Colorado electrical co-op election draws a flood of candidates

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. – How to explain the nine candidates for two spots in the board of director elections at Holy Cross Energy this spring?

The electrical cooperative serves the broad triangle of western Colorado from Vail and Aspen nearly to Grand Junction, and there has been no real controversy for decades. In fact, there was so little interest that directors stayed around for sometimes 20 and 30 years. Few people voted in the elections, with voter response of only 10 percent or so, compared to 50 percent or so for town and county elections.

In recent years, however, elections have been more contested. In 2007, there were four candidates for three slots. Last year, there were five candidates for two slots.

The Aspen Skiing Co. has been attempting to stir the pot in these recent elections, although there’s no clear evidence the company’s endorsements had direct impact. The company’s vice president for environmental affairs, Auden Schendler, this year is taking a low profile.

Randy Udall, 60, a long-time energy activist and analyst, plus a sometimes consultant to the co-operative, this year is running for the board from Carbondale. He sees no clear reason for so many candidates.

At $600 per month, the pay isn’t singularly compelling to most people, he says, nor does he see any cleat dissatisfaction with the existing board. Holy Cross, he says, “is an open and transparent rural electric utility, arguably the most progressive in the state and possibly the country.”

Co-ops sometimes get enmeshed in controversies about electrical rates, which prompt strong interest, “but that doesn’t seem to be the issue here,” as the rates of Holy Cross are among the lowest in the state, he goes on to say.

“Is there a grassroots backlash to some recent green initiatives? Perhaps, but I haven’t heard about it,” he adds.

Perhaps the strongest theory is that even as interest in our energy future has grown, the recession of the last two years has left people more time to devote to interests beyond their work. At the same time, energy matters – from oil spills to climate legislation to solar developments – have been gaining attention. “What used to be the most boring job in the universe, in people’s minds, is now getting pretty interesting, and it’s about time,” says Mr. Schendler.

These themes do seem to come out in interviews with three candidates from the Eagle Valley.

Megan Gilman, 29, co-owns a five-year-old firm based in Minturn that installs solar panel systems and conducts energy efficiency upgrades. She cites her business experience as well as her engagement in a grassroots level in the world of energy. She believes clean energy can be pursued while retaining reliability and affordability.

If elected to the board, she would be only the second women on the male-dominated board.

Dan Corcoran, 67, is now the official surveyor for Eagle County. When things were booming, he reviewed two maps a week. But in four months this year, he has reviewed just 10 maps—and several of them were subdivisions of duplexes. “I haven’t been swamped,” he says.

Mr. Corcoran has a ton of experience on elected and appointed boards. He was on the Vail Town Council, then the Eagle County School Board, and he is still is on the State Tram Board, among others. He offers no clear direction on where he believes Holy Cross should be going, but says he has the experience for evaluating policy and business propositions.

A third candidate, Scott Prince, 39, is a mortgage lender at the Wells Fargo Bank in Avon. Like Corcoran, he’s proven himself a joiner and volunteer: the planning commission in Avon, the board of directors for his son’s pre-school, and so on. And like Corcoran and Gilman, he cites business experience, what he calls the “skill sets” to pursue both clean energy goals while governing Holy Cross as a business.

At Holy Cross headquarters in Glenwood Springs, the long list of candidates was greeted as a positive trend. But the greater test will be whether people bother to vote. Normally, ballots are mailed out, but this year the co-op is taking the added step of providing pre-paid return envelopes, and will encourage voter participation through print and radio ads.

“It would be wonderful to me if 20 to 25 percent of our membership decided to vote, because to me, that would be saying that our membership is becoming more engaged and involved,” says Steve Casey, the membership director for Holy Cross.





About Allen Best

Allen Best is a Colorado-based journalist. He publishes a subscription-based e-zine called Mountain Town News, portions of which are published on the website of the same name, and also writes for a variety of newspapers and magazines.
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