Fredericksburg, Virginia – Today a group of concerned Rappahannock Electric Cooperative (REC) members launched Repower REC, a campaign to ensure the large Virginia utility is acting in the best interest of its members. Repower REC is a grassroots coalition formed in response to the REC board’s history of secrecy and undemocratic practices. Electric co-ops are owned by their customers, who are called members. Repower REC is asking Rappahannock Electric Cooperative to give its members the opportunity to vote on a series of reforms to ensure fair board elections and make board decision-making open to member observation and concerns.
“For too long REC has been governed by a board that works in virtual secrecy and blocks efforts at reasonable reforms,” said Seth Heald, a retired Justice Department lawyer and REC member.” The board works in subtle and not-so-subtle ways to discourage member involvement in the co-op’s governance, and to keep co-op members in the dark about important co-op decisions. Board members are very well paid; we co-op members have a right to know more about whether they’re really looking out for co-op members’ interests.”
Rural electric cooperatives like REC have a proud history of democratic and inclusive decision making, with input and informed consent from the member-owners the co-ops serve. Unfortunately, REC has instituted a number of undemocratic practices that block informed member participation. As a result, REC’s board of directors and management are making important financial and policy decisions without adequate oversight and input from properly informed co-op members.
“As a member-owner, I want to know what the REC board is doing and what they are thinking about our energy future,” said Mike Murphy of Culpeper County. “It is frustrating that REC board member contact information and email addresses are not publicly available on the REC website. When I have a question, I want to ask my elected board member, who was elected to represent me. It’s no longer good enough to know that when you flip the switch the lights will come on. Energy freedom, transparency, and access to information is important. The lack of access to decision makers and how they do their business is embarrassing.”
Solar United Neighbors of Virginia, a nonprofit that helps Virginians go solar and fight for energy rights, has joined the coalition to help Repower REC reach its goals.
“We have helped dozens of homeowners go solar in REC territory. Yet, many see REC leadership is an obstacle to expanding the customer-owned solar options that members want. We’re joining the effort to transform REC into a transparent, member-driven utility offering reliable, local energy options for its members,” said Aaron Sutch, Solar United Neighbors of Virginia Program Director.
Repower REC has identified three areas in need of reform:
Access to Basic Information
REC does not allow co-op members to observe board meetings, where key decisions on important matters such as electric rates and co-op finances are made. Nor does it publish detailed meeting minutes, make its meetings available online, or even provide easily-accessible contact information to allow co-op members to get in touch with board members. REC even requires co-op members requesting basic information to agree to be liable for potential legal fees before the co-op will disclose the information.
REC does not provide readily accessible, transparent, detailed financial information to allow members to evaluate financial decisions the REC board makes. This includes total annual board compensation, capital-credit decision-making details (what REC members are credited and paid from the utility at the end of the year), and increases in customer fees. As an example, the REC board last year approved doubling the fixed charge paid by all co-op members, without first seeking co-op member input. After public pressure, REC agreed to reduce the increase—which recently went into effect—from $10 to $4 per month.
Under current REC policies, it is nearly impossible to determine whether REC board members are informed and engaged. The co-op’s lack of transparency also makes it impossible for REC members to cast informed votes for board candidates. Even worse, the board uses REC funds to encourage co-op members to cast blank “proxy ballots,” which the board treats as delegating power to itself to effectively control election outcomes. Recent REC bylaw changes imposed by the board make it difficult for members to control their co-op by proposing bylaw amendments for co-op members to approve.
To address these issues, Repower REC has proposed bylaw amendments to 1) ensure co-op members have a right to attend or observe board of director meetings; 2) ensure fair and open board election procedures; and 3) ensure co-op members are able to easily access complete information about board-member compensation without having to agree to liability. The full text of the proposed amendments can be found an our blog.
Repower REC is calling on REC member-owners to join the effort to restore democracy and transparency at Rappahannock Electric Cooperative by visiting RepowerREC.com and signing up to get more information. Repower REC can also be reached on Facebook at @RepowerREC and via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.