Because of the rising costs of coal, Kirsten Skeehan wonders how the La Plata Electric Association can talk about keeping energy rates low without exploring options for renewable energy.
She is running for the utility’s board of directors because “right now, there’s not a big push to find solutions,” said Skeehan, who would represent Archuleta County.
She is one of four candidates running on a platform to encourage the development of local sources of renewable energy.
Her incumbent opponent, Bob Formwalt, contends that alternative power such as solar is “not a mature industry.”
“I’m not willing to pass (subsidies) on to La Plata users to make sure solar makes a profit,” he said.
Formwalt prefers a nuclear solution for the energy crisis.
“I think nuclear is the ultimate panacea for us all, but you talk to anybody about nuclear and they just start to clam up,” Formwalt said. “You got all that waste that is left over, but those are things that are solvable.”
The direction of LPEA is at stake with four incumbents defending their seats against a bloc of four green candidates who say LPEA is overdue for a shake-up. The cooperative’s members elect four directors each year to the 12-member board. Officials say it’s not often that all four seats are contested in the same year.
Britt Bassett, campaigning for District 3, which is Durango, said LPEA is so stodgy that it opposed state Amendment 37, which set renewable-energy requirements for utilities. Bruce Baizel, a green candidate for District 2, southern and western La Plata County, said he is tired of hearing why LPEA can’t do something. He wants to hear what can be done.
Heather Erb, a candidate for District 4, said they’re running as a group to increase the odds of making changes once elected. It does not mean, however, they’re going to vote as a group on every issue, she said.
The incumbents see problems with challengers coming onto the board with an agenda.
Herb Brodsky, an incumbent for District 4, said board members must approach the issues with an open mind.
While he purchases green power himself, Brodsky does not want to force renewable energy on everybody.
“Even if we made a big push in that direction, it means somebody has to pay more for their electricity,” Brodsky said. “I feel I have to represent all the members and look at all the facts.”
Renewable energy is “a tough sell to the people who are really having a hard time making it,” Brodsky said.
Bobby Lieb, the incumbent for Durango, wonders how his challenger, Bassett, could serve objectively, considering his job as an engineer designing commercial solar systems.
“Mr. Bassett comes with a pretty specific focus about what he wants to accomplish on LPEA – more solar power, given the business he’s in,” Lieb said. “I can understand it, but I think it’s a risk. Can he function and operate on the board properly?”
Bassett said all his work is out of state. It is possible he might get some Colorado projects in the future, but he said he has enough work to keep him busy for a while.
Bassett said Lieb should worry about conflicts of interest because he serves as both county commission chairman and an LPEA board member. Bassett also noted that developers often will come before both the county and the utility for assistance with projects.
“It strikes me as very poor judgment to be on these boards,” Bassett said.
Lieb responds that LPEA is a nonprofit cooperative and is not a public utility owned by government. He would recuse himself from any conflicts. He has asked his fellow county commissioners to tell him if it is “ever perceived that I am not effective on the board. So far, I’ve had perfect attendance on LPEA and the county commission. I seem to be making it work. I’ve not had anyone tell me otherwise.”
Bassett said Lieb is “not doing an adequate job because he does not understand any of these rate structures. ... He does not understand the programs we’re talking about because he does not have the time.”
Lieb said he could never speak “to the level of specificity, complexity that my opponent can. Britt Bassett is a very smart man. But LPEA is a business that has to stay solvent. There’s an art to serving on boards. I feel I am very good at it.”
LPEA directors serve three-year terms. They’re paid $200 per meeting and workshop, averaging between $16,000 to $18,000 a year. They’re given a $1,000 stipend to spend on health insurance.
Ballots should be received by LPEA members this weekend. Election results will be announced at the May 12 annual meeting.