Influential Mentors Who Made a Difference

By Kent Singer, CREA Executive Director
Colorado’s electric cooperatives have been gathering stories about “Who Powers You” for a national Touchstone Energy Cooperatives contest. It’s a great way to help each of us pause and think about those who helped us along the way.

It made me think about all of the people in our Colorado electric co-op family who inspired and “powered” me over the 20 years I have been involved in this program. There are actually hundreds of people whom I learned from and drew inspiration from, but there are a few who stand out. I want to recognize them in the spirit of Touchstone Energy and this contest.

Without question, the first person I think of in terms of someone who powered me in this job is my predecessor, Ray Clifton. Ray was the executive director of the Colorado Rural Electric Association for nearly 25 years. Prior to that he worked another 25 years for the Georgia Electric Membership Corporation, the Georgia equivalent of CREA. Ray retired in 2010, and I have been doing my best to follow in his footsteps and provide the same kind of principled leadership that he exemplified during his tenure at the helm of CREA.

I could fill pages with stories demonstrating Ray’s dedication to Colorado’s electric co-ops, but I think his finest work probably occurred during the 1997 session of the Colorado legislature. A bill was introduced to allow retail competition among electric utilities in Colorado. The electric co-ops opposed the bill because we were convinced (and I remain convinced) that it would result in higher rates for our members.

Ray worked tirelessly to lead a coalition of consumer advocates to defeat the legislation, even though it was sponsored by legislators we usually supported. His efforts were successful, and to this day there is no retail competition in the electric sector in Colorado.

Some may argue that the notion of a regulated monopoly is an outdated regulatory structure for electric utilities, but in most states where retail competition is implemented it resulted in higher rates for consumers. In the end, Ray’s success was due largely to the high level of credibility and respect that he earned during his long career advocating on behalf of rural Colorado electricity consumers. When faced with difficult decisions, I always ask myself: What would Ray do?

I also had the pleasure of working with a couple of ranchers named Tom who powered and inspired my work for the co-ops. The first, Tom Turnbull, is a rancher from the Carbondale area who was the board president of Holy Cross Energy for many years. As general counsel for Holy Cross for about five years before taking this job, I had the opportunity to observe Tom as he used his gentle touch and great sense of humor to navigate challenging board discussions. Nobody ever cared more for his community and his co-op than Tom, and his legacy is the vibrant and innovative co-op that continues to thrive in the Roaring Fork Valley.

Another Tom, Tom Compton, is the now-retired former board president of La Plata Electric Association. He was board president of CREA when I was hired. If you are familiar with the Code of the West (from the book Cowboy Ethics), you know all you need to know about Tom Compton: Live each day with courage. Take pride in your work. When you make a promise, keep it. Remember that some things aren’t for sale. And my favorite: Ride for the brand.

At one of our CREA annual meetings, I remember Tom encouraging all those in attendance to promote the co-op program and advocate for our issues at every opportunity — in other words, to ride for the brand. Tom understood the importance of our cooperative movement and that it would not survive without passionate torchbearers. That spirit lives on in CREA.

It’s always dangerous to make lists of who powers you since there isn’t enough space to list everyone who had an impact on me. I could go on about the many co-op CEOs, directors and others who motivate me every day; this is especially true of the incredible staff here at CREA. I hope you, too, have favorite “power-givers” in your life. This is a great time of the year to tell them so.

You can read other stories of “Who Powers You” at and vote for the best stories. The winner will be announced after December 18.