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Why local energy matters

As you may have noticed, campaign signs are popping back up on yards and curbs throughout the region – this time, because one-third of La Plata Electric Association’s board of directors seats are up for election this June.

This year’s campaign season seems to be centered around our contract with Tri-State, the current source of 95% of LPEA’s power. To help inform your vote on this important election, Local First hosted a Candidate Forum and compiled additional information about the candidates, their stances and voting dates at local-first.org/2021-lpea-forum.

So why does this matter to Local First? These days, most people understand the importance of shopping locally to support our economy and keep dollars close to home. But, what about buying local energy? The same concept applies. Local First is a nonprofit alliance of locally-owned, independent businesses and organizations working together to build an economy that values people, the planet and prosperity for everyone. Because of our “triple bottom line” approach to the economy, we prioritize working on issues that are essential to a thriving community; for example: energy, community capital, transportation, local government, creative arts, agriculture, education and health. As such, we advocate for keeping energy money recirculating locally to create jobs, support the local energy industry and maintain our quality of life.

A prime example of economic prosperity that is leaving our community is found in our local not-for-profit electrical distribution and public power cooperative, La Plata Electric Association. LPEA relies on the Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association for power along with 43 other members across Colorado, New Mexico, Nebraska and Wyoming. LPEA is required to purchase 95% of our electricity from Tri-State until 2050 because of a long-term contract. Tri-State’s energy is over 60% coal produced, making their energy more expensive and worse for the environment (they are the second worst climate emitting electricity producer in the country).

Our neighbor electric co-op, Kit Carson in Taos, New Mexico, which recently exited their contract with Tri-State, is building toward having 40% of their total power coming from locally-generated solar power by 2022, with lower rates that will be fixed for 25 to 30 years. We, too, can recognize the win-win for the community that comes from providing clean, locally-generated solar power. If we could produce just 10% of our power locally, that would keep $7 million a year here locally to circulate in our community.

Negotiating this contract and building our capacity to create local, renewable energy options is no small feat, which is why Local First has put together resources for voters to learn more about the candidates and their stances. If you want to learn more about all of the candidates, check out the recording of Local First’s May 13 Candidate Forum. We asked each candidate these questions to help us all gain further understanding of who they are and their views on local power:

  • Durango and La Plata County have a high cost of living. How do you plan to keep electric rates reasonable for families and businesses struggling to pay the bills?
  • How do you see LPEA’s relationship with Tri-State Generation and Transmission and their current energy portfolio? What, if anything, would you like to see changed?
  • What do you see as the best way for LPEA to address climate impacts in the next decade?
  • What would you say separates you from the other candidate running in your district?
  • There have been reliability discussions in past forums. Do you believe that Tri-State is responsible for providing reliable energy to LPEA? Can you speak to this in relation to balancing authorities like WAPA (Western Area Power Administration, and the Western Area Colorado Missouri that balances our region) and their role in providing reliability?
  • What role do you see electric vehicles playing on the grid and what role LPEA would play in that?

If you have an account with LPEA, be sure to cast your vote to choose the directors who will manage the electric cooperative and determine the future of local energy in our region. Ballots will be mailed on Monday and are due June 16 by 4 .pm.

Emily Bell is managing director of Local First in Durango. Contact her at director@local-first.org.