Turnbull pulls plug on service with Holy Cross | AspenTimes.com

Turnbull pulls plug on service with Holy Cross

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CARBONDALE – A Carbondale rancher who helped oversee Holy Cross Energy for 33 years is stepping down in part because he doesn’t always see eye to eye with the majority of the board of directors anymore.

Tom Turnbull, who was asked to join the board in 1979, didn’t seek re-election in the Holy Cross election, which will take place Friday (see below). He is finishing a three-year term. (Hal Clark of Aspen, a board member since 1998, also declined to seek another term.)

Turnbull has witnessed the transformation of the board from all ranchers to members with a variety of business interests to one focused on renewable energy sources and energy efficiency. He considered himself someone who followed a pragmatic course – he is interested in renewable energy sources and efficiency as long as it doesn’t send electricity rates soaring.

“I’m out of step now,” Turnbull said. “Maybe not out of step, but people are a lot more anxious now to push ahead with renewables at any cost.”

Energy efficiency has also become a predominant focus of the utility company that serves parts of the Roaring Fork Valley and the Upper and Lower Colorado River valleys. Holy Cross Energy is launching a multiyear plan this year to boost the energy efficiency of its members’ homes and businesses.

Turnbull said he supports increasing efficiency but also has concerns about the financial implications for Holy Cross.

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“Rates will go up to cover the kilowatts that don’t get sold,” he said. “You have to have revenues.”

Despite those concerns, Turnbull said he is optimistic about the future of Holy Cross, noting that it is well run by CEO Del Worley and his staff. The utility has made some wise decisions about diversifying its energy sources and will have no trouble achieving its goal of acquiring 20 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2015, according to Turnbull.

There are just some differences in opinion on how to reach the goal. Turnbull said he favored assessing proposals that come to Holy Cross because some sharp entrepreneurs have come up with good ideas over the years – such as Paul Spencer’s Clean Energy Collective, which is building solar gardens throughout the Holy Cross service area. Turnbull isn’t as supportive of putting out requests for proposals for renewable projects, because the utility has to make assessments on projects, good or bad.

Turnbull’s departure is also a product of a transition in his life. He turns 75 in a few days, and he remains active on his family’s ranch outside of Carbondale. Nevertheless, he said, he’s “trying to retire.”

During his 33 years with the Holy Cross board of directors, the utility has gone from $10 million in total operating revenues to $100 million, from 18,000 consumers to more than 50,000 and from 71 employees to 165. Aspen and Vail have fueled a lot of the demand for power.

The best board decision he was involved in was investing in the Comanche 3 generating station in Pueblo, he said. Xcel Energy negotiated with environmental groups to reduce the emissions of the plant. It is regarded as probably the last coal-fired plant that will be built in Colorado, unless technological breakthroughs come up with ways of making them cleaner.

Turnbull said Comanche 3 was important for Holy Cross because it sets an affordable base cost for power that it provides. The utility company’s latest newsletter says its investment in Comanche 3 will save members $4 million in power costs in the next year.

Turnbull and Clark were thanked by board president Michael Glass for their dedication in his report in the newsletter. Glass noted that Turnbull was in office for 399 meetings and rarely missed any. Turnbull said he’s missed one or two in his 33 years on the board.

scondon@aspentimes.com