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RBC I On Oct. 1, Dick Welle will no longer be standing by the window of his second-story office, overlooking the domain that has filled his life for 38 years. On that date, he is stepping down as general manager of White River Electric Association (WREA).
“I have had a wonderful career, I have worked with and met a lot of wonderful people, I have seen this industry change a lot in the last 40 years and I am done,” he said. “It is time for me to go.”
Welle moved here with his family in 1968, just in time for him to turn around and put in two tours of duty in Vietnam, returning in 1972. He had been accepted for entry into Mesa College in the fall, but Roger Purdy stopped him one day and the two spoke, Welle said. Because Welle was a veteran, not because he knew anything about electricity, Purdy offered him a job.
“Roger hired me as a ground man, and I progressed through the company,” Welle said. “I have held nine different job titles with the co-op and each one was interesting and rewarding in its own way.”
Welle’s mother, Doris, still lives in Meeker; his father died in 1979 after a lengthy illness.
“That’s the reason we moved here in the first place,” Welle said. “We lived in Denver before moving here and we moved because the Front Range was tough on Dad’s health.”
Welle met his wife, Cindy, in 1972 and they were married in 1973. They had two sons – the oldest, Tim, died 10 years ago, and Jack. Jack and his wife, Abby, have two children in Sarah, 6, and Trysta, 2.
Asked what he feels was his biggest success since taking over as general manager of WREA in 2001, following Joe Holeyfield, Welle was quick to point out that it isn’t his success alone, but many people’s success within the electric co-op that the company was able to deal with the county’s population/employment explosion from 2007 through 2011.
“When the boom began, we were challenged with building the co-op up to handle the rush, and several people should get credit for that,” he said. “Our need was to serve the customer and we had a heck of a time getting that done — but we did.
“We had to expand our lines, our personnel and our overall operation to upsize in order to do what needed to be done,” he said. “We all did a great job in a short time, and the overall effort made by everyone really makes me proud.”
Welle said the company grew from an 18-megawatt system in 2007 to 130 megawatts by 2011. In the same timeframe, business soared from $5 million in sales in 2007 to $65 million in 2011.
“That, by any business standards, is incredible growth,” Welle said. “And since then, the company has stayed fairly stable. We’ve seen small dips and then small rises, but we have pretty well remained stable the last two years despite the drop in business and population since the peak in 2011.”
Regarding personal successes, Welle is proud that he was able to rise to the head of a multi-million-dollar association through the “boots to suits” method, meaning he started at the bottom and got to the top without benefit of a college education or diploma.
“This is a tough way to rise through any corporation and even tougher now,” he said. “But it can still be done. I believe I have had a great career although it was filled with challenges, mandates and regulations — and it will continue to get even tougher.”
Customer satisfaction is another topic that brings pride to Welle and his co-workers.
“Every three years a national customer satisfaction survey is done,” Welle said. “In the last survey, we came in No. 2 in the nation with a 92 percent satisfaction rating from our co-op customers.
“This company gives customer relations a very high priority, and I am very proud of our relationship with our customers,” he said.
“We may not fare as well next time due to the fact that Gov. Jon Hickenlooper signed Senate Bill 13-252, which will raise our rates because of what we will have to pay for the electricity. It won’t be this company hiking rates but the necessary rate increase pass-through brought about by the law because it is going to cost us more to buy electricity in the first place.”
Regarding frustrations, Welle said, “There are many. Most importantly we need affordable, reliable electricity. We can all agree to some extend on global warming, but when you add the politics involved, a true lack of science involved and an incredible array of regulations by the feds and the state, it becomes almost too much to deal with.
“I felt a lot of optimism with Gov. Hickenlooper; his background has served the state well,” Welle said regarding SB-252. “I believe he may have higher political hopes and he needs business backing from the Front Range for that.
“SB 252 was pushed quickly and quietly through at the end of the (legislative) session,” he added. “We know he had misgivings on SB-252, and he did the right thing in addressing the bill.
“However, I don’t agree with him signing what he knew was flawed legislation into law,” Welle said. “There are several major gaps in the law and we have strong hopes that in the next legislative session, the bill will be fixed.”
Welle is concerned about the short-term effects.
“We in the rural areas of Colorado could see some major increases over a very short time frame,” he said. “We know that wind power is affordable; solar is not — more technology is needed.
“What we don’t need is another mandate from the state,” he said. “There is already research going on, and we co-ops will work to do what we can to fix SB-252 and to deliver power as economically as possible.”
Regarding Welle’s future, full and immediate retirement won’t become a reality for a while.
“I will continue to consult for the co-op for a while and work with Tri-State (WREA is one of 44 co-ops in Colorado that own Tri-State),” Welle said. “We will be staying in Meeker although we may visit the southern climates during the winter.
“My career here in Meeker and with WREA has been such an honor and pleasure,” he said. “It has been a very challenging career but just as rewarding.
“It is time to go,” he said. “I have wanted to do more fishing and relaxing.
“We have a good mix of members on the WREA board; they are younger in age and you can see the changes in their mindset,” Welle said. “The co-op is in good hands, and I see a good choice in Alan Michalewicz to take over on Oct. 1. He will be here in August, so I expect him to be fully ready to jump right in and lead WREA where it needs to go in the future.”