Vigilante Electric plans $800,000 ratepayer rebate

J.P. Plutt
Wednesday, January 5, 2022


Vigilante Electric Cooperative (VEC) General Manager Rollie Miller recently announced that the member-owned, nonprofit corporation will rebate $800,000 to 2021 ratepayers of the Dillon-based business with a credit on their December bill which will be sent out in early January. The credit will be based upon the customers kilowatt hour usage from 2021 and Miller estimated that an customer with average usage will get a credit of between $70 to $80.

A year ago, VEC gave a $500,000 rebate to ratepayers. The cooperative offers the lowest residential and irrigation electricity rates in the state and ranks among the lowest 1% in the country.

The low rates are made possible due to the corporation’s long-time, contractual partnership with the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA). According to Wikipedia, the BPA is a federal agency and part of the Department of Energy. The BPA, created by an act of Congress in 1937, is self-funded and sells energy at cost in eight western states, including Montana. The BPA markets electricity from thirty-one federal hydroelectric dams on the Columbia River and its tributaries, as well as the power generated from a nuclear plant in Eastern Washington.

“The biggest issue on our members minds is a long-term power supply contract and I don’t see it as an issue,” said Miller in a recent interview with the Dillon Tribune. “We have a longterm power supply contract that is in effect until 2028 and we are discussing renewing that now. We;re going to be renewing a contract in the next few years, and the indications I’m getting from the board, it is going to be real similar to what we have now.”

According to Miller, VEC’s last contract renewal with BPA was for a 20-year term. He has heard talk of an optional 10-year contract being discussed during negotiations.

“I can see another 20-year contract,” said Miller. “In my opinion, another 20-year contract with BPA would be a good stroke of business based upon the decades of history we have with them.”

Miller says that nearly one-fourth to one-third of their bill from the BPA includes costs associated with fish and wildlife mitigation associated with the hydroelectric dams.

“The Bonneville Power Administration delivers us power that is almost all carbon free, hydroelectric,” said Miller. “Hydro power is cheaper to generate than any other power – wind, solar, nuclear, coal, natural gas – and our rates are lower because of that. Hydro is cheaper, but it comes with downfalls. They have had to make concessions to help the salmon get upstream past the hydroelectric dams and I think it is clearly a thing that they have accomplished.”

Last year, VEC had around 6,300 customers and 10,400 metered accounts in 10 counties from Hells Canyon and the Townsend area to rural areas through the corridor that includes Three Forks, Whitehall, Twin Bridges, Dillon, the Big Hole and Centennial Valleys and a portion of eastern Idaho.

Miller attributes at least part of the 2021 rebate on a dramatic increase of about 60% in new residential services. VEC had grown by around 200 new services a year in a period of several years leading up to 2020, according to Miller, but in 2020 a record 240 new services were added. The general manager said that in 2021, just under 400 new services were added to VEC. Miller said all areas in the VEC service area have grown, but the most dramatic increase has occurred in the Three Forks area.

Miller says VEC projects new services will likely keep pace with the 2021 increase.

“I’m thinking it is going to cost more, but costs don’t bother the services apparently, because we’re just rolling,” Miller said. “Everything is up, but they keep coming.”

One cost that is definitely increasing is the cost and availability of transformers. A transformer is needed to add a service to the VEC lines, though multiple services can be added to one transformer. Miller says that the lead time to receive transformers after an order has been placed has gone from 10 to 12 weeks a few years ago, to a current lead time of 120 weeks.

“We’re looking at a different brand, it is a good quality transformer and they’re telling us it is about a year out on them,” said Miller. “We’re looking at the new supplier because we can’t wait two years and four months to get transformers.”

On multiple occasions during the interview, Miller lauded the hard work of the “guys and gals” of the VEC crews for their work in keeping pace with the dramatic increase in new service additions. He credits that effort to help make the rebate possible.

Looking forward to 2022, Miller is concerned about the agricultural power usage.

“Residential usage was higher this year and irrigation was up a little bit,” said Miller. “I’m a little bit worried about next year because we don’t have the snow pack and we don’t have the storage that we did coming into this year. If we have another dry year and we don’t get some moisture pretty quick, our irrigation season is going to be pretty short.”

The Vigilante Electric Cooperative Board of Trustees, representing nine separate districts, include Tom Helm, Colt High, Cheyenne Garrison, Norm Tebay, Dean Hanson, Andy Johnson, Dean Peterson, Tom Mitchell and Allen Martinell.