TELLURIDE – The new appointee to San Miguel Power Association’s District Two board seat vacancy brings a mixture of compassion, enthusiasm and industry smarts to the table, along with a healthy dose of realism about the challenges of getting a very diverse board to pull in the same direction.
Robert Justis of Telluride was selected Monday by SMPA’s Board of Directors from among five candidates who expressed interest in filling the District Two seat, left vacant after long-time director Wes Perrin lost his battle with cancer in March.
Justis will represent the Telluride region until 2015, when Perrin’s four-year term would have expired. At that time he can run for re-election.
Other candidates who applied for the position included Telluride residents Brian Ahern, Joseph Cooley, David Oyster and Lance Waring.
“All the candidates were very well qualified,” said SMPA Board President Rube Felicelli, who himself will continue to represent SMPA’s District 5 (comprised of Mountain Village, Ophir and surrounding areas) after running unopposed for a second term. “This was a tough choice. We could have gone a couple different directions.”
In the end, though, several things made Justis stand out as the best man for the job. Most importantly, Felicelli said, Justis has a strong background in the electric business. Prior to moving to Telluride in 2006, he worked as the director of economic development for an electric utility in Vermont.
“He impressed us with his detailed knowledge of the industry and the territory,” Felicelli said. “He reached out to some people in the area, and that was important. He has the time and the energy to do this. And he showed a lot of compassion. That really tilted the board in his direction. We are looking forward to working with him.”
Justis expressed a similar eagerness to start working with his fellow board members. He got to know many of them prior to his appointment as he made an effort to learn more about the issues SMPA and its Board of Directors are facing.
“I’m just delighted to have this opportunity and humbled that I got the job after so many other good people expressed an interest in it,” he said. “I am really looking forward to it. It’s a little early to talk specifics but I really want to try to bring my cooperative attitude toward working together with the diverse board.”
Justis retired from his job in Vermont and moved to Telluride six years ago. “I’ve been looking for something to get my teeth into,” he said. “There are a lot of boards and commissions and volunteer opportunities in Telluride, but I didn’t feel I had anything specific to bring to the table.”
When he found out about the SMPA board vacancy, he realized he had found his niche. “I have the background for it and felt I could really be useful here,” he said. “That’s why I stepped up.”
Justis anticipates that it will be a challenge “getting everyone pulling in the same direction” on SMPA’s board. “We represent an extremely diverse community, between the east end and the west end of SMPA’s territory,” he said. “There has been a lot of concern over rate increases in recent years and I’m very sensitive to that. I’m also sensitive to the diverse feelings about renewable energy.”
A lot of what the SMPA board will be tackling in the near future rides on Gov. Hickenlooper’s decision whether to sign into law or veto the Rural Renewable Energy Bill which passed the Colorado Senate on May 1.
The bill, SB-252, doubles the amount of power smaller electric co-ops in Colorado will be required to get from renewable sources over the next seven years, increasing it to 20 percent by 2020. The bill contains a fee cap limitation, keeping the cost of implementation that utilities can pass on to rate payers to 2 percent, but critics charge that it could still lead to huge rate increases for the member-owners of SMPA and other rural power co-ops. Advocates, meanwhile, praise it as a means of moving forward into developing renewable energy technologies and away from older, polluting forms of energy.
According to Felicelli, the SMPA board has taken a neutral position on SB-252. However, the Town of Telluride, which represents the largest population center in SMPA’s territory, recently sent a letter to Hickenlooper urging him to sign the bill into law.
The governor has until June 7 to either sign the bill, veto it or do nothing, in which case it will become law.
Felicelli anticipates the bill will quietly pass into law without Hickenlooper’s signature.
SMPA’s board of directors will also soon have a new director from District 7 representing Ouray and Silverton. Incumbent Jerry Hoffer of Silverton is not seeking reelection. Two candidates are vying for his seat: Keith Meinert of Ouray and Terry Rhoades of Silverton. Ballots were mailed out to member-owners in those two communities on Monday this week, and are due back by June 12.
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