SDCEA Board Approves Rider to Aid in Wildfire Mitigation
To help protect and sustain local communities by helping to avoid a catastrophic wildfire, the Sangre de Cristo Electric Association Board of Directors has approved a $6/month wildfire mitigation rate rider beginning in January 2021 on SDCEA monthly bills. The first bill with the charge will be received by consumers in February 2021.
Three of the five largest wildfires in Colorado history burned in 2020, the effects of which are being felt statewide. The Decker and Hayden Creek fires burned locally in recent years, causing great impact to those who live near those burn scars. Our region remains at further risk for an even larger, more severe wildfire.
Despite spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in recent years on vegetation management, at current funding levels through the SDCEA budget, it would take SDCEA more than 20 years to effectively clear regional electric lines. The SDCEA board, faced with this reality, opted to close this funding gap to address the urgent need to clear potential wildfire ignition sources by voting to approve a rate rider to gain adequate funding to combat this issue.
Through the wildfire mitigation program made possible by additional funding from the rider, SDCEA will significantly increase efforts to reduce the risk of ignition and a resulting wildfire from our electrical system. These efforts cannot be accomplished via current vegetation management (maintenance) budget levels.
The rate rider will be used for a limited time and for the specific and necessary purpose of accelerated funding of 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 board approved a $6 per month rate rider for 2021, with an incremental increase of $1 per year until it reaches $10 (2025). 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.
Even if your home is not located “in the trees,” you may still be at risk for a wildfire. Envision Chaffee County’s wildfire mitigation plan indicates that areas where there are no trees are of great concern for a fast-moving wildfire, due to low moisture content vegetation.
Your property may also lose power during a wildfire for days, weeks, or months, even if it is not in the direct path of a wildfire, as transmission lines are de-energized or damaged by the blaze.
If you have not already experienced the impacts of a wildfire yourself, imagine a wildfire in your neighborhood or community. You or your neighbors may not have a chance to go home and grab things of value before your home burns down. Even if your property is insured, it will take you years to literally rebuild your life.
SDCEA’s Liability: Many of our consumers 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 actively working with our insurance carrier to mitigate the threat of wildfire damages. SDCEA could be held liable in the case of a wildfire sparked by one of our electric lines — potentially responsible for loss of human life and property. The resulting financial settlement of this liability 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.
SDCEA has broad support in this effort. SDCEA is an active member of Envision Chaffee County’s Forest Health Council, which is comprised of local leaders committed to creating better wildfire resiliency by implementing the Chaffee County Community Wildfire Protection Plan.
The wildfire protection plan is garnering the interest of and support from representatives in surrounding counties, which are also faced with many of the same vegetation management issues and wildfire threats. The plan, updated in February 2020, relies on the collaborative effort of many entities in the region. It uses computer mapping technology to identify areas in which treating 10%-15% of the landscape will reduce by half the threat wildfire poses to the community’s most important resources. This means treatment projects are focused on protecting firefighters and people’s lives, homes, infrastructure such as power lines and drinking water supply, wildlife and their critical habitats, and the recreation assets that support the local economy.
Envision’s goal is to treat up to 30,000 acres in Chaffee County by 2030. Thirty percent of these lands are located on private property. As a member of this local council, SDCEA is involved in the planning, funding, and execution of projects that will increase the rate of treatments and provide better resiliency for many consumers in our service area.
Enactment of the rider allows SDCEA account holders to actively participate in the effort to prevent a catastrophic wildfire. 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 the quality of life for those living in our region now and in the future.
Colorado’s Largest Wildfires
Three of Colorado’s largest wildfires in history burned in 2020.
The top five largest fires in Colorado history are:
- 2020 Cameron Peak Fire — 208,663 acres (still burning at press time)
- 2020 East Troublesome Fire — 192,560 (still burning at press time)
- 2020 Pine Gulch Fire — 139,007
- 2002 Hayman Fire —137, 760
- 2013 West Fork Complex Fire — 109,049
The 2020 Mullen Fire burned 176,840 acres. It began in Wyoming and burned into Jackson County, Colorado.