Ballots for the annual La Plata Electric Association election will be mailed next week, and all three incumbents in La Plata County have challengers.
With LPEA delivering safe and reliable power at a reasonable cost, the only election issue is whether – and if so, how quickly – it makes economic sense for the co-op to free itself from the limits on locally generated power mandated by the commitments of its power provider, Tri-State Generation & Transmission, and fulfill its mission’s fourth component, “while being environmentally responsible.” In this heavily green-thinking and -living county, that issue is significant.
For the incumbents, the co-op board and staff are proceeding on a reasonable schedule to study its potential near-future energy sources. The challengers argue that the switch to renewables is almost a given, and a planning document with costs attached should be moving forward quickly.
The Herald’s editorial board sides with the incumbents. LPEA’s staff and the majority of the board have heard its members’ call for more renewables, and they are working to study the alternatives.
Kohler McInnis, Britt Bassett and Karen Barger should be returned to the board. Acquiring and delivering electricity is a complex and challenging business, and all three have been fully engaged; there is no reason to add newcomers now.
McInnis is challenged by Jeff Mannix, known best for his leadership of the Durango Cowboy Gathering. Mannix has wanted to be more involved in the community, to his credit, and has run for county commissioner and a fire district. His desire to be part of “raising a new crop” is appealing. His interest in developing solar farms on agricultural lands is a local economic development strategy we hope the board pursues.
But McInnis has three years of experience, including representing LPEA on the Tri-State board. He was criticized last year for his vote against increasing the cap on locally produced power from 5 to 10 percent, and we hope he will do a better job of balancing the two roles if he is returned to the seat.
Bassett is opposed by Gene Fisher, who has a degree in engineering and built and operated power plants overseas. He was in charge of facilities at Fort Lewis College, and created the SkyRidge housing and light retail development. Fisher would bring significant engineering experience to the board and a balanced hand in decision making. But Bassett has an engineering background as well, in nuclear energy. During his six years on the board, he has shown himself to be a thoughtful and steady proponent of exploring the opportunities that non-fossil fuels can provide.
For this seat, we tip toward Bassett.
Karen Barger, who owns a popular downtown restaurant and is generous to nonprofits, has taken her first term on the board seriously and has assumed leadership positions on the LPEA and Colorado Rural Electric Association boards.
Barger is opposed by Tim Wheeler, who has a background in the computer industry, owned Durango Coffee and is an enthusiastic leader in “buying local.” It is Wheeler who says it would be preferable for LPEA to purchase locally produced electricity than to have those dollars leave the region. That’s an important point.
But we support Barger for her board experience and engagement.
We look forward to the LPEA staff and board preparing a comprehensive strategic plan that sets goals that could include generating more locally produced renewable energy. That is the direction the country and the world is going.
Vote for McInnis, Bassett or Barger depending on your district.