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LPEA election underway, ballots due May 13

Three candidates have thrown their hat in the ring for the La Plata Electric Association (LPEA) District 1 seat being vacated by current District 1 director Harry Cole.

Ballots have been mailed to LPEA customers in District 1 and are due back by May 13.

During the past week, the three local candidates answered questions from SUN staff and provided background information.

Local Realtor Brad Carey served five years in the U.S. Air Force, taking Information Technology skills he acquired in the military to work 14 years in the airline industry. Moving to Archuleta County in 2002, Carey started a small business, eventually branching out as a Realtor, as well. Carey’s experience in government includes serving on his homeowners association board, as well as serving on the Pagosa Area Association of Realtors board.

A retired USAF Lt. Col., Ken Fox currently serves on the Archuleta School District 50 Joint board as a director, holding that seat since 2005, and is the board’s representative to the San Juan Board of Cooperative Educational Services. Fox has also served on the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners and is the former manager of the Archuleta County Airport. After serving 20 years in the Air Force as a pilot and commander, Fox became a co-owner and partner of K and K Aviation.

Retired since 2002, J.B. Smith has no experience serving with local government. Prior to retirement, Smith owned the Mountain Valley News in Cedaredge, Colo. from 2000 to 2002. Prior to that, Smith held various positions with newspapers, mostly in sales and advertising, but also did a stint as a counselor from 1968 to 1970 and served in the Peace Corps from 1966 to 1968.

When asked how they would distinguish themselves on the board, all three candidates provided wildly diverse replies.

“I would probably be more conservative than the La Plata County board members,” Smith said. “I’m very financially conservative.”

“I would be bringing in a more technical background than I’ve seen with other board members, that being my background in Information Technology,” Carey replied.

Fox said that he would work hard to push for a more aggressive policy to pursue sustainable energy sources. “I’ll offer encouragement as far as what is different with renewable energy. We need to pursue using more renewables.”

When Fox was asked if serving on the LPEA board would interfere with his duties as a school board director, he stated that he felt the position would complement his duties as a school board director.

“I see some compatibility as far as the new campus and the geothermal. I see some real savings as far as energy costs,” he said.

Fox was referring to a proposal made earlier this year by school district superintendent Mark DeVoti that would combine all district facilities on a “mega-campus” at the current location of the Pagosa Springs High School. That plan also integrated the use of geothermal energy for heating district facilities.

When asked about LPEA’s policy for providing health insurance for board directors, both Carey and Fox admitted that they had not looked at the issue very closely and needed more information.

“Since I already have health insurance, and don’t need theirs, I didn’t give it much thought,” Fox said. “I need more information about it.”

Likewise, Carey responded, “I don’t fully understand the policy. I’d like to know more of the history. Do I support it? I need more information.”

However Smith said, “I disagree with their whole compensation package. LPEA provides members with a very generous compensation package, up to $1,000 per meeting (a claim Smith makes in his campaign ad).

In fact, LPEA policy for director compensation states, “Per diem of $200 per day for meetings, plus travel time and mileage from director’s home and out-of-pocket expenses, will be paid to directors when attending meetings on official LPEA business as authorized by the Board of Directors, President or CEO.”

“You can make up to $25,000 a year serving on the LPEA board. I think they’re too generous with their privileges,” Smith added.

Smith’s ad also states that, “Tri-State has said regulations in the state legislature could double our electric rates.”

When asked for evidence for that assertion, Smith admitted, “Maybe I was exaggerating, but I know they’re going to go up.”

Also asked about the statement in his ad saying, “Let’s stand up to the liberals in La Plata County,” Smith responded, “Most of those guys are radicals on the environment. We have to address renewable energy, that it’s important, but you can go off the deep end. Developing clean energy is capital intensive and you just can’t do that over night.”

All three candidates conceded that LPEA’s relationship with Tri-State makes pursuit of renewable energy problematic. Currently, Tri-State (which uses coal-fired power plants) provides LPEA with 95 percent of its energy.

Although the Colorado Legislature mandated that investor-owned utilities provide 30 percent of their energy from renewable resources by 2020, LPEA, as a cooperative, is exempt from that legislation.

Ballots are due a week from today.

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