Within the past several weeks, the candidates running for election to the Sangre de Cristo Electric Association (SDCEA) board 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other parts of the state, the member-owned energy co-op has dealt with change, proposed a rate unbundling that has been withdrawn for now, and has begun a national search for a new co-op CEO.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 Michael Robinson, who is running for reelection to an at-large director seat on the board.
Q. What Should the members know about you and where you’re from?
“I was only appointed in December, I replaced Susan Kelly who retired. I was born and raised in Indiana, and my parents vacationed out here in Chaffee County. We kept coming here over the years, but, my career was taking me further away from here. I put up with corporate life for a few decades and in 2009 we built a condo in Salida and moved here permanently in 2019 and built a home in rural Nathrop.”
“I spent about 35 years in corporate America in telecom and banking — those industries are very similar to the electrical industry … each of those categories is about developing solutions through a distributed network – a parallel experience. It was a great career path, but the passion in me was helping others succeed. So in 2005, I resigned from the corporate world to help other leaders achieve a level of success they didn’t think they could. Helping unlock the discretionary energy in people is my passion.
The problem was I wasn’t serving the valley very well and looked for a way to do that. So serving at Sangre de Cristo is a way to give back to the community.”
Q. So what is it you want to accomplish — what’s your plan of action?
“I’ve been in this board role since December 2022. One of the mission statements for Sangre de Cristo is that we provide, safe, reliable, affordable energy. We have to ensure reliability. I have a background in cybersecurity and we are facing a significant threat to the industry at this point in time. We have to protect the grid so we all enjoy reliable energy, and we have to upgrade the grid to prevent or detect problems and minimize outages.”
He discussed the transition that is already beginning, saying “As we look at the future, predictability for the demand we’re going to be facing is critical. We know it will go up with the adoption of electric vehicles.”
“I keep getting the comment like ‘We’re not moving fast enough,’ but I’m not sure what they are measuring against. I don’t know what their standard would be. If the objective is to be 100 percent renewable sources, I agree. But my objective is to maintain reliability while we move forward toward that future and toward non-carbon sources. I’m in the business of risk management and balancing risk is what I think a board of governance should be about.”
Asked about the issue raised by some members about the current five percent cap on production of energy locally, which is part of the co-op’s contract with Tri-State, he said “I’m aware of the complaints about the cap, but the Trout Creek Solar project is about a month from coming online. That will give us grid flexibility over time. As we move through technological change, we have to assess what this would do — the impacts on reliability for instance.”
“The board needs to weigh risk regarding reliability and affordability. The five percent restriction – that’s what I call it, a restriction – that needs to be dealt with. It’s unfavorable to the co-op, and there will be windows of opportunity to expand it. Perhaps something like an increase of five percent every two to three years … there is an advantage to doing that in a slow, steady way. It is local generation, but does it also provide redundancy to maintain reliability. People need to understand that solar energy without batteries is not dispatchable energy … that could include eventually hydropower.”
Where does your campaign funding come from?
I’m paying for my own campaign. I understand there is a subset of SDCEA members who created something they call Ark Valley Energy Futures, apparently in response to the proposal by SDCEA to unbundle our electric rates so there are base rates, whether we live here full time or we’re second-home owners.