contracted a third party, Integrity Tree Service, to perform this work for SDCEA.

The rider is an additional charge and is not a rate increase. Your electric rates have remained the same. Rates are charged based on how much electricity you use each month. SDCEA has not had a general rate increase since 2017.

The rate rider charge is a standalone charge that goes only to, and is earmarked for, wildfire mitigation through augmented vegetation management efforts. The rider will be $7 per month in 2022, with an annual increase of $1 per year until it reaches $10, which will remain in effect until the board determines that this wildfire mitigation rider is no longer necessary.

The SDCEA Board of Directors opted to approve an incremental increase each year up to $10 max to lessen the immediate impact of the rider on consumers. The rate rider, as well as the rest of the rates on our rate schedule, are posted online at myelectric.coop. The information can be accessed through your account once signed in on Smarthub, under “My Documents”.

The wildfire threat in our region is clear, and we must take action to help prevent one here as soon as possible. SDCEA in recent years had budgeted and spent $540,000 annually from its general fund for vegetation management. At that funding level, it could take up to 20 years to effectively clear our lines. SDCEA cannot wait that length of time to work through our system to address what is an immediate threat. The rate rider was adopted to fund an accelerated response to this issue. SDCEA will continue to budget annual funding for vegetation management and will add those funds to the proceeds from the Wildfire Mitigation Rider toward clearing lines throughout SDCEA’s system.

Wildfire mitigation costs per mile of line are significantly higher than it would be in many other areas of the country. This is due to the remote locations of many of our lines, the amount of vegetation in a specific area, and the terrain on which the line is located. Specialized equipment is needed to clear the vegetation under SDCEA’s lines. A significant amount of on-the-ground labor is needed to clear areas that cannot be accessed and processed by cutting equipment, also adding to the cost of clearing lines in our service territory. SDCEA is not hiring additional employees to complete this work. Contracted crews with very specific training and equipment for line clearance will complete this work. Wildfire Mitigation Rate Rider funds are earmarked ONLY for wildfire mitigation efforts.

The board approved a $7 per month rate rider for 2022, with an incremental increase of $1 per year until it reaches $10 (2025), which will remain in effect until the board determines that the wildfire mitigation rider is no longer necessary.  The fee will ‘sunset’ or be removed from SDCEA bills at that time. Once lines in the service territory have been cleared, SDCEA will then be able fund maintenance of vegetation management on lines through its annual budget. Because the progress and scope of the plan is dependent on a number of variable factors, the sunset date cannot be determined at this time.

Taxes fund the public services of the governmental entities which assess the tax. SDCEA is a private company and is not funded by taxes.

Even if your home is not located “in the trees,” you may still be at risk for a wildfire. There are many areas in our region where there are no trees that are of great concern for a fast-moving wildfire due to low moisture content vegetation.

You may lose power for days, weeks, or even months during a wildfire, even if your property does not burn, as transmission lines are de-energized or damaged by the blaze.

Wildfire mitigation is something in which everyone who has services connected to our system has a stake. If a catastrophic wildfire burns in our region, the environment in which you like to hike, hunt, raft, kayak, or simply enjoy from a distance, could be forever changed. The impacts of a wildfire are far-reaching and threaten human life, wildlife, air quality, our ecosystem, and our economy. 

The Decker and Hayden Creek fires burned in several local counties recently. Three of the five largest wildfires in Colorado history burned in 2020. The wildfire threat in our region is clear, and we must take action to help prevent one here as soon as possible, even though this is a difficult time to do so. 

The rider went in to effect in January 2021. 

Yes, all electricity provided to a service on SDCEA’s system flows to a home or business via overhead transmission and distribution lines. A good illustration of this is when you drive to and from your home, you will see power lines above ground. This is the delivery system of power to your residence. With underground service, at the point overhead power arrives at your property or in your general neighborhood, the supply is then buried underground to your home. If you had overhead service, the supply would extend above ground to your home.

Maintaining SDCEA’s overhead delivery system is essential to allow power to be provided to each individual home on the system. If a section of that delivery system is damaged or destroyed, it will prevent power from reaching individual services serviced by that section of the line. For that reason, overhead and underground services will be assessed the wildfire mitigation rider fee to help maintain the entire delivery system.

Overhead lines are generally the best way to deliver power cost-effectively and efficiently throughout our territory. Some of SDCEA’s terrain is so rugged, lines cannot be buried in all locations.  

It would cost millions of dollars to bury, by the request of consumers, the overhead lines that can be buried. Those costs would need to be passed on to all consumers, in the form of much higher rates.  

It is less expensive for a consumer to pay for an overhead line to service their property versus the costs of burying a line, particularly in our rocky terrain, so they often choose that option. If you have purchased a property with overhead lines, it is likely the original owner of that property opted for overhead service. 

Regardless of whether a line is above or below ground, SDCEA must be able to access that line. Easements and rights-of-way need to be cleared whether above or below ground for that purpose. Burying a line may still result in the loss of trees, as the ground must be plowed to dig a trench and bury the line. As more consumers connect to the SDCEA system, we periodically upgrade our lines to meet the growing load and the cost to replace the overhead line is much less than having to bury a new line which requires heavy equipment such as bulldozers. 

You may explore the cost of burying a line on your property. Burying line at a property typically costs several thousand dollars. We cannot give you an actual estimate before a staking technician draws a plan for your site. If you are interested in that option, you will need to submit a New Construction/Upgrade Service form.

SDCEA has a right to remove vegetation within our easements and rights of ways, and our company is committed to doing that. Generally, that is 20 feet on either side of a pole. Easements and rights-of-way vary with regards to dimensions and what is allowed to occur within them. 

If you would like to do some research on your particular property, take a look at your property plat or your title policy. That should show the details of utility easements on your property. 

Buena Vista is an incorporated municipality, where other ordinances and requirements of our franchise agreement with the town apply. Municipalities define rights of way (such as streets, alleys, roads, and parks) for public access to public utilities, so different criteria are used in evaluating how to clear our easements and rights of way in the town of Buena Vista.

Power generation offsets the energy you use, and any excess generation will be banked for you to use at a later time. The rate rider, like the Service Availability charge, is not calculated on the amount of energy you use. It is a charge necessary to protect the infrastructure needed to provide you power. It is separate from the actual cost of power to your home or business.

In the two years prior to the rate rider, SDCEA budgeted $540,000 annually for vegetation management. Because the cooperative must accelerate our response to wildfire mitigation, we have an exceptional and urgent situation that cannot be covered in a typical budget. At current levels, it would take nearly 20 years to clear our lines of vegetation. We will continue to spend the $540,000 per year we have the last couple of years in addition to the funds collected through the rate rider.  

SDCEA has had a longstanding vegetation management program. Doing what we’ve always done will not resolve the immediate threat of wildfire quickly enough. Current circumstances warrant an accelerated response to clear our lines (local wildfires in recent years, and three of the five largest wildfires in the state  burned in 2020). A wildfire in our region could threaten lives, devastate the local environment, and negatively impact our economy. SDCEA’s work complements other efforts in our service territory to mitigate wildfire danger.  

Historically, SDCEA has not been as aggressive in clearing our rights-of-way so as to not offend consumers. We may have just trimmed trees back when we could have been removing the trees. This approach, however, just pushes the problem down the road, since the tree grows back. Now we are clearing trees instead of just trimming them back. Once removed, future maintenance costs will be reduced, which explains why we expect that we will be able to work within our normal budget numbers in the future for maintenance.

SDCEA, in working with our contractor Integrity Tree Services, will schedule notifications for consumers via mailed notice, Facebook, Twitter, and website postsPlease make sure your mailing and phone number contact information is updated at our office so we may contact you. 

Our contractor will also be knocking on doors in advance of work done in project areas to let consumers know work will be done on their property.

Wildfire mitigation  is a process. Work in 2021 included a drone survey of SDCEA’s entire overhead system. From the drone survey, areas of greatest concern will be identified, specifically areas that have trees growing in the line currently. Mitigation crews will be dispatched to those identified areas first to remove the immediate threat of wildfire ignition. After the drone survey is complete, a schedule of areas planned for general wildfire mitigation will be assessed and work plans will be developed for future years. We will keep you updated on our progress in Colorado Country Life and via other means, such as Facebook and our website.

Our top priority is the protection of human life.

To the question of liabilitySDCEA could be held liable in the case of such a wildfire – potentially responsible for the loss of human life and property. While this would impact SDCEA’s financial condition, it would also likely also impact the reliability and costs of service to all of SDCEA’s consumers in the region. 

Many of our members have been requested to remove vegetation on their property by their homeowner’s insurance company to mitigate the threat of wildfire damages. SDCEA is also working with our insurance carrier to mitigate the threat of wildfire damages.

A crew from SDCEA’s vegetation management contractor Integrity Tree Services will be working in Custer and Fremont counties in 2023, clearing rights-of-way of vegetation for wildfire mitigation in the area served by the Howard substation. A crew will also be working in the Twin Lakes area.

System-wide tree trimming of vegetation in lines that are posing an immediate threat is something that has been and will be, ongoing.