Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative board Chair Helsley’s opening statement in his Oct. 12 letter is correct. “Ace Hardware, State Farm, REI, Land O’Lakes and Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative … [are] all cooperatives.” The core values he lists (honesty, transparency, equity, inclusiveness and service to the greater community good) are appropriate for cooperatives.
It’s less clear that SVEC customers experience “voluntary and open membership," “democratic member control” and “economic participation.” And it’s hard to square Dr. Helsley’s assertion that “it’s not just about dollars” with SVEC’s proposed rate increases now awaiting State Corporation Commission action.
Joining a cooperative like Ace Hardware is voluntary. Not so with SVEC. If you reside in its territory, you must buy your electricity from SVEC. When it wants to raise rates, you aren’t invited to weigh in on the need for and amount of the raise before it seeks SCC approval. Holding an after-the-fact “telephone town hall," where SVEC can control incoming questions and can provide answers without necessarily allowing real discussion, isn’t “democratic member control.”
The proposed base rate increase and new residential demand charges may, or may not, be the best ways to “better position the cooperative for the future.” They would have serious economic consequences for many members’ pocketbooks. They would also stymie members’ ability to control their electricity costs through energy efficiency improvements and installing solar panels.
Dr. Helsley left out important details about SVEC’s proposed rate increases. SVEC members deserve to know those details and what they mean for their future electricity costs.