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Vets claim 3 of 4 LPEA seats

Bob Lynch, Jeff Berman, Joe Wheeling elected

La Plata Electric Association’s board elections have become a debate between low cost versus low carbon-emission generation in recent years.

On Thursday, co-op members’ votes in three contested board seats were counted, and the winners were Bob Lynch, who unseated incumbent Ken Fox in District 1, which serves Archuleta County; incumbent Jeff Berman in District 3, representing the city of Durango; and incumbent Joe Wheeling, representing north and east La Plata County. Davin Montoya from District 2, south and western La Plata County, was unopposed.

The previous board was evenly split between members who want to emphasize renewable energy and the “old guard,” as defeated incumbent Ken Fox described it, who focus on affordable, dependable electricity delivery. It’s unclear what will happen with Lynch on the board. He said in his candidate statement that he favors a mix of sources for power generation, including biomass, solar, hydro and geothermal.

The votes were close in Districts 1 and 3, giving weak mandates to the winners.

The numbers broke out like this:

District 1: Bob Lynch – 893 votes, Ken Fox – 874 votes.

District 3: Jeff Berman – 1,070 votes, Bill Waters – 988 votes.

District 4: Joe Wheeling 1,170, Alison Dance 806.

A total of 5,801 ballots were cast, including several at the beginning of the meeting. More than 270 voting members and about 350 people in total attended.

In addition to selecting a new CEO, because Greg Munro is retiring in July after 12 years in the position, the new board will be continuing to deal with the co-op’s complaint before the Public Utilities Commission. The filing protests Tri-State Generation and Transmission’s significant increase in rates in 2013. While LPEA produces almost 5 percent of the electricity it supplies to its customers, it buys the rest from Tri-State.

LPEA contends the rate increase and structure is unlawful because it does not reflect the variation in demand at different times of the day and charges one aggregate rate round the clock.

Munro said at the time of the increase, LPEA had spent years educating its customers to wash clothes and dishes and perform other high energy-use tasks at nonpeak usage times.

“Those customers who were watching their time of use have seen their rates go up 30 percent,” LPEA Counsel Barry Spear said, “and there’s no incentive to be efficient. That rate methodology was also used for Tri-State’s 2014 rates.”

The complaint is in the discovery process now, and is expected to go in front of an administrative judge at the end of September or beginning of October, Spear said.

The board also will be monitoring the progress of community solar gardens, a new project.

La Plata Electric has about 40,000 households and business accounts, and about 14,000 participate in the LPEA Round-Up Foundation, where customers round their payments up to the nearest dollar. Since 1997, the foundation has awarded about $1.1 million to nonprofits in La Plata and Archuleta counties.

The votes were announced at the end of the rural co-op’s annual meeting, which was also a party for its 75th anniversary. To celebrate the occasion, LPEA invited Ted Case, executive director of the Oregon Rural Electric Association and author of Power Plays, to be the keynote speaker. He traced the history of rural electric co-ops from the 1930s to today.

“There are fewer and fewer people who remember living without electricity today,” Case said, “but it was an extreme hardship for people, particularly women. Every day was laundry day, and women literally ironed with 15-pound bars of iron. They had laundry arms with amazing biceps.”

abutler@durangoherald.com

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