Voices of the Peninsula: HEA cooperative members have a choice in October

  • By Brad Janorschke
  • Saturday, September 17, 2016 2:34pm
  • Opinion

The number one priority that drives our work at Homer Electric Association, Inc. (HEA): safely providing power at a consistent, fair price. Our goal is to make decisions that best serve our local communities today and into the future. We exist to meet the electrical power needs of our members, and to strengthen infrastructure and foster economic growth on the Kenai Peninsula.

HEA’s board of directors had these goals in mind when they decided to ask you — the owners of HEA — a question: is local control right for HEA?

This October, you and the other 23,370 members of HEA will receive a ballot in the mail asking, “Shall Homer Electric Association, Inc. be exempt from regulation by the Regulatory Commission of Alaska (RCA)?” Once you’ve checked either, “YES” or, “NO,” you will slip your ballot into your signed envelope and mail it to the RCA post office box. Members will have 30 days after receipt to mail their ballot to the RCA, who will count the votes and announce election results in December.

HEA wants to provide you with fair, balanced information on what local control would mean to the owners of the Cooperative. While the HEA board and management support local control, there are possible arguments for and against this decision. For me, it’s most important that each member is informed and fills out their ballot so this decision truly reflects the wishes of Cooperative owners.

The RCA is a Governor-appointed five-member regulatory body based in Anchorage. The Commissioners are diligent, hard-working public servants, but none of the RCA Commissioners currently pays an HEA bill. The RCA establishes regulatory policies in a variety of areas including telecommunication, electrical and gas utilities, trash collection, and water and wastewater utilities. It is charged with protecting consumer interests for all regulated Alaska utilities. Currently, the RCA has the final review and approval responsibility for any transaction involving rates, service or contracts between HEA and our members. Some of these transactions include retail rates for electricity, the charges for installing new services, and the fees we can charge for a bounced check. As part of this review process, the RCA requires HEA to file numerous reports, some as frequently as four times a year, which involves significant staff time and resources.

Let’s start with what it means to vote. Voting “YES” means vesting oversight of HEA solely in your democratically elected, nine-member board of directors here on the Kenai Peninsula, rather than the politically appointed Commissioners of the RCA. HEA will remain bound by its bylaws and articles of incorporation and, as an electric cooperative organized under the laws of the state of Alaska, HEA will still operate on a nonprofit basis for the mutual benefit of its members.

A shift to local control allows Kenai Peninsula communities to have a greater say in decisions and actions that affect HEA. HEA’s board and management see several potential benefits of local control, including:

— Assurance that local leaders are driving the decision-making of our utility;

— Decreased bureaucracy, allowing HEA to be nimble and take timely advantage of more innovative, cost-saving opportunities, including pilot programs and alternative energy sources; and

— Reduced operational and administrative costs for our members.

Voting “NO” on the election ballot would mean that nothing changes. HEA would continue to be subject to RCA economic regulation. RCA approval would still be required for almost every policy, procedure, tariff, or contract change.

The HEA board of directors recommends a “YES“ vote. Local control of utilities is already a common approach in Alaska and across the United States. This system already works for 80 percent of rural electric cooperatives nationwide.

Each HEA board member receives a monthly electric bill from HEA, just like you and I do. All nine of these representatives are invested in their community and see their neighbors at the store, eat with them at local restaurants, and stand in the river with them when the fish are in. If HEA members are ever unhappy with their service, you can be certain that your board members hear about it. None of this communication or dispute resolution would change under local control. In fact, without RCA regulation, your board members understand they would shoulder even greater responsibility for effective cooperative oversight.

We are holding ten community informational meetings over the course of this month and next, and I invite you to come out for some food and the chance to learn more about this special election.

You can find upcoming community meetings on the “Community Calendar” section on HEA’s website at www.homerelectric.com. You can also check out the “Local Control 101” page for more information. We encourage you to ask all of your questions on the topic in order for you to make an informed choice this October.

Brad Janorschke is General Manager or Homer Electric Association.

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