Monday, September 17, 2018

Colorado Springs Utilities chooses new CEO

Posted By on Mon, Sep 17, 2018 at 4:43 PM

Aram Benyamin: Chosen as CEO. - COURTESY CSU
  • Courtesy CSU
  • Aram Benyamin: Chosen as CEO.
Monday, Sept. 17, the Colorado Springs Utilities Board voted to offer the energy supply general manager, Aram Benyamin, a contract as the new CEO of the $2 billion enterprise.

Benyamin would replace Jerry Forte, who retired in May after more than 12 years as CEO.

He came to Utilities in 2015 from Los Angeles Department of Water and Power after he was ousted the previous year due to his close association with the electrical workers union, according to media reports. He also had supported the challenger of Eric Garcetti, who was elected as mayor.

Benyamin tells the Independent that he will accept the offer, although details are being worked out, including the salary. Forte was paid $447,175 a year.

Benyamin will take his cues on major policy issues from the Utilities Board but does have thoughts on power supply, water rights and other issues involving the four services offered by Utilities: water, wastewater, electricity and gas.
click to enlarge Drake Power Plant near downtown will continue to be a hot button issue, regardless of who fills the CEO chair. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Drake Power Plant near downtown will continue to be a hot button issue, regardless of who fills the CEO chair.
He says he hopes to see more options emerge for Drake Power Plant, a downtown coal-fired plant that's been targeted for retirement in 2035. That's way too late, according to some residents who have pushed for an earlier decommissioning date.

"Along the way, we talked about transmission upgrades that will allow us to import more energy that will make it more reliable," Benyamin says. Noting the city has employees who assess power costs round-the-clock, he adds, "Because of the city’s size and the importance of having your own sustained generation, we look at opportunities on the market to bring in energy if it’s cheaper or generate our own if it’s cheaper. The problem with transmission coming in is, if there’s congestion the price goes up and its uneconomical to import."

Benyamin will have to walk a fine line between traditional fossil fuels, supported by some on the Utilities Board as the cheapest source of power, and renewables, which also have support on the board.

Regardless of President Donald Trump's push to remove pollution requirements from coal to prop up the coal business, Benyamin says those policies haven't affected the direction Utilities is moving, which is toward more renewables.

Utilities has been slower than some to embrace solar and wind, because of the price point, but Benyamin says prices are going down. "Every time we put out an RFP [request for proposals] the prices are less," he says, adding that renewables will play a key role in replacing Drake's generation capacity, which at present provides a quarter to a third of the city's power.

While sources are studied, he says the city is moving ahead with "rewiring the system" to prepare for shutting down the plant. But he predicted a new source of generation will be necessary.
click to enlarge This outlet is part of the Southern Delivery System water pipeline that increases the city's water supply via Pueblo Reservoir. Benyamin says he's open to sharing water outside the city, but city needs should come first. - COURTESY CSU
  • Courtesy CSU
  • This outlet is part of the Southern Delivery System water pipeline that increases the city's water supply via Pueblo Reservoir. Benyamin says he's open to sharing water outside the city, but city needs should come first.
Though he acknowledged he's not fully versed in Utilities' water issues, he says it's his goal to "serve the city first."

"Any resources we have we need to prioritize them to the need of the city today and the future growth and then decide what level of support we can give to anybody else," he says.

The Utilities Policy Advisory Committee earlier this year called for lowering the cost of water and wastewater service for outsiders — notably bedroom communities outside the city limits which are running lower on water or face water contamination issues.

Benyamin also says he's open to further studying reuse of water. "Any chance we have to recycle water or use gray water for irrigation or any other use that would take pressure off our supplies, that’s always a great idea to look into," he says.

Asked for his take on policies that reduce development costs at the expense of residential customers, Benyamin repeats his unfamiliarity with some policies but adds, "My approach to economic development has to be put in the context of overall benefit to the city. I look at it from a broader perspective. What you call a subsidy I might call a development opportunity."

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