Make OPALCO Power Affordable Again.

About those Rate Increases

By Alex Macleod

There is growing unhappiness among many OPALCO member-customers following this year's huge rate increase. OPALCO's board raised the "facilities charge" to each customer by about 40% -- this is a base charge, absent the delivery of any electricity -- and raised electric rates by an average of 9%, about double the increase in its cost to OPALCO.

Now the board is preparing to raise rates again, effective in July. To accomplish this, the board is holding a special meeting Thursday at 9 AM at its Eastsound headquarters, a fact it has done exactly nothing to publicize.

That is indicative of how the OPALCO board and management have dealt with us members since it began moving into the broadband business several years ago. It has done a large 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 over the next two years. 

At the same time, OPALCO has violated terms of its core loan agreements 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.

Among other things, the "facilities charges" hits low-income members hardest and does nothing to encourage conservation. It has been aptly described by one critic as "Robin Hood in reverse."

In a memo to the board, Foster Hildreth. OPALCO's general manager, calls the financial situation "an enormous revenue challenge" which he blames largely on global warming. He is presenting several options to solve the problem, none of which have anything to do with reducing expenses, it's all revenue, revenue, and more revenue.

The reality, of course, is that OPALCO wouldn't find itself in this really serious financial mess were it not spending so much money moving into the Internet business. However, it continues to insist, against considerable evidence to the contrary (not to mention common sense), that all these investments are to improve the electric-grid not to provide faster Internet service for those who cannot afford it.

So, prepare yourselves for yet another rate increase in July, and maybe August, September and beyond in order to keep the lender satisfied. You could also attend Thursday's meeting and suggest the board and include finding savings -- which you could rather easily by spending it's new broadband investments -- rather than just sucking more "revenue" out of us members.

For this cooperative to survive, it members need to get engaged. Now is the time.

(Alex Mcledd is a 25+ year member of OPALCO who lives on Shaw Island)



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