The City of Socorro’s offer to buy out Socorro Electric Cooperative is the reason behind the Co-op’s decision not to let City Administrator Donald Monette review its contract with Tri-State Energy last month.
SEC General Manager Joseph Herrera and Director of Communications and Public Affairs Jimmy Capps cited the city’s take-over effort during an interview with El Defensor Chieftain.
In an Aug. 7 letter to Monette, Herrera said the Co-op’s Board of Trustees concluded that the contract “may be shared with others who have harmful intentions towards the SEC membership” should Monette’s request to review the contract be granted.
Herrera and Capps also expressed a concern that Tri-State’s ability to negotiate with other energy suppliers could also be hindered if Monette or others are able to review the contract.
Capps said the cooperative is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act. He said a request by The Chieftain would also be denied.
“We are not a public entity,” Capps said despite the fact that the cooperative is the only electric utility in Socorro and Catron counties and parts of Valencia and Cibola counties.
Even though the cooperative’s members are considered “owners,” members of the general public would also not be allowed to review the contract.
“That’s what their representatives on the board are for,” Capps said.
“We do try to be as transparent as possible,” Herrera added.
Socorro Mayor Ravi Bhasker said the city would not give up in its attempt to view the contract. He said attorney Nann Winter, who is working with the city in its exploration of offering electric utility service, is working on it.
He said the city was “going to go through the PRC route.”
“It’s my understanding that it should be a public document because they had to file it with the PRC for any rate structure they would have to ask for,” Bhasker said.
Bhasker said most of the electric cooperatives have filed their contracts with the commission.
Herrera expressed a belief that Bhasker’s offer for the city to take over the cooperative was “a negotiating tactic.”
Bhasker said he has not heard from Herrera or members of the board of trustees since he made that offer and presented other options at its meeting in July.
“In the request for dissolution, I have not heard yes or no,” Bhasker said.
“I can’t for the life of me understand why the directors are not saying anything,” Bhasker added. “And I’ve known most of the directors. They’ve always been outspoken people. For them to not even entertain a dialogue is a mind-blowing thing for me. You’ve got two lawyers. You’ve got members who were born and raised here and are part of third generation families on that board.”
He said he could understand not hearing from Board President Anne Dorough, who is from Catron County.
“She’s got to look out for their interests,” he said.
But he felt conversations with other members of the board were necessary for “the future of Socorro.”
Capps and Herrera said the Co-op’s by-laws did include provisions for the dissolution of the Co-op.
They also said the contract with Tri-State also allows the parties to negotiate out of the contract, which runs through 2050.
Bhasker has said the city would not be bound by the contract should the
cooperative become dissolved.
He said the city would then be free to negotiate with energy suppliers in hopes of getting a better rate than the cooperative has with Tri-State, which Herrera said was 7.6 cents per kilowatt hour.
Bhasker told The Chieftain in an earlier interview that the city was prepared to move forward with offering electric service on a limited basis to entities in the industrial park area should the cooperative not accept the buyout offer.