Complaining about “high rates” for electricity and an overall “lack of transparency” by provider Rappahannock Electric Cooperative, former Rappahannock County Supervisor Mike Biniek announced Monday that he is seeking a seat on the nine-member REC board of directors.
The election will be held over a seven-week period starting July 1 through August 22, with Rappahannock residents able to vote either by a paper proxy ballot, included in the upcoming July 2019 issue of Cooperative Living Magazine, or for those signed up online via MyREC SmartHub. In addition, co-op members can attend REC’s annual meeting August 22 and vote in person.
Residents are eligible to vote for one candidate from each of the three regions on the ballot this year.
“This year, for the first time in recent memory, there are reform candidates — Andrea Miller, Jack Manzari and Mike Biniek — running in each region,” observed grassroots reform group Repower REC. “You have a real choice to make for the first time in over a decade. These reform candidates, inspired by the Repower REC Campaign, will bring member voices back to our electric co-op.”
REC told the Rappahannock News yesterday that it welcomes the three new candidates for board of directors, and encourages REC members to participate in the democratic process of electing directors.
“It should be clearly noted that there are in fact seven candidates seeking election to three board seats: three incumbent directors, three who have chosen to identify themselves as reform candidates, and an independent candidate,” REC stated.
The co-op further said: “On June 10, information provided by each of the seven candidates along with a 3-minute video statement by each will be available on the REC website, myrec.coop. The Cooperative encourages all members to review the candidate information and to carefully consider who they want to represent their interests as the Cooperative pursues its mission of connecting members and communities with safe, reliable, affordable, and sustainable energy solutions.”
Repower REC has charged of late that current REC board members act “against our interests while enriching themselves . . . [and] have no binding term-limits; if we don’t exercise our right to vote, they can serve as long as they want.”
The reform group further alleged that the REC board “hides” its decision-making process from public view, doesn’t make it clear how it spends the co-op’s money, and forces its member-customers to “pay higher costs for electricity when cheaper alternatives are available.”
Seth Heald, a Repower REC co-founder whose home straddles the Rappahannock-Culpeper line, said in a conference call with all three candidates Tuesday that the current board, beyond paying themselves an annual base salary of $24,000, can earn upwards of $40,000-$50,000 per year with per-diem pay for meetings and travel for what amounts to part-time work on a nonprofit board.
“And they’re staying year-after-year collecting pay,” noted Heald, a former Justice Department lawyer.
REC’s nine board members are officially elected to three-year terms. Three seats are up for election each year.
Biniek is seeking REC’s Region 1 seat, and as Heald pointed out for the first time in recent memory all three seats this year have challengers.
Michael Lindsay, a REC director since 2010, holds the Region 1 seat. He has over 25 years of experience in finance, accounting, corporate governance, ethics, and auditing. He serves on REC’s Finance Committee, HR Committee, and Bylaws Committee and is chairman for RE Communications, a subsidiary of REC.
Lindsay also serves on the Virginia board of the Action Committee for Rural Electrification, a national political action committee focused on the needs of electric cooperatives. He is the controller of an environmental and engineering firm in Loudoun County.
Biniek is both a farmer and with his wife, Susan, owner-operator of Belle Meade School, Belle Meade B&B and Belle Meade Day Camp on FT Valley Road. He served two terms on the Rappahannock Board of Supervisors and is currently the Rappahannock director to the Culpeper Soil and Water Conservation District, where he works with state programs to protect soil and water quality. He considers himself a strong advocate for clean energy, air, and water.
In Tuesday’s wide-ranging conference call with regional reporters on the voting process, Biniek and Heald called attention to REC offering “prizes” to select customers who simply return election ballots, whether a candidate’s name is checked or not. They warned that those who don’t select specific candidates essentially hand their votes to the sitting board, who then cast them for preferred candidates.
“I think they then vote themselves back in,” alleged Biniek, urging those returning ballots not to leave them blank.
REC replied to this newspaper: “The instructions clearly state that if a member does not check either of the above options, then the proxy vote will be assigned to the board of directors. Members may instruct their proxy holder, either the board or another person, how to cast their vote, or members can allow their designated proxy to decide on their behalf.”
It added: “The proxy form and instructions are very clear in the mechanics of proxy voting: members can check a box and write in the name of another member to whom they assign their vote, or check a box to assign their vote directly to the board of directors.”
Asked about prizes, REC said they “are offered with the single purpose of encouraging members to participate in the democratic process, either in person or by proxy. REC’s Bylaws require participation by 2½ percent of the membership in order to achieve a quorum. At the same time as REC’s membership has been growing, participation in the annual meeting and election process has been declining, making achieving a quorum more challenging, so we are providing additional incentives to increase participation. Prizes are awarded blindly, with no knowledge of to whom the proxy is assigned or how the vote is to be cast.”
As for the candidate’s contention that electrical rates are too high, REC told the News: “REC stands by its statement issued November 12, 2018, regarding wholesale power costs. A one-year ‘snap shot’ taken out of context of past and future power costs is not a complete nor accurate analysis. As for renewables, approximately 14 percent of all electricity currently delivered to REC members is generated from renewable sources.
“REC is working with our power supplier to increase that percentage in a cost effective manner. Additionally, last September REC introduced an SCC-approved option where members can individually contract to receive a greater share of renewable energy. While relatively few members have taken advantage of this option, we continue to promote it and encourage participation.”