Montoya, Landis, Unger win LPEA board seats

Monday, May 15, 2017 12:05 PM
La Plata County Clerk and Recorder Tiffany Parker announced the results of the La Plata Electric Association board election Saturday at Sky Ute Casino Resort.

Davin Montoya, Rachel Landis and Guinn Unger were elected to the La Plata Electric Association board Saturday.

The election drew more attention than in years past, and several community groups organized to back candidates who promised to promote renewable energy.

About 7,000 ballots were cast, representing about 28 percent of those eligible, La Plata County Clerk and Recorder Tiffany Parker announced during the meeting at the Sky Ute Casino Resort. Voter participation was below 23 percent in 2016 and 2015, said Indiana Reed, an LPEA spokeswoman.

The candidates will serve three-year terms as part of a 12-member board.

"It's really exciting how much of the community has taken notice and chosen to participate," Landis said.

Landis beat R. Michael Bell and will represent District 3, the city of Durango. Jeff Berman previously held the seat and chose not to run again.

Landis is the coordinator of the Environmental Center at Fort Lewis College and ran on a platform of address climate change on a local level.

Bell did not respond to a call for comment.

In the District 4 race, Unger beat incumbent Joe Wheeling and will represent northern and eastern La Plata County.

It's clear that renewable energy is getting cheaper as coal is declining in price, and Unger wants the board to prepare for the market shift, he said.

"My hope is we can all start to look at what's going on in some sort of a reasonable way and come together to as a board," he said.

If LPEA and Tri-State are slow to shift away from coal, some of their largest customers might decide to generate their own electricity, he said.

Wheeling, who was running for his fourth term, did not respond to a request for comment.

In District 2, southern and western La Plata County, incumbent Montoya beat Kim Martin.

Montoya has served 27 years on the board, and he said he was happy and sad about the outcome.

Losing Wheeling, the representative of District 4, may hurt LPEA's ability to negotiate with its wholesale supplier, Tri-State Generation and Transmission, he said.

Wheeling was LPEA's representative on the Tri-State board and worked on the committee to revise the co-op's contract with Tri-State. He also was the vice president of Tri-State's board and was likely to be elected president.

Montoya doesn't believe the board's direction will change after the election.

"We're a leader in renewables now, and all that rhetoric throughout the campaign was just to get votes," he said.

Martin was pleased she drew 43 percent of the vote, which demonstrates that some of Montoya's constituents do not agree with him, she said.

"When you win by that small of a margin, it isn't a mandate. You have got a lot of people who you represent who want change," she said. The 43 percent who supported her see renewable energy as the future, she said.

Martin, a school board member, doesn't plan to run again for the LPEA board, but she does want to mentor others, especially young people, interested in running for office.

"I'm not saying it's easy to run for office," she said. "It's time-consuming, but it's amazingly interesting."

The LPEA election in Archuleta County was canceled because incumbent Bob Lynch was the only candidate.

The LPEA board will select a new representative to replace Wheeling on the Tri-State board at its next meeting, said the electric association's CEO, Mike Dreyspring. The person who fills the Tri-State seat will serve on the contract committee focused on renegotiating the agreement between Tri-State and the co-ops.

LPEA Election Results

District 2, southern and western La Plata County

Davin Montoya 1,374 votes

Kim Martin 1,068 votes

District 3, City of Durango

Rachel Landis 1,484 votes

R. Michael Bell 891 votes

District 4, northern and eastern La Plata County

Guinn Unger 1,181

Joe Wheeling 999