Dear OPALCO members and island residents,
We invite you to join us in signing a petition (http://tiny.cc/opalco) requesting OPALCO to provide an accounting of their investment in fiber optics or communication equipment together with an item-by-item justification of its use for the electrical grid.
Like many on the islands, we are very much in favor of fast, reliable, internet. Indeed, our professional work depends on it.
But we don’t want the cost of broadband infrastructure to be borne on the backs of OPALCO electricity members who don’t necessarily want or need internet. This is brought to the forefront with approved electricity tariffs (see http://www.opalco.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Rate-Change-Materials-1-22-15.pdf) which bring an unprecedented increase in the cost of electrical services, especially for smaller users (low income, the elderly, families that conserve electricity, and those with grid-connected renewable energy).
It is noteworthy that in the USA, electric cooperatives are not under the jurisdiction of state energy regulatory authorities. The presumption is that because we, the members, are the owners, the coop acts in the interests of its members through the representatives we elect. In many cases this works out well. But it also means that as members we need to watch out to make sure the train stays on the rails and our elected representatives are working in our best interests. Transparency in expenditures is an important part of that.
An important part of the equation in our opinion is that for electric utilities, broadband holds a powerful allure. There is considerable symbiosis: fiber optic cables can provide ultra-reliable high speed switching for substations, with extra bandwidth to spare. Fiber optic cables are hung on poles or go in trenches, and laying both fiber and electric power cables at the same time can save considerable costs compared to doing each separately. On the other hand, widespread deployment of internet in the county requires very large investments in infrastructure – and excessive investments can severely disrupt utility finances.
Last year OPALCO made a policy choice we applauded: to make its fiber optic and communication investments only in areas that are justified based on their role in improving or facilitating reliable electricity service, and to build out fiber to customers on a ‘pay as you go’ approach, expanding where customers were willing to pay the infrastructure costs. If, as OPALCO board members assure us, this is the case, then it should have no problem providing detailed data that will put to rest questions about allocation of electrical budget resources to broad-band that keep arising in the community.
We see this request for data part of an engaged democratic process, committed to seeing OPALCO succeed as a respected, reliable utility that provides clean, affordable power to its customer/owners and extends opportunities for broad-band incrementally as they make sense financially.
Islands Energy Coalition