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Guest Commentary: Lake Country Power arrogant once again

Lake Country Power has a service territory that covers 10,872 square miles. It includes parts of Aitkin, Carlton, Cass, Itasca, Koochiching, Lake, Pine and St. Louis counties. Within that service area LCP has 48,487 active services. LCP has offices in Grand Rapids, Mountain Iron and Kettle River, Minn.

I have been a customer of LCP (formerly Northern Electric) for close to 50 years. Their service has been excellent. I have not been a chronic whiner. But recent policy changes made by LCP are affecting me and many other customers unfairly... very unfairly.

Those of us who heat our homes with a geothermal (ground source) heat pump are getting a real kick in the head from LCP. My heat pump is metered separately, and on the LCP bill dated March 15, 2016, the energy charge for my heat pump was 7.7 cents per kilowatt hour. On my June 2016, bill my energy charge will be 12.86 cents per kilowatt hour. This comes close to being a 70 percent raise. This kind of a raise is going to make it difficult or impossible for many of us to pay for the electricity to run the heat pump.

Meanwhile, on March 1, non-heat pump owners saw a 6 percent residential rate hike which, by the way, we heat pump owners had to pay also

But LCP offered us heat pump owners a way to afford to run our heat pumps. We would have to put our heat pumps on LCP's interruptible Dual Fuel Program. The Dual Fuel rates are low, but signing on to the Dual Fuel Program gives LCP the right to shut off our heat pumps for 400 hours per heating season. Furthermore, heat pump customers on Dual Fuel will have to buy an expensive backup unit which will come on automatically when LCP shuts off the heat pump. We will have to hire a certified electrician to do some of the wiring on the new installation.

I think back to 1990's when LCP (then named Northern Electric) conducted a huge advertising campaign which glorified heat pumps as the best, most economical way to heat a home. I agreed with their advertising, and in 1996 I bought my first heat pump from LCP. Many other people bought heat pumps also, some from LCP and others from independent vendors.

But now I look back at the promises made by LCP and realize that their advertising campaign has mutated into the biggest bait and switch scam that I have ever been victimized by.

In 2013, I bought a second $12,000 heat pump from an independent vendor. Because of a botched installation by a Grand Rapids heating and air conditioning firm, I had to put another $5,000 into the heat pump to get it to work right. Now LCP is telling me I have to buy an expensive automatic backup unit and hire an electrical contractor or pay close to a 70 percent increase in my heat pump monthly charge. Where is that money supposed to come from?

A few years back, LCP's high rates irritated many of its customers. The irate customers called for a vote and 66 percent of the customers voted to have Minnesota Power provide electricity to LCP's customers. Unfortunately, 67 percent of the members had to vote for the change before Minnesota Power could take over.

LCP was pretty timid for a long time after the Minnesota Power vote, but they're not timid any more. Besides making heat pump ownership prohibitive, they have instituted a huge monthly "Service Availability" charge. Mine is $42 per month.

LCP has no idea about how many of its 48,487 active services are providing electricity for a heat pump. I know a lot of people who bought a heat pump from an independent vendor, put a 100 amp circuit breaker into their electrical panel, wired the heat pump, and (unknown to LCP) are running it at a rate that right now is 10.98 cents per kilowatt hour. These people won't have to buy a backup unit or pay the high heat pump rate.

LCP gave us the reasons why they need to raise their rates. And I wouldn't complain if everybody were being treated the same. But LCP has come after the heat pump owners in a way that is going to cause suffering.

The way they're behaving now, I believe that LCP should be a government-regulated utility. That would put an end to the unfair treatment of their customers and to their deciding to "lay down the law" in the privacy of their own offices.