Clean power and coal dominate discussion in Holy Cross Energy election | VailDaily.com

Clean power and coal dominate discussion in Holy Cross Energy election

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times

ASPEN — Elections for board seats on utility companies usually are ho-hum affairs, but the race for a position with Holy Cross Energy is charged with electricity this spring.

Holy Cross provides power to about 42,300 members in Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield counties. There is an open seat on the utility's board of directors, which sets the utility's policies. The incumbent in the western district is stepping down, and the race attracted five candidates.

The race has garnered an unusual amount of outside interest. Auden Schendler, Aspen Skiing Co. vice president of sustainability, and Carbondale Mayor Dan Richardson wrote letters to the editors of local newspapers recently endorsing candidate David Hornbacher, director of utilities for the city of Aspen.

That spurred prominent Carbondale rancher and former Holy Cross board member Tom Turnbull to add his two cents to the campaign.

"I think Aspen Skiing Co. needs to back off," Turnbull said.

Skico officials should focus on the ski business and let Holy Cross management and the board run the utility company, Turnbull said.

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Turnbull said Schendler could control the race by telling Skico's hundreds of employees how to vote.

Schendler's response: baloney. He said the endorsements are by him as an individual, not on behalf of the company.

"Aspen Skiing Co. has actually done little" in the races, Schendler said.

Different views

Turnbull and Schendler have differing visions of how the utility should proceed. Schendler said Holy Cross needs to keep pushing to drastically increase clean power from renewable-energy sources in its portfolio. Turnbull said he is concerned that the green initiative will go too far and threaten Holy Cross' ability to provide reliable energy at the lowest possible cost.

About 34 percent of the energy used by Holy Cross to meet its customers' needs last year came from renewable sources, according to the company's 2016 carbon dioxide emissions report. Holy Cross' goal was to reach 30 percent renewables in its power portfolio by 2020 and 35 percent by 2025. Nevertheless, 58 percent of the energy used still came from coal and another 5 percent from natural gas last year.

Despite the progress the utility has made, there's vast room for improvement, Schendler said. Concerns that Holy Cross is dominated by a green agenda are "paranoid," he said.

"We haven't gone too far," Schendler said. "We're still a coal-based utility."

But he sees great signs for the future. Holy Cross members — like Colorado residents and people of many countries around the world — are pressing for clean power, Schendler said.

New CEO

The Holy Cross board of directors showed its commitment to continuing to pursue renewables by hiring Bryan Hannegan as its next CEO. He will replace Del Worley later this summer.

"They made a brilliant choice for CEO — maybe the best choice they could have made," Schendler said. "He has a killer resume."

Schendler said Germany is paving the way to go well beyond 34 percent renewable energy use — in large part through smart-grid technology. He believes Hannegan will steer Holy Cross that direction.

Turnbull also is optimistic about Holy Cross' choice of a president and CEO, but he remains concerned that the board is dominated by members with connections to green energy. He believes it needs more balance, so he endorsed board candidate Jared Kerst, who Turnbull called green but balanced.

The other candidates in the race are: Clemons M. Kopf, Tom Edward VonDette and Adam L. Wibby.

Turnbull said Holy Cross made many smart, thoughtful choices on renewable energy beginning in the early 1990s. It added clean power when it made sense — and didn't mess with the utility's goals of providing reliable and affordable energy.

"It hasn't affected rates. That's what I'm worried about going forward," Turnbull said.

"We're all green," Turnbull added. "It's just the extent of it. To me, Holy Cross is more of a diverse company than just being green."

Board Chairwoman Megan Gilman was unchallenged in this election and will serve another three-year term. She said the board is committed to providing affordable and reliable power and won't sacrifice those goals for others. The board will work with Hannegan on long-term goals and strategic initiatives, she said.

co-op candidates

Ballots have been mailed to members of Holy Cross Energy for the election of one seat on the seven-member board.

Ballots must be received by Tapp & Associates, a public accounting firm, on or by 6 p.m. June 8. A return envelope was provided with the ballot.

There are five candidates running for the western district seat.

• David Hornbacher, of Carbondale, is the director of utilities for the city of Aspen. He wrote, “Our team achieved a 100 percent renewable energy portfolio in year 2015 while maintaining low rates. It is possible, and I have the experience necessary to propel Holy Cross Energy along a similar path of rate stability and stewardship.”

• Clemons M. Kopf, of Glenwood Springs, is an electrical engineer who installed 37 panels of solar electric energy on his home in 2014. “My goal as board member is to fulfill Holy Cross Energy’s mission statement ‘to provide its members with the best possible services at a reasonable and competitive cost consistent with sound business and environmental practices,” he wrote.

• Tom Edward VonDette, of Rifle, is a rancher and owner-operator of Mountain Locating, a private utilities locating service. He is president of the Holy Cross Cattlemen’s Association. “I look forward to being able to represent all the members and their concerns, as I have been involved in many aspects of energy in the valley throughout the years,” he wrote.

• Jared W. Kerst lives in Spring Valley, outside Glenwood Springs, and is owner of Rivendell Distribution and Sod Farm. “As a board member, I will support the efforts of the very capable Holy Cross employees in continuing to provide reliable, responsible and affordable energy,” he wrote. “Decisions brought before the board should be approached with an emphasis on seeking balance. Environmental and fiscal stewardship should go hand-in-hand.”

•Adam L. Wibby, of Carbondale, is a business owner and research and development engineer. “Renewable energy should be our priority, but it’s going to take clever programs to grow sustainably,” he wrote. “I intend to push for further innovation and more efficient systems that save money for the business and the customer.”

For full biographies of the candidates, visit http://www.holycross.com/bod-candidates.