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Should LPEA voters decide buyout question? Board members say ‘no’

Proposal fails in tie vote on 12-member panel
La Plata Electric Association is studying a buyout from Tri-State Generation and Transmission, which could allow the co-op to purchase more renewable energy. The co-op’s board Wednesday decided not to send a bylaw amendment to members to allow them to decide whether a vote of the membership should be required to leave Tri-State.

Voters won’t be asked this year to change the bylaws at La Plata Electric Association to allow members to decide whether to buy out of a contract with the co-op’s wholesale power supplier.

LPEA’s 12-member board voted 6-6 Wednesday on whether to place the bylaw question on the co-op’s May ballot. The tie vote means the proposal failed.

“We are saying, ‘Please trust us, that we will do the right thing,’” said LPEA President Bob Lynch.

LPEA is contracted to purchase 95 percent of its power from Tri-State Generation and Transmission until 2050.

Some co-op members are interested in buying out of the contract because it limits how much renewable power LPEA can purchase. Other members are concerned a buyout from Tri-State would increase electricity rates.

Wednesday’s vote was a reversal from the board’s previous position. In February, the board voted 8-2 to work with staff on an amendment to the co-op’s bylaws that would require a vote of the members to enter into, extend or terminate a power-supply contract.

The idea of a bylaw amendment arose from a petition started by a citizens’ group, Common Sense LPEA, asking board members to require a vote of the membership for any expenditure over $50 million, said Heath Rowe, a member of the group.

The board responded by saying if Common Sense LPEA withdrew its petition, the board would place a question on the ballot that would require a buyout be approved by the membership. In return, the citizens’ group agreed to stop gathering signatures to place a bylaw change on the ballot, he said. A few citizens thanked the board for agreeing to place a question on the ballot at the beginning of Wednesday’s meeting.

“I feel like we got back-handed on this deal,” Rowe said after the vote.

Rowe said he planned to start a new petition to place a bylaw change on the ballot next year that would require a vote of the membership on any deal to leave the Tri-State contract.

The deadline has passed for members to submit a petition to place a question on the May ballot, he said.

“I just don’t understand why they don’t want us to vote,” he said.

Board members Doug Lyon, Kirsten Skeehan, Dan Huntington, Davin Montoya, Mike Alley and Kohler McInnis, all voted in favor of the bylaw change. Before the vote, Lyon said the new bylaw would offer the board flexibility to purchase power from other sources and accountability to membership.

“It meets the members’ concerns that nothing too big will happen, like 100 percent buyout, without their say so,” he said.

Board members Bob Lynch, Britt Bassett, Rachel Landis, Guinn Unger, Tim Wheeler and Jack Turner opposed placing the bylaw question on the ballot.

A vote of the membership could be contrary to the methodical, analytical and factual approach that the co-op is taking to a buyout decision, Turner said. Turner was also opposed to the bylaw change in February.

“It is the most important work that LPEA has done since I have been on this board,” he said.

An LPEA committee is researching a buyout from Tri-State and it has not yet presented its findings.

Landis said that before any buyout she would like to see the board reach a decision about a buyout after holding town-hall meetings, surveys and gatherings with the members, so the community could help shape what any big change in power supply would look like.

“If put to a vote, this would be a really hard thing for the average voter to feel they could make an informed decision on, a decision that once made would be binding. The binary nature of a binding decision would not give the board or the staff the flexibility such complexity requires. ”


This story has been updated to add Kirsten Skeehan to the list of board members who voted in favor of the bylaw change. A previous version of this story also gave an incorrect vote total from the February vote.

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