Renewable energy at forefront in election for Holy Cross board
ASPEN – Renewable energy is once against dominating the Holy Cross Energy board of directors election, this time in the race between a 25-year incumbent and a challenger for an Aspen-area seat.
Bob Starodoj of Aspen, who has been on the Holy Cross board since 1985, is facing a challenge from David Munk of Missouri Heights for a seat in the southern district, which includes the middle and upper Roaring Fork Valley.
Starodoj said Holy Cross must use caution when incorporating renewable energy into the utility cooperative’s power mix. Expanding the use of renewables cannot come at the expense of affordable energy for the utility’s members, he said, and Holy Cross cannot pursue certain avenues simply because “it’s the latest big thinking.”
“I’m willing to do these things if they’re economically viable,” Starodoj said. “I’m not ready to jump into the mainstream of green and start swimming in it, because we don’t know where it’s going.”
Munk counters by offering to bring a fresh perspective to the board. He said Holy Cross can and should speed its efforts to provide locally generated and low-carbon electricity, as well as implement additional energy efficiency programs. That can be done, Munk said, without jeopardizing affordability for Holy Cross members.
For example, Holy Cross currently devotes 2 percent of its operating revenues to the We Care program, which provides everything from free energy audits for members to rebates for installation of solar photovoltaic projects at members’ homes and businesses. Munk wants the funding for that program boosted to 5 percent of operating revenues.
He also wants Holy Cross to be a clearinghouse of information on green energy alternatives and efficiency measures – a definitive source for its members to turn to for guidance. A utility cooperative should do more than provide “a meter and a monthly bill,” Munk said.
Ballots arrived at the homes and businesses of Holy Cross members this week. They must be mailed back or returned to an accounting firm in Glenwood Springs that is handling the election. Ballots must be received by the firm by 11 a.m. on June 5. An addressed envelope came with the ballot.
Holy Cross serves most of the Roaring Fork Valley, but not all of Aspen, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs. It also serves the Eagle Valley and Garfield County in the Interstate 70 corridor west of Glenwood Springs. It has about 43,200 members, or customers.
This is the third straight year that renewable energy issues have dominated the Holy Cross board elections. Incumbents, many of whom have served on the board for years, are facing challenges from green energy advocates who want to press for more, faster.
Starodoj said the energy industry is changing at an accelerating pace so a small cooperative like Holy Cross must remain flexible. Decisions that the board makes on Holy Cross’ sources of power can lock in the utility company for as many as 20 or 30 years, he said. So dedicating funds to one source could prove costly as technology evolves and less-costly sources become available.
“Some of our members would like to see us do more green energy sooner,” Starodoj said in a position paper provided to The Aspen Times. “I’m not sure that this is a prudent path at this time. Until more reliable energy sources are available, such as portable fuel cells – or some other technology not yet proven – I believe we should be cautious as [to] how we make 20- or 30-year commitments on present green alternatives.
“I am a proponent of green energy but only if it makes economic sense,” Starodoj wrote.
He believes the utility company’s cautious approach is paying off. The Holy Cross board set a goal in 2004 to reach 20 percent renewable generation by 2015. By the end of last year, the renewable energy contribution in its power mix was 11 percent.
Holy Cross also has external, voluntary goals to meet. Gov. Bill Ritter wants the state’s carbon dioxide emissions reduced by 20 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 as part of his Climate Action Plan.
“We’ll be way ahead of the mandates set by the state,” Starodoj said.
Starodoj, a longtime Aspen real estate agent, is also building off the theme of continuity and veteran leadership on the seven-member board. The energy industry is complicated, he said, and the board benefits by having veterans who are familiar with the issues.
He said he believes Holy Cross has been well-run and that the board has been financially responsible. The utility is giving $2.75 million in 2009 member equity distributions.
Munk said in his position paper that Holy Cross members can be “respectful of the past without being limited by it.” He works for a company that promotes energy efficiency and works with a lot of utilities and programs around the country. He said he can bring some of the best ideas out there and introduce them to Holy Cross for consideration.
He credited the utility cooperative for what it has accomplished so far with efficiency and renewables. “Holy Cross has been doing this, but it can move a little quicker,” he said.
And he believes members agree with his position, based on results of a recent survey. The utility said its 2009 member survey showed that 66 percent want Holy Cross to try to meet Ritter’s goal for carbon dioxide emission reduction.
About 48 percent of all customers were willing to pay at least 5 percent more for electricity to meet emission reduction, and 10 percent were willing to pay 11 percent or more. About 42 percent were not willing to pay more on their electric bills to meet emissions goals.
Munk said as a new director, he would push the Holy Cross board to develop a five-year plan to meet the Colorado Climate Action Plan, and develop a plan to produce more locally generated, low-carbon electricity. A first implementation step would be to help consumers reduce energy consumption.
“Expanded energy efficiency efforts will help moderate the suffocating effects of growth and lead to a sustainable future,” Munk said in his position paper. “There are no silver bullets or magic solutions, but we can work together to reduce our energy consumption without compromising our lifestyles.”
On the supply side, Holy Cross needs to make more renewable energy options available to its members, he said. Members can buy wind energy now. That program needs to be overhauled and expanded so consumers have more options, Munk said. Investing in more renewable energy sources in the Holy Cross service area will benefit the community and the region, he said.
In an effort to improve communication with members, Munk said he would report annually about achievements, issues and “lessons learned.”
Munk’s complete position paper can be found at http://davemunkforholycross.org/.
Starodoj said people interested in his position paper can contact him at email@example.com.
The Holy Cross election also features a race for the northern district seat among three candidates. They are incumbent Michael Glass, a resident of Edwards and a Vail banker; Erik Lundquist, a Gypsum resident and an engineer with a focus on efficient design; and William Maxwell, a retired businessman from Edwards.
Currently, all Holy Cross members can vote in all director elections. The ballot also has a question about whether Holy Cross should change at-large voting so that members can only vote in the director race in their district.