Any question as to what direction La Plata Electric Association is headed were laid to rest Saturday with the results of this year’s board election. Alternative energy sources and conservation are where things are headed. The co-op’s membership has made that clear.
LPEA provides electricity primarily for La Plata and Archuleta counties. Every year, four of the 12 seats on the association’s board of directors go before the voters, co-op members made up of everyone who gets an electric bill.
This year, Tom Compton was unopposed and thus re-elected. He is one of the board members from District 2, representing southern and western La Plata County.
In every one of the three contested races members chose avowedly green candidates. In a tight race in District 1, Archuleta County and slices of Mineral and Hinsdale counties, the voters picked Mark Garcia over incumbent Lindon Stewart. In District 4, northern and eastern La Plata County, Jack D. Turner narrowly defeated Herb Brodsky. Brodsky served as an LPEA board member for 21 years before losing his seat last year to Heather Erb. He was then appointed to fill out the term of Pam Patton, who left to serve on the state’s Public Utilities Commission.
In the most dramatic contest, Michael Rendon beat Alan Yoder by more than 2-1 for the District 3 seat representing the city of Durango. In fairness, Rendon started out with great name recognition, having worked at Fort Lewis College, served on the Durango City Council and headed up the Sexual Assault Services Organization. And he is visible in the community because, not owning a car, he walks everywhere.
Nonetheless, his win was still was the most telling result in that the visions espoused by Rendon and Yoder for the future of LPEA offered the clearest choice of any of the races. There was no doubt where either man would take LPEA and no doubt which direction District 3 voters chose.
Rendon, Garcia and Turner all campaigned as supporters of alternative energy and conservation. And, in that, they join Erb and Britt Bassett, elected last year, and Jeff Berman, who has been on the board since 2005. That means fully half the board’s members are now self-proclaimed backers of moving more and more quickly toward renewable energy.
None of this is to suggest that the other six are all anti-clean energy. They are not; nor are they uniform in their thinking or approach.
The just re-elected Compton exemplifies the board’s diversity. A rancher, he is also a former college professor who holds a doctorate in zoology. He also serves on the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and the board of the La Plata Open Space Conservancy. That no “greener” candidate challenged him says something as well.
Nonetheless, the results of this year’s election and last year’s – together with Berman – do represent a change. It is neither a reversal nor a radical departure from the past. LPEA’s mission still begins with keeping the lights on and rates in line. And the fundamental economics of electricity do not change with one vote.
But the shift these elections represent should mean an increased emphasis on renewable energy, as well as local and more diverse energy sources. That, after all, is how LPEA’s members voted.