Acting against climate change with OPALCO; Stewards, Energy Roundtables and Island Way Workshops

Are you looking for things you can DO to fight climate change? Is there a home energy efficiency project you would like to DO this year? Do you have any ideas on how we might shape our energy future in the San Juan Islands?

On January 18, 2022, OPALCO kicked off the second year of the Island Way campaign with a meeting of co-op shop stewards: members committed to understanding key co-op issues and taking action to help spread the word among the members. The session was organized into action groups on key topics for the year: efficiency and conservation, electric vehicles – ferries and personal automobiles, renewable energy – solar and battery storage, and electricity rates. Each group came out with a list of action items.

Some of the big announcements included an expanded list of energy efficiency projects that can be funded from members’ bills through Switch it Up – including solar power, weather protection and appliances; a series of energy roundtables on Zoom where members can discuss the energy issues that matter most to them; a new community solar project on San Juan Island in which members can invest to offset their energy consumption; and the beginning of a longer-term process of transitioning electricity rates to the decarbonized energy future that is coming fast.

Electrifying our ferry network is a key discussion for action on climate change. The San Juan Islands route is currently being pushed back to 2040 in Washington State’s ferry plan for an electric hybrid ferry and OPALCO is advocating to have electric ferries on our route as soon as possible. Members are encouraged to write to Senator Liz Lovelett ([email protected]) and stress the urgency of deployment to our region as soon as possible. The Salish Sea is the epicenter of key marine species whose survival depends on actions like these to reduce noise and pollutants in their habitat. OPALCO received a Washington State Department of Commerce Clean Energy Fund grant to design the infrastructure needed to charge electric ferries as they dock in San Juan County and is a willing partner to facilitate faster deployment.

OPALCO has received another round of funding for its Switch It Up program: nearly $48M is available for member efficiency projects with a cost capped at $100,000 per membership! The Switch It Up program allows members to finance energy efficiency projects – upgrades and new construction – on their bill at a 2% interest rate for up to ten years. The full list of measures with detailed specifications will be announced in March and will include new options for heating systems, grid-tied solar + battery storage, appliances, weather protection, fiber to the premises and commercial projects.

This year, there will be several ways to get involved. A new series of Island Way workshops and energy roundtables will provide expert insights and deep dives on topics like climate change, ductless heat pumps, tracking your energy use , electricity rates and electric vehicles, as well as a forum for members’ ideas and discussions. Find the complete list of events on www.opalco.com/calendar.

As more efficiency measures and local solar generation are installed on OPALCO’s system, there is greater pressure on rates to collect revenue that has traditionally been based on energy sales (kWh) . Join us for an ongoing discussion on how electricity rates must evolve to meet the needs of our energy future and keep wise use of affordable electricity. Rates will be discussed at the Energy Roundtable events, the Annual Meeting on April 30, 2022, and throughout the year at the Monthly Board Meeting.

Finally, remember that the election of the board of directors of OPALCO is fast approaching. Three positions are open: one in District 1 (San Juan, Brown, Henry, Pearl and Spieden Islands), District 3 (Lopez, Decatur, Center and Charles Islands, District 4 (Shaw, Bell, Canoe and Crane Islands) Interested applicants can find out how to apply at www.opalco.com/why-run Petition applications are due February 18th.

Orcas Power & Light Cooperative (OPALCO) is our member-owned cooperative electric utility, serving more than 11,400 members on 20 islands in San Juan County. OPALCO provides electricity that is 97% greenhouse gas free and produced mainly by hydroelectric power stations. OPALCO was founded in 1937. Follow OPALCO @OrcasPower on Facebook and Twitter.

About Stephen Arrington

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