Friday, January 27, 2012

WEMC Board Member supports forensic audit

Yesterday following the Washington EMC (WEMC) monthly board meeting my district rep, Billy Helton, was nice enough to spend a good bit of time talking with me despite his need to return to work. Billy has been on the board since October 2010, and he worked hard to defeat an incumbent who had been there for decades. He will readily say that he is still learning, as I am too.

Billy is very concerned about the money that has been spent on Plant Washington by WEMC, which totals about $1M. Understandably, he wants to make the most of the money spent, and worries that abandoning the project will result in wasted money.

A worthless permit

One option he raised is getting the permit and selling it. That permit won't be worth the additional money required to get it, if it can be had at all. LS Energy cancelled a coal plant in Southwest Georgia just last month in part because there is a surplus of power and the cost of construction and emission controls would not be profitable.Power suppliers across Georgia, and the Southeast, already have surplus that they can't sell with consumers reducing use now. And as Cobb EMC demonstrated with their RFP in December, there are ample options among supplier offerings. Trying to sell a coal permit in Georgia now would be about as easy as selling bottled water to a drowning man. 

And the attorney fees

And the cost to get the permit? Those of us who have sat on the hard benches in the Administrative Courtroom in Atlanta will contest, P4G has a deep bench of expensive lawyers from King and Spalding when they are in court. The cost? Based on going rates for "Big Name" firms, we conservatively and confidently estimate that each lawyer is billing AT LEAST $500 PER HOUR to sit in the room. They haven't had fewer than three attorneys there when I have attended. That doesn't include the billable hours prepping for court and other P4G work. I could do a lot of good work with $15K per hour. And like the P4G attorneys, I would be willing to put in a lot of billable hours.  

And the cost per EMC member

With Cobb EMC no longer propping up Plant Washington, the math looks like this (and note to Dapper Dean: if P4G can announce a $2.1B coal plant without a pro forma estimate, plant opponents can use real numbers like customer base, and do our own math. And please don't use that "naive or just intellectually dishonest" stuff on us. We are neither and the truth validates our points). When Plant Washington was announced four years ago, the customer base among the nine participating EMCs was 741,000. Fast forward to this week, and the customer base for Plant Washington with the four remaining co-ops has been reduced by 77 percent to 167,000 customer meters.             

The math looks like this: Washington EMC has spent $1M of owner dollars on Plant Washington. That equates to $67 per customer so far. With just four remaining co-ops participating in a $2.1M project, the cost per member skyrockets to $12,575 PER MEMBER. I don't know about other folks, but I don't think I can squeeze that kind of money out of my household budget to support Plant Washington. Suddenly the assurances of affordable power don't hold water.   

We can put an end to the madness 

WEMC owner members need to contact their board rep and tell them that it is in the best interests of the co-op to stop now. Let's give them some encouragement to change course for the better. 

Helton: I support a forensic audit

While I may be the one shouting the loudest and the most often, I am not the only one speaking up, or talking with friends and family about the sad state of governance and transparency with the co-op. Billy appreciates the  lack of confidence that many members have in how things have been handled.

With that in mind, he agreed that a forensic audit could be a helpful way to provide information to the owner members and also serve as a way to begin to repair the broken relationship. I added that there should be a committee, with members making up the majority of the group, selected to handle the selection of a firm to conduct the audit, and then report back to the Board and members when it is completed. He agrees there too.

This could be a huge step forward for our co-op. The members want to have confidence in the decisions that are made. Those decisions impact each and every one of us where we work and live every day.

WEMC owner members need to tell the Board that instead of being disappointed if they leave Power4Georgians and Dapper Dean's water sucking, money burning, toxin spewing dirty old coal plant, we will congratulate them for recognizing that a lot has changed and been revealed in four years. We need to do that now.

And while we're at it, let's all thank Billy for wanting to make our co-op the best possible by restoring some confidence in fiscal operations and decisions.  

Not a WEMC member? You can help too.

If you aren't a WEMC member, contact them anyway. The changes at Cobb EMC and other co-ops  were augmented by members who asked for help across the state. We all need clean air and water and affordable power, and operating in a silo doesn't make sense.     

WEMC Board and Senior Staff

Mike McDonald, District 1.....706–465–9414
Jeff Larksen, District 2...........706–444–7556
Joe Taylor, District 3..............478–452–7817
Bill Helton, District 4..............478-348-3078
Mildred Jackson, District 5.....478–552–9438
Chair Mike McCoy, District 6..478–552–0895
Ken Vickers, District 7............478–864–2459
Washington EMC office.........478.552.2577
Frank Askew, CEO

Chair Mike McCoy,

Wendy Sellers, CFO


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