Editor's Notes: Natural gas and rural Utah
I was annoyed this morning (Jan. 31) when I read an editorial in the Salt Lake Tribune entitled: Town and country: City customers should not subsidize rural gas rates. Why shouldn't they? I was thinking of all the things that rural Utah puts up with to help the people who live in the cities. The rate increase at the maximum would be $2.30 per year per customer. And chances are with rate deductions and other decreases this rate increase would be rolled into that and in the end a zero cost to customers is more likely the case. In Emery County, the Cleveland and Elmo area residents pay the higher rates for their natural gas.
We in Emery County pay taxes to the state of Utah and a lot of those taxes go towards building roads along the Wasatch Front, should we say pay for your own roads and not a penny of our taxes should go towards any road that isn't in our county?
Should we say that all the electricity produced in Emery County should stay in Emery County? We are a state with a lot of different people and a lot of different interests. For this person at the Tribune who wrote this to say they don't care about rural Utah is so rude. Do you not care that you can flip a switch and have electricity that was produced in Emery County. Do you not care that you can turn up your thermostat and heat your home with natural gas that was produced in rural Utah.
The rural customers in outlying areas did agree to pay this added surcharge so they could have gas service brought to the rural communities. But, this was based on the expectation that these cities would see additional growth. These surcharges have inhibited growth. There are still counties in rural Utah without natural gas service. Green River and Emery do not have natural gas service. These communities where the gas has been brought in do pay gas bills up to 30 percent higher than other communities.
Think of all the growth along the Wasatch Front and all of the gas lines that have been installed to service those booming communities. The actual cost of gas lines and installation is not paid by those urban users as it was paid by these people in rural communities. Urban users pay a set-up fee which in no way pays the actual costs of running these gas lines. But that's the way utilities operate. Older and existing customers always pave the way for new customers and new growth. Doing things in this manner keeps the gas and electricity affordable for everyone. According to Mike McCandless, Emery County Economic Development Director, no one would be able to afford a new home if they had to pay the actual costs of all the utilities, gas, electricity, telephone, sewer, water, etc.
McCandless said Questar has remained neutral on the shift in spreading the cost of the natural gas to these rural communities. Questar will get their money just the same. They see the impacts on these rural communities and support the rate shift. "Questar has just been incredible to work with. They have been honest and upfront about everything. Financially this won't affect them," said McCandless.
McCandless said the economic development office has been involved in this process for two years now to get the natural gas costs more evenly distributed over the whole state. These rural communities have been adversely affected by these higher natural gas rates. The town of Beaver has lost a huge business because of the higher natural gas rates which made it prohibitive for that company to settle in Beaver.
Our own town of Cleveland has lost a business that went elsewhere because of the higher gas rates in Cleveland. "This discrepancy within our own county results in discrimination against Cleveland and Elmo. I have seen businesses interested in Cleveland and when I tell them about the higher gas rates, it really discourages them from locating in Cleveland. This is an unfortunate problem which we are trying to remedy which is why we went to the Public Service Commission to start with. Sometimes I feel that rural Utah is treated like a third world country. They want us to produce their power and have all the impacts here, they want to play here, but no one is willing to step up and help us. All this tariff change will do is level the playing field so that we can compete for businesses. These high rates are just leaving us further behind. Cleveland only has two businesses. People just choose not to locate there because of the costs.
"Delta is in the same boat. A large company was looking at locating in Delta. The extra cost for that business for gas would have been $37,960,000. The total bill of the tariff change is $1.7 million. Look at the tax revenue that was lost when Delta lost this business because of their higher gas costs.
"This problem is just creating a bigger rift. All we want is the same rate statewide. These communities knew that they would have to pay higher rates. But the forecasting that was used to formulate the process for the charging of these rural communities is flawed. This system hasn't worked correctly since the beginning. It only worked in extremely fast growing communities who could pay the bill off sooner. For rural Utah it just hasn't worked. We need something better.
"We also want to know how we get gas to the communities of Green River, Emery and Scofield. This is just a bad situation. The regulations have some bad language in them and it needs to be removed, the methodology needs to be changed. It's just a tragedy that some of our communities are without natural gas," said McCandless.
McCandless and his group are also working on a bill which would require a rural member on the Committee of Consumer Services. This is a state run organization that has three responsibilities, one is to the customers-residential users, one to small business, and one to take positions before the Public Service Commission. Without a rural member on that commission the voice of rural Utah is never heard. The representative for rural Utah would come from the governor's rural partnership board.
McCandless said they have been to the Committee of Consumer Services meeting and spoke of the needs of Cleveland saying the community is business challenged and there are several people living there below the poverty level and McCandless was interrupted during his presentation and told the committee didn't care. The committee only seemed interested in the low income in the downtown Salt Lake area and Wasatch Front area; the needs of the low income in rural Utah was not of interest to them. The mandate of the committee is to represent all small business and any residential customer before the Public Service Commission, but apparently this is not the case if your small business or residence is in rural Utah.
Two final meetings will be held before the Public Service Commission comes to its decision. Public comments will be taken at 4:30 p.m. on Feb. 8 in Room 403 of the Heber Wells Building, 160 East 300 South, Salt Lake City. Another meeting will be held on Feb. 15 at 6:30 p.m. at the Beaver County Administrative Building 105 East Center Street. Written comments can also be submitted. McCandless will attend both of these meetings to keep the hope alive that maybe someday, rural Utah will be treated equally.