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SALAMANCA – Salamanca residents were shocked when they opened their latest electric bills and discovered they owe much more for power than they usually do, in some case three times as much.

“My house is large, but my electric bill is more than my mortgage,” says Mindy John of Lexington Avenue. “My bill is over $800 and we have turned the heat off in four rooms and keep the temperature pretty low.”

Demands for an investigation have started, including an online petition that asks Mayor Carmen Vecchiarella and the City Council to look into the rate increase.

Keith King, manager of the city’s Board of Public Utilities, says he knows the reason.

“January was extremely cold,” he explains, “and we, as a city, purchased more power than ever before at prices the highest they have ever been.”

Before January, King says, the highest amount the city paid for power in one month was $700,000. In January, it went up to $1.2 million.

The City of Salamanca gets power from two sources – the low-cost Niagara Power Project at Niagara Falls, operated by the New York Power Authority, and higher-priced power on the open market.

“Only so much water goes over the Falls,” King notes.

The cost of power on the open market is passed along to Salamanca customers through a fee called the Purchase Power Adjustment (PPA), which is added to the base rate.

“This month my usage was $218 and the PPA is over $500,” Mindy John says.

The PPA is not new. It has been in place since 1979. Even users like the Seneca Allegany Casino pay the rate.

“That’s how we determine how much we charge,” King said. “There is a base rate of 2.49 cents per kilowatt hour that we use to pay employees, buy wire, new poles, do what we need to do to keep the operations going. The amount we charge for PPA is what pays for the electricity.”

“We have nothing to do with the amount in PPA that is being charged,” Mayor Vecchiarella says. “Keith King has no authority over them. This petition is a good thing, but instead of demanding that we look into this, I ask that these people contact State Sen. Cathy Young, or Sen. [Charles] Schumer to get more of an allotment for Salamanca.”

The bill residents received March 1 is just the first that will reflect this winter’s extreme cold snap. Vecchiarella says this bill is for the month of January. The bill that will hit mailboxes April 1 will be for February, and the one in May will be for March.

“If I could, I would slice everybody’s bill and make it $100,” Vecchiarella says. “We do not like these rates any more than anyone else, but there is really nothing that can be done about them.”