An attentive audience at the DMEA building in Montrose Wednesday night got a glimpse into the inner workings of the 75-year-old co-op as six candidates squared off for three seats on the governing board. The Delta Montrose Electrical Association has about 33,000 customers in Delta and Montrose Counties who elect the nine paid board members who serve three-year terms.
The Montrose League of Women Voters presented the candidate forum, with a 30-second time limit for questions and a one-minute limit for answers. Montrose candidate Jim Elder had a pretty complete laundry list of the topics that were covered during the one-hour question and answer session.
“Some of the issues facing DMEA in the next several years are rising electric rates,” said Elder “the contract with Tri-State, Senate Bill 252, utilizing the current fiber optic lines that we have, low employee morale and so on.”
A management and financial audit of the entire organization, undertaken by the board at a cost of around $80,000, is one controversial issue. Here’s incumbent Ed Marston, who is running against Olen Lund in the third district.
“The present board took back its responsibilities this year by ordering an assessment of board and staff,” said Marston. “When the three directors first began pushing an assessment, 20 or more managers started coming to every board meeting. In reaction to this, a majority gradually got behind the assessments. Among other things, we wanted to know if average annual compensation of $193,000 for DMEA’s seven top managers makes sense.”
Senate Bill 252, which would double the renewable energy standard for rural electricity cooperatives, is also a hot-button issue, with Republicans and DMEA’s supplier Tri-State saying it will drastically increase the cost of electricity for rural Colorado. Governor Hickenlooper has yet to sign the bill.
According to candidate Olen Lund, “There is talk – the numbers I’ve been told is an added burden of $2000 per meter on average. I know the farmers are concerned because they think, they recognize they’re gonna get hit very hard by Senate Bill 252.”
But incumbent Tony Prendergast from Crawford was against the bill for a different reason. “We were trying to insert language in there that would allow us to bump past our 5 percent cap currently on local distributed generation,” said Prendergast. “Our five percent cap in the contract with Tri-State, we were not able to get that through. So we chose not to support it, without having more of a local benefit. As far as the overall bill goes, 20 percent by 2020, two percent rate cap – there’s gonna be a lot of implementation dilemmas with it, I think. It was a hasty bill but it isn’t as dire as tri-State has predicted.”
The discussion of renewables included the DMEA’s own South Canal Hydro Electric project. Candidate Kay Heinschel, Prendergast’s opponent in the South District. “My understanding,” said Heinschel “is the South Canal project cost $18 million dollars. You can build a lot of things for $18 million dollars. And you can run ‘em 365 days out of the year. The only reason I’d want to see us get involved in another hydro project, if -- like the one that we have -- if its generating cost on a six-month period of water availability is lower than the wholesale power rate from Tri-State, I’d say build all of them you can, because it helps DMEA.”
Candidate Erica Lewis Kennedy, is a former Montrose mayor. She added, “Again, I think a diverse portfolio is very important. Just as there were a lot of nay-sayers in 1974 with the Dallas Water Project, known as the Ridgeway Dam, it was imperative to the growth and sustainability of this valley. We are in a drought season, if you look at weather patterns, they go up, they go down, let’s hope they stay up. But I think it’s very viable for the future and we need to continue projects of that nature.”
There were lots more informed questions from the audience and lots more polite disagreement. KVNF will air the entire forum in the coming weeks. DMEA members will find ballots in their mailboxes next week and must return them no later than June 13, or members can vote in person at DMEA's annual meeting at the Hotchkiss Senior Center, 276 E. Main Street, Friday, June 14, from 8 to 9:30 a.m.