WINCHESTER — In response to claims from some of its member-owners that Rappahannock Electric Cooperative's board elections are unfair, REC says the utility encourages member-owner participation in the process.

Three seats on REC's board are up for election this summer.

"The process for electing directors is simple and member-friendly," said a Thursday statement from REC spokesman Matt Faulconer. "..all members are encouraged to participate in the director election."

REC is one of the largest electric co-ops in Virginia, serving 22 counties and 11 towns, including about 27,500 members in Frederick and Clarke counties. It is governed by a nine-member board representing nine regions in the co-op's coverage area.

REC customers are member-owners of the co-op.

Recently, a group of member-owners formed a group called Repower REC over their dissatisfaction with the co-op's leadership. The group is endorsing candidates to challenge three incumbent board members, representing regions one, six and seven, whose seats are up for election.

Repower REC is partnered with the nonprofit Solar United Neighbors of Virginia, which is connected to commercial solar power interests.

Faulconer said in his statement that information about each candidate will be posted on myrec.coop on June 10. 

"In July, REC members will receive proxy cards that they can complete and return to help elect the candidates of their choice," Faulconer said. 

Members can mail in their vote, vote online if they have a payment portal set up through the REC website, or vote in person at the annual meeting.

REC's board seats are technically at-large, so member-owners are able to vote once in each region regardless of their home address. Board members will be chosen at the co-op's annual meeting on Aug. 22. The meeting's location has not been announced.

Region One, represented by REC board vice chairman and Frederick County resident Michael W. Lindsay, covers Frederick and Shenandoah counties and parts of Page, Warren and Rappahannock counties. Lindsay is being challenged by Rappahannock County farmer Mike Biniek, who runs a Montessori school and summer camp on his property. Caroline County resident and political campaign operative Andrea Miller is running to replace Region Six representative and Caroline County resident Linda Gray. Louisa County resident and retired physician Jack Manzari is running to replace Region Seven representative and Louisa County resident J. Mark Wood.

A board term is three years.

Biniek, Miller and Manzari have said they don't like the board's election practices. They say the board routinely offers prizes, like a $500 bill credit, for mailing in a ballot. The ballot doesn’t have to be filled out for a member-owner to be entered for the prize, so many ballots are returned blank. Under co-op rules, the board is able to cast a proxy vote for that member.

Faulconer said in his statement that member-owners have all the information they need to be informed of the proxy-voting process. 

"The instructions clearly state that if a member does not check [one of two boxes], then the proxy vote will be assigned to the board of directors," Faulconer said. "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." 

Faulconer also defended the use of prizes to get people to vote. 

"REC’s Bylaws require participation by [2.5%] of the membership in order to achieve a quorum," Faulconer said. "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." 

Repower REC was formed in part in response to a 45-year purchasing agreement the board adopted in 2009, which Repower REC believes locks the co-op into higher-than-necessary electricity rates.

In November, the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), a nonprofit research firm based in Cleveland, released a study that says because of a long-term contract, REC members have been paying more than the wholesale market rate for electricity.

In his statement, Faulconer said the co-op disputes this analysis. "A one-year 'snapshot' taken out of context of past and future power costs is not a complete nor accurate analysis," he said. 

Responding to Repower REC's desire to increase the share of renewable energy in REC's portfolio, Faulconer said the co-op is working to increase it "in a cost-effective manner." 

"Additionally, last September REC introduced [a State Corporation Commission]-approved option where members can individually contract to receive a greater share of renewable energy," Faulconer said. "While relatively few members have taken advantage of this option, we continue to promote it and encourage participation." 

— Contact Onofrio Castiglia at ocastiglia@winchesterstar.com

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