The Sounding Board: The Sound of Electricity and Money

ZZZZZZap !  The sound of electric energy.  Swooooosh ! The sound of money leaving the room.  The 2013 West Oregon Electric Cooperative annual meeting is adjourned!  Where was I? I spoke with WOEC attorney Chuck Fadley about the agenda.  He confirmed the nominations from the floor, the vote, closing of the polls and Marc Farmer’s  speech were to take place before any questions or remarks from the floor. Nonetheless, I was prepared and ready to speak.

Just as things got under way, I left the room for a moment. I discovered a person in physical trouble, not life threatening as it turned out, but serious.  Meeting or no meeting, I attended to it.  When I got back to business, the meeting was over. But I did hear this:  West Oregon Electric is on very thin ice: expenses exceed income, debt load is 65% of asset value, we have borrowed and spent $13+ million dollars in the last 4 years, the credit line is snuffed, the emergency reserve is all but gone and membership is shrinking.  One more big disaster, it is over!  Not only that; rates are going up!  Again!

Now, come on folks, where were you all?  Very few attended this year’s meeting, let alone any other meetings.  People tell me they don’t participate because when they have questions, or attempt to contribute, most of the time, nothing happens!  Why?  Because “your board” considers board meetings to be “for directors only”!  “Members” they say, “can attend, make a few comments, but attend meetings as ‘observers’ not participants!”  That stops anyone.

Want to contact the general membership by mail?  You can, if you submit pre-stamped, stuffed and sealed envelopes to WOEC who will attach “to resident” labels, collect $155.00 from you for processing and require they, not you, take the mail to the post office.  What?

Let’s take another example: for a fiscal year-to-date, is $56,884.82* for management to spend on “Meeting Expenses” okay with you?  That’s $1,093 a week!  Were you aware of this?  Why not?  The point is, if you do not know about something, how can you do anything about it?  If you are just an “observer,” what can you do about it?

Everyone knows electric use is increasing.  BPA is our only supplier and cannot handle total regional demand at fixed, low cost.  So rates go up; you pay, you get.  You don’t pay, you don’t get.  If you think rates are high now, just wait! The solution?  Generate electricity ourselves, within our own territory:  solar, wind, micro-hydro, all non-fossil fuels!  The price of these renewables keeps dropping!  10 years ago, a workable (not maximum) home system cost $25,000.  It’s $12,000** now.  The point is, we are approaching affordable open-market-break-even costs for home energy systems.  FOR WOEC, that is a serious problem that can result in fewer members and lower utility income.   That means having to raise rates.   Solution?  Insist your cooperative begin a vigorous program of research, development and allocation for local, renewable power generation.  They can, literally, ease into the market, let it pick up speed and pay for itself as generation goes up and prices come down!  And they can survive. Otherwise, they will not.  $56, 884.82 into renewable energy research and development, at this point, instead of going to meetings makes a lot of sense.  Of course, some meetings are necessary.  But you get the point.

As an individual member, how can one move mountains?   Our bylaws permit member participation.  But this needs to include Cooperative Principal #2   It is titled, “Democratic Member Control” and it says… “Cooperatives are democratic organizations controlled by their members, who actively participate in setting policies and making decisions.”  It is posted on the boardroom wall!  Contact your board member and insist on this being incorporated into the bylaws! Become more than just an “observer”!

Start attending meetings, WOEC meetings; Pwr/ 1 meetings. Will you have to attend every meeting?  No.  Once Cooperative Principal #2 is installed, you can require  full and complete business details on-line, in the newspaper and the Ruralite.  And you can discuss it, debate it and participate. Do you have that now?  No. You are allowed to “observe” and get “some information”.  But without full and complete information, you cannot even begin to have a voice.

Why have a voice?  So you can shake this feeling of “being uniformed”, of “not being able to do anything” and of “being had”.  Take responsibility. Do something.  Things will begin to work as other members join you.  That is the power of one! The board will listen!  503-429-8089 Meetings: 1st Thursday of the month at the New Hong Kong Restaurant, 7pm.  Some of us have dinner before the meeting.

* General Ledger financial report dated June 2012, Page 4, item 10 “Sales Expense”,     line 0.920.2 the Current YTD (Year-to-date) figure for “AG-Meeting Expenses”