I want to express how much I appreciate the opportunity to serve on the OPALCO Board. Thank you for your votes and confidence in me. It has been a remarkably fast paced eight years of major changes and transitions. The electrical industry continues to change at a rapid pace and the changes will continue to challenge us. To have an organization with the strengths of our co-op is a fortunate resource indeed.
I appreciate each of you who voted for me, took the time to come to our meetings and express your concerns, your doubts, your conflicting opinions or your support. Your participation in co-op meetings helps us to hone the best solutions and ways of meeting the challenges. The Board does pay attention to the members (“We get our power from you!”). Please keep in mind, that even if you cannot come to the meeting, you can write to the Board. These letters are reproduced for us and often read aloud during the meeting times. In a co-op neighbors are working for neighbors, as well as for themselves, to create a service that will improve the quality of all our lives. Thus, the Board wants to hear from you.
When I joined the Board, our co-op was about providing electricity. In the process of developing a fiber network for our OPALCO equipment, we had also begun to provide some broadband in the village cores. Within a year, it became apparent that just as the early electric lines were often strung side by side with telephone wires, our trenches could hold power side by side with fiber for broadband: two for one efficiency of effort and expense. I was one of the board members who dragged my feet on the expansion question. The data byte that finally changed my vote was the numbers showing that young people were not moving to communities which did not have connectivity! One of the great satisfactions of the past eight years has been to see the number of local graduates and residents that Rock Island had been able to hire! Again, it is us working for us. And who will work harder than those raised here, who already have many ties and much familiarity with our members.
I want the thank the staff for their unflinching professionalism and for pushing hard to keep up with the changes. Our skilled linemen brought us through another wild and wooly winter with relatively few outages. But quietly in the background, there are many others filling roles who daily meet the high bar of our co-op. When I came on the board in 2010, we had 51 employees. We now still have only 51 employees while offering many more member services. The Co-op is able to achieve such an internal expansion due to a staff that challenges itself to go the extra mile and to rapidly adopt the new systems and professional trainings which these changes required.
The other exemplary staff quality that rings my bells continually is how well our staff works as a team. Keeping our staff numbers low means often an employee has to wear several hats. Surely the successful way OPALCO was able to lay a new cable last summer provides a robust example of how well they all do their jobs and how well they work together.
I applaud the way OPALCO creates meaningful opportunities for members to really get involved in Co-op affairs and I encourage members to serve on one of our four committees: Project PAL, OPALCO Stewards, the Election & Governance Committee and MORE – Member Owned Renewable Energy. The Elections & Governance Committee is the newest of these and has some vacancies.
The committee I worked with was the MORE committee, a committee of dedicated, generous hearted members and bright young professionals. Before I joined the Board, staff selected members to serve in the design of a Member Owned Renewable Energy program known as MORE. OPALCO already had a program that allowed our solar power pioneers to be grid tied and receive payment for their rooftop generation. The MORE committee took that idea and went further to provide incentives, with voluntary dollars, to members wanting to be early adopters of solar energy. MORE promoted enthusiasm and member support for local generation. That enthusiasm has now expanded to the point that we can offer the largest community solar array in the state and it has nearly sold out in 5 weeks! A big bravo to those of you who have just subscribed to our first community solar project!
I’m going to name the MORE committee, past and present – and invite you to join me in expressing thanks when you see them:
- Lopez: Jeff Dyer, Doug Poole, Chom Grecean, Chris Grecean
- San Juan: Peter Kilpatrick, Peter Risser, Susan Risser
- Shaw: Andrew Borner, John Bogert
- Orcas: John Mottl, Eric Youngren, Sonja Hammer
This group of dedicated professionals leaned into the harness together and really lived the co-op mission, giving time and creative effort to designing the program and then monitoring it as circumstances developed. This required steep effort at times and these people were unstinting in their follow through, putting time into creative ideas such as energy fairs, green home tours, introduction of EVs and eBikes. Having worked on these projects and events, I am well aware and appreciative of how much time, energy and drive these offerings took.
As a co-op we are now ready to expand our local generation. Community resilience and local generation are going to be tied together as we go forward. With each local generation project, we get a two for one result: we get renewable green electricity, and we get increased community resilience by being able to energize ourselves with electricity that does not come through a long underwater cable! Thank you, MORE committee!
Lastly, I thank the other board members, past and current, for your inspiration, for asking excellent questions continually, for patience and professional depth in discussions, and for your enthusiasm for the tasks! Somehow, all this, with just enough lightness of being to buoy us through the snares and tough stuff. Sitting in this circle of seven has been a continual enrichment. We have three new board members this year. I appreciate all three of you for offering to serve. These are not easy times, but they are exciting times. The Co-op is lucky to have such high-quality board members equipped with fresh perspective. Carry on! Here comes next.