Keeping the lights on
Q&A with LPEA Board candidates on most pressing energy issues for region

Keeping the lights on

Clockwise from upper left: John Purser, District 4; Nicole Pitcher, District 1; Rachel Landis, District 3; and Dave Luchsen, District 4

Telegraph staff - 05/18/2023

Sex & drugs!

Just kidding – it’s time for La Plata Electric Association’s Board of Directors election coverage. This year, there’s only one contested election for District 4 (north and east La Plata County) between newcomers David Luschen and John Purser. Only members in District 4 will be able to vote on the candidates.

For the three other districts, only one person in each threw their hat in the ring. As a result, incumbents Rachel Landis (District 3 – City of Durango) and John Lee, Jr. (District 2 – south and west La Plata County), as well as newcomer Nicole Pitcher (District 1 – Archuleta County), will serve on the Board.

Also, you’ll find on your ballot a proposed bylaw amendment. According to LPEA, the proposed amendment would update the bylaws to “align with state law, better reflect current member preferences around communication and allow the LPEA Board of Directors to add electronic ballots as another voting option in future LPEA elections in conformity with state law.” All members can vote on the proposed amendment.

By now, you should have received your ballot, which must be returned by 4 p.m. June 7. Results will be announced at 5 p.m. June 8.

Below you’ll find our Q&A with the candidates. District 2’s Lee did not respond to the questionnaire.

Rachel Landis – District 3

Previous/Current Occupation: Good Food Collective, Executive Director.

One thing people may not know about me: I am an eighth-generation preacher’s kid hailing from Amish Mennonites out yonder in Pennsylvania.

Favorite/least favorite thing about Durango: I love that this is a community of people who actively advocate and take action to advance the things that we believe will help to shape this little corner of the world into our desired reality. 

Least favorite thing – and I don’t think I am unique in this – it breaks my heart that this community has become unaffordable and inaccessible to many of the people who have worked so hard to build it.

Why are you running to serve on the LPEA Board? I am eager to continue our work to identify and secure cleaner energy that can be delivered to our membership at an affordable cost. I also want to continue to push the cooperative to connect with the diverse voices of our membership.

Do you believe LPEA should continue to pursue exiting its contract with Tri-State? In the last six years, we have explored a myriad of pathways toward cleaner energy that also don’t impact members’ wallets. Given all of the moving parts at both a local and grid level, the Board and staff have been working diligently to sort out which of our pathways to clean, affordable power is the best one. I know that is a non-answer and it makes me cringe as it sounds kind of politician-y, but that is the honest truth: this is an exceptionally complex issue, and there is no fast and easy solution.

How do you believe LPEA can continue to keep energy costs low while turning to more reliable and renewable energy sources? There are many things we are doing today that help the co-op keep our costs down and ultimately our members’ bills lower. One of those areas is LPEA’s commitment to keeping its internal operating costs down. Also, both the coop and each of us as members can work to manage when we use our power so as to mitigate demand-based costs, such as having to build more infrastructure or using power at a time when it is most expensive to us. This can make a big difference at the individual user level.

If elected, what issue would you bring to the spotlight? The electric utility context has shifted dramatically since LPEA set our 50-30-70 goals (reduce our emissions by 50% of 2018 levels by 2030 while keeping costs within 70% of our Colorado peers). I am excited to revise this framework so as to keep pushing for clean energy and cost effectiveness, while also bringing in elements that leverage the cooperative’s ability to be part of our area’s economic development and efforts to advance equity and representation.

Dave Luschen – District 4

Previous/Current Occupation: I have 26 years of electric utility experience. I started as a front-line utility engineer and worked my way up to executive management, focusing on distribution, substation and transmission electric delivery.

One thing people may not know about me: I am a huge U.S. Women’s Soccer fan! I was my daughters’ soccer coach when they were young. We would go to the U.S. Women’s Soccer games, and I am blessed to be going to the Women’s World Cup this summer.

Favorite/least favorite thing about Durango: Favorite – the outdoor lifestyle. I love hiking, camping and landscape photography. Also, the people of Durango; everyone has been so nice and friendly, making me feel right at home.

Least favorite – that my grown children are not closer to Durango. My oldest son is in Seattle working for Amazon, my middle daughter is in Austin employed by an environmental firm, and my youngest daughter is a director of an NGO in Indonesia fighting human trafficking.

Why are you running to serve on the LPEA board? To grow deeper roots in my community. I have family in Durango, and this is such a great place to live. The LPEA Board is a good fit for my skills and knowledge, and I want to provide a brighter future for our kids and their kids. This can be obtained through sustainable power at a reasonable cost.

Do you believe LPEA should continue to pursue exiting its contract with Tri-State? The LPEA Board has stated three options for Tri-State: (1) staying with Tri-State and working to increase contract flexibility; (2) fully exiting the contract; (3) finding a middle option. I support all three options.

How do you believe LPEA can continue to keep energy costs low while turning to more reliable and renewable energy sources? Once the FERC action is complete with the Tri-State contract buyout cost, LPEA should do an in-depth cost analysis to fully exit the contract if we can maintain our affordable rates. The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), Section 48, allows LPEA to build sustainable and abundant solar, and electric cooperatives can now receive direct payments for their investment in renewable energy.

If elected, what issue would you bring to the spotlight? Staff retention. As everyone knows, the labor market in Durango is tight. This goes for our cooperative employees at LPEA, too. The electric utility industry has highly specialized employees who can find employment at a national level. With the years of training, technical experience and electric utility knowledge our employees have, as a co-op member, I know our LPEA employees are our most valuable asset.

Nicole Pitcher – District 1

Previous/Current Occupation: Mother and homemaker, property manager, KWUF radio personality 

One thing people may not know about me: I’m an amateur beekeeper.

Favorite/least favorite thing about Southwest Colorado: After living here for 14 years, I still haven’t decided which season I like best. I cherish the change of season; from one thing I love to another. I initially fell for the natural beauty of the area, but it’s the community that made me put down roots. I love that my neighbor always gives me the trucker honk, that my daughter adores our grocery clerk and that our postman is endlessly kind and cheerful. 

The gusty winds are my least favorite thing about Archuleta County. 

Why are you running for the LPEA Board? Electricity touches every part of our life, so joining LPEA felt like the best way to reduce my carbon footprint by advocating for more renewable energy production.The whole world is undergoing an energy transition, and through our local rural electric cooperative, we have the authority to determine our place in it. 

Do you believe LPEA should continue to pursue exiting its contract with Tri-State? LPEA should continue to advocate for good, local energy projects, and we need to understand if Tri-State is part of that future. Tri-State continues to raise its rates even as energy costs are trending downward and is burdened by massive long-term debt. I don’t like being contractually tied to Tri-State for the next 27 years but also realize I need to look behind the curtain for a more informed position on a potential exit. 

How do you believe LPEA can continue to keep energy costs low while turning to more reliable and renewable energy sources? Tri-State is in the process of renegotiating its rates and, unfortunately, I believe costs are going up even if we don’t transition to more renewable energy. At this point, renewable energy is often competitive with traditional energy sources, so it’s navigating the rise in rates with cooperative core values. 

If elected, what issue would you bring to the spotlight? Local energy control will make us more resilient as a community. The costs of energy production are trending downward, and yet we can’t actualize these savings, because we are tied to fixed energy prices from a goliath energy cooperative that doubled down on coal.

We have the opportunity to become more nimble and innovative – let’s seriously consider all the potential value in harnessing our energy future.

John Purser – District 4

Previous/Current Occupation: I worked in the information technology field for 35 years. My last role was as director of IT at Mercury Payment Systems.

One thing people may not know about me: On multiple occasions, I’ve paid my own way to Washington and lobbied senior policy staff in congressional and senate offices. I’m a policy wonk!

Favorite/least favorite thing about Durango: My favorite thing is stepping out the door each day and being moved by the beauty.

My least favorite is the politics; it’s far more fashion than substance.

Why are you running for the LPEA Board?I see a need for greater transparency so that members can see that the Board is acting in the best interest of all members. 

Do you believe LPEA should continue to pursue exiting its contract with Tri-State? I think the Board is pursuing an appropriate strategy by looking at the three-pronged approach. I believe LPEA has quality staff members who have the knowledge to evaluate the options. The Board must share that information with members without bias. The Board has failed at that. Some Board members have not accurately represented our contract with Tri-State.

Tri-State is a nonprofit cooperative of which we are a member with approximately 40 other distribution cooperatives. All the distribution cooperatives entered into 50-year contracts as a common commitment to Tri-State. In terms of non-carbon-based energy, Tri-State is bound by the same legislative mandate as LPEA.

Tri-State is aggressively moving toward renewables. They are expected to be at 50% renewables by 2024; this is well ahead of the LPEA timeline. So, leaving is not an environmental issue.

We are told local generation will be more reliable. Really? When has Tri-State failed to deliver power to LPEA? Never! So, the issue is financial. But let’s see the numbers before we make a decision.

How do you believe LPEA can continue to keep energy costs low while turning to more reliable and renewable energy sources? We should be buying power from utility-scale renewable facilities. It is much more cost-effective than small, dispersed facilities. It is the most socially and economically equitable solution.

We should not be incentivizing rooftop solar, as it does not serve average and low-income residents. Academic research shows rooftop solar benefits households with twice the average median income. I refer to rooftop solar as a wealthy solution, and this is backed up by substantial research.

If elected, what issue would you bring to the spotlight?

Transparency, transparency, transparency. I have specific policy areas, initially in the area of vendor qualification and contracts, that I would like to see addressed. Transparency for the members leads to a better Board discussion about the future of our cooperative.

Our cooperative will be changing and evolving with the new energy market. The greater the transparency, the better that evolution will serve our members.