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March 9, 2008

Can I Re-energize My REA? I've Got to Win an Election First

In 2004, Colorado became the first state in the country to pass a citizen-initiated renewable energy standard (RES). Amendment 37 required all investor owned utilities get 10 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2015. Xcel Energy made such strides towards meeting the requirement that, in 2007, Gov. Bill Ritter signed a bill doubling the RES for investor owned utilities to 20 percent by 2020. Why am I rehashing all of this? Because, during the period from 2004-2008, while Xcel was building substantial renewable energy capacity, nearly all of the state's rural electric associations carried on with business as usual, because the renewable energy requirement did not apply to them. And that's where I come in. It is time to let the cat out of the bag: I have spent the last several months campaigning for a seat on the Board of Directors of my co-op, the Poudre Valley Rural Electric Association.

I decided early on that I would not use any of the Green Options blogs as a bully pulpit, and that I would also steer ecopolitology away from my PVREA board candidacy. With that said, now that the election is only a few days away, and most people who intend to vote have already done so, I have decided to tell my readers a little more about the whole thing. But instead of me telling you about it, I will let others do the talking for me. Below are two sets of excerpts, the first is from a media statement released by a non-profit called PV-Pioneers, a group that I am proud to be associated with. The second set of excerpts is taken from a recent article by Dan MacArthur that appeared in the North Forty News.

The Colorado non-profit organization, PV-Pioneers, has announced its support of Tim Hurst, Steve Szabo, and Roger Alexander, in this year's Poudre Valley Rural Electric Association Board of Directors election.

The local citizen's group, which promotes energy efficiency, renewable energy, and rate reform by PVREA, encouraged members to watch for election ballots in their mail box, for the co-op's first mail-in election. Candidate Steve Szabo said, "This is an opportunity to join other utilities who are saving money by making smart investments in efficiency, wind and solar power and who are passing savings to their customers." The Longmont area organic grower added, "PVREA has been overcommitted to yesterday's technologies and has been slow to adopt effective and aggressive energy efficiency programs. The unfortunate result has been higher rates for everyone."

Roger Alexander, candidate for the PVREA Board seat representing Larimer County, said "This election is about your money, and your electric rates. It is important to support a vision with programs that will keep our electric bills low by promoting energy efficiency, wind, and solar." Alexander, a Fort Collins energy efficiency consultant and solar energy system integrator noted that PVREA rates have jumped 30% over the past 3 years. He added "Our first priority is to proactively choose efficiency programs which minimize costs for customers and the utility."

Tim Hurst, candidate for the at-large seat, supports increased investment in clean energy. He exclaimed, "This is a terrific chance to simultaneously protect our environment and create new jobs and economic growth for the area's rural community." Hurst further explained that "Our vision of a clean, cost-efficient energy future begins here in Larimer, Weld, and Boulder counties, not exclusively with distant, costly coal based electric plants."

PV-Pioneers president Kevin Markey explained that the citizens' group looked for candidates with a progressive vision, who were willing and able to face the electric cooperative's challenges with new ideas and new vigor. He said, "The traditional ideas and conservative management style of the current board may have worked when energy prices were stable and the energy world was predictable. Now we need to replace that thinking with a more proactive, entrepreneurial management." He also noted that the three candidates, although in disagreement with current PVREA policies, have worked constructively with PVREA Board and staff.

Challengers Energize REA Voting

By Dan MacArthur - North Forty News

The theme of change dominating presidential politics is seeping down to the local level in the fierce race for election to the Poudre Valley Rural Electric Association board of directors.

A slate of three alternative energy advocates allied as the PV Pioneers is waging a concerted campaign for three of the four director seats up for election at the March 15 annual meeting.

The race makes apparent the changing face of the consumer-owned, nonprofit cooperative.

Formed nearly 70 years ago in the wake of the Depression, its mission was bringing electricity to far-flung farms across Larimer and Weld counties.

Today it serves 35,618 increasingly suburban members. The REA maintains more than 3,800 miles of line spread over 3,600 square miles of Northern Colorado.

"Previously there were few contests for the 11 board seats. They typically were held by long-time directors associated with agriculture. In 2007, however, a pair of relative newcomers pushing renewable resources and challenging continued reliance on coal-fired electric generation came within a whisker of unseating two incumbents.

Roger Alexander and Steve Szabo challenged plans by the REA's wholesale supplier, Tri-State Generation and Transmission, to build two new coal-fired power plants in western Kansas and a third in southeastern Colorado.

Tri-State insisted the plants were needed to meet future demands. But Alexander and Szabo maintained the $5 billion total cost was excessive and unnecessary. Those needs, they asserted, could be met more economically and environmentally soundly through greater conservation and use of renewable energy.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment rejected the power plant plans, however, and a compromise is now being drafted by the Kansas Legislature. It would allow construction of the plants to proceed, providing Tri-State minimizes the carbon dioxide emissions widely believed by scientists to contribute to global warming.

Those two PV (Poudre Valley or Photo-Voltaic) Pioneers are back again, with the addition of Tim Hurst, campaigning on a plank of three R's - rates, reliability and renewable energy. They want Poudre Valley and other co-ops to press for greater development of renewable energy by Tri-State.

"This year's contest has been quiet and civil for the most part with candidates from both camps expressing respect for the ideas and opinions offered by the other. Beneath it all, however, is a deep split between those convinced coal-generated electricity is the only real option in the foreseeable future and those equally convinced it should be the last option.

"There are two very different philosophies," said 18-year board member Jim Park, who is being challenged by Hurst.

"They think green power is the answer to everything," said Dean Anderson, who's being opposed by Roger Alexander. While green power has its place, Anderson said it remains expensive and unreliable. It is available only when the sun is shining or the wind is blowing and can't be stored for later use when it is needed most.

There also is a less profound split about whether global warming is a consequence of the carbon dioxide produced by the combustion of fossil fuels.

"I don't think (the directors) really understand what's happening with climate change. It's kind of irrefutable," said Szabo.

"Quite frankly, I don't buy into that totally," Park said. He suggested such warming instead could result from long-term cyclical variations.

"It really seems that it's only in the U.S. that the discussion still exists," said Alexander. Disputable or not, he asked, "What's the downside of moving away from fossil fuels now? Why would you gamble with the future of the human race?"

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