Despite significant strides in the renewable energy arena, Holy Cross Energy on Colorado’s Western Slope is not immune to the wave of environmental activism sweeping rural electric co-ops across the state.
Two challengers in Holy Cross’s June 5 board of directors’ election question the disparity between the co-op’s investment of more than $100 million in Xcel Energy’s new Comanche 3 coal-fired power plant near Pueblo and the fact that the co-op’s $1 million rebate program for in-home solar installations just ran out of funds for 2009.
“They’re investing $100 million in [Comanche 3], and compare that to what they’re investing in local solar and I’d like to see the balance more toward local clean renewables and less on coal,” said Adam Palmer, the environmental policy planner for Eagle County who’s running against longtime board member and Vail realtor George Lamb.
Palmer is the former environmental director for Vail Resorts and founder of the Eagle Valley Alliance for Sustainability. Lamb, a Vail-area resident since the 1970s, did not return a call requesting comment.
An e-mail circulating among Vail Valley realtors alleges Aspen environmentalists are trying to take over the 43,000 member co-op based in Glenwood Springs: “Special interest groups based out of Aspen are waging an unprecedented campaign to stuff the ballot box and take control of the board as they believe Holy Cross has not been aggressive enough on the environmental frontier.”
Palmer, a Vail-area resident since 1997, took exception to that characterization of the race: “A member of the Vail Board of Realtors signed my petition [to run for the board]. The comment seems unfounded and I’m surprised by it.”
Auden Schendler, Aspen Skiing Company’s executive director for sustainability, said his company does endorse Palmer and Carbondale pool and spa company owner Marshall Foote because the current board is not acting quickly enough on climate change.
Schendler points to this statement in a letter posted in the Holy Cross newsletter from current board president and longtime board member Tom Turnbull, a Carbondale rancher being challenged by Foote: “There is no doubt that we are witnessing a warming trend but, historically, civilization has benefited and thrived in warmer periods as opposed to ice ages.”
“We think there’s urgency behind addressing climate change, and frankly so do a lot of scientists and so does the government, so we’re not alone on that, and you’ve got the president of Holy Cross’s board saying that civilizations have historically thrived during periods of warmer climate,” Schendler said. “Well, is that the case for two of the biggest ski destination resorts in the country [Vail and Aspen]? Probably not.”
Turnbull did not return a call requesting comment, but Foote agreed with Schendler that Turnbull’s comment seems out of touch with the shifting economic realities on the Western Slope, where ranching and extractive industries have taken a back seat to real estate development and recreational tourism in recent years.
“If we’re looking at it going, ‘Hey, I’ve done a good job and so what if it gets a little bit warmer, it’s all benefiting us,’ right there it tells you that maybe he’s not looking out for the people of the valley,” Foote said, touting his business experience and the need to keep rates reasonable while accelerating the move to renewables.
“I know my business survives off the construction and the service and the people who come out here to ski and do all that stuff, so for me I’m well aware of what needs to take place to survive in this valley,” Foote said.
Holy Cross, unlike the state’s largest electric co-op, the Intermountain Rural Electric Association, does recognize global warming as a growing challenge and provides $2 million a year in rebates for solar installations and the purchase of energy efficient appliances. Its board also pushed for tiered electric rates that allow higher charges for bigger consumers.
But critics say Holy Cross engages in the same type of administrative shenanigans as the IREA, mailing rebate checks at the same time as election ballots, and under-publicizing meetings, major policy decisions and the board election process itself. Palmer said he tried to run last year but had his petition rejected — only 15 member signatures are needed — because 12 signatures were deemed to be from spouses not on the account.
“They do everything to the letter [of the by-laws], but for whatever reason it is more exclusive than inclusive,” Palmer said of the board, advocating for greater transparency.
Schendler agreed: “One of the goals is to daylight this election. This is one of the most important issues facing society, and yet very few people know about the election, candidates typically run unopposed and an extremely small percentage of co-op members vote.”