Q&A with OPALCO candidates

OPALCO is a member-owned cooperative governed by a Board of Directors who are elected by the membership. Members will have a chance to vote for two open board positions in the election that opens on April 13. There are three candidates for the two open positions in District 1 (San Juan, Brown, Henry, Pearl and Spieden islands): Vince Dauciunas, Mark Madsen and Bill Severson. All co-op members vote in all elections, regardless of their home district. All ballots must be returned online or by mail before the deadline of May 4, 2017 at 10:30 a.m. PDT. The Sounder and Journal asked the candidates a series of questions.

Bill Severson

Q: What are your qualifications to serve on the OPALCO board?

After earning an engineering degree in Electrical Engineering from UW I had a career with General Electric Company spending 45 years helping Marine, Industrial and Utility customers around the World solve their energy problems. From delivering distributed power to earthquake victims in Japan to supplying emergency electricity in Peru during their hydroelectric crisis.

I finished my career as a manager for GE’s Distributed Power then Wind and finally solar businesses. The training and experience with Leadership San Juan Islands will help me be an effective facilitator a positive force on the Board and with the membership.

Have served on the American Red Cross Chapter Board and presently lead for the San Juan Islands Unit. On the Board of the San Juan Island Trails Committee, past Chairman and presently serving as Treasurer. On the Board of the Mount Dallas Association and previously served as President for three years. On the Board of the Friday Harbor Sailing Club, presently serving as Commodore. Member of Session, the governing body of the Friday Harbor Presbyterian Church.

Q: What are your top three goals while serving on the OPALCO board?

Strengthen our Cooperative through member participation, increased transparency and communication.

With member support, start now toward local renewable energy.

Control costs.

Q: What are the three most pressing challenges you see facing the co-op and what strategies do you have in mind to navigate these challenges?

My goals match the challenges that we face.

I am all about Local Renewable Energy, we can do this! And we should get started now. I am also a firm believer in Cooperatives. The most crucial factor in the success of a cooperative is the ability to be flexible and adapt to changing conditions and forces. We have a great community, with wonderful talent, timing is perfect.

I have been studying the Coop’s Integrated Resources Plan, an excellent document that lays out our electrical situation and the dream for energy independence. There are two missing ingredients in this plan:

The first is engaging an enthusiastic membership, we can get started with a series of town hall meetings, workshops, action committees and maybe a picnic or two along the way. We have time to do this right.

The second is the money, it’s always the money. With membership support I am ready to take our plan to Olympia and beyond.

We are in a unique situation, the jewel of the Northwest, located out in the middle of the Salish Sea, with a very complex underwater cable system, actively engaged community, energy supply troubles on the horizon, affordable technology that has finally caught up, we should be moving on this plan now.

At my job with GE and my volunteer work with the American Red Cross I have seen what happens when communities and even Countries are not prepared. So, let’s roll up our sleeves and get started securing our energy future for my grandkids, and yours.

Mark Madsen

Q: What are your qualifications to serve on the OPALCO board?

I am presently an OPALCO director. I have strong experience in internet provider businesses, having helped start Internap Network Services in 1997, growing Seattle to 30 cities worldwide. I have 25 years of experience in computer software and networking. I also serve as President of the SJC Economic Development Council, a trustee of the SJ Island Library District, and a director at Seattle Arts and Lectures. I have also served on the boards of several technology companies.

During my time on the OPALCO board, I have focused on the governance and business plan for Rock Island, our low-income assistance programs, and determining the options for renewable energy initiatives. I bring significant technical and business experience to the board, and the ability to make good decisions about the many challenges OPALCO faces as the world of electricity production changes, and as we grow into the county’s major broadband Internet provider.

Q: What are your top three goals while serving on the OPALCO board?

If elected, I will oversee Rock Island through to break-even and then profitability, and help oversee the transition from actively building infrastructure (i.e., a construction-focused company), to a stable long-term service business.

Second, with the completion of the submarine cable replacement and fiber backbone around the county, I will work with the board and staff to “do more with what we have.” We will use our smart grid investments to operate with better efficiency, which will decrease our costs. Furthermore, we will manage our debt downwards, in anticipation of the next submarine cable projects a decade or more from now.

Third, I will participate in our next major review of the rate structure, and I hope to help find a way to structure our rates that does not create major uncertainty for Coop finances, but can help reduce the impact of the fixed charges on low income and low-usage members.

Q: What are the three most pressing challenges you see facing the co-op and what strategies do you have in mind?

1. Dealing with rising electricity rates from Bonneville

2. Coming up with fair rates for members who add local electricity generation (e.g., solar)

3. Improving member awareness of the many fronts on which OPALCO is working, and getting deeper feedback from the community

The first two challenges are the core of everything we’ve been doing lately. We will install community solar to increase local production and reduce the amount we must buy from BPA, we are exploring grid-scale battery storage to reduce demand charges and market rate power purchases, and we joined PNGC, a consortium of coops who band together to buy power at favorable rates. The third challenge requires a many-pronged approach: video broadcasting board meetings, town hall meetings, workshops on specific topics, and quarterly district meetings are new and upcoming ways we’ll try to increase two-way communication between the community and the Coop.

Vince Dauciunas

Q: What are your qualifications to serve on the OPALCO board?

I currently serve as the President of the OPALCO Board of Directors. I was first elected to the Board in May 2011.

My education includes Bachelors and Masters Degrees in Electrical Engineering

from the University of Notre Dame and UC Berkeley.

After working at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, I spent 26 years with Hewlett Packard and Agilent Technologies in Research and Development, General Management, and Business Development.

My experience includes development of systems for measurement, computation and communication in a wide variety of industries, including Power Generation, Telecommunications, Environmental Science, Water Quality, and Biotechnology. I was responsible for Strategic Planning in the Chemical and Life Sciences Group, which has grown to be a $4.2 billion per year business today. In my last position, I was Vice President at Symyx Technologies; a company focused on discovering new materials for use in many areas, including fuel cells, advanced batteries, and renewable fuels.

Q: What are your top three goals while serving on the OPALCO board?

As a Board member, be effective at oversight, and contribute positively to implementing our strategic plan (OPALCO’s Integrated Resource Plan, available on the website). The plan includes grid modernization, increasing local power generation and storage with renewable sources, and securing other long term reliable sources in addition to Bonneville Power Administration.

Make sure the rate structure is fair and understandable, while at the same time generating the levels of revenue needed to fund investments, incentivize conservation and renewable generation, and provide assistance to our members who need help.

The success of our strategic plan will be enhanced by our collective ability to be smarter with our use of energy. We will increase opportunities for members to learn about the challenges, and influence the solutions we must implement in order to realize a more robust and secure energy future.

Q: What are the three most pressing challenges you see facing the co-op and what strategies do you have in mind?

OPALCO faces many of the same challenges that the entire Electric Utility Industry faces: flat to very low load growth, which limits revenue while costs continue to increase, an increasing demand to integrate intermittent renewable sources such as solar and wind, the need to give members more visibility into, and control over their energy use.

To meet these challenges, OPALCO’s IRP (Integrated Resource Plan) presents a number of solutions. In a very brief summary: “Do more with the existing grid” – use modern communication technology and “smart” grid devices to improve efficiency, reduce losses and shorten outages. Learn from other utilities, and be smart about how we integrate renewable generation and storage. Make sure the financial model is sound and fair. Work with our members to identify and implement the most effective and acceptable products and services, which will enable better understanding and more effective control of their energy use.