By Scott Laird
The West Oregon Electric Cooperative (WOEC) Annual Meeting was held on Saturday, August 27 at the Cabin in Vernonia.
Board of Directors President Robert VanNatta called the meeting to order and introduced the rest of the Board and special guests State Senator Betsy Johnson and State Representative Debra Boone, along with Guest Speaker Clair Hobson from Bonneville Power Administration (BPA). Previous minutes were approved and new members were voted in.
Election Director Chuck Fadeley announced the candidates for the Board: Robert VanNatta for District #2, and Robert Paleck and Nick Galaday for District #5. There were no nominations from the floor and the voting was closed. Later in the meeting it was announced that VanNatta and Galaday had been elected.
Guest Speaker Claire Hobson from the BPA addressed the audience and discussed the operations of BPA and the challenges of competing with, and balancing, the proliferation of other forms of renewable power like solar and wind. “The changes we’ve seen in the last five years in the utility industry were far more dramatic than the first fifty years,” said Hobson, “and I have no reason to believe that the next ten or fifteen or twenty years are going to be any different. We’re going to see lots and lots of changes.” Hopson also talked about the aging infrastructure within the BPA and the need for all of it to be replaced in the near future.
Board President VanNatta spoke and discussed some factors that determine WOEC’s rates. He addressed the lack of industry that creates a consistent demand in the service area, which VanNatta termed “an undesirable load curve,” and how high demand charges increase the cost of power to WOEC. He noted that most utilities in Oregon and the rest of the country have 50% of retail power sales coming from commercial and industrial customers, while WOEC gets about 20-25% from those customers. He also addressed the high maintenance cost in the WOEC service area due to the high number of trees. VanNatta also stated that, while WOEC rates may seem high, “High rates are relative,” said VanNatta, and compared WOEC rates as being comparable to the average rates in California, New York, and New England.
New Financial Officer Dan Huggett explained the billing process and discussed billing options for customers. He also discussed the impact of the weather event that occurred in November/December of 2015 that included heavy rains, wind, and landslides that resulted in damages to the system and long outages in several areas.
Operations Manager Don Rose discussed the weather event last year and the attempt to collect a 75% FEMA reimbursement for the cost incurred by the co-op. He also discussed upcoming upgrade projects scheduled for this upcoming year that include pole replacements throughout the system, the replacement of a bad section of underground distribution line along Hayward Road, a project to convert overhead line at the tunnel on Highway 26 to an underground line to improve reliability, re-establishing a backup feed for the Hamlet area, and a repair to the Timber-to-Elsie line.
General Manager Bob Perry also discussed the weather event from last year and reported that total cost of damages and repairs for the event to WOEC was $1.425 million and FEMA will reimburse the co-op for the full 75% of that amount, with WOEC recovering $1.1 million. Perry also introduced the idea of implementing a voluntary round up program to assist those who have difficulty paying their bill. Perry also discussed the difficulty for the co-op in establishing service for customers involved in legal marijuana grows. Perry said some of the operations are very large and create issues with providing the needed load requirement. “This has become a major source of frustration for our operations department,” said Perry.
State Senator Betsy Johnson briefly addressed the audience and encouraged them to support the Vernonia Schools Bond Measure on the ballot in November. “This will let us do some improvements but most importantly allow us to refinance the Bond and close the books on the schools and be finished,” said Johnson. Johnson also discussed the upcoming construction of the Vernonia Senior Center, and the economic impact on Columbia County with new industrial growth in Scappoose that includes the construction of a new Cascade Tissue conversion plant and the Boeing Research facility being built in partnership with Portland Community College. Johnson also questioned Measure 99, that would send all school students to outdoor school, and asked voters to look closely at this measure before voting for it.
Following the conducting of all business, door prizes were awarded and the members enjoyed a BBQ lunch provided by Terrel’s BBQ.