Members deserve explanations, beginning perhaps with reasons for OPALCO’s pending rate hike | As I See It

By Alex MacLeod

The OPALCO board meets Thursday morning in Friday Harbor.

Among other things, it is scheduled to vote on “revisions” to the cooperative’s By-Laws. One of the changes would bar from board membership anyone “employed by the cooperative in the last 5 years…”

The evidence would suggest this change has the sole purpose of preventing Randy Cornelius, who retired this fall as OPALCO’s general manager, from running for the board this spring.

Cornelius, who has privately expressed interest in running, would probably be a strongMacLeod candidate from the Orcas district and would bring to the board an uncommon level of relevant knowledge and experience.

Perhaps Jim Lett, the current board president, could explain to the cooperative’s membership why this change should be made before the board rubber stamps it Thursday.

While he’s at it, he might also explain why the board is proposing to increase the base charge for residential service by more than $10 a month, or about 35 percent. That would add $120 a year to the bills of all residential customers.

Remember when OPALCO rolled out its first proposal to expand broadband access in the county?

That proposal would have raised everyone’s base rate by $15 a month. Members who wanted to add broadband service would pay an additional $75 monthly. That proposal died when too few members signed on for the new service and too many objected to having to pay for something they either didn’t want or couldn’t afford.

Now, OPALCO is getting most of that once-dead increase by couching it as necessary to improve the energy ”backbone,” to improve communication with staff in the field and eliminate emergency-response “dead zones” in the county. Oh, and also as a result of global warming, which is feared will lessen electric demand, and members’ conservation efforts.

For everything, in short, except what it is really for, which is to provide faster broadband connections for those who can afford it. To sweeten the pot for those people, OPALCO also is providing $1,500 credits to offset the cost of their connections.

Whether OPALCO should get into the broadband business or not is less important than doing so in an honest and transparent way, which so far it has not.

Instead, it has rolled out a slick public-relations effort to deliberately hide from the membership what it really is doing, what the real costs are, who will pay them and what happens if the unrealistically optimistic assumptions supporting the broadband plan don’t pan out, as seems likely to happen.

The time to get straight answers is quickly running out. By the time your basic power bill jumps 35 percent, it will be too late.

— Editor’s note: Alex MacLeod lives on Shaw and has been an OPALCO member more than 25 years.