Thankful for OPALCO’s change of heart | Guest column

Submitted by Heather Nicholson

The goodness at heart everyone shares was felt Jan. 23 as Orcas Power and Light Cooperative’s board rescinded a resolution adopted in September 2019 that opposed the removal of the Lower Snake River dams. That and preceding efforts, evidenced the framework of democracy that exists, which our utility’s owner-members engaged to ensure a place for their values. If they hadn’t, the resolution representing thousands of San Juan County voices would have been added to others in the stack, as requested by the WA Rural Electric Cooperative Association, and used in the region and federally to argue for keeping the dams, as a federal environmental impact statement is soon released.

A core concern of our utility’s governance is to convey adequate electricity from non-planet-destroying sources. No one says it’s easy to be in a leader’s role during this biologically suffering day and age. Since adopting the resolution, a mainstay of its reasoning has been a forecast energy shortage of serious proportion, to plan for right now. This view not being the consensus among our state’s energy advisors and experts could suggest tomorrows aren’t written in stone or perhaps our eyes are bigger than our stomachs in PNW expansion plans.

This country was founded on autonomy and independence just as co-op businesses are. What emerged from an enriching, fruitful and civic engagement among OPALCO owners and governance is that in order to bring values out of the realm of fantasy and plant them in the world, plan for your priorities instead of prioritizing other’s plans.

Despite studies and reports showing an overall benefit to dam breaching, mankind will have to willingly acquiesce to using its smarts toward that end. As points of debate ping-pong, determining the material basis of an argument can become daunting. The labyrinth is like a river system. If you can emulate a persistent wild salmon on their inland journey, you’ll find ‘what is’ or at least ‘what isn’t’. Both can inform. Or, when minding poised-to-perish salmon and orca, who are valuable beyond measure, one might defer to salmon biologist Nathan Donnelly on Lopez Island, saying, “There’s just no way that you can dispute that removing a wall out of the middle of a river, is not going to make that river work better.” Another meeting go-er spoke of dignitaries by the hundreds, who wiped gripping tears of joy at the Elwha dam breaching.

As always, situations are complex. However, nodding to the rabbit and tortoise, the challenge of complexity rarely overtakes “you get what you plan for,” especially when determination and ingenuity are at hand.

For members with concerns, there are options. One being, run for a seat on the board at the upcoming election. Alternately, current OPALCO governance, if not a spectrum of San Juan County’s culture and roots, is an industrious and capable group that everyone should feel comfortable approaching to resolve issues and design the future. The vehicle for your values is you.