On Saturday, May 13, Mountain Parks Electric will announce results of its District 1 (Winter Park area/east side of US Highway 40) Director Election. MPE consumers with electric accounts within this district will receive mail ballots no later than April 18. Votes can also be cast in person at MPE’s annual meeting on Saturday, May 13 at the high school in Granby, or mail ballots can be dropped off (on April 18 or later) at the outdoor ballot box at MPE’s Granby headquarters at 321 West Agate Avenue.
This year’s director election includes four candidates: Phillip Archer, Christine Larkin, Joe Smyth and Ryan Zorn. To inform voters about the candidates and their positions, we are providing the following Q&A:
How has your work experience, education and background prepared you to be a valuable addition to the MPE Board of Directors?
Serving my local non-profit electrical cooperative Board of Directors would be a natural extension of my career as an engineer, developer and leader in energy.
Currently, I’m a business member of electrical cooperatives in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. These co-ops are working through various stages of management turnover, growth, energy mix and supply chain issues that are front and center for MPE.
Minimizing the environmental footprint of energy is a primary consideration for me. From 2014-2019, I led an industry task force that worked with North Dakota government officials to write and implement regulations that greatly reduce gas flaring.
After graduating from Georgetown University, I attended the University of Oklahoma School of Law, where I graduated 8th with highest honors. I served 10 years as outside corporate counsel to one of the largest electric utility companies in Texas. This was during a period of electric utility deregulation and fundamental changes to how consumers purchased electricity. I have almost 30 years of broad business and legal experience, including as general counsel. My experience will be beneficial to the MPE board and management at this critical time as MPE exits its Tri-State power agreement and negotiates a new power supply agreement.
As an energy policy researcher focused on making sure utilities are accountable to the public, I’m well prepared to join the Mountain Parks board. One focus of my work has been reducing restrictions imposed by big power companies on community-based utilities like Mountain Parks, so we can pursue cost-saving clean energy projects and a new power supplier.
With 15 years of energy policy experience, I’m already familiar with key state and federal rules relevant for our co-op, and programs that can help us save money with cleaner energy. You can read more details about my experience at VoteJoeSmyth.com
After graduation from Colorado School of Mines, I’ve occupied leadership roles with multiple vantage points on the local, national, and global energy sector. These experiences combine to offer a deep understanding of energy systems and unique perspectives on the important issues facing MPE which include the evaluation and handling of Tri-State contract termination costs, the negotiation of commercial terms on future power supply agreements, and the evaluation of economics and impacts of local generation projects that could be built and operated by MPE—all while ensuring that recently hired day-to-day leaders of MPE are integrated and successful in their roles.
MPE’s mission is to deliver safe, reliable, cost-effective, sustainable energy and services to better the lives of our members and communities. Its vision is to be the energy provider of choice and to support the communities we serve while realizing the full potential of the grid. What does this mean to you?
As a not-for-profit cooperative, MPE belongs to the communities and consumers it serves. It’s led by community members and is uniquely suited to meet our local needs. Keeping rates affordable and providing reliable electricity is important for our residents. MPE returns excess profits in the form of capital credits to its members and provides help to those in our community who need assistance. To promote efficiency and lower costs, MPE has local pilot projects that invest in smart technology and analytics to maximize the grid’s potential. MPE supports local, renewable projects for sustainable electricity. To me, MPE means local community.
Technology advances and new policies mean that smaller utilities like Mountain Parks can now save money by switching from coal to renewable energy, while keeping more of our energy dollars invested in our communities. Efficient electric technologies mean we can help our members lower their energy bills by switching to heat pumps and electric vehicles, reducing our reliance on increasingly expensive fossil fuels for heating and transportation.
Mountain Parks can leverage these exciting trends to build a renewable, local, electric economy that saves our members money while also reducing the air pollution and water consumption from burning fossil fuels.
For approximately 22,000 customers, MPE is the sole provider of electricity that underpins modern living and the protection of life and property from a harsh mountain climate. Therefore, the standard for delivering safe and reliable power no matter the conditions is incredibly high. Because electricity is a non-discretionary expense, providing service at a transparent, stable, and regionally competitive cost allows consumers to optimize consumption choices that meet their needs within their budgets. Finally, MPE should prioritize and secure power from any source that can preserve grid stability while minimizing impacts on environments and communities that generate and transmit our supply.
Commitment to a common electrical grid provides the best overall societal outcome. Focus should be on improving the overall electrical grid emissions footprint at maximum reliability and reasonable cost.
A common electrical grid provides:
Reliability through redundancy
Low cost through economy of scale
The avenue for large scale renewable adoption
As a not-for-profit, consumer-owned utility (a co-op), commitment to community is one of MPE’s core principles. How are you involved in the local community?
I’ve worked with community groups across Colorado to enact new policies that expanded transparency and clean energy rules for big power companies, and helped ensure that community-based utilities like Mountain Parks are free to pursue clean energy projects.
I also brought a formal challenge that stopped an unnecessary rate increase proposed by Mountain Parks in 2019, saving our members more than $1.5 million over the last four years.
When I’m not working on utility issues, I like to hike, bike, and ski in our incredible mountains, so I also volunteer with local trails organizations to help maintain our trails.
I was born and raised in rural Colorado within a household that prioritized community service. My wife, Lisa, and I have three kids in East Grand schools allowing me frequent interaction with the Fraser community. I eagerly support causes that promote healthy lifestyles, teamwork, and quality education. I just finished coaching three basketball teams for Fraser Valley Rec and assist with local youth and middle school football programs. Lisa and I are recent additions to the local Young Life board. Unfortunately, I’ll miss the MPE annual meeting as I’ll be chaperoning EGMS eighth graders on their trip to Washington D.C.
On a volunteer basis, over the last five years I have served:
National Sports Center for the Disabled
Food Bank of the Rockies
Habitat for Humanity
Sundance Point HOA
Previously, I served on the Parks & Recreation Board of Directors in Park City, Utah.
On a for profit basis, I recently led an effort that is reducing air emissions by 69,000 metric tons of CO2 equivalent per year in the MPE District 3 (Jackson County) area.
Recreationally, I’m a member of the Colorado Biathlon Club.
I am a full-time resident of Fraser. This community is extremely welcoming with many opportunities for engagement. I serve on the Board of Directors of the Colorado Headwaters Land Trust, a local non-profit organization dedicated to open lands and conservation, where I serve on the Land Conservation and Events/Fundraising committees. During the holidays, I helped Middle Park Medical Foundation members with its submission for the Festival of Trees and supported that foundation at its annual fundraiser. I look forward to more ways I can give back to this community, including as a director of MPE and supporting MPE’s community initiatives.
Is there anything about MPE that you would like to change? If yes, what and why?
I have been a satisfied MPE customer for 12 years. I will ensure that MPE is run efficiently with local customer service as its top priority. MPE’s electricity rates have not changed since 2016—that stability has been a great service to our community during an inflationary environment. Given the recent changes in MPE leadership and the evolutions coming to energy systems they manage, this board should play a grounded and supportive role to the MPE workforce and provide a deep bench of broad energy sector knowledge to the organization as it navigates transformational, customer-impacting decisions.
1- Management for MPE should be expected to maintain their primary residence in the service area.
2- MPE should make plans to grow effectively in lock step with increases in local population and electrical demand to continue to maximize reliability and keep electrical costs low.
3- MPE must work to minimize the $10,000,000+ settlement that Tri-State Generation & Transmission will seek for termination of the all services agreement. It appears that better wholesale providers are available, but MPE must now negotiate this settlement with limited leverage.
I would like to see an electronic ballot option for MPE director elections to make it easier for more members to participate. In the last District 1 election, only about 500 out of 3,000 members voted. Just as public companies have turned to online voting at annual shareholder meetings, I’d like to see MPE implement a similar process. Electronic delivery reduces printing and postage costs and environmental impact. Many members are not regularly at their MPE address to receive paper ballots, which is something unique to our mountain community. Electronic delivery and voting would be a win-win for everyone.
Mountain Parks has a relatively high monthly fixed charge, and we should explore ways to reduce that for our members. While many utilities push for high monthly fixed charges, consumer watchdogs and ratepayer advocacy groups oppose them because they increase energy costs for people that use the least amount of electricity – and that often includes lower income families, seniors, residents of smaller homes and condominiums, and people that have invested in energy efficiency improvements. Some other electric cooperatives charge lower monthly fixed charges for those that use the least electricity, and Mountain Parks should study those options.