Co-op board approves draft REC contract

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Amid concerns and complaints from a small group of Socorro Electric Cooperative members, the co-op’s board of trustees approved a draft of a revised contract covering Renewable Energy Credits (REC) at last month’s meeting.

REC are awarded to customers who have invested in renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power generators. The program, which was temporarily suspended earlier this year, offers credit to customers who produce more energy than they use from the co-op. Checks are issued once the credit amount exceeds $50.

According to the EPA’s website, the idea behind REC is to promote green energy and reduce the need for fossil fuel-based generation sources.

Three Socorro Electric customers took advantage of the public comment period of the board’s May 23 meeting to speak in favor of reviving and revising the REC program.

John Fredericks of Tierra Grande claimed that co-ops and energy companies are buying REC to offset their “dirty” production of energy because it’s cheaper to do so than to invest in producing clean, renewable energy.

“I will only say that the current way most co-ops are going about it is in direct conflict with the spirit and intentions of why co-ops were created in the first place,” he said. “That is to say the banding together to help each other and the community they are a part of grow and have access to cheap energy for the common good.”

Fredericks said he didn’t think it was right that Socorro Electric was acting as “muscle men” for Tri-State, the company that provides the co-op with its energy, by charging the customers in the program a $16 monthly fee while not producing the energy the customers use.

“If the board would be willing to waive the $16 minimum fee for all solar 10-watt and under producers, then maybe we can come to an agreement that is beneficial to everyone,” he said.

Like Fredericks, Jim Lear of Magdalena applies a photovoltaic system that generates electrical power by converting solar radiation into direct current electricity. He said the co-op should be promoting clean energy use.

“It’s in the interest of members to encourage (solar panel) installation,” he said. “The price depends on the policies of the board.”

Jeannie Dixon of Socorro said the co-op should be working with the approximately 25 customers who utilized the program.

“I want to make sure we have a real strong say,” she said.

Later in the meeting, Socorro Electric General Manager Joseph Herrera presented a draft contract between the co-op and customers to the board.

“I’m asking for approval, so we can sit down with members and come up with something,” he said, adding that the agreement would still have to be approved by the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission.

The board approved the draft contract unanimously.

Related to the subject of renewable energy, Trustee Donald Wolberg reported on marketing alternative energy. While Socorro Electric purchases its power from Tri-State, Wolberg said there were other options that could be explored.

“Other than Tri-State, there’s solar, geothermal and natural gas, but coal is king,” he said, adding that the feasibility of coal is greatly dictated by EPA regulations. “Our basic idea is Socorro Electric Cooperative is exploring alternatives to create an energy portfolio.”

Wolberg said solar arrays and large and small photovoltaic systems could be included in the portfolio and that funding sources are available.

Wolberg suggested that the alternative energy marketing plan be published in Enchantment, a magazine published by Tri-State and mailed to co-op customers, and posted to the Socorro Electric’s website. The co-op could then invite public input on the plan.

In another related matter, the board agreed to send a letter to Secretary of Energy Steven Chu asking him to reconsider his position on Power Marketing Administrations. The letter states that while transmission expansion, renewable energy, energy efficiency, cyber security and electric vehicles may be important public policy goals, the co-op has concerns over the potential impact to customers and stakeholders.

In Other Business:

  • The board agreed to release only the names of co-op members to Socorro attorney Lee Deschamps, who sent a letter requesting names, addresses and phone numbers of members on behalf of Charlene West, chairperson of the Socorro Electric Cooperative Reform Committee.

Trustee Charlie Wagner said he thought the request was appropriate and that case law dictates the co-op is required to release the information.

Others felt that addresses and phone numbers were more information than what should be released.

“What if members don’t want their names and addresses released?” asked Trustee Prescilla Mauldin.

Mauldin amended Wagner’s original motion to approve by limiting the release to just names. The board approved the amended motion, 7-1, with Wagner casting the lone vote against.

  • The board approved a series of policy changes. One would include an Equal Employment Opportunity statement to the policy manual. Others addressed the uniform and clothing policy, dress code and gets the general manager the authority to send employees to training at his discretion.
  • During his manager’s report, Herrera said the co-op comfortably made its margins for the last quarter. That’s important because Socorro Electric is currently operating in technical default on more that $20 million in loans it received from the USDA Rural Utilities Service.

The next meeting of the board was set for 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, June 27.

 


-- Email the author at tslast@dchieftain.com.