Report on the annual meeting of the San Luis Valley Rural Electric Co-op

by Larry Calloway

Wade Lockhart of Crestone, describing himself as “a green build- er” since 1992 and advocating more wind and solar generation, won election to the board of the San Luis Valley Rural Electric Co-op, defeat- ing Mike Rierson of rural Center, a farmer who had held the at-large seat for 20 years. Lockhart announced, “We won!” by text message when the tally of paper ballots was certified on Wednesday (June 12), the day after the co-op’s annual membership meeting at the Alamosa armory. He won by 60%, or 635 of the 1077 ballots cast, most by mail but some handed in at the meeting.

In impromptu remarks to the audience of several hundred, Lock- hart had said, “We have a grand opportunity here in the San Luis Valley to put up more renewables than we have to. If we can have our own renewables it’s going to be cheaper. We won’t have to bring electric en- ergy all the way from Craig or New Mexico.” Colorado’s renewable energy standard for co-ops is 20% of retail electric sales. The SLV co-op’s wholesale provider is Tri-State Energy and Transmission Association, which is dependent on coal-fired power plants such as those in Craig and elsewhere.

Rierson had not mentioned power sources in his remarks to the same audience, sounding instead themes of unity in diversity and keeping rates affordable. “We represent everyone,” he said of the board. “We have to be there at all times to hear the voice of the members.”

The annual meeting followed a standard agenda that included amiable remarks by directors and administrators (the men dressed in uniform white shirts bearing the co- op logo), awarding of scholarships to local college students, door prizes, the candidate remarks and answers to a selection of written questions by chief executive officer Loren Howard.

“We have a complaint filed against us,” he said. Crestone residents, organized by Annie Pace, signed the official complaint and petition that will result in a hear- ing (date TBA) in Crestone by representatives of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, although co- ops are unregulated under Colorado law. Howard did not elaborate, but he did defend the main issue of the petition: the sudden imposition of a new set of cost-shifting rates involving “demand” charges.

“My responsibility is to do what’s best for the co-op. Sometimes it’s not the best for you,” he said, referring to complaints about in- creased charges. “We went through hundreds of accounts to see what this rate change will do,” he said, concluding, “Yes, some are up. Some are down.”

The big surprise at the mass meeting came from the back of the armory assembly hall. A young man named Matthew Robinson walked up the aisle with a sort of military bearing (he is a graduate of West Point) and faced the crowd. He is now an energy manager with a State agency that he did not identify be- cause he was not speaking officially.

He and his partner built a second home (they live in Denver) in the San Luis Valley, designing a solar system that produces more pow- er than it uses, he said, but they decided to sell. “We can’t afford it any more because of this rate change,” he said.

“Public Service Co. (Excel) tried the same rate change,” he said, citing expert testimony to the PUC was against the concept. Among the points made were: that demand charges are not understood, that customers cannot actually monitor their consumption to avoid new charges, that low-income customers are harmed the most, that it is not unusual for businesses to pay less while many residents pay more, that demand charges are untested and that they do not accurately reflect costs.

What utilities want is more stable revenues, he said, and demand charges make sense for large power users because they have the expertise that householders lack. “We are paying one of the highest rates in the state in an area with a concentration of low-income. This is a terrible rate design,” Robinson said.

(This report first appeared at www.Larrycalloway.com)