At Thursday’s meeting of the OPALCO Board of Directors, a motion was unanimously approved that includes a $7.5 million acceleration of our efforts to provide member Internet connections to as many members as possible – and, eventually, serve the entire membership. A new organization will be formed to deliver these services, separate in its finances and staffing. The detailed plan and presentation are available at www.opalco.com.
“The plan is do-able, well balanced and does not rely on OPALCO for all of the funds,” commented Board Member Dr. Jerry Whitfield of Shaw Island. “I’m impressed with the inspired leadership of (Foster) Hildreth and (Gerry) Lawlor, their level of understanding of the problems ahead and their ability to pull it off.”
A rate schedule for member connections is now available online (islandnetwork.www.opalco.com/), beginning with basic Internet (10Mbps down/up data + home phone) services at $95 per month. Rates include a credit of $1,500 per member connection to help offset the initial costs.
OPALCO’s team has been out talking with Homeowners Associations to encourage neighborhoods to work together and share the cost of connection – the most cost effective way to serve the largest number of members. A map in the presentation shows more than 1300 members ready to subscribe as soon as services are available. The start-up phase of the project aims to connect 25% of our membership (about 2900 members) in the first three years.
This community effort would not be possible without the connection to OPALCO’s dynamic grid control backbone: more than 100 miles of a fiber optic network which was built to monitor and control our electrical distribution system. The line crew who built the system, the engineering and operations staff who designed and configured it and the dedicated leadership of Beth Anderson, Superintendent of Information Services, were all critical to this success. All co-op members pay for the backbone through electrical rates over time, but only those who subscribe to Internet services pay for those connections.
“This plan allows us to limit our risk to a three- to five-year period of capital investment,” explained General Manager Foster Hildreth. “Once the new organization is standing on its own financially, it can continue to grow based on member demand. The revenue it generates will self-fund expansion to meet our members’ needs into the future.”
Board member Bob Myhr of Lopez Island noted with regret the absence of fellow board member Vince Dauciunas, who was unable to attend due to illness, and recognized his key role in getting us to this point. “Vince really carried the ball for our team. His technical know-how, dedicated research and diplomacy guided us to the finish line,” said Myhr. “We’ve seen this project evolve and now it can work. A project of this scope could not be accomplished without the tremendously qualified staff and leadership that we have in place.”
The first actions will include five pilot projects in areas where OPALCO has construction projects already in the works. These first projects – Cattle Point/Cape San Juan, Mt. Dallas, Doe Bay/Eagle Lake, Deer Harbor and South Lopez – are all located in remote areas where we have field communication and equipment monitoring problems to solve. At the same time, work will begin on connecting neighborhoods throughout the islands where members are organized to share connection costs.
As the grid control backbone reaches farther, more members will be able to connect. We encourage members – and especially neighborhood and community associations – to apply for service online by clicking the “Want to Connect?” button at islandnetwork.www.opalco.com/. Please be patient as there is currently a backlog of applications for service!