Soap Box

Lowdown on Tri-State and LPEA
03/26/2020

To the editor,

In mid-April you will receive an LPEA Board Director ballot in the mail with your LPEA bill. Please use it to vote for clean energy candidates Rachel Landis, Guinn Unger and newcomer Doug Fults. As an LPEA member-owner familiar with the new clean energy market, I am grateful for this Board’s thorough analysis and measured progress toward cheaper, cleaner electricity. The LPEA Board’s majority are directors who won their seats based on their commitment to this. Please help keep this great team together by voting the incumbents back in.

There are multiple reasons why our provider Tri-State’s wholesale electricity is more expensive than open market power. Here are some primary ones:

The average percentage of coal used by American utilities has dropped from roughly 50 percent to 27 percent, beginning around 2007 – that’s when cheaper natural gas became widespread. While utilities migrated first to gas, then to renewables as their price dropped, Tri-State’s electricity has remained around 55 percent coal-generated. Tri-State’s generation relies so heavily on coal that in 2019 it ranked third most carbon-emitting per unit of electricity, of the largest 100 domestic electricity producers (according to M J Bradley – Benchmarking Air Emissions.)

Wind, natural gas and solar compete as the cheapest fuels in widespread use, within a penny of $.02/kWh even with battery storage included. Coal costs about twice as much (over $.04/kWh) guaranteeing us high wholesale rates from Tri-State. Multiple market studies have shown potential savings from replacing coal plants with solar and wind, and Tri-State member co-ops have requested cleaner power. Nonetheless Tri-State has steadfastly resisted shifting away from coal.

Why, you ask? Tri-State owns considerable coal assets, and since no one buys coal or coal plants any more, those assets are “stranded.” So Tri-State may as well burn as much coal as possible, right?

Then last year, the Colorado Legislature wisely mandated that every utility selling in our state create a “Responsible Energy Plan,” with enforceable milestones toward 100 percent clean energy. That’s when Tri-State suddenly became a “green producer” –on paper, anyway – with bold talk about future large renewable projects.

Tri-State will save money by building renewables, it’s true. But their savings won’t lower our rates. They’ll go to service Tri-State’s $3.5 billion debt, which continues to grow because Tri-State has been paying very little principal. Our Tri-State contract (until 2050!) allows unlimited wholesale rate increases, and even Tri-State forecasts their own rates to keep rising until then. No wonder LPEA is not the only Tri-State member co-op seeking alternatives.

The solar arrays that Tri-State talks about building in La Plata County would provide some jobs, which is good. But if we remain with Tri-State, LPEA will keep sending around $70 million out of our local economy for high-priced electricity, which is a shame. We’d miss a prime opportunity to build our own solar, pay off the cost within 8-10 years at rates still cheaper than Tri-State’s, then receive near-free electricity for the remaining life of the panels (which last around 25 years). This would lower our rates even further, support our local economy and create well-paying careers. Plus, we’d be much more energy-independent and safer from cyber attack and natural disaster. More reliable, cheaper, cleaner energy through community ownership is what cities are rapidly moving to across America (see Sierra Club Ready for 100).

I applaud the LPEA Board for doing their homework to find a path to cheaper prices and clean energy. Please re-elect incumbents Guinn Unger and Rachel Landis, and elect newcomer Doug Fults.

– Kirby MacLaurin, Durango

A few more haikus for yous
03/26/2020

(Editors note: The following are in response to reader John Egan’s request last week for fellow Tele-ers to submit haikus in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Jenn Stewart answered the call, and then some. We are not sure if this was meant as one long haiku – a sort of haiku sonnet, if you will – or several short ones. All we know is, when this is over, we want to go to Jenn’s house for happy hour.)

Let’s start a new day:
toast and eggs with NPR,
coffee with cool swan,

hoping for sunshine,
instead a flurry of snow,
happy hour soon!

Who’s making dinner?
Negronis and some Coltrane,
soon it will be dark.

Yum, ice cold sherry.
I’ll fix dinner again dear,
how lucky are we.

Read a few stories,
thank the stars I have you here,
Hasta Manana.

It would be better
quarantined on Saturdays
with the Velvet Rut

– Jenn Stewart, Durango

Time to seriously question LPEA
03/26/2020

To the editor,

If you pay an electric bill to LPEA, you are a member/owner. LPEA recently announced a rate increase that affects us all. I decided to investigate how the money would be spent. Asking the Board for a copy of the 2020 budget, I was given a summary budget with expenses totaling almost $24 million. When I asked again for a detailed budget, the CEO stated that I was given the exact information the board received and approved.

LPEA said the April rate increase would be used to “maintain and improve electricity infrastructure and to prepare for the future of the electric grid.” However, the budget for operations and maintenance (infrastructure) is slightly less than in the past. The “administrative/general, and other customer services” expenses, on the other hand, are almost $11 million; a 22 percent increase over 2018! Exactly, what are administrative and other customer services that cost more than the infrastructure?

How can the board of LPEA approve a budget without knowing expense details? I have a really hard time believing the board approved a budget on what I was given. I recently served on a fellow electric co-op board in Colorado for 14 years. Our board held annual budget meetings. We completed a “cost of service study” to determine rates based on what it actually costs to deliver electricity to members. Our chief financial officer presented a detailed budget (24-30 pages) that allowed us to make prudent and accountable decisions. So, I’m asking: is this board negligent, or is this a blatant lack of transparency to members?

As some information is open to the public, I found these facts, from LPEA’s required IRS form 990, their annual reports and minutes over the past year.

• CEO salary: $300,000+/year

• Combined salary of top 10 employees: $2 million/year • 2019 Board expenses: $310,000+

I’ve heard $1 million+ has been spent on attorneys/consultants to explore breaking our contract with our electricity provider, Tri-State, but with the lack of accountability, who knows what the real cost is?

It’s election time. Mail-in ballots will be sent April 15. I am running in District 4 and would appreciate your vote to stop the spending.

– Sue McWilliams, Durango

Trump derangement syndrome
03/19/2020

To the editor,

Given the simplistic, slogan-smitten, rhetoric-enchanted nature of today’s Republican Party, I set out to understand this thing they call “Trump Derangement Syndrome.” After observing Trump and the Republicans for more than three years, I understand exactly what has stricken them: Trump Derangement Syndrome.

Trump said the Neo-Nazis of Charlottesville were “Good people.” Republicans said, “well Nazis have gotten a bad rap.” Trump Derangement Syndrome.

Trump put children in cages. Republicans said, “It’s just like summer camp for them.” Trump Derangement Syndrome. Trump took children away from thousands of families. Republicans said, “well it wasn’t my family.” Trump Derangement Syndrome.

Trump banned an entire religious group from entering the country. Republicans said, “don’t’ worry, those people aren’t Christians.” Trump Derangement Syndrome.

Trump placed tariffs on China based on a complete misunderstanding of macroeconomics. Republicans said, “I don’t understand macroeconomics either.” Trump Derangement Syndrome.

Thousands of farmers have gone bankrupt when markets dried up due to Trump’s new taxes on consumers disguised as tariffs. Republicans said, “I’m not a farmer just as long as the price of I-phones doesn’t go up, I’m OK.” Trump Derangement Syndrome

Trump extorted a vulnerable Ukrainian president using your taxes in order to damage his political opponent. Republicans said, “well Don Jr., Eric and Ivanka aren’t profiting from their father’s position at all.” Trump Derangement Syndrome.

Trump said coronavirus is a hoax. Are Republicans going to tell the grandkids that Grandma died of a hoax? Trump Derangement Syndrome.

– Patrick Owens, Durango

The coronavirus hits home
03/19/2020

To the editor,

Early last week, Gov. Jared Polis declared a state of emergency to open up emergency funding and other resources in case they are needed, and the World Health Organization announced COVID-19, coronavirus, was officially a pandemic, spreading throughout the world. It’s here.

For the first time in history, the Legislature was suspended, and the 72nd session of the General Assembly will not reconvene until March 30. Coronavirus has taken over everyone’s life, livelihood, shopping habits, entertainment choices and topic of conversation.

A committee made this historic, bipartisan decision after many difficult conversations informed by public health experts, science-based research and a deep concern for our citizens. House and Senate leadership jointly made the decision March 13, the same day the first victim of the virus died in Colorado, a woman in her 80s from El Paso County with medical complications.

As the spread of coronavirus continues to expand, we have to practice social distancing, staying six feet apart from each other to slow the infection rate. In the Capitol, as in most places of work, following those suggestions isn’t always easy.

The State of Colorado is working to stay ahead of this virus, looking out for the public health and safety of every Coloradan. Our state is testing more people than any other state in the nation, and has drive-through testing locations in critical areas helping people in a safer, more efficient way. It is offering paid sick leave, wage replacement programs and unemployment insurance for the most vulnerable.

Members of more susceptible populations, citizens over 60 with chronic medical conditions, can renew their drivers’ licenses online to avoid crowds at Department of Motor Vehicles locations. Large events have been postponed, and we just passed a law providing more flexibility for participants in the political assemblies happening this and next month to avoid crowds.

In addition, the state is making it easier for medical professionals licensed in other states to be licensed here as quickly as possible. Dozens of registered nurses from out of state arrived this week to help Colorado communities hit the hardest. Other professionals are being trained to administer the COVID-19 test.

We can all help prevent catching and spreading the virus by practicing social distancing and following some basic steps in good health: wash your hands with soap regularly; use hand sanitizer; eat healthy food; exercise outside; keep your hands away from your face; stay away from large crowds; get plenty of sleep; avoid close contact with sick people; stay home if you’re sick; and cover your cough with a tissue or your inner elbow, and throw the tissue in the trash.

We in District 59 can be proud of the efforts our counties have made to prepare.

Gunnison County has reported positive test results for the virus. Public schools have extended spring break and Western Colorado University has gone online. The Health Department is emphasizing minimizing social contact, offering medical attention and has been running through different scenarios, perfecting their local response.

San Juan Basin Health Department is closely monitoring La Plata and Archuleta counties, providing a comprehensive webpage, sharing information with community partners and establishing an emergency response plan specifically designed for pandemics. Many schools in both counties have extended their spring breaks and prepared for online teaching.

Fort Lewis College lengthened spring break, and students will be taking classes online for several weeks.

For updates, visit sjbpublichealth.org/coronavirus/.

The Ouray County Public Health Agency is preparing for what could be the inevitable by opening up constant chains of communication between residents, health-care providers, schools, CDPHE and CDC. They are focusing on data collection and causes of residents’ illnesses, injuries and death.

Visit ouraycountyco.gov/149/Public-Health

Hinsdale and San Juan counties have clearly delineated their responses in the event COVID-19 hits there. Though small, they are high-risk areas for people over 60 living at high altitudes and counties are targeting their health. Health departments are working closely with multiple agencies and schools, offering education and medical help.

Follow www.colorado.gov/hinsdalecounty or www.col orado.gov/sanjuan.

Please help. Follow recommendations about keeping yourself and your communities safe, be kind to one another and if you are a retired health provider, please consider coming back to work. Together, we’ll get through this, but we all need to do our part.

– Rep. Barbara McLachlan, D-Durango