A value of solar study by the Pedernales Electric Cooperative will be complete and available to the public Tuesday, Nov. 16, three days before the board’s next regular meeting on Friday, Nov. 19. The study is part of the draft 2022 rate plan, which will be on the agenda for final approval in November followed by approval of the tariff amendment in December. The tariff amendment sets the electric rates for the next year.
At the PEC Board of Directors meeting Oct. 15, when the draft 2022 rate plan was presented and approved, District 7 Director Amy Akers asked for more time for co-op members (electric customers) to study both the solar document and the draft 2022 rate plan. Her suggestion devolved into a tense discussion on transparency between Akers and board President Emily Pataki that was taken into executive session and ended in open session with a clarification by Akers.
PEC Rates Manager Natalia Mack made the draft rate plan presentation and when asked by Akers if the value of solar study was complete, answered yes. Based on that response, Akers made a motion that was seconded by District 4Director Travis Cox to make the value of solar study and the draft 2022 rate plan public immediately.
“Going forward, I would like the lead time for the draft plan to begin in September, allowing the membership to review the draft at least one month before adoption,” Akers said.
Every three years, PEC performs a cost-of-service study, which a rates committee uses to craft an annual rate plan. The last cost-of-service study was done in 2020; the next will be in 2023. A rate plan outlines what issues should be considered in a new rate. It is not the mechanics of the rate and includes no numbers.
Each year, the timeline for the next year’s rate plan begins in September when the rates committee meets. The draft rate plan developed by the committee is then presented to the board in mid-October. In November, the board votes on the final rate plan, while the draft tariff amendment developed from the rate plan is discussed. The tariff amendment is where the numbers come in. The final tariff amendment is on the agenda for the Dec. 17 meeting for final approval, setting the rates for the coming year.
The value of solar study was commissioned by the PEC board at the request of members advocating fo the expansion of solar energy after PEC suggested raising the cost of installing residential solar panels earlier this year. Consideration of the effect of solar, or small power, on the system and consideration of the value of solar study were written into the draft rate plan.
After hearing that the value of solar study was ready and not yet public, Akers questioned the board’s practice of discussing details in executive session and not in front of the membership.
“My purpose in stating this is that I’m tired of having closed-door, behind-the-scenes discussions where staff gives us more information and we don’t have the discussion up here for the membership’s benefit. We don’t,” she said. “We just pass things up here. We don’t have a full discussion where the membership is aware of the questions we may have.”
“Transparency is fundamental to what we do here,” she responded. “Have I ever not allowed you to ask any question up here on this dais? Any question you ever care to ask, you have the full freedom and authority to ask that up here for the full benefit of the membership.”
“I did not say you do not give me the opportunity to ask questions,” Akers said. “Maybe not having members here, which we haven’t had for the last 16 months or so (due to COVID-19) has gotten us into a habit of just going into a business meeting and not thinking of asking those questions.”
“Point well made,” Pataki said. “I don’t think it’s to try to blow past something.”
The board was then informed that the value of solar study was actually not ready after all. Akers amended her motion, stating that the study should be released as soon as it was ready. No one seconded the motion, and she eventually withdrew it after reaching an agreement with Pataki to bring it up again after executive session.
When the board returned three hours and 55 minutes later, Akers withdrew her earlier statements about the lack of transparency.
“To clarify, I do not believe there has been an actual lack of transparency,” she said. “My comment that I believe we have not been transparent purely stemmed from the limited information provided to the membership regarding the value of solar study and its relation to the rate plan. Since I have been on the board, the board has been dedicated — and I mean dedicated — to transparency and ensuring our actions when and why they are occurring. This is why we have in fact the draft resolutions.”
The meeting adjourned after a few quick votes on other items discussed in executive session but with no further action on Akers’ previous — and withdrawn — motion.
Pataki gave a statement to DailyTrib.com a week after the meeting when asked about the exchange with Akers.
“I am proud of the transparent, more-than-year-long review the board has given the solar interconnection rate change,” she submitted by email through Patty Gonzales, director of Communications and Marketing. “We listened to the members, took their concerns seriously, and are working on a rate that is simple, sustainable, and fair for all members.
“As I stated at the October board meeting, now that members can come back to our board meetings in person, we can better understand and hear member concerns,” she continued. “While we always received input from our members despite COVID-19 restrictions, either by email, video, or virtual meetings, seeing them in person is always preferred since it is the best way we can fully communicate with each other.”
The next PEC Board of Directors meeting is 9 a.m. Friday, Nov. 19, at PEC headquarters, 201 S. Avenue F in Johnson City.