Herndon:The Energy of Rico’s Keith Lindauer | Dateline Wright’s Mesa
by Grace Herndon
Jul 25, 2007 | 1130 views | 0 0 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Rico’s Keith Lindauer is a spirited and often dramatic voice for local energy reform. He not only lives the ethic but he’s also part of an important new drive by electric consumers here to convince San Miguel Power Association leaders that conservation and alternative energy sources – not coal – are the best choices.

First off, Lindauer thinks “the whole tone” of SMPA’s July 18 board meeting in Ridgway was different from SMPA’s annual meeting in June, when SMPA leaders gave a roomful of frustrated “owner-consumers” a chilly reception. SMPA, you’ll recall, is a federally subsidized rural electric cooperative, wherein its customers are also said to be its “owners.”

Lindauer is an architect and builder and dedicated resource sustainability expert – he truly practices what he preaches. Still, he’s amazingly forgiving about what happened at the co-op’s June meeting. Lindauer thinks boardmembers felt “ambushed” at the yearly meeting, designed to be a rather congenial, non-event. Still, he’s bummed that none of the eight SMPA boardmembers knew which one represented Rico, a small, once-thriving mining and mill town, about 30 miles south of Telluride on Highway 145. (Implausibly, Redvale resident and SMPA board president Gary Yamnitz represents Rico.)

Today, Rico’s 285 residents cherish its beauty and its independence – an emerging new community that’s creating its own character – it’s not Telluride to the north, nor Cortez-Durango to the south. In 1992, the perfect place, it turned out, for a young architect to build his own “Earthship,” a wholly sustainable home, not tied to the gird, or the local water or sewer system. 

At 50-something, Lindauer is a mix of laid-back comfort and righteous indignation. Blued eyed, light reddish-blonde hair, and a few pounds over the weight he carried when I first met him in the 1980s, Lindauer’s big, slightly raspy voice still catches your attention. 

In 1976, as a young man Keith earned his degree in architecture from Kent State University in Ohio. Six years earlier, he’d dodged deadly bullets there when state troopers, infamously, fired into a  group of students protesting the Vietnam War. Now, more that 30 years later, Lindauer still steps forward to support righteous causes. Like the fact of global warming and what we can do about it. 

However, it took Lindauer a decade to understand the “how to” of sustainable building – and living. “I didn’t know the solutions to living independently,” he told me, as we talked recently in his sun-filled office on Rico’s main street.  He’d been involved in designing and developing several projects in San Miguel County during the 1980s but in 1990 actor/activist Dennis Weaver’s Earthship home in Ridgway “caught my eye,” he says.  Inspired, Lindauer became an Earthship convert, and “good friends” with Weaver and his family.

Soon after, Lindauer learned about Earthship expert Mike Reynolds, who was teaching Earthship building methods at his place near Taos, New Mexico. In no time, Lindauer enrolled in one of Reynold’s classes. Now, he says with fatherly satisfaction, his two daughters, Erika, 10, and Ryan, 6, born and raised in an Earthship in Rico, “know all about these things.” Meaning the heating, cooling, water catchment and sewage disposal systems that make the Lindauer house independent and self-sufficient. 

A sprawling, truly grand, scale model of an elegant, 6,000 sq.ft. Earthship sits in one of the south facing windows in Lindauer’s office. Keith says this handsome, upscale frame home was designed for a client – to be build in Telluride’s pricey, equally upscale, Mountain Village. Unfortunately, the client apparently lost his nerve. “If we could have built that house in Mountain Village, by now it would be growing its own bananas in February,” he says.  For a moment, disappointment hangs in the air. But, it’s understood that enlightened conservation still isn’t chic. For example, a recent article noted that prospective homebuyers choose showy marble kitchen counters, over solar heat.

A major triumph for Lindauer’s independent, sustainable housing designs, is a home in his 50-acre, Sundial Village development, just down Highway 145 from Rico. Built for a Cortez doctor and his family in 1997, it was the first of its kind “to sell power back to the San Miguel Power Association.” Leaning back in his chair, hands clasped behind his head, Lindauer says, “It just worked soooo well.” And still does.

And while Lindauer remains a prominent advocate for renewable energy and sustainability, he knows it remains a tough sell. Still, at SMPA’s July meeting, here comes Kris Holstrom, big time Hastings Mesa organic produce wizard, weekly local columnist, and now head of the region’s new Community Conservation coalition. Her job is to sell conservation to all of us. “I think Kris did a very good presentation” to SMPA leaders, Lindauer says, adding, he thinks boardmembers are now more “open” to alternative energy possibilities.

At the July meeting, staff members presented a summary of “renewable generation” sites in SMPA’s service territory. The reports concluded that developing hydro projects are costly and difficult. Instead, SMPA should buy power from existing, high quality sites.  SMPA has neither the expertise nor the budget to do solo projects, they note. Lindauer says, the problem is, “there’re not many projects (for SMPA) to look at.” 

As it turns out, this intrepid Rico builder, visionary, and one of sustainability’s “True Believers,” is doing a hydro project himself, at the same location as a turn-of-the-century, Rico Power and Light Company generation site on the Dolores River . Rico, of course, is a gorgeous spot to visit, with deluxe dining at the Rico Hotel, and camping galore. I’d say, drop by as often as you can and check out Lindauer and his newest project.

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