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Green candidates sweep LPEA vote

Rendon

By Jim Haug Herald staff writer

The green revolution gained momentum Saturday with the three candidates who ran on platforms of encouraging renewable energy winning their races to the La Plata Electric Association Board of Directors.

Former Durango Mayor Michael Rendon got more than twice as many votes as his opponent, Alan Yoder, in an open race to represent District 3, the city of Durango.

Two other green candidates, Mark Garcia of District 1, Archuleta County, and Jack D. Turner of District 4, northern and eastern La Plata, won close victories over their respective incumbent opponents, Lindon Stewart and Herb Brodsky.

Tom Compton, the incumbent candidate for District 2, southern and western La Plata County, was unopposed.

Because of the election, Turner predicted an “incredible leap forward with LPEA.”

“I really see us being leaders (in renewable energy) and capturing that momentum,” he said.

Rendon also thought “things are changing. This is representative of it.”

“I think the (average) age of the board probably went down by 20 years by this election, as well,” said Rendon, 40. “I don’t think that necessarily means anything, except that’s the direction where we’re going.”

Four members of the 12-member board are elected annually by a popular vote of the member-owned cooperative, which primarily provides power for Archuleta and La Plata counties. The results of the mail-in election are announced at the annual meeting, which was held Saturday at Sky Ute Casino Resort in Ignacio.

Frank Lockwood, a member who questioned LPEA management about the lack of a community solar garden, said he was ecstatic about the election results, recalling that two other green candidates, Britt Bassett and Heather Erb, won last year.

“Now we have six people on the board who are progressive for renewable resources and six members who haven’t had a record of that,” Lockwood said. “We’re right at six and six. Before last year, it was 11 against (board member) Jeff Berman.”

Lockwood clarified that the other board members are not necessarily against alternative power, “but the point is that there are many more voices moving toward renewable-energy sources.”

Rendon said he appreciated that “you’re never going to have one perspective, and I think that’s the way it should be. We’re a democracy.”

During the annual meeting, Kent Singer, executive director of the Colorado Rural Electric Association, and Barbara Walz, a senior vice president for Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association Inc., the wholesale energy provider for LPEA, explained their organization’s opposition to Colorado Senate Bill 252, which increases the mandate for rural cooperatives to increase their portfolios’ percentage of renewable energy from 10 percent to at least 20 percent by 2020.

Gov. John Hickenlooper has not signed the legislation into law.

Singer said his association is trying to persuade the governor not to sign it. Singer said he is not opposed to alternative power, but said the bill is “too much, too fast.”

Walz said Tri-State already is doing a good job of diversifying its energy portfolio.

“We don’t need mandates,” said Walz in response to an LPEA member’s question about why Tri-State was spending money to defeat the legislation.

In an interview, newly elected board members Rendon and Turner said they both support the 20 percent renewable-energy mandate.

“Senate bill 252 is going to encourage local cooperatives to produce energy; that’s what I was campaigning on,” Turner said. “It will take our local resources to do that, so it really supports our community.”

Rendon said: “I think you can still have safe, affordable, reliable energy and have it be green energy. They’re not exclusionary of themselves. Nobody wants their rates to go up. At the same time, rates are going to keep going up with coal, as well. It’s a limited resource, as well. You want to diversify where you’re getting your energy from.”

During the meeting, LPEA officials announced plans to plant a community solar garden in Ignacio. The LPEA board already is working on an alternative-energy plan, too.

Lockwood, the LPEA member, does not understand why the cooperative does not have a solar garden like a neighboring cooperative in San Miguel County, which he said has a solar garden to support 700 homes.

“We live in one of the sunny places in the world, for God’s sake. We are falling behind everywhere else in the United States, and dozens of other countries are moving forward,” he said. “We have a million times more sun than cloudy Germany. So what’s the story?”

jhaug@durangoherald.com

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