VAIL VALLEY, Colorado - Vail Valley and regional power provider Holy Cross Energy is proposing a change to the way its members elect the board of directors because some officials fear the Aspen Skiing Co. is exerting too much influence.
Holy Cross board chairman Tom Turnbull said the board agreed to ask members, or customers, of the utility cooperative if they want to switch from at-large voting for directors to district-only voting. Right now, the seven Holy Cross board members represent a specific district, but all members of the utility can vote in all races. The proposed change would allow only the voters residing in a district to select their director.
"The issue is basically special interests trying to take over the board," Turnbull said. The ski company recruited people to run in past elections and endorsed candidates, he said.
Auden Schendler, Aspen's executive director of sustainability, said the company is definitely trying to spark interest and participation in Holy Cross elections. Turnout in Holy Cross elections is typically less than 10 percent, even though members can vote from the convenience of their living rooms, he said.
"What the Aspen Skiing Co. is interested in is democracy," Schendler said.
The Aspen Skiing Co. is the second biggest customer of Holy Cross Energy, behind only Vail Resorts.
Utility cooperatives across the country have traditionally gone about their business with little interest from members. That is starting to change because of the interest in boosting renewable energy, fighting climate change and creating a green economy, Schendler said.
Turnbull is a Carbondale rancher and longtime Holy Cross board member. He faced a challenge from a renewable energy advocate last year. Turnbull campaigned in favor of balance between keeping affordable, reliable sources of energy and working in renewable energy sources when economically feasible. He said energy from coal-fired plants was necessary to maintain affordable and stable prices for members. Turnbull won re-election easily.
He isn't critical of the Aspen Skiing Co.'s green agenda, Turnbull said. "It's the rapidity of the way they want that agenda incorporated that has me worried," he said.
The energy business is complex, and it takes a while for board members to learn the issues. He said he doesn't want to see all the veterans of the board replaced by those who favor renewable energy but know little about the numerous other issues.
The Holy Cross board voted unanimously to place the question about at-large or district voting on the ballot, said Turnbull. The board is divided over whether the style of voting should be changed, he said.
The membership vote on the issue is only advisory.
Holy Cross board member Hal Clark of Aspen said he doesn't support the change from at-large voting. He also said he isn't concerned about the Aspen Skiing Co.'s involvement in the elections "because I happen to agree with their arguments."
Clark said the issue boils down to a fundamental difference of philosophy between Turnbull and the company.
"The whole crux of this is around global warming, and Tom's not a big supporter of this issue and I am," Clark said.
In Holy Cross' southern district, longtime board member Bob Starodoj is facing a challenge from David Munk.
Three candidates are vying for the seat in the northern district, which includes part of the Eagle Valley.
Mail ballots will arrive at the homes and businesses of Holy Cross members starting today. Ballots have to be returned by 11 a.m. on June 5.
Schendler noted this election will be important for setting the tone of the Holy Cross board's direction. Clark and two candidates that the Aspen Skiing Co. helped elect in the last two years are big promoters of renewable energy, he said.