Ballots for the election of directors to the board of La Plata Electric Association are in this week’s mail. If you have an electric meter, you are an LPEA member/owner of our electric utility cooperative.
As a cooperative, each director on the board is mandated to represent the members through the co-op principle of democratic member control. Therefore, it is very important that we all vote to select directors that best represent LPEA members, and every member should vote so that our voices are heard.
Last week, our community learned from Luis Reyes, CEO of Kit Carson Electric Cooperative based in Taos, New Mexico, that the tables have turned. Rather than continuing to rely on the remote coal-fired power plants that we depend on now, local generation of renewable power can mean significantly lower and more stable electric rates for LPEA members for years to come.
Equally important are significant economic benefits for our local economy as local renewable power generation leads to more business for Local First members, more local jobs and less money leaving our economy. Currently, $70 million of LPEA’s $109 million annual budget leave our community to import power from Tri-State Generation, LPEA’s major energy supplier. The more we produce here with our abundance of sunny days at lower and stable rates, the more we can prosper as a community.
However, at this time, we are prevented from taking advantage of our locally produced power generation opportunity because LPEA is bound to a 50-year contract with Tri-State that limits our local generation to 5 percent of our total power. Past LPEA boards have voted to accept the contract Tri-State provided that requires LPEA to purchase the remaining 95 percent only from Tri-State.
Rural Electric Cooperatives like LPEA were established years ago to provide economic development to rural areas like ours. They provided electricity that allowed farmers, ranchers, schools and businesses to be more productive. This allowed unprecedented local economic development for our communities but relied on fossil fuels like coal. Coal-burning power plants are typically located near the source of the fuel they burn, often have air quality issues and are usually large power facilities located far from the communities they serve.
The world has changed, and we can now generate locally a significant percentage of our electricity from clean solar power with low and stable rates. Our neighbor electric co-op, Kit Carson in Taos, will have 40 percent 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 a community that comes from providing clean locally-generated solar power. The rate-payers win, our local solar installers win, our environment wins and our economy wins as we become more attractive to business with low and stable electric rates.
If we want to go down a similar road to lower electric rates and renewed local economic development, then it is very important for all LPEA members to advocate for clean locally-generated electric power – to keep our energy dollars local and to hold our elected LPEA board members accountable to us as member/owners.
As LPEA members, a key first step we can take to help move us down this road is to support LPEA’s board of directors as they move to petition Tri-State to significantly raise the 5 percent limit and allow us to generate more clean power locally.
The most important thing that we can do before May 12 is to vote in our LPEA board elections. Don’t let this opportunity pass. Our community’s future is at stake.
Monique DiGiorgio is managing director of Local First La Plata, a non-profit alliance of locally-owned independent businesses and organizations working together to build an economy that values people, the planet and prosperity for everyone. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about Local First La Plata, visit local-first.org/