LPEA’s green history

Montoya

Although I am an La Plata Electric Association director, I am not speaking for the LPEA board of directors. I’m writing this as an individual, expressing my own opinions.

The headline on The Durango Herald’s story (Sunday, May 12) read “Green candidates sweep LPEA vote.” My first thought was, “What is a ‘green’ candidate?” The article implies that the five most recently elected directors (and one longer-standing director), are more environmentally sensitive than the six others. It is not my intent to disparage anyone’s character here, but if this is a competition of environmental accomplishments between the “old” directors and the “new” ones, I am confident the old ones have the new ones left in the dust. I am also confident that the old crew’s “agenda” for LPEA has no personal conflicts of interest.

In looking at the more than 900 rural electric cooperatives in the country, LPEA has been and continues to be a leader in renewable energy and energy efficiency. In 2010, the U.S. Department of Energy awarded LPEA the Utility Green Power Program Leadership Award. It seems to me LPEA must be doing something right.

Since being elected to the board in 1990, I don’t recall that any director has ever opposed renewable energy or efficiency programs. The board has, however, proceeded cautiously with every program to avoid unintended consequences and keep electricity affordable for our members.

Regulatory rules and contractual agreements have also complicated LPEA’s ability to do some things on our own. It should go without saying that directors and staff have a responsibility to abide by the law.

Renewable energy has been in LPEA’s portfolio for decades. LPEA began purchasing hydroelectric power from the Colorado River storage project some 50 years ago, and supported a hydro plant in Pagosa Springs. In recent years, our power supplier, Tri-State Generation and Transmission, has taken on the commitment to supply renewable energy for our members.

In 1998, LPEA was among the first co-ops to request that Tri-State provide blocks of green energy. This voluntary program currently has 1,700 members participating, which represents 24 percent of the total purchases of green power from Tri-State member-systems.

The net-metering program began in 2003. Currently, there are more than 400 net-metered accounts. This includes in excess of 2 megawatts of capacity from solar, wind and micro-hydro. This equates to the electricity used in 450-500 average homes. More than $1 million has been paid to local renewable generators in rebates and REC payments since 2003.

The problem as I see it is that renewable energy has become a political football. Some in the renewable-energy industry have convinced politicians that large hydro projects cannot be included as a renewable energy source. In my opinion, you cannot get a source of renewable energy any cleaner, more efficient or dependable than hydro. Green energy has become big business with lots of money at stake. Solar and wind projects would not be competitive without rebates, tax credits and other subsidies.

LPEA’s membership is diverse and members have many different needs. Not all have the ability to take advantage of these renewable projects, and it’s not fair that those members be forced to subsidize the ones who can.

With energy efficiency, LPEA’s time-of-use program, initiated in 1991, has probably been the most effective program established. The new Tri-State rate structure has diminished this program’s value, and because the LPEA members value this program, the LPEA board took Tri-State to task, and hopefully in the future our members will be able to again take full advantage of time-of-use.

LPEA has been criticized for challenging some renewable legislation in the past. Unfortunately, space limitations do not allow me to expand on the reasons, but hopefully in the future I can explain why LPEA took that stand, which I believe was in the best interest of our members. I will say it is not prudent to support legislation that is open-ended and could have devastating consequences to LPEA.

During the last couple years, some local papers have printed articles about LPEA that have been political, partisan, biased and not entirely factual. This does absolutely nothing for the betterment of the company or the morale of our trusted employees.

The recent Herald story said the board will now be six directors vs. six directors. I hope for the sake of the members and the company that this is not true. All 12 directors have a responsibility to work together for the good of the company and all of our members – not special interests.

Davin Montoya is a member of the board of directors of La Plata Electric Association and a long-time local rancher. Reach him at dmontoya@lpea.coop.

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