DMEA: Election Results and New Initiatives

Jun 17, 2013

The annual meeting of the Delta Montrose Electrical Association focused on the usual difficulties with the co-op’s electricity supplier, Tri-State, as well as a new initiative to extend broadband as well as electricity to members. But there was also an emphasis on renewable energy, and on the history of the 75-year-old member-owned company.

Back in 1938, the first board of directors of the precursor to the Delta Montrose Electric Association had two women serving on it. Today there’s only one woman, but she’s the president. Nancy Hovde spoke about the boldness of early DMEA directors, and compared their visionary actions to those of the current board’s decision to build on their broadband capacity to provide internet service in Delta and Montrose counties.

“On May 28th of this year,” said Hovde, “after recognizing that DMEA’s service territory is one of the most underserved areas of the country for broadband, the DMEA board approved spending up to $3.9 million to string fiber optics to DMEA’s substations. DMEA realized we are in a unique position, where we own fiber assets, and can install enough additional capacity over what DMEA needs at a low cost. Whereas private industry, just like in the 30s, has been unwilling to make the much needed investment to improve reliability and lower prices.”

As keynote speaker, renewable energy expert Randy Udall praised DMEA’s South Canal hydro-electric project, which will provide renewable energy to the coop, and talked about the falling prices of solar and wind energy. But his favorite subject was the methane capture at the West Elk mine.

“In November last year, we had the dedication of the first coal mine methane to electricity project west of the Mississippi,” said Udall. “This is at the Elk Creek Mine above Somerset. I think somebody mentioned that the three mines around Somerset provide one percent of America’s coal, and coal’s been mined here for more than a hundred years.”

Udall continued, “And the mines have been venting a lot of methane, and they need to do that, no one has any objection, federal law requires them to do it, but this methane is a powerful greenhouse gas and it’s also a very valuable natural resource. The total methane, if you could capture it and put it to use, is worth about $10 million a year.  On pound of CH4 or methane has the same warming impact as 21 pounds of carbon dioxide, so if we really get serious about trying to slow climate change, we’re really gonna focus as a society on methane. Senate bill 252 which was very controversial didn’t really recognize that coal mine methane from a climate perspective is four times better than generating a megawatt hour from wind or solar or biomass. It’s the first thing you oughta do, the best bang for your buck.”

Finally, it was time to hear the election results. They were predictable. For the seat representing the North Fork, outspoken Democrat Ed Marston was defeated by former Republican county commissioner Olen Lund by more than 1100 votes. Incumbent Tony Prendergast defeated Kay Heinschel by about 800 votes in the Crawford region, and Jim Elder beat Erica Lewis-Kennedy by more than 1200 votes in the Montrose district. Of the more than 30,000 households in the membership, 6,675 valid ballots were cast in the election, and about 100 people attended the annual meeting.