Council appoints Parker to Water and Light Advisory Board

Monday, March 16, 2009 | 10:46 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — The City Council at its meeting Monday night selected Dick Parker to fill the open position on the Water and Light Advisory Board.

The council was previously unable to reach a decision at its March 2 meeting and remained torn between four candidates, who had various levels of experience in water and light and with the City Council. To help make a decision, the council conducted interviews with each of the candidates before Monday night's meeting.

Parker, a member of the Environment and Energy Commission, said he has been following the activity of the Water and Light Advisory Board for years. He said he supports the board's forward-thinking attitude when it comes to green energy and appreciated the city's strong leadership in that field statewide.

“I would hope to continue the support in that area,” he said.

Parker said he is also glad that the council conducted interviews before making the appointment to the board because, in the past, the council has made appointments without much familiarity with the candidates.

“The interviews are not a bad idea,” he said.  “I’m glad to see they are taking it seriously.”

During his interview, Parker brought up the problems with nuclear power. He noted that financial experts see nuclear power as a foolish investment.

“I would not invest money in things Wall Street would (look at and) say ‘this is really dumb,’ personally,” he said.

As for alternative energy sources, Parker said it would be difficult to reduce dependence on fossil fuel, but using a biomass plant to replace current coal plants would be a possibility.

Because he also serves on the EEC board, Parker was asked which board he would rather concentrate his energies on, to which he promptly responded, “Water and Light.”

“My experience in Columbia is more appropriately used in that area,” he said.

Other candidates for the board seat included Dick Malon, former Water and Light director.

Despite his experience, Malon told the council during his interview that he was not looking to simply resume his old role.

“I have no interest in managing or running Water and Light,” he said. “I just want to help out around the edges and ask the right questions.”

Malon also brought up the imminence of coal power plants no longer being an option and acknowledged that alternative energy sources, such as wind, would most likely be the future power source of Columbia. He remained skeptical about the use of solar energy.

“Solar power doesn’t have a whole lot of application here,” he said.  

He also told the council he thought that Columbia would eventually need to depend on nuclear power, despite the fact that the cost would be too high right now.

“Long term, that’s what we’re going to be looking at,” he said.

Former City Councilman Larry Schuster was also up for the board seat.

Schuster said he feels strongly about the future of alternative energy sources. Despite the support seen for these types of energy, he said, they are unreliable when it comes to production.

“We have no input into when wind and solar energy are available,” he said.

Schuster went on to say that if Columbia had “maximum dependency” on alternative sources, residents might come up short on energy, especially in peak times such as the middle of summer.

Alternative energy advocates don’t understand the difference between peak need and demand, he said.

Schuster continued to stress these ideas in his interview, telling the council that while alternatives sources can supplement Columbia’s power, it can never be the main source. He also said that nuclear power should be considered.

During his interview, Schuster emphasized a focus on fundamental principles, despite the changing technology. What it comes down to, he said, is that “when a customer goes to flip a switch, there better be a light.”

The fourth candidate for the board was Steven Tanzey, a banker.

Tanzey admitted he had little experience with Water and Light, though he felt his financial background could help him make a positive contribution. He added that he was a business person and would look at things from an economic perspective.

He said his lack of background would help him go into the position with no biases and told the council that he was willing to learn what he needed to.

“I am a clean slate," Tanzey said. "You can mold me into whatever you like."

Parker ended up receiving five out of the seven total votes. Mayor Darwin Hindman, Councilman Karl Skala, Councilman Jerry Wade, Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe and Councilman Paul Sturtz voted for his appointment.

Councilman Chris Janku voted for Dick Malon and Councilwoman Laura Nauser voted for Steve Tanzey.

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