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Directors appointed for the ‘transmission developer of last resort’


The inaugural members of the new Colorado Electric Transmission Authority have been identified.

The board was created by a 2021 law, SB21-072 “Public Utilities Commission Modernize Electric Transmission Infrastructure.” It was authorized to select a transmission operator to finance, plan, acquire, maintain, and operate eligible electric transmission and interconnected storage facilities.

This new authority has been called the “transmission builder of last resort.” It’s preferable that utilities build transmission, but if they don’t, Colorado may have reasons for wanting the transmission.

This may become important as Colorado looks to build out renewable energy in more difficult places currently lacking transmission. One such place is the San Luis Valley, rich with solar potential, among the best in the nation, but lacking transmission capacity. Louis Bacon, who owns large land amounts in the area of La Veta Pass, the logical corridor for export, blocked plans by Tri-State Generation & Transmission in years past.

Another potential application is from Craig to Wyoming, the better to integrate Colorado’s electric resources into a regional transmission organization, or RTO, and tap the resources of other areas.

A third application may be in the cases of small utilities who need transmission but do not have the capacity to build it themselves. The vulnerability of Holy Cross Energy, for example, was exposed in 2018 when the Lake Christine Wildfire came within one already-burning wooden transmission pole of being able to provide power to Aspen during the July 4th weekend, typically one of the busiest of the year in that resort community.

The law specifies that the 9-member board is to consist of:

  • 2 members appointed by the governor with the consent of the Senate;
  • the director of the Colorado Energy Office or his/her designee;
  • 3 members appointed by the president of the Senate;
  • 3 members appointed by the speaker of the House

The law also requires expertise among the appointees. For example, one must represent the interests of organized labor, another must have knowledge of renewable energy development, and one must represent the interests of commercial or industrial customers of electric utilities.

Those appointed to 4-year terms are:

Chris Caskey

Chris Caskey

Chris Caskey melds science and business in innovative new ways. He has a Ph.D. in applied chemistry from the Colorado School of Mines and worked at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory for a few years.

It gets more interesting yet. He now operates Delta Brick Co. and has a lead role in Vessels Coal Gas, the company that operates the methane-to-electricity operation near Paonia. His resume is far more diverse than even this suggests. Oh, and he assisted a man attacked by an octopus.

Karl Rabago is the principal of Rabago Energy, a consulting firm. Before 2019 he directed the Pace Energy & Climate Center. His experience in energy goes back decades and includes such diverse stints as being a public utility commissioner in Texas to being an energy program manager for the Environmental Defense Fund.

Roger Freeman

Roger Freeman

Roger Freeman is an attorney who specializes in energy and environmental law. He is the chair of the board of directors for the Colorado Solar and Storage Association among other organizations. His father, the late S. David Freeman, was a seminal thinker in the energy transition, and Roger Freeman has had pieces published in both the Sacramento Bee and in Big Pivots.

Michelle Zimmerman directs development at SunShare, with previous experiences in the renewable energy sector.

Rich Meisinger is the business manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 111. He told Public Utilities Fortnightly Magazine in 2020 that the union has 4,225 members.

Leia Guccione is an engineer and now is the managing director of the Rocky Mountain Institute’s Carbon-Free Electricity division.

Leia Guccione

Leia Guccione

The RMI website says this: “Leia currently leads a body of work to inform utility regulators of policy solutions for a clean energy future, as well as provide them with unique process design and facilitation as they develop and execute reform initiatives to implement these solutions.”

Oh, and before joining RMI, she served in the U.S. Navy as a nuclear-trained surface warfare officer. She continues to serve in the Navy Reserves.

Kathleen Staks has is the director of  Western Freedom, a group advocating for a regional transmission grid and briefly before  that had a public relations firm.

Kathleen Staks

Kathleen Staks

Staks was most recently director of external affairs for Guzman Energy, a new and disruptive wholesale power provider. Before that, she was executive director of the Colorado Energy Office during the administration of Gov. John Hickenlooper. She also held other posts in Colorado state government.

Will Toor manages the Colorado Energy Office. He has the authority to designate another individual from within his agency to be part of the authority’s activities. A physicist by training with a Ph.D., Toor previously worked for the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, managing that organization’s transportation program, and before that was a Boulder County commissioner and mayor of Boulder. His life’s travels included spending part of one very cold winter in Moffat County as a sheepherder.

Tom Figel

Tom Figel

Tom Figel is the senior director of policy and business development at GRID Alternatives, a national organization devoted to the renewable energy transition as a way to drive economic growth and environmental benefits in communities most impacted by underemployment, pollution, and climate change. He manages the community solar program and leads utility relations and advocacy efforts for GRID Colorado. He has prior experience in marketing, strategy, and utility relations for software and battery storage startups.

Allen Best
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