Within the past several weeks, the candidates running for election to the Sangre de Cristo Electric Association (SDCEA) have been announced, answered candidate overviews and participated in a League of Women Voters candi-dating forum.
The ballots are out, and members’ votes are due back by June 9. Against this backdrop, just as in other parts of the state, the member-owned energy co-op has dealt with change, proposed a rate unbundling that has been withdrawn for now, and has begun a national search for a new co-op CEO.
This past week, Ark Valley Voice took time with each of the candidates running in contested board seat elections to understand the background on which their viewpoints are built, and clarify information we had heard them discuss.
This was the outlook from Joe Redetzke, who is running for reelection for the director district of Rural Chaffee/Lake County:
Q. What Should the members know about you and where you’re from?
“I was born and raised on a family farm in central Kansas. I went to Ft. Hayes State University and spent five years on their alumni board. I’ve always been in agriculture; first in production ag, then in ag equipment, then in precision equipment. I was part of a group that started a global positioning company just outside Kansas City and we took the product worldwide into 65 countries. In fact, in five years we grew the company to $100 million in revenue. We created a product the growers really loved; GPS mapping for tractors, combines, and sprayers. We even created an aerial division for guidance systems.”
“We had lived in the mountains in Salt Lake City, then in Burlington Colorado. We decided to get out of the humidity of St. Joe, Missouri… we found Chaffee County. That was it.”
Redetzke is the current SDCEA board chair, and he is also Vice Chair of the Rural Electric Co-op Association, just two of the many boards and committees, rural and national on which he has served. “Being on a board is more governance than anything else. You don’t get involved in daily operations; leave that to the staff experts. Boards come from very diverse backgrounds and give input about how the organization should be governed. I’ve created a lot of lasting relationships, and personal friendships with people throughout the world. I think I’ve proven myself and gained trust from members.”
Q. So what is it you want to accomplish — what’s your plan of action?
“The challenges of being in what is known as a ‘transitional market environment’ and how that is managed need to be explained. We want to see stable and reliable rates at the same time we are in a definite, forward-looking transition. The Infrastructure, Investment, and Jobs Act (IRA) offers funding opportunities. But before we can apply, the rules have to be written for them and they aren’t yet. It will probably be fall before we see them.”
“This is a complex business; a lot of people don’t understand the complexity of the business. In a very transitional market, it’s important for a plan to be well thought out, orderly, and executed precisely. We are facing pressures on the grid today. The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) is already talking about blackouts this summer in other parts of the country. We’re putting a lot of new energy requirements[electric vehicles] into the grid that hasn’t been there before. That said, we know energy is less expensive to generate, but we have to pay for the transmission lines. We’ll have to double the transmission lines we have in the next 15 years. If we keep growing the usage, we’ll have to double again. and that costs money. In fact, Xcel Energy is planning a $2 billion line expansion from the mountains to the Front Range.”
Asked about moving beyond the five percent cap on local, carbon-free energy generation, he said, “Solar on rooftop can help the grid — but it’s got to be managed properly. If we had 50 percent of our people with rooftop solar we’d be a wire company. How would we pay for that? We have about 600 members who have rooftop solar and 5o to 60 in the queue. It will keep growing, but as far as the other 95 percent — we’re going to have to have some flexibility in that.”
“Why? Tri-State is in a position to offer us excess energy and they back up our reliability. They offer ancillary services as a third-party power provider. Companies that don’t have any generation are buying excess power on the open market — and getting paid more than we are contracted to pay — They did offer another 300 megawatts about three years ago. While that’s been used up by other companies, we’d have to buy the contract out and the IRA funding can’t be used to buy out contracts.”
“Tri-State is a good partner helping us with the recovery in crisis: A few years ago, there was a transformer that went out in winter in Lake City. Within a couple hours, Tri-State was able to locate and move a 200,000-pound transformer on a truck, run it behind snow plows clearing the way, and get it to Lake City to restore power.”
“Two years ago the San Luis Valley had a huge windstorm that took down their poles (and there is a single electric line into and through the San Luis Valley). Within a few hours, Tri-State was there, on the ground working to restore the power grid, and you won’t find that with some third-party energy seller.”
“Some might be saying we need to move faster, but just 10 days ago the four commissioners who sit on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) all came out and said the country needs to slow down unless we want rolling brownouts and blackouts. When those people say something like that you better not discard their advice.”
He outlines the energy future. “With today’s tech we can get to 85 percent carbon-free, but not 100 percent, Even Xcel says that. Tri-State has adequate power, adequate resources, they have excess power and they are selling to others for more than our contract…. they are going to continue to find customers that want to pay more for the power than we do today. Future carbon-free sources are geothermal, and even small-scale nuclear.”
He added that in meetings on geothermal in the county, the offices of both Senator Michael Bennet and Senator John Hickenlooper are involved. “Bennet has put a $1 million ask into the 2024 federal congressional direct spending budget to help fund the drilling of a test well, to prove whether the geothermal rift lying under Chaffee County is 300 degrees. If that comes through, working with the Colorado Energy Office, this could provide proof of concept … We could be looking at a plant that would supply 10 megawatts of electricity as base load, dispatchable 24/7 …. It would take $50 to 60 million to build the geothermal plant, but these are good, high-paying jobs and this is clean energy. The nice part is we could replicate those plants at 40-mile increments all the way down to New Mexico.”
“Then there is nuclear power — which is clean energy.” There will be breakthroughs in size and scale, says Redetzke, pointing out that the U.S. has had nuclear-powered submarines for 70 years, “and if we can do that, we can manage small-scale nuclear plants.”
“We have to use common sense, analyze the issues, continue to increase our community engagement and arrive at a solution for the member majority. I’ve been told I’m a voice of reason, and that’s what I want people to know about me. As leaders, you can’t please 100 percent of the people all the time.
Q. Who is paying for your campaign?
I did 100 percent.