Mark Madsen Appointed to OPALCO Board to Fill Vacancy

Friday, September 25th, 2015

The Orcas Power & Light Cooperative (OPALCO) Board of Directors has appointed Mark Madsen of Friday Harbor to fill the District 1 board position vacated by Glenna Hall. Hall stepped down due to health issues in September. Madsen will have the option to run for election as an incumbent in 2017.

“Mark’s expertise in the technology industry and his track record of community service are great assets to the Board,” said Jim Lett, OPALCO Board President. “We had two strong candidates to fill this vacancy – it was a tough decision – and we are very pleased to have Mark join us.”

Madsen brings strong experience in business operations and network engineering for the high-tech industry. He currently serves the community through the San Juan Library District, San Juan County Economic Development Council and the Town of Friday Harbor’s Lodging Tax Advisory Committee. Madsen earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Washington and a Masters in Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The Cooperative is governed by its member-owners who elect a seven-member Board of Directors. There are four districts represented, and Directors must be members in the districts they serve. Elections are held by district on a rotating basis each year at the annual meeting. Directors serve a three-year term and there are no term limits. Vacancies, after a call for candidates is published in local papers and online, are filled by board appointment.

Board meetings are held monthly and are open to co-op members. Notices of each meeting are posted in the local papers and online.

Health Issues Cause OPALCO Board Member to Step Down

Wednesday, August 26th, 2015

OPALCO Board Member Glenna Hall has announced her resignation due to health issues. Hall represents District 1 (San Juan, Brown, Henry, Pearl and Spieden islands). The Board will appoint a new board member to fill the vacancy until Hall’s term is up in 2017, in accordance with our bylaws (Article III, Section 4).

“I want to take this opportunity to praise the Co-op, its members, staff, leadership team, and Board, and to thank the members for allowing me to be part of an organization with an important heritage and a brilliant future,” said Hall.  “I especially hold in esteem my fellow directors, who each have contributed tremendous knowledge and analysis, strongly held opinions of their own, and an ability to work together for the good of the members.”

Members from District 1 interested in filling this vacancy may submit a cover letter and brief resume to: Jim Lett, President, OPALCO Board of Directors, 183 Mt. Baker Rd., Eastsound WA 98245 or via email to Please direct all questions to Bev Madan at 376-3549.  Candidates will be encouraged to attend the September board meeting and the board expects to make an appointment to fill the vacancy in October.

Board meetings are open to the Co-op membership. The September board meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, September 23rd in the Eastsound OPALCO offices.

OPALCO Member Survey on Rates and Funding Priorities

Friday, August 14th, 2015

As OPALCO leadership prepare for the 2016 budget and rate discussions, members are encouraged to give their feedback on rates and funding priorities through an online survey at The survey is open until September 15th.

In addition to soliciting member feedback on rate structure options, the survey addresses how OPALCO should fund incentives for energy efficiency, conservation and renewable power over the next two years. Historically, our funding for these rebate programs has come through Bonneville Power Administration (BPA). Our rebate programs have been so successful that, as of the end of 2015, we will have spent our BPA allocation for rebates through October 2017.  OPALCO will have to consider self-funding for any rebate programs during this two-year interim. The survey describes some possible ways forward and invites member feedback.

Survey results will be published online in November. Member input will inform the direction of the 2016 budget and rate structure decisions.

Members will receive a $5 credit on their OPALCO bills when they complete the survey and include their account number. Survey data is anonymous; the account number is used to avoid duplicates and is then extracted from the data to use in crediting member bills.

Members are encouraged to attend board meetings to join in the conversation – about rates and finance or any of the policy and direction issues that our Board discusses. These meetings are a forum for member commentary and participation.


Monday, June 22nd, 2015

OPALCO and Rock Island are making progress on our promise to improve wireless communications in the field for our line crews and for all first responders. The first five poles have been installed throughout the county, and the remainder (about 38 total) will be completed over the next 12-18 months. These poles will be equipped with radios that will utilize our 700 MHz LTE spectrum to transmit field communications to first responders, electrical system devices and, eventually, end-user Internet connections.

“We have a very skillful and dedicated EMS community in San Juan County,” said Dr. Michael Sullivan, San Juan County EMS Medical Program Director. “But until we improve communications in the field for our first responders, we are limited in our ability to serve those who need us. OPALCO’s commitment to solving this problem is tremendous – no one else has been willing to step up. With the wireless infrastructure in place, everyone will benefit from improved communications and safety.”

Eastsound OPALCO Pole with roofline

Pole installation at OPALCO’s Eastsound office

The County Joint Use Wireless Facilities code prescribes the specifics for implementing the installation of these poles: they must be less than 150’ in height and colored to blend in with their surroundings. Placement of all poles is guided by a Radio Frequency study and existing county road easement locations.

The average height for all of the planned poles is around 80’ – significantly lower than allowed by the County code. Five poles have already been installed at the following locations: OPALCO’s Eastsound office (OI), Spring Point (OI), Mineral Point (SJI), Cape San Juan (SJI) and Cape St. Mary (LI). Other locations will be announced as they are confirmed.

This is a great example of how the two entities, OPALCO and Rock Island, will work together to leverage their resources to maximize the benefits of our cooperative grid control network. In this case, OPALCO is expanding our grid (electricity, fiber and system devices) and deploying the licensed frequency that we purchased in 2014 to reach further into the field. Rock Island is managing the construction and deployment of equipment to utilize the wireless spectrum.

Once the primary goals of field communication and public safety are achieved, Rock Island will begin to offer fixed wireless Internet connections to a limited number of members within range and is in the early stages of development with a vendor who may be able to extend the reach of LTE services in San Juan County.

Fiber connections will always be the first priority for Internet subscribers, as they provide the greatest capacity, but wireless connections will be reserved for members where fiber installation is not feasible.

Letter from the General Manager: June 23, 2015

Monday, June 22nd, 2015

In this month’s Letter from the General Manager:

  • A history of ups and downs
  • Co-ops operate at the cost of service
  • This is our row to hoe
  • We must stay the course
  • Congratulations to Randy Cornelius


Friday, June 19th, 2015

Members Will Pay Monthly Add-On to Recover Under-Charged Bill Amounts

At the June 18 board meeting on Lopez, the Orcas Power & Light Cooperative Board approved a temporary revenue recovery add-on to make up for the current cost-of-service gap and projected revenue shortfall through the end of 2015. The add-on will be applied to all member bills beginning in July, 2015.

“Members have not been paying their full share,” explained Foster Hildreth, General Manager. “They’ve been undercharged because our rates have not collected the true cost of service.”

Residential members will pay an additional one cent per kilowatt hour (kWh) and commercial members will pay just more than a half-cent per kWh. The difference between the residential and commercial add-on is due to the cost-of-service spread: commercial usage is less than 25% of our total system load. The increase will average $8.43 for a residential member with average usage.

“However, the situation is better than we thought,” said Hildreth. “Our first quarter financials came in with less shortfall than anticipated due to lower power purchases from BPA and savings from cutting expenses.” Hildreth reported to the Board that kilowatt-hour sales were down 6.4% through May. The total shortfall projected by year end is $661,000.

The revenue recovery add-on was calculated using the total projected shortfall divided by projected energy sales. The methodology is detailed in a report from EES Consulting in the June 2015 Board Materials, available at The Board has mandated that the shortfall be resolved by the end of the year. The add-on will be discontinued if the shortfall is resolved before the end of the year and no further shortfall is projected.

In addition to keeping a stable margin, this corrective action is required to remain compliant with our federal funder, USDA/Rural Utilities Service (RUS). RUS works closely with utilities to keep financial indicators healthy using a three-year window for review. OPALCO is compliant at this time. More detail about OPALCO’s corrective action plan and financial standing with RUS is available online in the June 2015 Board Materials.