The times they are a changin’ at the San Miguel Power Association, our local electric co-op. (A nod of the head there to Bob Dylan et. al.) Longtime SMPA board president and 23 year board veteran Gary Yamnitz will resign this month. Newly elected board member Michael Saftler has now joined another Tellurider, Wes Perrin, making it two progressives on this seven-member board. Add to that the upcoming election of a District 1 director, representing the West End of Montrose County.
The departure of Yamnitz, who’s led the board for a whopping 19 years, will surely mean a change of direction for the co-op, which delivers power to its consumer-owners (that’s most of us) from Silverton, high in the San Juans, to Paradox, a pastoral little paradise west of Naturita. Yamnitz, 57, cheerily concedes that he’s been on the board “most of my adult life.” Now a part-time Redvale resident, Yamnitz says since he and his wife, Jeanne, have had a winter home in Tucson for some years as well as property holdings there, he’s been thinking in recent years about giving up his longtime leadership of SMPA’s board of directors.
“It’s kind of a new age” at the power co-op, Yamnitz says. He thinks the direction of SMPA “is in flux” and renewable energy sources will be an important part of the co-op’s future. But he’s seen solar come and go once – 23 years ago he and Jeanne built their solar house in Redvale, and has since watched the technology languish. Today he thinks “the future is coal – hopefully we can clean it up.” Along the way, though, he’d like to see “more government involvement” to develop and promote alternative energy. He deplores the “transfer of wealth overseas,” presently the result of importing vast quantities of oil.
Yamnitz, however, is certain he’s leaving SMPA “in pretty good shape.” New General Manager Kevin Ritter, who marks his first year on the job this month, “is really good,” Yamnitz says, adding that the staff is doing an excellent job as well. After 23 years with San Miguel Power, Yamnitz says he has no ambitions about moving up in the federally backed rural electric cooperative network. “I’ve never been into the state and national scene.”
Telluride’s Saftler, meanwhile, has three SMPA board meetings under his belt and is still getting the feel of this new job. He has the impression that he’s “more of an environmentalist and forward thinker” than some members of the present board. But he’s also optimistic that other board members are starting to consider more policy options.
Saftler, who says, “Coal is the dirtied fuel on the planet,” worries that SMPA’s wholesale power supplier, the 44-member Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, is “tied to coal.” Under pressure from Tri-State, SMPA recently extended its power purchase agreement with Tri-State to a full 50 years.
In addition, Saftler is concerned that, although Kansas soundly turned down Tri-State’s application to build a new coal-fired power plant at Holcomb, Kans. – based on air quality issues – Tri-State is appealing that decision. Saftler says Tri-State, which has spent millions on the Holcomb project so far, is still pouring money into that effort. He thinks SMPA will have “a hard time explaining this to our consumers.” But, none of this is simple, Saftler adds. And he agrees with Yamnitz that in his first year General Manager Ritter has brought some welcome changes. Among others, “He’s accessible to co-op members,” and listens to their concerns during board meeting.
To fill the Yamnitz vacancy, SMPA has published notices requesting letters of interest from applicants to take over the District 3 seat until the scheduled June 2009 election. SMPA Executive Secretary Toni Bertorello said Sept. 11 is the application deadline.
Placerville’s Dan Chancellor, long a community activist and Boy Scout leader, says he plans to apply for the vacancy.
Then, add in the rerun of the Nucla-Naturita District 1 election. (The earlier winner was ultimately disqualified due to a family member’s staff position with SMPA.) This time around three candidates are running. Incumbent Joe Garvey, who chose not to run in the first go-around, will try to stay on the board. Also running are Mel Staats, who lost his District 1 board seat to Garvey, and Kenneth Barnes, a Nucla School staff member, who teaches elementary school P.E. and middle school health classes, along with survival/outdoor education. In each of SMPA’s seven director districts, the co-op’s owner-consumers in that district elect their own board representatives.
This all means that the winds of change will be a subtle but nevertheless important factor when San Miguel Power’s board of directors meets Sept.17 in Norwood. During SMPA’s 2007 annual meeting held in Telluride last summer, the majority of board members turned a deaf ear to a large majority of co-op consumers who attended. Telluriders and other reform-minded members, upset at this rebuff, said they were determined to gain a stronger, more progressive voice in co-op matters. With two board seats to be filled shortly, Telluride’s Perrin, now the most senior SMPA board member, and for years its lone reformer, may make a bid to become the board’s new president. With Saftler, and one or two new like-minded board members, San Miguel Power could be headed for a new, and more “renewable” future.