@CSUtilities extends CEO contract offer to Aram Benyamin

Here’s the release from Colorado Springs Utilities:

Board extends offer for CEO

In an open session on Sept. 17, the Utilities Board unanimously voted to extend an offer to Aram Benyamin to be the next Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Colorado Springs Utilities.

Nearly 130 candidates from across the United States submitted their resumes for consideration. In June, the Utilities Board reviewed the top candidates and determined which candidates should complete advanced screening. In July, the Board reviewed the information and selected seven candidates to proceed as semifinalists.

Over the last few weeks, the full Utilities Board conducted seven semi-finalist interviews with internal and external candidates. Deliberations on who would be moving on as finalists were concluded prior to the Aug. 22 Board meeting.

As part of the process, there were opportunities for employees and the public to meet the CEO finalists and provide feedback to the Board. The Utilities Board incorporated the feedback they received from employees and the public and considered the information as they interviewed the candidates.

Aram Benyamin, P.E.
General Manager of Energy Supply
Colorado Springs Utilities

Aram Benyamin currently serves as the General Manager of the Energy Supply Department at Colorado Springs Utilities.

Prior to Colorado Springs Utilities, Mr. Benyamin was the Senior Assistant General Manager, head of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s (LADWP) power system, the nation’s largest municipal utility.

At LADWP, Mr. Benyamin was responsible for 4,000 employees with an annual budget of $3.9 billion, serving more than four million residents of Los Angeles.

LADWP’s power system spans over four states. It includes 7,327 megawatts of generation capacity, 3,507 miles of high-voltage 500, 230 and 138 kV AC transmission lines, two 900 miles of 500 kV DC lines and a 465 square mile area of overhead and underground power distribution network.

Mr. Benyamin is a Professional Engineer and has a bachelor’s of science degree in engineering from California State University, Los Angeles. He also has a master’s degree in business administration (MBA) from University of La Verne and a master’s degree in public of administration (MPA) from California State University, Northridge.

He has also earned a Certificate, Senior Executives in State and Local Government, Harvard University, Kennedy School of Government; Certificate, Executive Business Management Program, University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), Anderson School of Management; Certificate, Engineering and Technical Management, UCLA; Certificate, Business Management Program, UCLA; Certificate, Leadership for the 21st Century, UCLA; Certificate, Total Quality Management, UCLA; Certificate, Construction Management, UCLA.

Mr. Benyamin’s current and past board member and trustee affiliations include YMCA Downtown Colorado Springs Board Member, Armenian General Benevolent Union, Worldwide District Committee Board Member, Boys and Girls Scouts commissioner, troop committee member and volunteer, Trustee of Joint Safety and Training Institutes, Southern California Public Power Association board member, Large Public Power Council board member and California Municipal Utilities Association board member.

  • View Mr. Benyamin’s resume.
  • See Mr. Benyamin written responses to interview questions.
  • Read Mr. Benyamin’s video interview transcript.
  • From The Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

    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.

    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…

    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.

    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.

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Conrad Swanson):

    “My short-term vision is to take a look at the organization and kind of recalibrate the vision of what a public utility should be and how a public utility should fit into the vision of the city itself,” Benyamin said.

    Long-term goals include identifying what fuel changes Utilities will face and examining the water supply and transmission, he said.

    Benyamin said he wants to insert leadership that will boost revenues while maintaining competitive rates. He also foresees increasing renewable energy production and energy storage.

    “Renewables and storage are the trend of the future,” he said. “That’s where we’re going.”

    Technology for storage and renewable energy, such as wind and solar, are becoming more efficient and affordable, Benyamin said. Combining those two factors with improved distribution of electricity will enable Utilities to be more versatile, he said.

    The coal-fired Martin Drake Power Plant downtown is to be closed no later than 2035, but Benyamin said that date could be moved up significantly with more technology, storage and transmission options.

    Colorado Springs with the Front Range in background. Photo credit Wikipedia.

    “The deal means another 7,500 shares of water will be leaving Bent County in the future…And that’s a step toward drying up that county” — Jay Winner

    Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Peter Roper):

    A water-sharing agreement between Colorado Springs Utilities and an Arkansas Valley water management group would give that city access to an additional 2,100 acre feet of Arkansas River water a year — an agreement that concerns some regional water users.

    That would be in addition to the 50 million gallons of Arkansas River water that Colorado Springs gets each day through the Southern Delivery Service pipeline from Lake Pueblo.

    “The deal means another 7,500 shares of water will be leaving Bent County in the future,” argued Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservation District. “And that’s a step toward drying up that county.”

    According to news reports, what Colorado Springs has done is buy 2,500 shares of water from Arkansas River Farms, a Littleton-based agriculture company. That purchase makes it a member of the Lower Arkansas Water Management Association.

    That’s a nonprofit group of Arkansas River water users. Essentially, it has the job of seeing that water pumped up from groundwater wells is replaced into the river.

    The deal that Colorado Springs wants approved calls for a shared use of its 2,500 shares of water between the management group and the city. Over a 10-year-period, the city would have the use of that water for five years, with the management group getting it the other five years.

    City officials have said the shared-use plan would help guarantee Colorado Springs has additional water supplies in drought years.

    A spokesman for the water management group said the deal would require Colorado Springs to pay for additional storage near Lamar for those years when the city is using the water.

    Officials with Colorado Springs Utilities have fended off complaints that this might dry up areas in the Arkansas Valley by noting that the water management group would share authority over the water.

    Winner said it is likely his organization, the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservation District, will intervene when the question comes before a state water court for approval. That is likely to be a few years away, he acknowledged.

    The next step for the water-sharing plan is to get the approval of the Fort Lyon Canal Co. The water management group has been buying water from that company for its augmentation program and Fort Lyon currently doesn’t allow its water to be routed to cities.

    The second step is to get approval from the state water court, which will review any deal to ensure that no other water rights are damaged.

    Otero Pump Station diversion to be replaced by @AuroraWater and @CSUtilities

    The dam on Homestake Creek that forms Homestake Reservoir. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journailsm

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Rachel Riley):

    The $9 million project will replace an intake and diversion structure and install a fish passage and boat chute on what is considered the last non-navigable stretch of the river between Leadville and Cañon City, according to a Thursday news release from the local utility provider.

    Once the project is completed, skilled whitewater boaters, including rafters and kayakers, will be able to traverse the span of river near Clear Creek Reservoir without portaging…

    Aurora Water, [Colorado Springs Utilities] is also financing construction on the project, and grants from Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Colorado Water Conservation Board are providing about $1.2 million.

    The stone diversion, south of Granite, was constructed in 1964 as the original intake for the Otero Pump Station a few miles north of Buena Vista. At the time, river recreation was not considered during the design process, said Brian McCormick, a senior project engineer for Colorado Springs Utilities.

    “This project will bring this diversion and this site up to modern design standards, including the addition of facilities for recreational boating,” McCormick said.

    “This is a real nice example of really balancing both the demands we place on the river for water supply and for recreation.”

    The structure is now a backup intake for the pump station, which is served by water from nearby Twin Lakes, he said. It is part of the Homestake Project, a partnership between Aurora Water and Colorado Springs Utilities to move water from west of the Continental Divide eastward to the two Front Range cities.

    The project, slated for completion in November 2019, will affect about 400 feet of the river. Construction in the river is expected to begin after Labor Day weekend, McCormick said.

    The fish passage, also known as a fish ladder, will allow brown and rainbow trout to swim upstream past the diversion when they spawn, he said.

    The boat chute will be a channel on one side of the river made up of a series of drops and pools to get the boats safely past the structure, McCormick said.

    Commercial outfitters raft the stretch now, but they must portage to get around the diversion, with its jagged concrete and exposed steel, said Rob White, park manager of the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area.

    The project will add “a nice stretch of whitewater possibilities” for adventure-seekers ready for rapids ranked Class III and above, White said.

    Utilities and Aurora Water staff members have spent more than a decade developing the project. The Pueblo Board of Water Works is donating easements needed to build and maintain the diversion, according to the news release.

    The AHRA Clear Creek North Recreation Site will be closed during the project, but the Clear Creek South Recreation Site will remain open, the release says.

    Reservoir releases are bolstering #ArkansasRiver streamflow

    Headwaters of the Arkansas River basin. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journlaism

    From KOAA.com:

    “This year has been a particularly challenging year. Not the best of snowpacks and an extremely hot and dry spring and summer,” said Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area, Manager, Rob White. It means the water level in the river could be at its lowest in decades for this time of year. The solution is supplemental water from reservoirs.

    This week water from Colorado Springs Utilities reservoir storage is going into the river to help make it through next week. The middle of August typically ends the peak season along the river. “It looked like we may not have a large enough bucket to make it to the 15th,” said Echo Canyon River Expeditions, Owner, Andy Neinas, “That’s where the cooperation and coordination among so many water owners and water providers really came to save the day for many of us.”

    The rivers natural flow is supplemented every summer through agreements with the Bureau of Reclamation. This year even more water was needed. Colorado Parks and Wildlife made a deal with Pueblo Water earlier in the summer.

    Colorado Springs Utilities agreed to help this week. CSU will send water from storage at Twin Lakes to storage in Pueblo Reservoir.

    It is good for rafting and also fishing. The fish population can be threatened when the water gets too low and too warm.

    “What we’ve come to understand with climate change is that hydrology is expected to take a turn for the worst” — Pat Wells

    Colorado Springs Collection System via Colorado College.

    From The Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

    olorado Springs Utilities is trumpeting a water-sharing deal involving several parties in the Lower Arkansas River Valley. The agreement is the first of its kind in the state, aligns with the Colorado Water Plan’s edict to share water among users and helps the city secure a water supply for decades to come.

    But several people in the valley are skeptical, saying the agreement could transfer irrigation water for crops, much like the so-called “buy and dry” deals of the 1970s and 1980s that exported Crowley County farmers’ water rights held in mountain lakes to municipalities along the Front Range, thereby decimating agriculture.

    “Any time water leaves the lower valley it’s a great concern,” says former Bent County Commissioner Bill Long, who’s advising current commissioners on the matter.

    But Springs Utilities officials say it’s another step toward assuring adequate water supplies for the city’s population, which is expected to swell to 740,000 people by 2070. Despite the 2016 activation of the controversial Southern Delivery System water pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir, the city needs more water, they say.

    “We are exploring developing additional supplies from the Arkansas River basin to diversify our portfolio,” Pat Wells, Springs Utilities’ general manager of water resources and demand management, says. “We are acquiring these water rights as a first step to plan for the future.”

    Essentially, the complicated deal gives Utilities access to 2,000 acre feet of water — more than enough for 4,000 households per year — for five out of 10 years from water rights held by the Lower Arkansas Water Management Association. LAWMA, which is entitled to use the water for the other five years, is a member-owned nonprofit that replaces water to the Arkansas River for its members’ depletions caused by irrigation pumping.

    The city bought 2,500 LAWMA shares owned by Arkansas River Farms at $3,500 per share, or $8.75 million. The city also paid LAWMA $1.75 million for 500 acre feet of water storage in a former gravel pit in the Lamar area, giving LAWMA flexibility to manage its water rights.

    Utilities can place a call on the water any February for that year, and LAWMA is allowed to say “no” for one year in 10. Utilities would take the water through a series of exchanges that involve Pueblo Reservoir.

    As Utilities senior project manager Scott Lorenz says, “LAWMA is betting that by doing the deal with CSU they will not only immediately benefit from the 2,000 acre feet in five out of 10 years, but they will also have set in place a replicable model that will allow them to further increase their water portfolio.”

    Don Higbee, LAWMA general manager, described it this way in a news release: “We will gain a more reliable water supply that will increase crop yields for the average shareholder in both wet and dry years. If we are collaborating with municipalities for water, we are not competing with them for water. The alternative is we risk buy and dry, which permanently removes water from the valley. This agreement keeps water in the valley.”

    […]

    Exporting water, even periodically, makes Mauch nervous, because the 113-mile-long canal serves 94,000 irrigated acres between La Junta and Lamar. Those acres are owned by roughly 200 farmers. “It remains to be seen how it works out for the Fort Lyon Canal, Bent County and the neighbors,” [Dale Mauch] says.

    That’s because there are ancillary promises tied to the deal. Arkansas River Farms, which sold water rights as part of the Utilities plan, has vowed to revegetate acreage left without water in the years Utilities uses it, Long says. The farming operation also has said it would build a $40 million dairy and a commercial tomato greenhouse, erect irrigation sprinklers to more efficiently water their acreage in dry years and plant native grasses, as well as provide Bent County a $1.7 million letter of credit and some cash to cover lost property taxes. Property taxes are lower on dryland acreage than irrigated.

    “If they [Arkansas River Farms] fulfill their commitments, then it will have success for both parties,” Long says. “If they do not complete revegetations and they do not do the economic mitigation they propose, then we’ll be sorely disappointed and definitely on the short end of the stick.

    “The commissioners understand things change,” Long adds, “and we need to use water more efficiently down here, and what Arkansas River Farms has proposed will provide that. If they don’t deliver, I think it would be difficult to do another one like this one.”

    And that’s important, because Lorenz says valley water-rights owners and Utilities hope the LAWMA agreement is just the beginning.

    Many water users want to explore such agreements, Lorenz says, as they try to secure supplies amid climate change, which adds uncertainty to how much water is available in any given year.

    “The partnership allows them [LAWMA] to start to meet that gap both through the additional water and storage,” he says. “If this project is successful CSU will have a path forward to acquire part of the water it needs in the future, as will LAWMA. When it comes to developing future water supply, the status quo isn’t working.”

    The Colorado Water Plan specifically calls for water sharing, dubbed “alternative water transfers,” which will benefit agriculture and municipal users. The goal, it says, is to seek contributions from the farming industry while “maximizing options for alternatives to permanent agricultural dry-up.”

    In other words, Lorenz notes, “The state of Colorado says, ‘Work things out, so we don’t have to impose things on you.’ This is the first shot at that.”

    Utilities gets most of its water from the Western Slope through trans-mountain transfers, but one of those sources, the Colorado River Basin, isn’t producing water to adequately supply the appropriations already committed to.

    “There is increased competition for limited water supplies, and our existing system has not yielded as much as we thought back in 1996,” when the SDS project was first conceived, Wells says.

    Noting that Utilities used to consult the historical record and assume the past would repeat in the future, Wells says, “What we’ve come to understand with climate change is that hydrology is expected to take a turn for the worst, so we’re mitigating our risk for our customers.”

    The deal with LAWMA now goes to water court for approval, although Utilities can use the water pending that approval. That’s good, Lorenz notes, because drought conditions might require Utilities to call on the water as early as next year.

    Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters

    @CSUtilities and the Lower Ark work out long-term water sharing agreement

    Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters

    From The Prowers Journal (Russ Baldwin):

    The Lower Arkansas Water Management Association (LAWMA) Board has announced it will participate in a permanent water sharing agreement with Colorado Springs Utilities.

    LAWMA and Colorado Spring Utilities have discussed ways to continue their long-term arrangement of water sharing. The agreement would allow Colorado Springs Utilities to acquire 2,500 LAWMA water shares from an existing LAWMA member and take deliveries in 5 out of 10 years. The boards of both entities have voted to approve the agreement.

    “This is a very positive arrangement for LAWMA shareholders,” said Don Higbee, LAWMA general manager. “We will gain a more reliable water supply that will increase crop yields for the average shareholder in both wet and dry years.”

    Colorado Springs Utilities purchased the water shares for $3,500 per share. Utilities will take delivery of that water in only 5 out of 10 years. In non-delivery years, other LAWMA members will receive the water, effectively increasing the per-share yield of each LAWMA share…

    The next step in the process is to obtain a water court decree formally changing the shares to be used for municipal and augmentation use.

    Colorado Springs Utilities has been working with agricultural water entities in the Lower Arkansas Valley through short term, informal agreements for decades.

    Over the past two decades, it leased 23,000 acre-feet of water to LAWMA and 33,150 acre-feet of water to Fort Lyon Canal Company. In addition, Colorado Springs Utilities also has provided 20,000 acre feet of water to Colorado Parks and Wildlife for use in John Martin Reservoir in Bent County.

    “We are interested in water sharing agreements with the agricultural community and have been involved in leasing agreements since the 2002 drought,” said Pat Wells, General Manager, Water Resources, Colorado Springs Utilities. “Utilities has had successful, informal water sharing agreements with LAWMA for many years. This is an extension of that proven relationship.”

    “This arrangement continues LAWMA’s positive long-term relationship with Colorado Springs Utilities. They have a proven track record leasing water to us at very reasonable rates,” said Higbee.

    As part of the agreement, Colorado Springs Utilities will also reimburse LAWMA $1.75 million for 500 acre-feet of water storage. This storage will give LAWMA added flexibility to manage its water rights both in times of drought and excess. In the years LAWMA receives the water, it can be stored for future use. In the years Utilities receives the water, LAWMA members will be able to rely on the stored water to maintain steady irrigation.

    “If we are collaborating with municipalities, we are not competing with them for water. The alternative is we risk buy and dry, which permanently removes water from the valley,” Higbee explained. “This project helps us avoid that.”

    @CSUtilities: Expanding our renewable energy portfolio #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    Colorado Springs with the Front Range in background. Photo credit Wikipedia.

    From From the ReSources Blog (Amy T.)

    We are excited to announce the start of two utility-scale solar projects that will significantly increase our amount of renewable energy to power the Pikes Peak Region.

    “We are committed to offering our customers a cleaner, more diverse and affordable energy portfolio to power their homes and businesses,” says John Romero, general manager of Energy Acquisition Engineering and Planning.
    The two projects totaling 95 megawatts will add enough solar energy to power about 30,000 homes annually and increase our solar energy offering to 130 megawatts. Combined with hydro power, our renewable energy portfolio will total about 15 percent of our summer generating capacity when the projects come online.

    The peak use of electricity in Colorado Springs typically occurs in the afternoon on hot, sunny days. This high use coincides with the prime time for solar generation.

    “The contribution of solar energy to our grid during these peak times is extremely valuable,” explains Romero. “These projects will enable us to have a clean source of generation that decreases the demand on our grid and provides a fixed price for energy over the next 20 years.”

    We will purchase the energy generated by both projects combined for less than $31 per megawatt hour.

    Palmer Solar Project
    We signed a 20-year contract with Colorado-based renewable energy company juwi Inc. (juwi) to supply us with renewable energy from the Palmer Solar Project totaling 60 megawatts.

    The approximately 500-acre site selected for this project is part of Woodmoor Water and Sanitation District’s property, located in El Paso County. juwi will be responsible for developing, building and operating the facility planned to come online by December 2020.

    “Working with Springs Utilities has been a first-rate experience, and we’re grateful for their commitment to bring safe, clean, cost-effective and reliable energy to their customers,” says Mike Martin, juwi’s president and CEO. “We’re especially excited to be building once again in our home state, and we look forward to our continued relationship with Springs Utilities, the landowners and El Paso County as we operate the facility over the coming decades.”

    Grazing Yak Project
    We signed a 25-year contract with NextEra Energy Resources (NextEra), the largest generator of solar and wind power in North America, to supply us with renewable energy from the Grazing Yak Project totaling 35 megawatts.

    The approximately 270-acre site selected for this project located south of Calhan, Colo. NextEra will be responsible for developing, building and operating the facility planned to come online in late 2019.

    “We are pleased to work with our partners at Springs Utilities to develop another solar energy center,” says Kevin Gildea, vice president of development, NextEra. “Once operational, this project will provide an important source of additional tax revenue for the county and will generate cost-effective, home-grown solar energy for Springs Utilities customers for years to come.”