When it comes to technology, John Gavan is pretty smart.
Few people in Delta County understand more than Gavan the positive repercussions of last week's announcement that Delta-Montrose Electric Association will move forward with providing high-speed broadband Internet throughout its service area. "This decision is the most important one made by DMEA since it was founded in 1938," said Gavan. That's when then Delta-Montrose Rural Power Lines Association began stringing power lines to provide electricity to sparsely-populated areas. "This will have incredibly positive impacts for our county and towns."
Gavan is a DMEA board member representing the electric cooperative's service area north of the Montrose-Delta County line. He's been involved in bringing broadband access to the area for more than three years and credits DMEA's staff and board and "engaged community members" for making it all happen.
"I'm bullish on Delta County," says Gavan. "I think if we can solve the broadband problem, we can really write a new equation for the future."
Gavan, 59, discovered the world of technology early in life. He taught himself Morse code at age 12 and became a licensed amateur (ham) radio operator.
"I like to say we've gone through some very interesting times," said Gavan, whose technical career set sail in 1978 while serving in the U.S. Navy. At the time, "The world was moving from analog to digital," and the Navy was transitioning its ship computers to digital. Gavan served as an engineering and communications officer on a guided missile destroyer until re-entering civilian life in 1983, where digital conversion was exploding.
Post-Navy, Gavan spent 18 years at MCI Communications. Technology was rapidly changing. While at MCI, the communications protocols, known as TCP/IP, were co-designed by Gavan's co-worker, Vint Cerf, recognized as one of the "fathers of the Internet."
The mid-90s saw a big shift from wired to wireless networking, which paved the way for cell phones and other devices now part of daily life.
Gavan specialized in fraud control and has his name on seven related patents. The most interesting, he said, is a control system design using artificial intelligence to recognize patterns in call records that can identify possible fraud-related activity. That patent, said Gavan, led to the development of "Sheriff," a system that was adopted by the CIA and others after 9/11 and remains in use today.
MCI ended up in what is considered the second-largest bankruptcy in U.S. history, said Gavan. "It was horrible." The company was dismantled and sold off and Gavan was out of a job. In 2004 he headed to NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C., working as information technology manager under a contract with Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC).
At NASA, he was first introduced to cyber security. "That was a real trip," says Gavan, At the time, NASA.gov was the third-most hacked website in the world and "was under constant assault." On-line security was a huge issue. "A lot of interesting work went into protecting that network."
In 2005 he was recruited by GXS Corporation, considered the leader in business-to-business, or B2B technology. He served as director of the project management office, retiring in 2011 -- or at least he intended to retire.
While at GXS, Gavan and Chris, his wife of 32 years, were living in Colorado Springs and looking for a small town to retire in when a friend suggested Paonia. In 2008 he and Chris bought a 10-acre farm and run-down farmhouse near town. They intended to restore the house, but scrapped the project, instead taking two years to build a "net zero" energy-efficient home designed by Gavan.
During construction, they used the Paonia Library's public computers to transfer and receive the architect's files. That connection led Gavan to a job as Delta County Libraries IT manager -- a position he held until last fall.
Gavan also joined the board of directors of Delta County Economic Development (DCED) and is also on the board of Paonia-based Solar Energy International (SEI).
The solar energy industry "is poised to take off," and will soon be a $1 trillion industry, said Gavan. SEI, an educational non-profit with more than 45,000 alumni, is currently focusing on how to deliver the courses needed to remain relevant "as the industry matures and becomes a big part of the national power supply."
SEI's Solarize North Fork program, launched in 2015, has been "incredibly successful," said Gavan. In its first year SEI installed 22 new solar systems, representing 125 kilowatts of power and more than $400,000 in local investment.
DCED recently approached SEI about expanding the solar program to all of Delta County. At the same time DMEA is considering a similar program. Gavan sees everyone coming together on the effort, which could include low-interest financing options. The cost of solar systems can be a barrier, said Gavan. With affordable financing, "it's a whole different dynamic."
Delta County's energy future looks good, said Gavan, who also chairs DMEA's Engineering, Construction and Renewable Energy Committee. A 2015 federal ruling will allow the co-op to generate more energy than its contractual 5-percent limit. They plan to break ground on the first project, a 150-kilowatt solar array, this year. With options including wind, macro and micro hydro, and coal bed methane recovery, "It's such an incredible opportunity," said Gavan. A program he foresees wherein the Delta-Montrose area would generate 50 percent of its power by 2025 using local renewable energy sources is "entirely do-able."
As for the next big shift in technology, in the not-too-distant future, said Gavan, people will be connected 100 percent of the time through the "Internet of Things." The IoT allows for controlling of physical objects via a network. Users already control things like thermostats and home security systems from smart phones or iPads, and from anywhere in the world. That technology is leading to smart grids, smart homes, smart cars, and even smart cities. Because the technology requires the Internet, it also requires a lot of bandwidth, which Delta County will now have, thanks to broadband efforts and a $5.4 million grant from Region 10.
"Just think how exciting it will be if we can bring all this together for Delta County," said Gavan. "I believe that this could be a game-changer for our economy while also improving quality of life."