IREA’s Kempe blasts co-op board resistance to election reform

One is indeed the loneliest number, especially when it comes to reforming a rural electric co-op board bent on quashing clean-energy and conservation initiatives in the name of dirtier-burning coal.

(Photo/Joy of the Mundane, Flickr)
(Photo/Joy of the Mundane, Flickr)

Mike Kempe, who works at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, once again finds himself battling his fellow board members at the state’s largest rural electric association (REA) – the Intermountain Rural Electric Association (IREA) in Sedalia.

The co-op, which provides power to more than 140,000 member-owners in the suburbs east, west and south of Denver, has a long history of bitterly fighting most renewable energy and conservation rebate mandates, arguing such initiatives drive up electricity prices.

Earlier this month six of the seven elected board members approved a resolution (pdf) opposing state Rep. Claire Levy’s REA board election transparency bill (pdf), which requires very basic practices such as informing members of elections in time for candidates to get on the ballot; posting minutes of board meetings online; and allowing members to address the board during meetings.

Kempe voted against the resolution, which passed 6-1.

“The board is elected by the people, or at least it should be elected by the people,” Kempe said. “They’re representatives and they should be going out of their way to communicate what’s going on in a factual and unbiased manner, and that is lacking in our co-op.”

When Levy first announced plans to introduce HB 1098, IREA spokesman and former Republican state Sen. Williams Schroeder said the Boulder lawmaker was merely continuing her personal vendetta against the co-op.

“It’s more on the basis that we’re not supportive of her green-energy direction, and that’s what I’ve noticed coming from her in the past,” Schroeder said in a previous interview. “It’s more, just like it was last year, retaliation for us being very vocal about her trying to direct costs on energy.”

But since then the bill has earned the stamp of approval of the statewide organization representing most of the nonprofit REAs in the state – the Colorado Rural Electric Association (CREA).

One co-op, however, thought the bill was such a no-brainer that the CREA should do more than merely support it, and should actively promote its passage. The Delta Montrose Electric Association dropped out of the CREA over the matter, as well as what board members felt was an ongoing pattern of the CREA failing to endorse or at least advocate for renewable energy and conservation measures.

Kempe felt compelled to respond to the IREA resolution, which makes conspicuous note of his opposition. He posted a lengthy letter on the local blog spelling out what he deems misrepresentations in the resolution.

One of the points of contention in the resolution that was sent out to co-op members – a restriction against co-op publications during election periods – was actually removed from the bill and is not in the current version passed by the House and under consideration by the Senate.

“Especially in areas that are just barely on the outskirts of Denver, people just think that they belong to another [investor-owned] Xcel Energy, but a co-op is different because it’s actually owned by the members and we have a right to know what’s going on in the co-op,” Kempe said. “It’s the responsibility of the co-op management and the board of directors to communicate effectively what’s going on.”

Last April, three so-called “green” candidates lost board election bids, accusing incumbent IREA board members and staff of engaging in unfair campaign practices.

In his letter, Kempe spells out those allegations and makes it clear Levy’s bill would rectify the situation in future elections:

1. Members received no information about the election until after the deadline for candidacy had passed.
2. IREA management spent large sums of co-op money in advertising and for special mailings during the campaign that echoed the campaign messages of incumbent Board members.
3. The general manager personally funded the campaigns of the very board members who set his salary – a practice which in my opinion is patently unethical.
4. Ballots were knowingly enclosed in transparent envelopes, allowing members’ votes to be visible to IREA management.
5. Incumbent candidates were told when ballots would be mailed while challengers were denied this information. Non-incumbent candidates literally did not know when the election would be held.

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