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Candidates Corner: Glenna Hall | Guest Column
By Glenna Hall
I am proud to be the San Juan Island district representative on the Board of Directors of Orcas Power and Light Cooperative.
I am seeking another term because I want to make sure that this well-run and highly ethical company continues to move into the future for islanders, and is not captured by special interests and those who would take it back to the last century.
The most immediate of the decisions facing the OPALCO board is how best to implement the board’s November broadband directive to management to create opportunities for all members, including locally based re-sellers, to access the connectivity provided by our expanding fiber grid.
Critics of OPALCO have set up straw men based on supposition and false allegations in an attempt to kill these opportunities. Among those allegations is the assertion that OPALCO has not shown a business plan for broadband access.
But that is precisely what the board and management are in the process of formulating, and I am committed to exercising my oversight responsibility to make sure that this planning is sound and responsible.
No electric customer has borne the cost of developing or connecting broadband.
It is the intent of the board that broadband expenses and revenue continue to be separately accounted for. It is also our intent, and an important goal for the Co-op, that this important service not be reserved solely for the rich due to high prices.
Rural places need workable connectivity even more than do urban areas. The ability to reach the outside world levels the economic playing field and creates jobs. It gives island kids reasons to stay where they were brought up and keep young, fresh ideas here.
Lack of connectivity can cripple tourism.
And broadband enhances safety in a myriad of ways. During the CenturyLink outage in November, San Juan Island residents thronged the library to get on the internet to do their work, confirm airline reservations, check ferry times, and keep in touch with the outside world. The library’s parking lot was filled into the night, as was that of OPALCO’s San Juan office, as people sat in their cars using the internet services provided by those organizations.
Members came up to me and asked that OPALCO step in to keep our lines of communication under local control.
During the outage I made a list for myself of at least 30 areas—none related to entertainment—that depend on internet access for our safety and health. These included such vital areas as law enforcement and aviation safety. Not only individual members asked OPALCO to help.
At our November board meeting, the county council and the San Juan County Economic Development Council formally requested OPALCO to deploy broadband services throughout the county.
Through Island Networks, OPALCO already provides reliable communications to the very places that drew members and others during the outage: the libraries; some of the pharmacies; the big grocery stores. Now it is stepping up to the plate to work out the best and most cost effective way to do what it was implored to do—provide local control over island access to internet service.
The charge that OPALCO is hiding broadband expenses and charging them to co-op members is simply made up. After reviewing numerous financial documents and policies and audit reports, discussions with the Moss Adams audit team, and multiple conversations with senior management who painstakingly explained to me the most detailed elements of OPALCO finance, I am satisfied that OPALCO is well and prudently run, and that its financial and policy life is an open book.
Readers can see all the documentation of OPALCO’s finances on its website, at this link: https://www.opalco.com/about/finances/. I urge you to do so.
I must personally reject Steve Hudson's attempt to speak for the members who did not timely sign up for the co-op's previous program. I know for a fact that such members were not necessarily voting "No," because I was one of them.
There were a number of reasons I did not send in my money, but not wanting OPALCO to bring decent broadband to the islands was not one of them, and I know that was true for many members.
The original plan, in any event, is not what OPALCO is now pursuing, and any attempt to attack OPALCO on that basis is nothing but a rhetorical trick.
The other major issue that hangs in the balance in this election concerns planning for the future to make sure that OPALCO continues to supply clean, efficient, and abundant electric power.
Of the current candidates for District 1 Board positions, only Vince Dauciunas and I have expressed any knowledge of, or concern for, the changing political realities and environmental factors that potentially threaten this supply.
The Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) has, since the inception of OPALCO, been our reliable source of abundant, clean, and reasonably priced hydro power, but this may change sooner than we like. Our current contract expires in 2028, just 14 years from now, but even before that, adverse changes are in the wind: reduction in BPA capacity, diversion of existing capacity to other places, and the renegotiation of the Columbia River Treaty with Canada are just a few.
The board has already begun a thorough process of long-range planning with a four-pronged approach: Energy efficiency and conservation; continuing our relationship with BPA on the best possible terms; local power generation; and aggregating our purchasing power with other electric co-ops.
My training and experience as a superior court judge makes analyzing facts and real evidence, not surmise and unfounded allegations, the basis for my decision-making. My service on numerous government boards has thoroughly inculcated me with an understanding of open public meetings and a dedication to transparency.
Though not an engineer, I have spent years working on practical applications of technology. I am trained in reading complex financial statements, mediation, and management.
I am not afraid to stand up in defense of the facts and my principles, and I have put all this in service to OPALCO members and the community.
I am asking for the members to elect me to a second term so I may continue this work.
— Editor's note: The five other candidates vying for two positions on the OPALCO board of directors have been invited to submit an opinion piece similar in length to the above article by Glenna Hall.