OPALCO Record Voter Turnout; Lett, Myhr and Bogert Reelected to Board

OPALCO members broke all voting records with a whopping total of 2,577 ballots received (2,480 absentee and 97 on the ferry) – representing 24% of the membership, and surpassing the 2012 previous record of 1,913 ballots cast by 35%. The successful candidates were incumbents Jim Lett and Bob Myhr for District 3, and John Bogert for District 4. The final vote counts in District 3 were: Karp – 974, Lett – 1,188, Myhr – 1,499, Gonce – 440, and Lewis – 728. In District 4, the unopposed incumbent John Bogert received 1,855 votes.

The theme of the 76th annual meeting was “The Next Chapter” of OPALCO’s long story – which included an invitation for members to participate in writing our next chapter. Since technology will be a big part of that chapter, each member received a special ballpoint pen that included a USB flash drive with information on energy efficiency, renewable energy, broadband and the new MyUsage ebill tool. MyUsage helps members monitor and manage their home energy usage. OPALCO members were treated to a healthy and delicious bag lunch by The Galley of Lopez Island.

More than 50 members took home door prizes, including local goods, energy efficiency tools, a Stihl chainsaw, gift certificates, gift baskets, kitchen tools and gardening sets. OPALCO’s vendors donate many of the prizes, and OPALCO purchases others; the total value of the prizes is estimated at about $3,000. OPALCO is required by the Rural Utilities Services (RUS) to hold an annual meeting each year and must have a quorum of 100 members in attendance. There were 231 members present at the annual meeting and a total of 347 people in attendance.

The names of six members who sent in their absentee ballots were drawn for $50 credits on their next OPALCO bills. The six lucky winners are Brian P. Hurley, Mick Foster, Andre Hirss, Warren Odegard, Michael Shaffer and D.N. Kinsey.

On the broadband project, Board President Chris Thomerson emphasized that the Board has not yet made a decision to go forward and encouraged members to engage with us during the upcoming public forums beginning June 12th (more information at energysavings.opalco.com/broadband). “Our vision for broadband,” said Thomerson, “is that all islanders have access to modern telecommunication services, including true high-speed broadband service.” He illustrated how the proposed infrastructure expansion would increase co-op efficiencies on the power side and support economic development for the county. However, Thomerson was clear that the Co-op would not move forward without financial predictability. “While we continue discussions with our community about our hybrid system proposal,” said Thomerson, “we are also exploring possibilities with our local providers including CenturyLink, Rock Island and others. OPALCO will protect the financial health of the cooperative above all other considerations.”

Thomerson recognized the three 2013 Nourdine Jensen Cooperative Youth Scholarship Program winners. Maya Burt-Kidwell (Orcas Island High School), Brodie Miller (Spring Street International School) and Bree Swanson (Lopez Island High School) will each receive a $500 scholarship and an all-expenses-paid trip to the Youth Rally Co-op Leadership Camp at the College of Idaho this summer.

Acting Manager Foster Hildreth gave the “State of the Co-op” address and emphasized the role of efficiency in the next chapter of OPALCO’s story. He explained the tiered rate structure through our contract with Bonneville Power Administration, and he warned that we will begin to see Tier 2 (market) incremental rates as soon as October – more than doubling our power costs for the portion of our power usage that goes beyond our set threshold. Hildreth encouraged members to schedule a Home Snapshot Energy Assessment to learn how they can improve the efficiency of their homes and save money on their bills. Check out the 2013 Annual Report online (energysavings.opalco.com) for more information on rates, energy efficiency and more.

Hildreth applauded the volunteer Member Owned Renewable Energy (MORE) committee for its work in providing incentives for local renewable power in the islands, and he encouraged members to participate by buying blocks of local member-produced green power on their monthly bills. “For just $4 a month, you buy a block of MORE power and support local renewable energy,” Hildreth explained. Local renewable power generation is another key factor in managing our co-op energy load.

Many hands went up when Hildreth asked how many members are currently “rounding up” their power bills for Project PAL. PAL helps members in need during the winter heating season. Hildreth encouraged everyone to do what they can to support PAL. “This is a great expression of the cooperative spirit,” said Hildreth. “It’s members helping members.”

General Manager Randy Cornelius answered questions about OPALCO’s vision for broadband and encouraged members to participate in the upcoming public forums. Members expressed both support for and concerns about the broadband project. Lopez member Chris Greacen said he is supportive of the need for greater access to broadband, but he questioned the financial risk involved with OPALCO’s currently proposed plan. Orcas member Rick Hughes of encouraged members to push OPALCO board and staff to move forward with the broadband project and talked about how important fast Internet service is to his pharmacy business.