OPALCO's October Surprise: $1 million being returned to ratepayers

There will be a surprise in every OPALCO member's October bill: a credit for a good portion of the electricity used during the October billing period.

Recently, the Bonneville Power Administration was compelled by a decision in the U.S. 9th Circuit Court to return about $1 million to the co-op. The OPALCO Board of Directors chose to give the kWh rebate to co-op members: every member of the cooperative will get a rebate for a portion of the kilowatt hours (kWh) they used in October.

“This couldn’t come at a better time,” OPALCO Manager Randy Cornelius said. “Our members are affected by the turn in the economy – both on and off the islands – and I’m thrilled the board was able to do something to help. That’s what a co-op is all about.”

The members of the OPALCO Board of Directors are Chris Thomerson, president; and Roger Crosby of Orcas Island, Ed Marble and Bob Myhr of Lopez Island, Dave Hylton and George Mulligan of San Juan Island and John Bogert of Shaw Island.

The federal Columbia River Power System (Bonneville and Grand Coulee dams) was built in 1937 to bring electricity to rural communities and to stimulate rural economic development. The rural beneficiaries are the publicly owned utilities, including co-ops, munis and public utility districts.

Private or “investor-owned” utilities wanted a share of the benefits of the federal system and in 1980 the Northwest Power Act was put into place to distribute benefits to investor-owned utilities with mostly urban residential and suburban small-farm customers.

In 2000, BPA was in court again with the private utilities over exchange benefits and reached a settlement. But in 2007, the court ruled that the settlement agreements with investor-owned utilities were not in compliance with the Northwest Power Act and a new settlement was reached, causing BPA to lower the amount of benefits paid to investor-owned utilities and to return funds to publicly-owned utilities.

OPALCO is a member-owned cooperative electrical utility serving more than 10,000 islanders on 20 islands in San Juan County. OPALCO provides electricity that is 97 percent greenhouse-gas free and is predominately generated by hydro-electric plants. OPALCO was founded in 1937 to bring electricity to rural islanders and is one of 900 electric co-ops in the United States today.

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