Aspen Skiing Co. puts some zip in Holy Cross election
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN ” Elections for a utility company’s board of directors are usually about as exciting as watching a windmill twirl, but this month’s Holy Cross Energy contest has been spiced up by the Aspen Skiing Co.’s intervention.
The Skico is lobbying to oust incumbents, George H. Shaeffer and James. G. Snyder, according to Auden Schendler, executive director of community and environmental responsibility. The Skico endorsed challengers David S. Campbell, who is running against Shaeffer, and Lynn E. Dwyer, who is running against Snyder, because of their support for increasing renewable energy.
“We spoke to them. They seem to be the more progressive candidates on this issue,” Schendler said.
Holy Cross Energy serves nearly 40,000 customers in the Roaring Fork Valley, the Eagle Valley and Lower Colorado River Valley. It has a reputation for being one of the more progressive energy providers in the state ” a point that Schendler acknowledged. But the Skico is lobbying for the challengers because it believes Holy Cross can be even more progressive.
“We see a sense of urgency and we want to see more, faster,” Schendler said.
The Skico’s endorsements puzzled Shaeffer, who has served two 3-year terms on the board. Shaeffer, who has been the owner and operator of a construction company in the Eagle Valley for about 30 years, said no one from the Skico contacted him to discuss his position on renewable energy sources. He believes Holy Cross has a good record on its renewable mix and providing incentives to its customers to conserve and seek alternative energy sources.
Information on Holy Cross’ website said 55 percent of the company’s power supply is generated by coal-fired plants; 24 percent comes from natural gas; 15 percent is a mix of plants that use coal and natural gas; and 6 percent is from renewable sources.
Shaeffer said he believes he and Campbell share many positions. Shaeffer said he should get the nod from Holy Cross members because he has worked on the board for six years and learned the complicated issues involved in overseeing a utility company.
Snyder, the other incumbent, didn’t return a telephone message from The Aspen Times.
Schendler confirmed that the Skico didn’t talk to the incumbents, but he did research the board’s votes.
“The reality is these new people are more progressive, period,” Schendler said.
Specifically, Schendler was critical of the board majority’s decision to invest in a new coal-fired plant near Pueblo.
The Skico is taking a low-key approach to the campaign. It contemplated placing advertisements with its endorsements, but decided against it for reasons Schendler wouldn’t specify. Schendler wrote a letter to the editor endorsing Campbell and Dwyer, but he signed it as an individual and not as the a representative of the Skico. The company also is circulating an e-mail urging support for the challengers.
The Holy Cross board election is open only to members of the energy cooperative. Mail-in ballots are contained in the latest newsletter, the May edition, which arrived at households on Friday and Saturday. The ballots must be received by 6 p.m. on June 6. The newsletter also includes information the candidates submitted for their profiles.
Two of seven board positions are up for election. Board members represent specific districts, but all members can vote in their races.
The Roaring Fork Valley’s direct representatives are Tom Turnbull of Carbondale and Hal Clark of Aspen. Neither are up for election this year.
Shaeffer said he supports many, not necessarily all, of the environmental initiatives that Holy Cross Energy has taken during his six years on the board. He said he understands the “fever” over renewable energy, but “there are so many more issues.”
One critical issue is helping employees find affordable housing. Without it, Holy Cross will face a worker shortage because of retirements. Shaeffer said he faces similar issues as the owner of a construction company.
He is also concerned about providing reliable energy and affordable prices over the long run. The continued integration of green power must be undertaken in a way that keeps rates affordable.
“I think we need to be prudent in the way we promote things,” he said.
Campbell, a ranch broker, agreed that he and Shaeffer share many of the same views. He said running against Shaeffer, whom he knows, is like competing in an athletic endeavor against someone he likes. Cambell said he wants to win, but he also respects Shaeffer.
Campbell said he welcomed the Skico’s endorsement, though he didn’t pursue it. He spoke to Schendler on the phone.
Campbell credited Holy Cross with the green initiatives it has taken, particularly with its wind-power program. Holy Cross buys power from a wind farm. Its customers can pay extra to support the purchase of the wind power. Campbell said Holy Cross will likely invest more in solar power regardless of who wins election to the board.
Campbell said the state will continue to mandate higher percentages of purchases of renewable energy. He wants to increase the renewable portfolio without waiting for mandates.
“I’d rather be proactive and get ahead of that,” he said.
Like Shaeffer, he said Holy Cross “faces a number of challenges beyond renewables.”
Dwyer said she learned first-hand that more incentives are needed to encourage people to invest in alternative energy. She installed a photovoltaic system that was supposed to generate the power needed to heat and cool her business’ greenhouses. She invested more than $80,000 and received less than half of it back in credits and rebates. She supports giving grants as an incentive to entice people to invest in renewables.
“Basically, renewables are our future,” she said.
Dwyer said she doesn’t consider Holy Cross the most progressive energy cooperative, but it’s not completely backward, either. She believes it is the board’s responsible to make Holy Cross a leader in renewable energy.
The Aspen City Council directed staff to move forward with the Burlingame early childhood education center, but decided it needs more information on the affordable housing units that are part of the schematic design at a work session Monday.