REC officials seek balanced solution

Published 10:44 am Thursday, August 27, 2009

AHOSKIE – Renewable energy is the new rallying cry of all Americans as this nation inches closer to the second decade of a new century.

However, as it is with the energy measures in use today, the renewable brand comes with a cost.

On Saturday, Roanoke Electric Cooperative celebrated the observance of its 70th annual membership meeting, not by relishing in the glory of its historic past, but rather by keeping a keen eye on what lies ahead, especially in regards to protecting the best interests of its ownership – that being its members.

Under the theme of “Finding a Balanced Solution,” REC Executive Vice President and CEO Curtis Wynn informed a large audience gathered in the gym of Hertford County High School of a desire by all Americans to use more renewable energy and reduce use of fossil fuels.

“While these goals are good for consumers and the environment, switching to a new energy economy too quickly and without careful planning will carry costs that are borne by all utility consumers,” Wynn said. “These costs will not just show up on your utility bills, they will appear in the grocery stores, hardware stores, clothing stores and everywhere else we buy things. It is important for consumers to tell Congress that we need them to find a balanced solution, one that addresses environmental issues but does so in a way that keeps energy costs affordable.”

Wynn stressed the importance of REC members becoming involved with this issue, especially since the Cap and Trade legislation, part of the Energy Bill, has already gained approval within the U.S. House of Representatives.

Cap and Trade is where the government would set a nationwide cap on the amount of greenhouse gases. Utilities, such as REC, using consumer money would buy (trade) emission allowances from the federal government to offset their carbon emissions.

Wynn explained that, as of right now, there is no regulation on greenhouse gas emissions such as carbon. A cap and trade program would regulate those emissions, setting a nationwide cap, causing the electric industry to switch to more costly fuels for power plants

“Those costs would be paid, ultimately, by consumers,” Wynn explained. “They’re not calling it a tax, but in reality it’s a massive tax on the American consumer. Any time you are adding a layer of buying and selling you are adding costs. The money flows from consumers, through their power bills, and into the federal treasury. Money that flows from consumers to the treasury is effectively a tax on electric rates.”

Without giving thought to American consumers, this legislation, if passed as written, could increase electrical costs by 40 percent or more.

“Electric cooperatives are working with Congress to mitigate the costs of climate change legislation and renewable energy legislation,” Wynn said, adding that North Carolina 1st District Congressman G.K. Butterfield has effectively changed some of the original version of the Energy Bill.

He continued, “Cooperatives are working to be good environmental stewards. We must do all that we can to increase renewable energy and protect our environment. But people are hurting right now. Energy costs are going up. Cooperatives will work with Congress to make sure that they find a balance between protecting the environment and protecting consumers from economic hardship.”

As this legislation moves to the Senate, Wynn said both U.S. Senators from North Carolina could be key votes on climate change and energy legislation.

“Consumers can make a difference by calling our two U.S. Senators and telling them to protect consumers from burdensome rate increases,” he stressed. “Congress will pass a better, more cost effective and balanced energy bill if and only if they listen to cooperatives, their employees and consumers.”

Meanwhile, REC is moving forward with a trio of programs designed to ease the ever-growing burden placed the American consumer’s pocketbooks. Wynn spoke of REC’s Cooperative Connections Program, Pre-paid Metering and Energy Efficiency Renovations and Repairs Program.

The Cooperatives Connections program was designed to help REC members save money on other major expenses such as prescriptions, eye care, travel, lodging and many other things. One of the most valuable components of the program is free pharmacy discounts (10% to 60% on short term, acute care medications such as antibiotics and pain killers) and the guaranteed lowest pricing on maintenance medications. These discounts are available at over 60,000 chain and independent pharmacies nationwide, including Wal Mart, Rite-Aid, CVS, Walgreens, Kroger, HEB and Albertsons.

Wynn noted that during the four months since REC has offered the Co-op Connections Card to their members it has been used 525 times at 69 different pharmacy locations and members have saved $7,387.

Prepaid metering is a new technology that allows members to pay for their electricity before using it. With the use of special meters and in-home displays, members are able to track their electricity usage minute by minute. By offering this, REC members are better able to monitor their energy consumption before creating extremely high bills that are often impossible to pay. These members are also avoiding expensive reconnection fees and paying smaller deposits in order to restore their electric service.

The Energy Efficiency Renovations and Repairs Program is in place to promote energy conservation, economic growth, job creation, and improve the living standards for homeowners in REC’s service area. The Community Energy Campaign reduces energy consumption, which in turn helps REC in reducing its overall carbon emissions as mandated by the State of North Carolina.

“We feel very confident that this new program will be very successful for the cooperative and our members,” Wynn said. “We are identifying homeowners who need assistance and conducting initial assessments; increasing the energy efficiency of dwellings; decreasing utility bills and reducing energy; increasing energy awareness to homeowners and businesses; and providing energy efficiency training and job opportunities to contractors and electricians.”

Wynn added that the program now includes manufactured homes. For qualified homeowners, USDA loans are available for up to 33 years (38 for those with incomes below 60 percent of Average Median Income and who cannot afford 33-year terms). The term is 30 years for manufactured homes. The promissory note interest rate is one percent.

Over 500 REC members pre-registered for the annual meeting, an event that featured numerous displays, many dealing with energy efficiency, as well as a catered lunch.

The members in attendance gave approval to a three-year term for three current members of the REC Board of Directors. They were Carolyn Bradley of Jackson (District 3), Robert “Nat” Riddick of Ahoskie (District 4) and Darnell Lee of Windsor (District 7).

Delores Amason, Secretary-Treasurer of the Board, gave the annual financial report, noting that recent investments and improvements to the co-op has increased its net worth to $68.3 million.

REC was also presented its Safety Accreditation by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. Accepting that recognition were REC employees George Price and Billy Yates.

Everette Winslow, whose Raleigh law firm represents REC, presided over the meeting.