Lewandowski the myth-buster

When oil is not in the headlines, wind and solar energy gets the ink. Renewable energy is seen by some as the fix for a world fouled by carbon emissions. Government subsidies and credits are up for grabs by utilities abandoning fossil fuels and “greening up” their power sources. Most states mandate renewables in their power mix. Oilman T. Boone Pickens has weighed in with his own wind-based plan. Can there be any doubt about the causes and solutions to America’s energy nightmare? Indeed there is some doubt, and in Colorado, world-class skeptics find great comfort in Stan Lewandowski, Jr., General Manager of the Intermountain Rural Electrification Association Cooperative in Sedalia. Larger-than-life, he is a philosophical brother-in-arms to Ayn Rand’s Ellis Wyatt, (Atlas Shrugged), who torched his oil fields rather than knuckle under to government regulations.

Lewandowski is nothing if not colorful on energy. He recently snubbed Governor Ritter’s invitation to join a utility task force seeking ways to reduce carbon emissions. To Stan, Al Gore’s credibility matches that of Saddam Hussein. He views An Inconvenient Truth as a timely fabrication supported by incomplete data and designed purposely to shut off rational debate on global warming. When researching the Kyoto Accords and extrapolating for the unlikely impact of full compliance, Stan’s arithmetic shows a minimal impact (four tenths of one degree Fahrenheit) on global temperatures by the 22nd Century.

So it should come as no surprise that he would routinely quote Oklahoma Senator James Imhofe by saying that the threat of catastrophic climate change is “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people”. It could easily have been his line. Give him a few more minutes and he’ll make a compelling case to prove it too. All this while reliably delivering electricity to Colorado as cheaply as it comes.

Lewandowski is no masked man, but nibbles at the edge of legendary status after 34 years in his IREA position, providing electricity to 137,000 customers in central Colorado. The Polish Catholic son of a union steward out of South Chicago, his working class values are those of Harry Truman’s Democratic Party, his inspiration, the life of John F. Kennedy. More than a few of his relatives were fingerless or amputees who barely survived the rough and tumble industrial life of his neighborhood. His maternal grandmother raised nine children by herself after her husband was killed by a freight train.

Stan’s movement rightward began with a growing disillusionment in his twenties, and he was deeply shaken by JFK’s 1963 assassination. Working the REA’s D.C. beat at the time, he witnessed firsthand, the uneasy crosswinds of change ushered in by Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society entitlement programs. His epiphany moment with the imperious LBJ and his changing party principles is told in a story about Johnson walking across the White House lawn. A marine salutes the President and says, “Your helicopter’s ready sir”. The President’s response is “They’re all my helicopters son”.

Call him a Conservative or a Libertarian; he’ll likely smile at either label. There’s no mistaking his managerial goal: providing reliable electricity at a low cost. IREA never raised it rates from 1982 to 2004 and recently refunded over $9 million to customers. Yet, in an age that ruminates about social justice and egalitarianism, he’ll also tell you that social services are nowhere in his contract to deliver. This impolitic thinking makes Mr. Lewandowski a hot potato in these parts.

He rankles environmentalists with a well-articulated, firmly entrenched belief that coal-fired plants are a critical interim bridge to America’s strategic long-term energy calculus. At the very least, any limitations on the construction of coal-fired plants will exacerbate looming capacity problems, reduce the U.S. standard of living, and have a crippling effect on the economy.

Lewandowski supports nuclear power unequivocally, noting that not one American has ever died from an accident at a nuclear power plant. On the other hand, Stan has a healthy skepticism about the prospects of wind and solar power, seeing them as impractical in the near term and maybe forever. The unvarnished facts are that wind is unreliable, far from power grids, and needs to be backed up by high-cost gas-fired plants to provide uninterruptible service to customers. Wind proponents make no mention of this collateral data. When additional distribution lines are factored into already enhanced capital outlays, project costs can become prohibitive.

The crowning insult to environmental interests was his July 2006 letter sent out to all 900 energy cooperatives in the U.S. It sounded a clarion call, alerting them to the implications of global warming “alarmists” and the attendant economic costs of greenhouse gas regulation and cap and trade schemes. Lewandowski’s arguments were extensive, well-reasoned and backed up by 31,000 other scientists who have rejected outright, the assertion that global warming is a human-controlled, carbon-based phenomenon.

Lewandowski never backs down. Even after his enemies in the green press skewered him for spending IREA cooperative funds to buttress his politico/economic points, he is unbowed. The fire in his eyes is sharply kindled. Maybe it’s just that he’s a grown-up city kid, spoiling for a good fight.

In rejecting the catastrophic impacts of greenhouse gases, Stan uses a non-emotional, clinically frank style buttressed by government and industry statistics. He brings the core argument home as a pocket-book issue, of late harshly criticizing the economic impact of the proposed Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act.

The bill’s basic mechanism allows for the establishment of carbon emission limits for all businesses that are sharply reduced over time. Corporations not in compliance would be required to buy or trade for costly permits to ensure continued operations, the effect of which is an indirect tax transfer that would be passed on to consumers. If the bill passes, Stan cites the following economic consequences in his July Watts and Volts newsletter:

 Household income reductions of up to $7,328 by the year 2030 (U.S. Energy Information Administration).

 A $1.21 Trillion increase in energy prices between 2009-2018 (Congressional Budget Office)

 The loss of 3-4 million jobs and electricity price increases of 77-129% by 2030 (National Association of Manufacturers)

At 70, Stan still delivers jolting roundhouse blows to the opposition. In the same newsletter article, he quotes Vaclav Havel, President of the Czech Republic. “The largest threat to freedom, democracy, the market economy, and prosperity at the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century is no longer socialism. It is, instead, the ambitious, arrogant, unscrupulous ideology of environmentalism”.

Provided he stays robust and his wife and family are in good health, Stan will remain influential, principled, courageous, and perhaps, even victorious. He is not the insensitive maverick his detractors would have you believe. Truth be told, his flip side is a study in compassion and empathy.

Ask any employee, customer, or his union. No arbitration for 15 years and no grievances that anyone remembers either. A remarkable 25% of all employees have over 20 years of tenure, with 12 of them over 30.

A revealing vignette involves an Ethiopian friend, Wondalem Wolde, earlier employed as a doorman. While visiting D.C. years ago, Stan left his room for a cigar. Outdoors, he struck up a conversation with a young immigrant chasing his own American dream. Stan listened intently, gave him his card and told the man to look him up if his vision took him to Colorado. Indeed, it eventually did. Stan got him a job as a meter reader and one later for his wife as a receptionist. Wondalem is now a mechanic and his family successes have allowed him to sponsor 15 other relatives from the impoverished Horn of Africa.

In Douglas County, Stan is still “The Man”, a JFK profile of integrity and balance. His prediction is that global warming and its attendant insanity will collapse under the weight of its own irreconcilable science and economics. While we cannot be absolutely certain he is right, none here doubt him or his principles.

Joe Gschwendtner is a Castle Rock businessman and free-lance writer.