Hazlehurst: SunShare pays price for youth, transparency

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Are you mad, mad, mad because other people are getting handouts, subsidies, benefits, tax breaks, rebates, refunds and entitlements, and you’re not? If not, you may be the only living American who believes that he/she isn’t being screwed, swindled, shortchanged, taken advantage of, exploited, played for a sucker and made to pay retail for everything.

Mitt Romney noted that the 47 percent of Americans who live off the government would never vote for him. In response, the 47 percenters (or the politicians who sought their votes) attacked the “1 percenters” who made too much money and paid too little in taxes. Campaigning at Colorado College last fall, President Obama told the crowd, “I’ve got your back!” implying that his opponent catered only to the outsized needs of the rich. Once re-elected, he joined Congress in ending the payroll tax cut that had benefitted members of the employed working and middle class. Now I know what the president actually meant: “I’ve got your back … pocket!”

To paraphrase George Orwell: “All Americans are subsidized, but some are subsidized more than others.” Success often means figuring out how to maximize your own benefits, and even block others who want to dip their snouts into the trough.

Take, for example, City Council’s recent decision to renege on the deal that their predecessors had made with SunShare, a local company that builds and operates community solar arrays.

Opponents of the deal seized on an apparently telling factoid: Utilities customers would have to fork over $22 million during the next 20 years to help fund it. Yep, poor working people would pay for rich enviros to buy feel-good solar panels that might reduce their electric bills to zero! Established manufacturers would be forced to leave town thanks to soaring utility rates!

Egged on by Council President Keith King, Council voted 5-4 to kick SunShare to the curb.

That’s fine, I guess, if you believe nothing could be better for economic development than driving fast-growing companies out of business or out of town. But SunShare screwed up — it shouldn’t have been so open and transparent about being subsidized.

The folks who rule that particular territory are sometimes subtle and indirect. They get big subsidies, profit handsomely, and no one understands what’s going on. Others have power, and know how to use it.

Take Gary Erickson’s Copper Ridge development. The site wasn’t worth much until Erickson cut a complex deal with the city’s Urban Renewal Authority, which agreed to issue bonds supported by tax revenues from the development to extend Powers Boulevard to Copper Ridge.

Sounds like a good deal, doesn’t it? The city gets a road, Erickson gets access and the city foregoes tax revenues that otherwise wouldn’t exist.

That’s one way to look at it. But Erickson’s deal tilts the playing field to his advantage, vastly increasing the value of his dirt and enabling him to attract tenants like Bass Pro Shops. Copper Ridge will spin off tens of millions to Erickson and his partners, and may hasten the decline of nearby retail/commercial centers.

As one disgruntled property owner told me, “It’s as if you bought some land in western Kansas and the city built two interstate highways to service it — think the land might be worth a little more than you paid?”

And consider all the cross-subsidization that the city budget so precisely documents. During the next 20 years, Utilities customers will pay the city $710 million in direct subsidies, not counting inflation. This year’s payment of $35.5 million includes $31.7 million in “Utilities Surplus Revenues,” $2.7 million for staff in the city attorney’s office and services provided, and $1.1 million for audit services from the city auditor.

How exactly can a municipal enterprise have “surplus revenue?” We’ll leave the question to the King and his court. They will need some of it to make the $1.66 million yearly payment on the U.S. Olympic Committee bonds, not to mention funneling a similar amount to the Convention & Visitors Bureau. In an arrangement hallowed by time and power, the CVB gets two-thirds of the annual take from the city’s lodgers and automobile rental tax.

Ranchers know that the dominant horse feeds first, and the rest fall obediently in line. Dogs defer to the leader of the pack. Gary Erickson at Copper Ridge, Doug Price at the CVB, Scott Blackmun at the USOC — dominant horses, big dogs!

And David Amster-Olszewski? Who’s he, some 26 year-old Colorado College graduate? Don’t cut in line, boy! You’ll have to wait your turn — along with that Zuckerberg kid and his data center.

9 Responses to Hazlehurst: SunShare pays price for youth, transparency

  1. Developers Rule! Just what we need is MORE commercial space with a plethora of empty buildings by the wayside. The lack of vision in our little village is astounding … little wonder so few younger folks are attracted to this region.

    RJF
    May 10, 2013 at 12:18 pm

  2. My husband and I are in our early 30s and have lived in the Springs for almost two years. We have had high hopes for our city and what it can become. With our new council, we are discouraged that our city with so much promise is moving backwards. It seems like anyone under 50 or who isn’t in the military is unwelcome. It looks like any forward progress in our town will have to bemade in spite of our council and its small-minded agendas.

    JZ
    May 10, 2013 at 1:16 pm

  3. Perplexing article. It seems you are saying bad behavior in the past justifies more bad behavior? So the USOC, Copper Ridge and the CVB got “big subsidies and profit handsomely”. Does that mean SunShare should also “get big subsidies and profit handsomely”? It has to stop somewhere. Why not start with SunShare and any future pigs wanting to eat at the public trough. And… if we can undue any past subsidies, do that too. When solar and wind have a real (not fictitious) return on investment, it won’t need any subsidies. Providing subsidies only prolongs the period of time that solar and wind remain uneconomical. Take away the crutch and let it stand on its own. “Envros” should want this as it would ultimately benefit the environment at a greater level.

    JC
    May 10, 2013 at 2:48 pm

  4. Interesting article. The facts are wrong: A $22M subsidy was never voted on by any council. After reviewing the Tariff and City Auditor’s report, that number relates to a long-term plan that was subject to approval by future councils. Only the 1st year was approved by the last Council, with a far smaller cost – About $9M NPV over 20 years, or less than our current annual level of spending on solar! Ie: the program year actually approved (2013) represents a DECREASE in spending.

    Would be great to have an article on why the whole City is speaking about $22M, when that was never approved. Talk about a scandal!

    Drake will cost over $1.2 billion to operate over 20 years at today’s operating cost WITHOUT environmental regulations requiring scrubbers worth $100’s of Millions. That figure isn’t a subsidy, so why is spending on solar energy a ‘subsidy?’

    DA
    May 10, 2013 at 3:47 pm

  5. I guess “one man’s incentive check is another man’s welfare check”, so to speak. I don’t mind the strategic use of subsidies to stimulate our priorities, I just wish I knew what our priorities were! City council, and the new King, seem reactive, not strategic.

    Kevin McT
    May 11, 2013 at 10:09 pm

  6. What the new council failed to understand was the 2013 community solar garden tariff was already budgeted and there would be no rate increase to implement. Rather than allowing 2013 to proceed while council looked at 2014 and 2015, they decided to cancel all 3 years when only the first year (2013) had been approved at a cost less than the 2 previous solar gardens approved under the pilot program. Mayor Bach supposedly encouraged “young professionals” to become involved in city government and when they did by proposing increased council pay, he kicked them to the curb. When a young professional started a first in the nation community solar garden, a new council, who had no previous knowledge of all the work that had gone into structuring the program, decided to kill it. It should be noted that CSU offers many rebates for all kinds of energy efficient appliances and other roof top solar projects.

    Bernie Herpin
    May 15, 2013 at 9:27 am

  7. Bernie, you are even more far gone than I originally thought. But, your replacement is even worse. Between you, Scott Hente and Jill Gaebler, you couldn’t spell CAT if they spotted you a C and an A.

    Mike Hunt
    May 15, 2013 at 11:39 am

  8. When Utilities staff says to wait they can get a better deal in 10 months, when the City Auditor’s office says to wait, when large businness employers say it will hurt them, and solar industry owners, other than Sunshare, say it can be worked better, that says it all. To have 6 out of 9 Council members ignore their staff suggestions and advice was wrong. This new Council doesnt need to kill it, just delay and improve it. Jill Gaebler is a liberal angry lookin gal, Collins is clueless, Bennett is a Mayor Steve Bach yes man, Knight is a reincarnetd Hente, King is shaking things up but is only going to last a short time because of his health, and the other ones are just kind of their ignoring what the citizens are telling them.

    Dale Heeven Jr.
    May 17, 2013 at 9:09 am

  9. Dale, don’t throw Collins or Bennett under the bus just yet. They at least had the fortitude to temporarily rescind the solar garden rate increase. But, they need to finish the job and send that little rich kid from CC, David Amster-Olszewski, packing.

    Mike Hunt
    May 20, 2013 at 5:57 pm