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Divided La Plata Electric board united on vision for exploratory group

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Friday, Feb. 23, 2018 11:27 AM
La Plata Electric Association board members unanimously supported the mission and vision of a new subcommittee to explore energy trends, such as renewable energy generation, costs and demands for electricity.

Community conversations have honed in on local renewable energy in recent months, and while the issue has traditionally split the La Plata Electric Association Board of Directors, the group found common ground on Wednesday.

The board is allowing a new subcommittee to move forward and explore how the co-op should meet community electricity needs over the next 10 to 15 years.

The LPEA board created the subcommittee on a split vote in January, but on Wednesday, it unanimously approved the mission and vision of the group. The vote allows four board members - Guinn Unger, Britt Bassett, Bob Lynch and Dan Huntington - to meet to research future energy trends around costs, generation and demands. The subcommittee is authorized to meet seven times through May but does not have the authority to make decisions on behalf of the co-op.

The new subcommittee is charged with producing a report that will examine LPEA's financial and operational future based on several possible energy supply and distribution scenarios.

In recent months, advocates have called on LPEA to more aggressively pursue renewable energy because renewable energy sources are becoming affordable and cut back on carbon dioxide emissions, which contribute to climate change.

A coalition also brought a petition with about 1,000 signatures to Durango City Council in October, calling on the city to transition to 100 percent local renewable energy by 2050.

During the meeting, Werner Heiber told the board the shift away from fossil fuel is on an exponential curve.

"You have to study what the options are," Heiber said.

The subcommittee also presented a draft list of items it could study, such as determining how much electricity LPEA customers will need in the future, how much the co-op's energy supplier Tri-State Generation and Transmission might charge in the future, LPEA's contractual obligation to Tri-State and changes in federal and state regulations.

It will also look at small systems that people can install to produce their own energy, such as roof-top solar, batteries used to store renewable energy and trends related to electric vehicles. More small generation systems and electric cars could change demands for electricity that the local grid needs to meet, said Dan Harms, manager of rates, technology and energy policy at LPEA.

The board did not approve a list of topics for the subcommittee to research, but it directed the group to work with staff to refine its draft list to make sure work is not being replicated.

Some of the work might entail compiling data LPEA staff has collected in the past.

The subcommittee was not specifically approved to research a buyout of the co-op's contract with Tri-State.

There has been some community interest in a buyout because it could allow LPEA to purchase more renewable energy locally. But the cost of a buyout has sparked some concern among community members.

There is a wide division in the community on the issue, but there should be some middle ground the two sides can reach, said Jenn Wheeling, who has been attending meetings since May.

"This little electric co-op should not be political," she said.

mshinn@durangoherald.com

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