Gene Morris (left) and Kaye Shipley
McDONOUGH — There was a time, and not too long ago, when getting, and retaining, a seat on the Board of Directors of the Snapping Shoals Electric Membership Corporation (EMC) was perfunctory. Now, two Henry County residents — Gene Morris, Jr., and Kaye Shipley — are involved in the EMC’s annual election that has statewide, and national implications over the issue of clean energy versus coal.
Shipley declares she and her slate are not radical environmentalists, but concerned citizens. Morris said they may be, but points to web sites he says suggest otherwise showing — support for them by the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (CleanEnergy.org), BeyondCoal.org, Environment Georgia, GeorgiansForSmartEnergy.org, and the Sierra Club (SierraClub.org).
SSEMC at a glance
SSEMC ranks in the two lowest residential rates among the 42 co-ops in Georgia.
SSEMC ranks in the top 14 percent lowest residential rates among 814 co-ops in the United States.
SSEMC has the seventh-lowest retail rate in the state out of 95 electric providers.
SSEMC has the fourth-lowest summer rate, and second-lowest winter rate among all 42 EMCs and Georgia Power
SSMC is $498 a year cheaper than Georgia Power.
SSEMC is $307 a year cheaper than the average of all electricity providers in the state.
Source: Georgia Public Service Commission residential rate survey, at 1,400 kilowatts and officials at Snapping Shoals EMC.
On two of the web sites, are job applications for college students interested in distributing flyers on behalf of those opposed to coal plants.
On the CleanEnergy.org web site is this posting: “The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) is hiring a team of change-makers in the Covington, Ga., area to elect utility co-op board members who will stop wasteful spending and protect our air and water ...”
The Internet postings, and flyers, are examples of influence of major anti-coal power groups, contends Morris.
“Snapping Shoals EMC entered into a risky deal to develop a new coal plant called Plant Washington. It’s already cost us $9 million and will likely total near $4 billion to finish. With this plan, our families’ electric bill could rise by $208 a year,” read a flyer bearing the pictures of Shipley and two other anti-coal candidates. The flyer, which asked customers to attend to a “meet the candidates session” on July 16, attracted 25 people, and it shows a DeKalb state representative at the event, noted Morris.
“It’s a group spurred by the Sierra Club, that didn’t like the fact that we like to keep our power diversified,” said Anthony Norton, a Snapping Shoals board member who is up for re-election. “Our [power] options in Georgia are so limited.
“We offer, and promote green energy,” he added. “We’re the only EMC in Georgia that sold out of our green power. We must be doing something right, we got some of the lowest rates in the state.”
“We just gave our members about $2.8 million in patronage capital, which they get when we pay all our operating expenses,” explained Morris.
Snapping Shoals is a non-profit, consumer-owned cooperative headquartered in Covington. It provides electric service to about 95,000 residential, commercial, and industrial consumers in an eight-county area that includes Rockdale, Henry, Newton, DeKalb, Butts, Walton, Jasper and Morgan counties. Its roots go back to the 1930s and the early days of America’s rural electrification.
Normally, about 1,500 eligible EMC’s members cast ballots in EMC’s annual election meeting, like the one coming up on Thursday, July 26, at the Georgia International Horse Park, in Conyers. Then, in almost three hours voting, this year from 8:30 a.m. until 11:15 a.m., the issue will be decided.
The three incumbents facing re-election this year are Norton, of Rockdale County; Walter Johnson, of DeKalb County; and Morris, of Henry County.
“We’re running as a slate,” said Shipley, and her team of Albert Roesel, and Cheryl Mathis. The issue for them is “transparency,” she said.
The Shipley group is challenging Morris, Johnson and Norton for their decision to use $11 million of EMC funds to get permits to build a $2.1 billion coal-fired Plant Washington, in Sandersville, about 60 miles east of Macon, and 90 miles from Atlanta.
“Is it radical to question investment decisions that will affect every Snapping Shoals EMC member in the service area? No. That’s why I’m running for the Snapping Shoals EMC Board of Directors,” said Shipley. “I question a business model that supports entering into contractual agreements on behalf of SSEMC member owners without full disclosure, a sound value proposition, and clear communication of a risk/benefit ratio ...
“Member owners in SSEMC service area cannot afford to take a chance on future rate increases when the need for another power plant is questionable,” said Shipley in an e-mail reply to the Henry Daily Herald.
“I have personally spoken with SSEMC board candidates Cheryl Mathis and Albert Roesel,” continued Shipley. “We are all advocates for shared decision-making and sound fiduciary stewardship. We are concerned about closed-door dealings that could affect our affordable electric rates.”
Morris said: “Our opponents complain about Plant Washington, when a huge part of the costs [an estimated $3 million] has been fighting their lawsuit against its construction. It costs money to prove you’re right.”
When the plant is built, the money invested in permits will be returned to Snapping Shoals, that’s part of the negotiations, he said.
“We will always buy the power that is the best value and most reliable for our members. If it’s not the cheapest and most reliable, we won’t buy it,” said Morris. “The people who are speaking the loudest have been demanding we pull out and lose the money.” Morris explained that the money used to get permits will be returned to the EMC once Taylor Energy Resources builds the plant by 2014.
“We are elected by members to make decisions,” he added. “We can’t make everything public when we’re in the middle of negotiations, and that’s what I think this group wants.”
Diversification through the use of gas, fuel, coal, and nuclear power resources ensure that we can keep our rates low for our members, and it makes sure they have a dependable power supply,” stressed Morris.
“We are in the throes of what seems like a national election, with less than a week to campaign. These folks have canvassed our districts, sent out misleading flyers and made misleading robo calls,” said Morris.
Randall Meadows and Aubrey Harvey, both of Covington, said they received such calls.
“My caller I.D. showed this call originated in Cottonwood, Utah,” Meadows said. After challenging the lady caller, he said, “She quickly ended the call.”
“It makes me angry when folks tell lies about my co-op,” said Harvey, a former Henry County Manager. “They say they want to save me money, but they don’t care about our rates. They only care about anti-coal, anti-gas, anti-old, anti-nuclear hysteria.
“They are for hydro power, but against dams. They are for wind power, but not if the windmill hits a bird,” added Harvey. “I trust our board.”
The organized EMC challenges have caught board members flat-footed, but resolute.
“I’m not a politician,” said Norton. He said he will seek the support of those who know him.
Morris and Johnson said they have started using e-mails to their friends, visiting civic groups, churches and civic groups seeking support.
“Some people are saying they are not going to go [to the annual meeting]. If they don’t go this time, it could lead to higher rates, and less dependable service,” said Morris. Three seats are up for election this year and three more next year.
“Georgia is not a one-size-fit-all state, whereby the climate is not conducive to wind, or sun, on a consistent basis,” said incumbent Johnson.
The places the EMC found where various forms of power might be tried, none was found to be usable. For example, in trying wind power at places like Brasstown Bald and Coastal Brunswick, it was learned that the potential for wind turbines would generate no more than eight hours a day, Johnson noted. In the case of solar energy in South Georgia, it has been determined the site would result in no more than six to eight hours a day.
“When you flip your light on, you don’t know if it’s generated from gas, coal, nuclear, or solar energy,” Johnson said he is telling his supporters. "What you expect is your light come on, and you get a reasonable bill every month."