Make OPALCO Power Affordable Again.

Where Has OPALCO’s Credibility Gone?

By Tom Owens

February 21, 2016

When I came here some 22 years ago, OPALCO was widely viewed as a vital and credible part of our community. OPALCO was supplying their electricity without a lot of fan fare. The Board was made up of long time members who easily got re-elected unless they chose to retire. Well, those seem to be the good old days. What happened?


Lately, I have been reading OPALCO’s literature and following its public statements with interest.  Having worked in the power industry for 30+ years, I tend to have questions about issues concerning electricity. While I have gotten some explanations from OPALCO’s PR staff and actually met with OPALCO once, here are some examples of what I view as missteps.


Questions on fiber usage by Rockisland Communications (RIC) – With all the chatter on OPALCO’s RIC investment, I wanted to have a clear statement for OPALCO on who was going to be using the grid communications investment that the electric customers are paying for. Would RIC be using it or building their own system? I asked the question a number of times but could not get a clear and direct response. The question finally went as far as an email from me to Mr. Hildreth (OPALCO’s General Manager) asking the question yet again. I have gotten no response and it has been about 2 months.


Request for Cost/Benefit Study on our current electric meters – In an email that I saw, Mr. Hildreth refers to a cost/benefit study done by OPALCO that was used in the decision process to purchase and installation of our current (not so smart) meters. I have asked for a copy of this study and said no rush. Well, it has been 2 months and I have not gotten a response.


Request for access to undersea cable information – I decided that an article explaining the importance of the undersea cables that OPALCO owns and how this investment was performing would be of interest to OPALCO’s customer/owners. I submitted my request but got told I had to submit a form complying with OPALCO policy #16. I did this and again said no rush, as I was told they were busy preparing their 2016 budget. Well, it has been 2 months and I have not gotten a response.


Politically correct Statements are all in vogue these days. We can not believe the politicians, but we should be able to believe OPALCO! But as customer/owners, what are we getting? Here are a few examples.


OPALCO says it operates ¨one of the most complex distribution systems in the country¨. OPALCO operates 15 substations, 26 undersea cables and 1339 miles of power lines (reference OPALCO’s website). Our nearest neighbor utility, Puget Sound Energy (PSE), operates 354 substations, 13,000 miles of power lines and 10,000 miles of power cables (reference PSE’s website). Just how complex is the OPALCO system?


OPALCO says it provides ¨some of the lowest cost electricity in the country¨. A quick comparison with our nearest neighbor utility, Puget Sound Energy, showed OPALCO’s billing for my usage to be about 50 percent higher than similar service would be from PSE (I am a slightly below average energy user). I would need to use 3 times the average OPALCO customer energy usage to make the costs equal. (reference my OPALCO bill and PSE’s website, giving rate structure). Just how low cost is that?


I would really like to see OPALCO regain its credibility. In my view, OPALCO’s Board needs to put a stop to the OPALCO Spin Machine and start offering direct, correct and clear explanation to their customer/owners.   Dismissive statements to folks that have questions are not productive. Telling them to ¨go read the BPA contract¨ sure is not responsive to a customer/owner. OPALCO could view a public question as an opportunity to acknowledge the issue, then clearly, correctly and directly tell the world what and why OPALCO is doing something.


I am not affiliated with OPALCO in any way other than being a customer/owner.

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