HEA board candidates weigh in on issues facing co-op

Posted: Friday, April 03, 2009

Eleven candidates are vying for three open seats on Homer Electric Association's board of directors. One position is available for each of HEA's three districts.

District 1 includes Kenai, Nikiski and parts of Soldotna; district 2, Soldotna, Sterling and Kasilof; district 3, Kasilof south to the Kachemak Bay area.

HEA is mailing out the ballots today. Members have until May 6 to return ballots by mail, or members can also vote at the annual meeting, which will be held May 7, at Homer High School, beginning at 6 p.m. with registration starting at 4:30 p.m. Members can only vote for a candidate from their district.

Two bylaw propositions will also appear on this year's ballot. Proposition 1 would change the bylaws to allow members who are in the business of selling electrical appliances, fixtures or supplies to serve on the board. Currently, a person who sells those items cannot serve on the board of directors.

Proposition 2 would add language to the bylaws allowing board directors to be notified of a special meeting via electronic means. As it reads now, the bylaw states board members must be notified in person or by mail.

Both propositions and candidates' resumes can be viewed online at HEA's Web site, www.homerelectric.com.

The candidates running for the board are as follows:

District 1:

Alan Bute vs. Andrew Patrick

Alan Bute decided to run about two months ago after seeing high rates on his electrical bill.

"We have to have stable pricing for people," Bute said. "Those rate increases, we just can't have them."

Bute has been a member of HEA for 32 years and has served on several local service area boards, including the North Peninsula Road Board, the Nikiski Senior Service Area Board and the Central Labor Council.

Bute said HEA needs a long-term plan to bring stability to the co-op and is in favor of having a third-party independent power supply study.

"We really can't afford to think short term," said seven-year HEA member Andrew Patrick.

Patrick said he's not running on a specific platform but chose to run to put his skills to work for the benefit of others.

"My goal is to help HEA adhere to its mission statement," he said.

Patrick said he'd like to see efficiency in operations as well as diversification of production sources. Like Bute, Patrick said a major concern for all members is rates.

Patrick said the utility should provide affordable, reliable and a valued service to all its members.

District 2:

Jim Fassler vs. Terry Johnson vs. Ed Oberts vs. Bill Tappan

"I think that any board position like this is a community service," said Jim Fassler. "Everybody has to give back."

Fassler, a member of 17 years, said HEA needs more renewable sources of energy.

"Natural gas is getting more and more expensive," he said. "We need other sources."

Fassler said greener sources of energy will take time to develop, and he hopes to keep the rates reasonable in the meantime.

"I want transparency," Fassler said. "I don't have anything to hide from anybody in the world. I just know that I can do a good job for my community."

"The biggest reason I'm running is to get a different outlook from what they've had," said Terry Johnson. "I think we're going to run out of power here before too long, where are we going to get our next power source?" he asked. "Natural gas is falling off fast."

Johnson is a 33-year HEA member and worked as a mechanic for 27 years.

"I think it all comes down to rates," said Ed Oberts, who has run unsuccessfully four previous times. "Unfortunately I haven't made it and unfortunately our rates are unreasonable."

Oberts said he's talked with Sen. Tom Wagoner and Rep. Kurt Olson about introducing a bill that forces the Regulatory Commission of Alaska's approval on rate increases before they take effect.

"I think I have the skills to help lead HEA in the right direction."

Current HEA board member Bill Tappan was appointed in December to fill one of two vacant seats after Dave Carey was elected Borough Mayor and appointed Hugh Chumley as his chief of staff.

"I've fallen in love with it, I really enjoy it," Tappan said.

"I have no personal agenda," he said. "I don't have a passion for anything other than good business. I just want to see things done right."

District 3:

Steve Franklin vs. Jim Levine vs. Pete Roberts vs. Don Seelinger vs. Doug Stark

"HEA seems to not be considering the members' wishes," said Steve Franklin. He said as a co-op, HEA needs to listen to what members are asking for and it is his goal to streamline that process.

"Energy is everything today," he said.

Franklin cited renewables such as wind and tidal that HEA should consider.

He said more transparency is needed as there are several members that need to be heard.

"I see so much potential for renewable energy just all around us, wind, tides, current," said Jim Levine.

Like Franklin, Levine wants HEA to be more open.

"I really believe there needs to be a more open and transparent process," he said.

As a registered engineer in Alaska, Levine said he's used to working on large projects, which transfers over well to his ability to perform as a board director.

Levine has been a member of HEA for 14 years and said the proposed Healy Clean Coal Project is a step back for the utility.

"I think HEA has lost its way," said Pete Roberts. He said the board needs to look to members' interests first.

"(HEA) has been made into an everyday, exploitative company," he said.

Roberts said the co-op has many positions that earn large salaries, which members are paying for.

"Why should we as a community be paying these outrageous salaries?" he said. "They have just gone to gross excess."

Current board vice president Don Seelinger, who was elected in May 2006, is seeking re-election. Seelinger said serving on the board has given him knowledge and experience.

"I have a history of caring for where I reside, the land and its people," he said in an e-mail. "I think by living a step or two off the beaten path -- I live in Seldovia -- affords me a unique perspective of the service needs for the peninsula."

Seelinger said HEA, like all utilities, faces the challenge of providing affordable and reliable power.

"Once the lights were turned on, it became HEA's responsibility to keep them on," he said. "I want to be part of that promise."

He said this can be accomplished by researching all viable options and making the appropriate choices.

"How would we know what choice would be appropriate if we don't look at them all?" he said.

Along with Oberts, Doug Stark has asked his legislators to introduce a bill to require RCA approval prior to rate increases.

"I'd like to see a little more public accountability," he said.

The most recent rate increases was non-responsive to the needs of HEA's members, Stark said.

"I don't think members are being given the openness that is appropriate," he said.

As a member for more than 20 years and having experience in the utility regulation field, Stark said he wants to put his skills to use to serve the people in his HEA service area.

Mike Nesper can be reached at mike.nesper@peninsulaclarion.com.

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