Water and Light director resigns to take position in Michigan

Thursday, November 1, 2007 | 6:50 p.m. CDT; updated 10:02 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008
Dan Dasho, director of Columbia Water and Light.

COLUMBIA — As Columbia seeks to navigate a rapidly changing energy market and rising energy costs, it’s losing the man at the helm. Dan Dasho, director of Water and Light, announced his resignation Thursday morning at the monthly Water and Light Advisory Board meeting.

Dasho is leaving to become general manager and executive vice president of Cloverland Electric Cooperative near Sault Ste. Marie in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. His last day on the job in Columbia will be Dec. 31.

“Dan was a very positive force with the department and city,” said City Manager Bill Watkins. “He was extremely effective in looking at sources of green and alternative energy, as well as innovative conservation programs.”

Watkins and the Columbia City Council will conduct a national search to find a replacement but in the meantime will hire an interim director. Dasho manages Columbia’s electric and water utilities and the Columbia Terminal Railroad.

It was a combination of location and opportunity that prompted the move, Dasho said. His new home is surrounded by three of the Great Lakes. Cloverland’s large energy system and the unique challenges it faces persuaded him and his wife to relocate.

“It is a unique opportunity,” he said, repeating “unique” several times in his short announcement to the board.

“We won’t hold that against you,” John Conway, chairman of the Water and Light Advisory Board, said half-jokingly.

Dasho said the appeal of the position includes the challenge of serving energy customers on islands in Lake Huron through underground and underwater power lines and managing the significant hydroelectric energy supply of Cloverland. Thirty-five percent of Cloverland’s energy supply is renewable, generated from the water that flows from Lake Superior into Lake Huron.

Dasho also was noticeably excited when discussing the boats and snowmobiles that are standard operating equipment at Cloverland.

“I’m taking my skis and snowshoes,” he said.

Just after the meeting, Dasho chatted with members about life in snow country and the challenges of driving in areas where one can’t see over the snowbanks that line the road.

Dasho assumed his Columbia post in February 2004, succeeding Dick Malon. It was a very interesting and critical time for Columbia’s energy system, the year Water and Light began a complicated and expensive relationship with the Midwest Independent System Operator. Voters in November of that year also approved a renewable energy mandate requiring that Columbia harness increasing amounts of its energy from renewable sources.

So far, the city is way ahead of the goals set by that mandate. By early next year, Columbia expects to be receiving 5 percent of its energy from renewable sources, specifically landfill gas and wind energy, roughly four years ahead of schedule.

Voters under Dasho’s tenure also approved by a nearly 9-to-1 majority a $60 million electric bond issue in 2006. The city also conducted a future power supply study, signed contracts with power plant operators IATAN II and Prairie State and has embarked on an “integrated resource plan” designed to determine how best to meet future energy demand and promote conservation.

The water utility has also expanded under Dasho. Specifically, he oversaw the expansion of the water treatment plant and the addition of a new 36-inch water main that together have boosted the city’s water capacity to 32 million gallons per day.

The Water and Light Department has a budget of nearly $140 million for fiscal 2008. It is the largest of the city’s enterprise funds.

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