A rural electric co-op board president who last year riled environmentalists by playing down climate change right before board elections has once again stirred up controversy with a letter to local newspapers supporting incumbent candidates.
Carbondale rancher and Holy Cross Energy board president Tom Turnbull’s letter appeared in the Vail Daily last week. In it he backed incumbent board members Bob Starodoj and Mike Glass in an election to be decided Saturday at HCE’s annual meeting in Glenwood Springs.
It’s the latest move from Turnbull some observers say demonstrates a larger co-op culture that guards the status quo against any significant moves toward more environmentally friendly power generation.
Turnbull last year wrote in the 43,000-member co-op’s newsletter that “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.”
The two largest clients for the co-op that provides power to residents of much of the Eagle River, Roaring Fork and lower Colorado River valleys are the Aspen Skiing Company and Vail Resorts – two companies clearly invested in longer, colder winters.
The spirit and letter of the law
This year his letter appears – in spirit only at this point – to run counter to a pending law on rural electric co-op election transparency. House Bill 1098 (pdf) still requires Gov. Bill Ritter’s signature and even then won’t go into effect until August, but part of the legislation is aimed at curtailing the influence of sitting boards and co-op management in determining the results of board elections:
“Neither the association nor the board of directors shall endorse or oppose the candidacy of an incumbent board member or other candidate for a position on the board,” the bill reads.
Northern District challenger Bill Maxwell of Edwards fired back at Turnbull’s endorsement of Glass with a letter of his own. An independent politically, Maxwell is a former telecommunications executive who says he supports renewable energy becoming a bigger part of the Holy Cross power mix but only if it’s sustainable and the added costs are fully revealed to the membership.
In an email to the Colorado Independent, Maxwell was highly critical of Turnbull’s endorsement of his opponent:
“I really feel it is unethical, but maybe shows the mindset of this monopoly,” Maxwell wrote. “They are on a smaller economic scale than the local exchange carriers, or telecos, that I fought against in the mid-90s. Similar mind set.
“[I] don’t believe I have a chance going against the incumbent, but hopefully through reporters such as yourself, future elections will generate more public involvement and maybe questions related to how much of a premium we the ratepayers are absorbing for the HCE renewable power sources. I’m not necessarily opposed; just want some transparency.”
Alpine Bank Vail president and Holy Cross treasurer Mike Glass declined to comment on this issue. A third challenger, progressive green engineer Erik Lundquist, did not return an email seeking comment.
Holy Cross general manager of support services Tim Charlton pointed out that the HB 1098, sponsored by Boulder Democrat Claire Levy, is not yet law, but he went on to add that Turnbull is an individual member of the co-op who has a right to support certain candidates. The letter to the editor did not identify Turnbull as president of the Holy Cross board.
“House Bill 10-1098 has not yet been signed by Gov. Ritter as far as I know,” Charlton wrote in an email to the Colorado Independent. “If HB-1098 becomes law, either by signature of Gov. Ritter or by becoming effective without the governor’s signature, then it will not be effective until Aug. 11, 2010.
“However, it is the right of any member to publicly support or oppose the candidacy of any person seeking election to the board of directors of Holy Cross Energy. Holy Cross Energy does not participate in any electioneering conducted by any candidate.”
A spokesman for Ritter confirmed Thursday that the governor will sign the election transparency bill next week. The Holy Cross Energy board endorsed the bill this past legislative session after some initial changes.
Climate change is about business in Aspen
Turnbull defeated a green challenger and won re-election to the board by a large margin last year, but Eagle County environmental officer Adam Palmer – viewed as a green candidate – defeated Vail realtor George Lamb by a mere 30 votes in that same election.
Emails were circulated via the Vail Board of Realtors email list last year urging members to vote for Lamb because of the Aspen Skiing Company’s attempt to take over the co-op and impose expensive green energy initiatives.
Aspen Skiing Company director of sustainability Auden Schendler has backed green candidates in previous elections but declined comment on this election. However, he did accuse the Holy Cross board of trying to influence the current election by voting last month to pursue one megawatt of solar-power generation and 10 megawatts of non-solar renewable generation. He told the Aspen Times the board should have postponed that decision until after the election.
Last year the conservation community blasted the board for investing $100 million in Xcel Energy’s new Comanche 3 coal-fired power plant.
Another question on the current Holy Cross ballot asked members if they preferred the current system of at-large voting in the entire service area or switching to in-district voting. Observers say that by-law change is aimed mainly at limiting Aspen’s influence in board elections.