OPALCO is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year, and as we approach the annual meeting, we are also electing directors from District 1, covering San Juan, Henry, Pearl, Brown, and Spieden Islands.
We are Mark Madsen and Vince Dauciunas. We currently serve as the district 1 board members and are running for election. Two weeks ago, we had the opportunity to meet and talk with members at the candidate forums, hosted on each island. Since not everyone can attend those forums, we want to take the opportunity to share some of our ideas about OPALCO, the progress that we have made during our terms, and what the important issues are for members and the co-op.
OPALCO, and its wholly-owned subsidiary, Rock Island Communications, are in a strong position as we begin 2017:
• The submarine cable between Lopez and San Juan islands will be replaced in 2017 and will provide for our power and communications needs for decades to come.
• The co-op strengthened its ability to purchase power, invest in renewables, and negotiate with Bonneville Power by joining PNGC, a consortium of rural electrical co-ops that share our challenges and approach to community power.
• Rock Island added over 2000 new customers, more than 115 miles of distribution fiber, 75 percent of the planned LTE wireless internet/T-Mobile installations are complete, and RIC averages adding 7-8 new customers every day. Rock Island is on track to break even in mid-2018 and be profitable thereafter.
• 40kW of solar panel capacity has been added at 4 schools, with our first community solar project and large-scale battery storage coming in 2018.
• A new Energy Assistance Program complements Project PAL by working with county social services and local nonprofits.
• The election process has been strengthened and examined by the board with strong feedback from the community
• OPALCO’s financial position is good, with TIER (the measure of our ability to repay our loans) rising to 3.24, equity as a percentage of capitalization of 48.7% (higher than most of our peer cooperatives), and borrowing for projects in 2016 reduced by almost half because Rock Island repaid the startup loan from the cooperative and refinanced its operations at favorable interest rates.
OPALCO does face challenges in the years ahead. The situation faced by all electrical utilities will change more in the next decade than in the previous 80 years combined. Cooperatives like ours face slow growth of electrical demand, the need to incorporate locally generated renewable power, storage of that power, the challenges to infrastructure created by electrical vehicles, and the difficulties created by unpredictable weather and warmer winters.
We have a roadmap for these challenges, called the Integrated Resource Plan, which outlines how the cooperative is planning to meet each challenge. We have been putting that plan into action since it was approved in 2015. Modernization of our electrical grid is well underway, and our priority in 2017 and 2018 is to enable local renewable energy production not just technically, but in our electrical rates and policies.
We are doing something new in this election. Each candidate recorded a short video describing how they see OPALCO and our priorities (1-2), and the member committee on elections and governance posed questions to each candidate (3-4). We also videotaped the candidate forum in Friday Harbor for those who were not able to attend (5). We provide links to each of these below and ask that you look at the questions and our answers. In particular, members in attendance at the Candidate Forums asked good and difficult questions, and we answered with solid information as well as a strong vision for the future.
We ask that you look at that information, and our vision for the future, and give us your vote to continue our work on the OPALCO board for the next three years. We work every day with our fellow board members, Randy Cornelius, Winnie Adams, Dr. Jerry Whitfield, Brian Silverstein, and Jim Lett to provide OPALCO with guidance, vision, and oversight as we execute on the Integrated Resource Plan and steer OPALCO through its challenges into a future of renewable, affordable electricity and telecommunications.
We need your participation and help to secure our energy future and ask for your support and your voice to make this future a reality. Ballots have come out by mail and email, and your vote is due no later than May 4, so that votes are counted before the annual meeting on the ferry. You can vote by email, or do it easily online.
Thank you for your consideration, and your vote!
Mark Madsen and Vince Dauciunas