By Alex MacLeod
OPALCO’s board is holding a special meeting next Thursday (May 28) at its Eastsound headquarters. It begins at 9 a.m.
You would know this if you happened to go to the OPALCO web site’s home page and noticed a small meeting notice right under the listing of the board’s regular June meeting on Lopez. However, you would not know if the meeting is open to the membership, or what its subject is.
That is indicative of how the OPALCO board and management have dealt with its membership since it began moving into the broadband business several years ago.
It has done most of its important business behind closed doors, has ignored member complaints about its lack of transparency and, astonishingly, has asked us to believe that the cost of its foray into the Internet business will be no more than $72 per electric customer over the next two years.
Meanwhile, it has raised the basic “facilities charge” to each customer by about 40 percent—this is a base charge, absent the delivery of any electricity—and if it follows its own forecast will raise rates by a compounded 60 percent between the start of its broadband initiative and when it optimistically forecasts it will turn a profit.
At the same time, it has violated a covenant of its core loan agreement and had to promise the lender that it will raise the “facilities charge” as much and as often as necessary to be in compliance with the terms of the loan.
The huge increase in the “facilities charge” has been the subject of considerable member unhappiness. It hits low-income members hardest and does nothing to encourage conservation. It has been aptly described by one critic as “Robin Hood-in-reverse.”
It turns out next Thursday’s special board meeting is to discuss rates, but you had to first spot the meeting notice and then contact OPALCO directly to find that out. And yes, the meeting is open to the membership.
Curiously, a member-petitioned by-laws change which would have required OPALCO to notify interested members by email “when any board meetings are called or scheduled and whether they are open to the Energy Members” was narrowly defeated earlier this month.
Almost as curiously is why OPALCO, on its own, hasn’t set up such a simple, inexpensive system on its own. The openness and cooperative spirit it would reflect could contribute a lot to actual transparency and perhaps help OPALCO earn back some of the trust it has squandered these past three years.
On the other hand, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest they’d just as soon not have us members around.
— Editor’s note: Alex MacLeod is a 25-plus year member of OPALCO who lives on Shaw Island.