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

Clean power and coal dominate discussion in Holy Cross Energy election

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.'s 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 in 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, he said.

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Candidate Clem Kopf is trying to use Schendler's involvement to his advantage. In his candidate profile in the Holy Cross newsletter, Kopf noted Schendler has endorsed the winning candidate in every contested race on the Holy Cross board in the past nine years. (No races have been contested the past five years.)

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.

The interests of Turnbull and Schendler go beyond the election for a board seat. They 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 CO2 emissions report.

Holy Cross far exceeded its goals to reach 30 percent renewables in its power portfolio by 2020 and 35 percent by 2025.

Nevertheless, 58 percent of the energy uses 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.

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."

Hannegan most recently led multiple research and development teams at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the Electric Power Research Institute, advancing innovations in fossil and renewable generation, environmental compliance and electricity delivery and use, according to a Holy Cross statement.

Hannegan also co-founded the U.S. Department of Energy's Grid Modernization Laboratory Consortium, a $220 million, three-year investment to advance the fundamental technologies needed for a safe, reliable, affordable and sustainable future electricity grid.

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. Hannegan was unavailable for comment this week.

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 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. It's too soon to say how Holy Cross will change the goals for clear power in its energy portfolio.

scondon@aspentimes.com

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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. Below are brief biographies of the candidates and a link for more information.

• David Hornbacher of Carbondale is the director of utilities for the city of Aspen. He wrote that “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 HCE 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 HCE’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 in his bio.

• 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 of 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 said. “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, go to http://www.holycross.com/bod-candidates.

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