Editor’s note: this story has been updated to include the fact that HEA Board of Directors President Dick Waisanen and member Jim Levine will run for re-election to the board.
The utility cooperative Homer Electric Association (HEA) — which supplies electricity to 22,892 member-owners on the Kenai Peninsula — has three openings on its nine-member Board of Directors, which members will vote to fill this spring.
HEA will mail ballots to its members on April 3 and announce the results of the election at the annual member’s meeting on May 4 at Soldotna High School.
HEA’s service area is divided into three districts, each represented by three elected directors. One director’s seat from each district is up for election each year.
The present holders of this year’s open seats are Board President Dick Waisanen, representing District 2, which runs from near Kasilof to north of Sterling and covers Soldotna; Kelly Bookey, representing District 1, which extends from Kasilof to Nikiski and includes Kenai; and Jim Levine, representing District 3, which extends from Cohoe Loop to the south shore of Kachemak Bay, including Homer. All three intend to run for re-election.
The HEA election follows a year that revealed a division between HEA’s directors and membership. Alaska statute allows utility cooperatives to withdraw from regulation by the state’s five-member Regulatory Commission of Alaska (RCA), which is charged with overseeing utility pricing practices, by a majority vote of their members.
HEA’s Board of Directors unanimously voted on to hold such an election, and the cooperative’s management supported the proposal with a campaign in favor of the deregulation position, which included hiring marketing consultant group Strategies 360 for $30,000— a decision made by HEA administrators rather than the directors, according to an email from HEA Communications Director Melissa Carlin. HEA spent approximately $98,000 on the deregulation campaign, including promotion, printing, and mailing costs, according to an email from HEA Director of Member Relations Bruce Shelly.
Of the 7,271 members who returned ballots in the deregulation election, 70 percent were against deregulation, and the cooperative remains under RCA oversight. Alaska statute prohibits another deregulation election for 2 years.
The deregulation election was controversial, with supporters in HEA’s management saying independence from the RCA’s decisions would save the cooperative $340,000 in regulatory costs, while opponents said it would remove a way for members to influence the leadership’s decisions — without the ability to appeal to the RCA, the only recourses for aggrieved members would be the Board of Directors and Alaska Superior Court.
Following the results of the deregulation election, several HEA directors interviewed by the Clarion commented on the apparent disconnect between members and the board, with one director, Bill Fry, saying of the deregulation initiative that “the only reason I could see to vote against that was if you don’t trust your board.”
Other HEA leaders, speaking in favor of deregulation, said the cooperative’s government by elected board members is one reason to favor withdrawing from state oversight. In a talk at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center in Oct. 2016, HEA General Manager Brad Janorschke compared the board of directors to a city council.