Colorado Springs Utilities’ top job as CEO was offered Monday to Aram Benyamin, general manager of the enterprise’s Energy Supply Department, after a unanimous vote by the Utilities board of directors.
“I’m a happy man,” said Benyamin, who has worked for Utilities since 2015. “I’m honored, humbled, all of those emotions that come with this responsibility. And we will work very hard to make sure that everybody’s proud of this utility.”
Several members of the board, which also serves as the City Council, acknowledged that selecting the Utilities CEO might be the most important decision they make. Benyamin will replace Jerry Forte, who stepped down in May after more than 12 years.
Benyamin was one of three finalists from an original pool of about 130 applicants. The other finalists were Mark Gabriel, administrator and CEO of the Western Area Power Administration, and Eric Tharp, Utilities acting CEO and chief energy services officer.
All three participated in public interviews Monday, fielding questions about their qualifications, education, short- and long-term priorities and what changes they might seek.
Benyamin cited his decades of utility experience. Before coming to Colorado Springs, he spent about 35 years with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, ultimately serving as senior assistant general manager of the power system, overseeing 4,000 employees and an annual budget of $3.9 billion. Benyamin is a licensed professional engineer. He has a bachelor’s degree in engineering and master’s degrees in business administration and public administration.
“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.
He also said he wants to ensure that Utilities has a productive working relationship with the city and that it keeps its dedicated workforce while attracting the “best and brightest” new employees.
“I think what clinched it today, the thing I want to ensure, is that the CEO has a good working relationship with the city,” said board member Jill Gaebler.
Board member Bill Murray called Benyamin “employee-centric” and said he appreciated the candidate’s penchant for community engagement. Plus, a rash of emails from people after the selection process “clearly show Aram as the person they feel more comfortable with,” Murray said.
Board member Richard Skorman said he has appreciated Benyamin’s energy, work ethic and ability to solve problems.
“You want to have the person that is going to be in there working with the crews,” Skorman said. “He’s going to be up there at 5 in the morning. He’s going to be making sure things are being done in the right way. He’s going to be that worker CEO who is going to roll up their sleeves and be involved every day in making this a great organization.”
Board members thanked and praised the finalists. Several said they couldn’t have made a wrong decision because all three candidates were so qualified.
When Benyamin will take the position is to be announced soon, a news release says. His salary hasn’t been set. Forte’s was $447,200 when he retired.