Tom Fox, Yampa Valley Electric Association board candidate, District 6
Bio: Tom Fox, an Army veteran, is the founder of one of Steamboat Springs’ premier construction businesses, Fox Construction, Inc. He is also the managing partner of Sunlight subdivision, one of Steamboat’s most successful developments. Fox has a long history of proven leadership and business skills, since moving to Steamboat 40 years ago. As the current chairman of the YVEA board of directors, Fox believes that strong business background and management skills are necessary to be an effective member of YVEA’s board. YVEA has a $60 million per year gross revenue serving Northwest Colorado and southern Wyoming, and strong leadership skills are necessary.
Fox’s active leadership and volunteer work include: nine years on the YVEA board; chairman of the YVEA’s Operation Roundup board; chairman of YVEA’s Building Committee; earned Director Gold distinction, which is the highest training achievement for a co-op director; appointed to the DORA Examining Board of Plumbers by Governor Owens, 1999-2007; reappointment to the Examining Board of Plumbers by Governor Ritter, 2008-2001, served as board chairman for four years; appointed to DORA Colorado Electrical Board by Governor Hickenlooper, 2011-2015.
Q. Why do you want to serve on the YVEA board?
A. As the chairman of the YVEA board of directors, I want to continue with the work that has been started. A decade ago I saw our electrical co-op falling behind in many aspects — technology, infrastructure maintenance etc. In the past six years we completely rebuilt the upper management team from the top down. Today, we have one of the best management teams ever assembled at YVEA. The board approved and committed over $6 million yearly to rebuild aging infrastructure. With this modernization of the newly attained campus, YVEA is ready to take on whatever the future has to offer.
Recently the YVEA board and its upper management team entered into the Broadband business called Luminate. This is the largest single investment ever made YVEA’s history.
We believe high-speed broadband is the great equalizer for rural America, for new jobs, better education opportunities and job neutral employment. This will produce more opportunity than any other investment we could have made.
YVEA is a big business and should be managed by solid experienced business-minded board members. I have 40 years of successful business management and negotiation skills for the many business decisions facing YVEA in upcoming years. Please allow me to finish the job.
Q. What past experience makes you the ideal candidate?
A. The ideal candidate for the YVEA board is an individual with a strong background in business management and decision-making, and previous management experience and self-employment are always a plus. I have a long history of business management as a self-employed owner of multiple businesses in the Yampa Valley. Based on calls we get, many people think the board of directors run the day-to-day operations. The board of directors has one employee and that is the general manager. The board provides direction for the organization with good policy-based governance. The board has a fiduciary duty to protect the organization’s assets and members’ investments.
I have extensive experience in real estate transactions, building management, equipment management, budget production and budget management. I have a strong understanding and working knowledge of job site safety and related training. We talk about this at our board meetings. As the board chairman, I was on the negotiating team for two different contract negotiations between the company and its employees — both successful. Also I was on the negotiating team for YVEA and the city of Steamboat Springs for the 20-year franchise agreement, completed this year. I’m a strong believer in a healthy company culture. YVEA is a dynamic company with great employees dedicated to serving our 27,000 member owners.
Q. What do you believe are the most pressing issues YVEA faces in the near and long term?
A. The most pressing near term issue is our inability to renegotiate YVEA’s all requirements contract with Xcel Energy. Currently all of YVEA’s power is contracted with Excel, which allows for a 3% carveout for renewables. Since then two solar gardens have been built and a small amount of hydro is purchased from Stagecoach. At this point and until we can negotiate a larger carveout, YVEA has 2 megawatts of renewable power left for renewables. That’s not nearly enough. We believe our carveout should be increased to 20% of our total portfolio.
The long-term most pressing issue is the shutdown of Tri-State power plant in Craig. In addition, Excel is considering its continued operation of the Hayden power plant. The Hayden power plant provides the majority of YVEA’s power supply. The effects of power plants slowing down and shutting down would be a sure demise of the supporting coal mines. . YVEA would be hard hit by the loss of serving power to the mining operations in our region . Currently mining operations in our service territory account for approximately 20% of YVEA’s yearly total load.
Q. How would you address these issues?
A. As previously discussed, the pressing near-term issue with regard to the increase of a carveout from 3% to 20% is being discussed. We are prepared to launch a new approach. I personally plan to attend Excel’s monthly meeting until we can work out a more formal negotiating condition between YVEA and Excel. As it is in all cases, our general manager will be at the forefront of that charge. The board’s job is to lend support but never micromanage the general manager.
The long-term pressing issue for power plants and mine shutdown is an enormous problem for our entire service area. The potential thought of losing over a thousand high-paying jobs is unimaginable.The notion that YVEA can rev up its engines and produce high-paying year-round renewable jobs is far fetched. Everyone has a stake in this. I would be calling on all elected officials, governor, state and federal representatives.
To put it in perspective, Excel and Tri-State are giant generation and transmitting companies. They hold 100’s of millions in assets. They need to step up in a large way. YVEA may not have the size or money, but we should and will take a leading role in representing our members. We are the common denominator for power in Northwest Colorado. I would push hard for YVEA’s leadership to be at the forefront.
Q. What are your views on renewable energy, considering the state is transitioning to a cleaner energy grid?
A. My views on renewable energy are strongly in favor. YVEA will be 80% renewable by 2030. I know there’s a strong desire locally to build more solar. YVEA is currently looking at sites in the western area of our service territory. Snowfall is significantly less than Steamboat Springs.
YVEA’s hurdle is our Excel contract allowing only at 3% carveout. We’re hoping to jump to 20% as previously mentioned. We have 2 megawatts of capacity left in our carveout. Though there continues to be a lot of discussion about building solar noone has stepped up to do it the last three to four years. The last solar built was next to the YVEA building.
For clarification rooftop solar does not count in our 3% Excel carveout.
Here are some quick talking points about solar:
• 1 megawatt of solar would use 6 to 7 acres of relatively flat ground more needed if the surface is not level or is multi shaped.
• Average cost for a 1 megawatt solar garden is about $1 million.
• How long does it take to get approval from FERC — the Federal Engineering Regulatory Commission? Twelve to 18 months pre-COVID-19.
• How long does it take to build a 1 megawatt solar garden? Since construction in Northwest Colorado is more seasonal, full-time local crews would likely not exist and it would take a trained crew four to 10 weeks.
Q. How would you either support or oppose local renewable energy production?
A. I would support any and all renewable energy production, providing it meets reasonable standards. All systems would have to be engineered and reviewed and approved by YVEA internal engineering staff. Also they would need to be reasonably located to the injection point with year-round road access, FERC approved, local government approval, local permitting approved.
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