Three co-founders of the Repower REC campaign today filed a petition (view Volume I and Volume II here) with Virginia’s State Corporation Commission (SCC), alleging that Rappahannock Electric Cooperative (REC) is improperly blocking their efforts to reform the largest electric co-op in Virginia. After months of attempted engagement during which time REC’s full board refused to participate in dialogue, the Repower REC members are asking the SCC to allow member-owners to pursue meaningful reform. The reform efforts, which have gained the support of nearly 200 member-owners since the campaign launched in May, focus on bringing increased transparency, financial accountability, and member control to the co-op.
The petition asks the SCC to issue an injunction requiring REC to allow the proposed bylaw amendments from Repower REC’s co-founders be put before the co-op’s membership for a vote. The bylaw amendments would allow co-op members to observe board of directors’ meetings, receive financial disclosure of board-member compensation, and clarify the proxy ballot process for board elections. This would uphold “the policies of democratic control and member participation” that are embodied in Virginia law pertaining to electric cooperatives.
The petitioners are longtime REC members Brigadier General John Levasseur (US Army, retired), Dr. Michael Murphy (a retired educator), and Seth Heald (a retired lawyer). General Levasseur served on REC’s board of directors for more than three years. They are represented by the non-profit public interest law firm Appalachian Mountain Advocates.
“All we’re asking is that REC’s board members live up to the cooperative principles they claim to follow. It’s a shame we’ve had to file this petition to do that,” Dr. Murphy said. “We attempted to discuss our proposed reforms with the full board, but were told that the board did not want to engage in a ‘dialogue’ with us. We’re hoping our SCC filing will lead eventually to a constructive dialogue with board members, and significant reforms at REC.”
One of the largest electric co-ops in the United States, REC provides electric service to more than 160,000 member-owners in portions of 22 Virginia counties. Electric cooperatives are by definition member-governed electric utilities in which customers have a significant voice in governance and decisions affecting electric rates and other important financial decisions. Virginia law and REC’s bylaws both authorize REC members to propose bylaw changes for membership vote. But, the petition alleges, REC’s board of directors has improperly refused to allow the member-owners to do so.
One of the three proposed bylaw amendments would clarify REC’s election proxy ballot by ending the current practice of treating signed but otherwise blank proxy forms as delegating the member’s voting authority to the board of directors. Another proposed bylaw amendment would require REC to disclose in its member publication the total compensation paid annually to each board member. The third bylaw proposal would require REC to allow co-op members to observe REC board meetings, in person or through online streaming. The full text of the proposed bylaw amendments can be found at RepowerREC.com.
“We’re proposing modest, reasonable reforms,” Heald said. “Virginia law grants electric co-op members the right to propose bylaw amendments for a membership vote. REC’s board exceeded its authority in barring us from exercising that basic right.”
“Transparency and fair elections are the cornerstones of a properly functioning democratic co-op,” General Levasseur said. “It’s unfortunate that REC’s board has denied co-op members their right to submit these pro-democracy reforms for members to vote on.”
Repower REC is a grassroots coalition formed in response to the REC board’s history of secrecy and undemocratic practices. The coalition’s purpose is simple: To promote a more transparent and democratic Rappahannock Electric Cooperative by helping our fellow REC members reclaim their roles as owners of a democratically controlled, transparent cooperative, and to advocate for the fair and equitable treatment of distributed energy resources such as rooftop solar.
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 by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.