By Chom & Chris Greacen, of Islands Energy Coalition
In its 75 year history, OPALCO has overcome technical, financial and geographical challenges to expand electrical service to its members.
The bedrock of OPALCO’s success has been Bonneville Power Administration, which supplied cheap hydropower to meet OPALCO’s growing needs.
With the end of cheap, plentiful power, OPALCO members are in for an exciting ride. BPA’s rates are rising (over 8 percent next year alone). Increased electricity demand will have to be met through purchase from, volatile electricity market at high prices.
So what will OPALCO’s “new chapter” be?
Is it broadband? Broadband is understandably appealing because of its familiar story line: expanding network infrastructure despite technical, financial and geographical challenges.
But broadband is an entirely different beast. Unlike electricity distribution which offers OPALCO a natural monopoly, broadband is known for its intense competition and fast-changing technology. Broadband involvement therefore requires cautious prudence to ensure OPALO’s financial and social capital is not put at risk.
Where else can OPALCO apply its talents and assets to take on new challenges while contributing to the county’s economic development?
We suggest the new OPALCO chapter is not only about hardware, but also software and “people-ware”. In addition to laying down wire and making prudent capital investments, now is the time to: redesign the tariff structure to be more cost-reflective and conducive to conservation, offer incentives for community solar generation, and invest in green jobs and the local economy through energy efficiency and homegrown energy.
OPALCO can leverage its social capital and access to its members to engage them not as passive consumers, but as active collaborating partners, energy co-producers and creative shapers of electricity load.
OPALCO can cultivate a new breed of architects and retrofit crews to incorporate green designs and help homeowners lower their bills.
The benefits of the “local green energy vision” are clear and numerous, including:
• lower bills (from plugging leaks)
• lower OPALCO electricity rates (from reduced exposure to expensive electricity market rates)
• increased jobs and green energy economy
• economic development through re-circulating saved money and investing locally
• improved self-sufficiency and environmental benefits
As OPALCO members, we are ready to be partners of OPALCO’s new direction and evolve our relationship with energy towards becoming co-stewards of this shared, precious resource through an uncertain future.
Let’s co-write OPALCO’s new chapter to be about collaboration, green economy and resiliency.
— Editor's note: Islands Energy Coalition promotes itself as a group of energy enthusiasts with an interest in a resilient energy future for the San Juan Islands.