Ken Watson

Ken Watson

Delta-Montrose Electric Association needs to stabilize rates and getting a more favorable power-supply contract plays a big role, board candidate Ken Watson said.

Watson, who was last year appointed to fill a vacancy on the DMEA board, is now seeking election to the District 4 seat. He faces David White in the June 20 election.

“Serving on the DMEA board has been one of the most important things I’ve done in my career. Nationally, electricity rates continue to fall, while DMEA is paying more than our neighbors,” said Watson, who formerly managed the airport’s fixed-base operator. Watson was also an equity partner when the FBO was sold in 2016. He previously managed finances at Scott Fly Rods and Gordon Composites.

DMEA purchases most of its power from wholesaler Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association.

The entities’ contract, valid through 2040, allows DMEA to obtain or generate 5 percent of its power from other sources (“self-generation”).

The contract limits and other issues seen as driving costs came to a head in recent years, when DMEA began negotiating with Tri-State in hopes of being able to buy its way out of the contract.

The local cooperative more recently petitioned the Colorado Public Utilities Commission to help have a “just and equitable” exit fee set. Tri-State unsuccessfully opposed the effort, saying DMEA was not automatically entitled to have an exit fee set, and that the PUC has no authority over a contract dispute.

The state body, however, determined the issue was rates, over which it does have jurisdiction and it is now considering DMEA’s petition.

Watson said he supports efforts to leave Tri-State.

“We want to pay our fair share. I think it’s one way (to build economic stability). Continuing to pay more than our neighbors just doesn’t make sense,” he said, adding that Tri-State has signaled another rate hike could be coming.

The co-op tried other means of addressing what it sees as the problem, Watson said: Over the past 10 years, DMEA asked to increase the 5-percent cap on self-generated power, but was turned down. Its request for alternate membership options also was turned down, the candidate added.

“We spent 10 years trying to work with Tri-State to get the stability we need. It’s clear to me our organization is not aligned with Tri-State,” Watson said.

Watson is DMEA’s delegate to the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, sits as the vice-chairman for DMEA’s wholly owned subsidiary, Elevate Fiber, and on the co-op’s finance audit and rates committee. He is certified for the NRECA Credentialed Cooperative Director program.

“I’ve been able to build a solid understanding of how the energy economy is changing,” Watson said.

“All of that is enabled by our Elevate Fiber project, which would give us the ability to leverage technology,” he said.

Elevate goes beyond high-speed broadband. The network creates more potential for using a “smart grid” system that can save energy and lower consumption.

“That’s another way, along with trying to develop a new power purchase contract, that we can stabilize our energy rates,” Watson said.

He said Elevate is on track and meeting its goals, plus costs are on track, too. The fiber-to-home broadband subsidiary operates on a crowd fiber model, meaning when enough people pre-register for the service in a designated area, fiber build-out and service occur.

Elevate does not come ahead of DMEA’s responsibility to provide power, Watson said.

“We’re not ahead of our lights. We’re actually seeing some benefit coming back to DMEA financially from Elevate already. It’s not an enormous benefit, but it’s noticeable. I’m a big supporter of Elevate,” Watson said.

“We had a goal of 5,000 subscribers for the end of last year. We hit that in the fall. We’re on track to meet our goal for this year,” he added.

DMEA is well-run, Watson said, but rates remain the biggest issue.

“We are no longer a growing co-op. We need to manage it based on stabilizing rates, because I think one of the reasons we’re not a growing co-op is because of the high price of our Tri-State contract,” he said.

Watson said that although he is not a “green candidate,” renewable energy plays a role in keeping down costs.

“Often that means using renewable energy in our portfolio. But I think local generation, using our abundant resources, will stabilize our rates, give us more control, give us jobs in this area. All of these things go along with my view of the future. Renewable (energy) is an important part, but not the only part,” Watson said.

“I’m not a ‘green candidate.’ I’m a Montrose-Delta candidate. I want to support our members and I want to stabilize our costs.”

Katharhynn Heidelberg is the senior writer for the Montrose Daily Press. Follow her on Twitter @kathMDP.

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