Thursday, June 7, 2012

Hill Country Electric Rates to Skyrocket? Updated

In the original version of this article, I mistakenly listed PEC candidate James Halbert as residing in Williamson County.  He actually lives in Burnet County, and is endorsed by former PEC candidates Alan Yore and Ken Rigsby.  On his website at Halbert discusses at length some of the compelling issues in this race. 

I am not endorsing candidates in this race, but trying to help raise awareness.  There are conservative leaders endorsing both James Halbert and Mark Mayfield for Place 1.  Unfortunately, proponents of common sense vs. radical environmentalism have not unified behind a single candidate, which does not bode well for reform of the PEC. 

Back in January 2008, Barack Obama told journalists that his energy policies would cause the nation's electricity prices to “skyrocket.” Since skyrocketing energy prices are rarely the way to the voter's heart, the story was buried until the November Election. Since Obama's election, gasoline has nearly doubled in cost and electricity rates are indeed climbing. Unfortunately, environmentalists with the same agenda are also gaining ground in the Texas Hill Country via the Pedernales Electric Cooperative.

The Pedernales Electric Cooperative (PEC) is the largest electric co-op in the nation and services some 236,000 accounts over 24 counties. The theory was that such a large co-op would keep prices affordable for Hill Country families, but if the current environmentalist-driven board has its way, the PEC's 70-year history of affordable rates will come to an end.

Among the reasons for the increasing costs imposed on PEC customers are the spending and debt patterns the cooperative has embraced since 2008 when left-leaning environmentalists took control of the board. Consequently, the cooperative's bond rating has dropped from A+ to AA-, making debt service more costly. In 2011, the board of directors spent $1.9 million in education and rebate programs, which cost each customer approximately $6 per bill. Rebates were only given to a slim minority of customers who applied and were approved by the PEC.

Recently the board's Energy Committee recommended spending an additional $5 million for 'renewable energy' this year. They've also asked for $16 million to decrease customer energy consumption by 20%, and will pass those costs on to members. So in addition to increased costs for energy generation, the current board has been piling on additional expenses.

This is not surprising since several of the PEC board members were recruited and promoted by the national environmentalist group “Clean Water Action.” Like most such groups, the title is great; after all, who doesn't want clean water? However, most Americans might be a bit uncomfortable with some of the CWA agenda.

Clean Water Action was born out of the Ralph Nader movement in the 1970's and has been working to implement radical environmental policies for decades. The organization supported the court-ordered drought imposed on California's San Joaquin Valley in 2007. By diverting water resources from the valley to the Pacific Ocean (to protect supposedly endangered smelt,) the government effectively killed local farming and left the area with a 17% unemployment rate. According to CWA, this creates clean water.

Within the PEC, Clean Water Action controls a voting block of up to 7,000 members, and has been very successful in controlling the board. In June, two CWA supported directors are up for re-election: Cristi Clement (former Chair of the Burnet County Democrats) and Larry Landaker.

Cristi Clement is being challenged by Mark Mayfield of Burnet and James Halbert, both  of  Burnet County. Mayfield lost to Clement by 108 votes in 2009 and has been endorsed by former PEC candidates Sandy Jenkins and Eric Stratton. Halbert is endorsed by former PEC candidate Alan Yore. 

CWA-backed incumbent Larry Landaker has been in the news due to his quarter-million-dollar tax lien.  He has three challengers, but the front runner seems to be Linda Kaye Rogers of Wimberly, another former candidate who is backed by Jenkins and Stratton.

PEC elections will probably go unnoticed by most residents; something organized groups like Clean Water Action are counting on. However, PEC members should take these elections seriously and consider whether they want their electricity in the hands of activists with an agenda, or those who would bring a balanced approach to PEC management.

Ballots have already been mailed out and members may also vote online with their pre-assigned login ID and password at until June 15. Afterward, votes may be cast at the PEC annual meeting on June 23, at the Hays CISD Performing Arts Center in Kyle.

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