Highlights of the June 20, 2017 Meeting of your Board of Directors
Finding creative solutions to challenges is in the genetics of your electric cooperative. The challenge of bringing safe, reliable and affordable electricity to rural Elko County was the inspiration behind the creation of Wells Rural Electric Company (WREC). Expansion to Wendover, West Wendover, Carlin, Jiggs and Pine Valley continued that legacy of creative solutions.
Our rural location still presents challenges. WREC lies on the southernmost boundary of the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) service area and at the end of the Northwest power grid. The transmission lines that bring carbonfree hydroelectricity to your homes and businesses cross hundreds of miles of land. Much of that land is controlled by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), so policies affecting that land can have a significant impact on the cost of delivering electricity to you.
One of the more recent challenges your electric cooperative is facing is providing the reliability you expect while complying with new regulations adopted in response to litigation over declining sage grouse populations. Many of our members face compliance challenges as well.
At our meeting on June 20, your Board of Directors met with two members who are on the forefront of sage grouse challenges and possible solutions. Your fellow member, Steve Boies, a rancher from northeastern Elko County, was appointed to the Sagebrush Ecosystem Council (SEC) by Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval. The SEC was created to find alternatives to listing the sage grouse as an endangered species. One alternative for avoiding a listing while maintaining economic viability for mining, ranching, utilities, and access for recreation is the creation of a Conservation Credit System (CCS).
Steve explained that under a CCS, organizations like WREC would have three options for managing their impact on sage grouse habitat. Those options are to avoid, minimize and mitigate.
Avoiding impacts is the least burdensome and least expensive alternative. While avoiding impacts would meet WREC’s goal to keep electricity affordable, it might not be possible to provide the safe, reliable electricity our members need.
Minimizing impacts is the most cost effective way to protect habitat while still providing electricity. Long before sage grouse regulations were imposed, WREC adopted construction standards to minimize perching and nesting by raptors, crows and ravens. Building power lines to protect birds from accidental electrical contacts enhanced WREC’s longstanding commitment to protect wildlife and improved reliability. Implementing wildlife friendly construction techniques on new projects and during scheduled maintenance kept the cost affordable.
When impacts on a species cannot be avoided, and minimization efforts have been exhausted, mitigation may be an option. The premise behind mitigation is that the negative impacts caused by an activity, such as building a power line, would be offset by positive enhancements to habitat so that the net impact on a species is zero. Since the only land WREC owns is for our substations and buildings, our opportunities to enhance habitat are virtually nonexistent. That is not the case for some of our members.
Six generations of the Smith family have made the Cottonwood Ranch in the O’Neil Basin their home. Agee Smith is well known for adopting innovative range management and for diversifying ranch operations to adapt to changing economics. Agee also participated in the meeting to discuss how the ranches that WREC serves might be able to provide mitigation by improving habitat. Through the CCS, one WREC member could provide the mitigation necessary to enable another member to complete their project.
The CCS will continue to be refined, but it represents an innovative possibility for fulfilling your Board’s goal to provide safe, reliable and affordable electricity wherever our members have a need.
In other business, we approved the agenda for the current meeting, the minutes of the May 16 Board meeting, the summary of those minutes for publication in the July edition of Ruralite magazine, the minutes of the Safety Committee meeting held April 22, and the Safety First Verse. We reviewed and approved the April Form 7 Financial Report and authorized a letter of engagement with Bolinger, Segars, Gilbert and Moss to conduct the 2017 financial audit. We reviewed reports on Members Services, Finance and Operations. We then reported time devoted to Board business between May 17 and June 20.
We heard presentations on Operations activities, strategic planning and the pending BPA rate increase.
Jerry Anderson and Bruce Widmer reported on the Cooperative Finance Corporation Forum they attended in June.
We approved revisions to Policy 16: Director Fees and Expenses and to Policy 116: Director Insurance.
Lastly, we participated in a safety meeting presented by Steve Oakey, an expert consultant who has been providing specialized safety training for our employees.