Tuesday, June 16, 2015

How Our Rural Power Co-op Could Be Improved

I recently sent this letter to the Editor of the Ely Times:

The General Manager of Mt. Wheeler Power (MWP), Randy Ewell, recently wrote an article titled “Co-op Advocates for Members” in the Ruralite. In my opinion, Mr. Ewell could do a much better job of advocating for MWP members by focusing less on minimizing rates and more on maximizing value.

In his article, Mr. Ewell noted that “utilities have proposed the Ratepayer Protection Act” as a counter to living by standards of the Clean Air Act. Moreover, he wants politicians to legislate coal ash as “nonhazardous.” Now wait a minute. Shouldn't scientists be deciding whether coal ash is hazardous or not (it is). And the highly respected journal SCIENCE has just published a prediction that “one out of every six species could face extinction if global warming continues on its current path.” Let's face it, you shouldn't feel protected by this Act... And to advocate the extinction of the Sage Grouse by denying its classification as “endangered” is much worse than irresponsible.

Yes, the EPA seeks to “fundamentally change how electricity is generated, distributed, and consumed.” That's a good thing. Besides, the coal-fired power plant we rely on is reaching the end of its projected service life – which means rates are bound to go up do to increased maintenance costs. Consequently, MWP co-op now has an extraordinary opportunity to focus more on what this community really needs.

MWP has already become a power broker for distributed renewable energy by paying low rates for net-metered power. When my solar panels generate more power than I use, MWP can sell that power to others, with a higher mark-up than coal-fired power. Energy storage is becoming a reality for utilities. MWP can store excess renewable power for use during peak hours (when costs for fossil fuel generated power is the highest). And also, MWP can finance the installation of solar panels and windmills. Don't panic Mr. Ewell. MWP will still be making money. Besides, our need is growing. Many of us will be buying electric cars, and will want even more electricity.

Someday, MWP might want to purchase a small fleet of electric cars to taxi people around town (or ride share). MWP will have access to the cheapest electricity, which will keep costs down. Not as many people will need cars, keeping money in the community. And MWP's need for an electric car mechanic will result in a shop to fix electric cars locally – meaning more people will be willing to buy electric cars here.

MWP might even be interested in leasing use of electrically powered manufacturing equipment (3D printers, CNC milling machines, etc.) The community will benefit by manufacturing things here – and MWP will sell more electricity.

MWP's future looks bright. We just have to be willing to consider multiple income streams and the changing economic paradigm that can make this community more self-reliant.