Q&A with OPALCO Board of Directors candidate Jessa Madosky

Posted March 14, 2022 at 3:48 pm by

Jes­sa Madosky is one of three can­di­dates run­ning for the open seat on the OPALCO Board of Direc­tors that rep­re­sents Dis­trict 1, which includes San Juan Island. Vot­ing opened on March 11 and runs through April 27. OPALCO asked each can­di­date more than a dozen ques­tions relat­ed to key issues fac­ing OPALCO and Rock Island Com­mu­ni­ca­tions now and in the years ahead. The San Juan Update shares their answers here.

OPALCO’s mis­sion is to pro­vide safe, reli­able, sus­tain­able and cost-effec­tive essen­tial util­i­ty ser­vices with a com­mit­ment to the uti­liza­tion of renew­able resources and car­bon reduc­tion. Which of these is most impor­tant to you and why?

The most impor­tant part of the OPALCO mis­sion needs to be to pro­vide sus­tain­able essen­tial util­i­ty ser­vices or ulti­mate­ly the entire mis­sion will be unsuc­cess­ful. With­out pro­vid­ing essen­tial ser­vices that are sus­tain­able (both in terms of the envi­ron­ment and in terms of the com­mu­ni­ty) we may be able to pro­vide ser­vices for a short time, or pro­vide ser­vices to only parts of the com­mu­ni­ty that are well off, but with­out pro­vid­ing ser­vices that are both envi­ron­men­tal­ly sus­tain­able and sus­tain­able for all of our com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers we can­not ensure that every­one has access to essen­tial services.

OPALCO load dou­bles in win­ter, but solar pro­duc­tion out­put drops to 1/16 (of sum­mer pro­duc­tion) in win­ter. What new ener­gy resources would you like OPALCO to con­sid­er for meet­ing win­ter load?

I would be inter­est­ed in explor­ing wind ener­gy, espe­cial­ly through low pro­file wind tur­bine sys­tems and explor­ing tidal or wave ener­gy. Obvi­ous­ly a full envi­ron­men­tal analy­sis would be need­ed to avoid unin­tend­ed con­se­quences, but there have been huge advances in sus­tain­able tech­nolo­gies and the islands have an abun­dance of both wind and water ener­gy that can be uti­lized dur­ing the win­ter months.

Solar pow­er requires a lot of sun­ny land for solar arrays. Coun­ty land use codes favor pre­serv­ing local rur­al char­ac­ter over solar on open land. How do you think about these poten­tial­ly con­flict­ing approach­es to land use?

Solar pow­er and local rur­al char­ac­ter are not mutu­al­ly exclu­sive. Our barn for our three hors­es is lit by solar pow­ered lights from a small solar pan­el on the barn roof that is bare­ly notice­able. There are ample roofs that could house solar pan­els with prop­er sup­port for installing solar pan­els on pri­vate prop­er­ty and solar pan­el instal­la­tions can also be used in con­junc­tion with graz­ing when prop­er­ly designed. We can design sys­tems that don’t con­flict and can pro­vide both envi­ron­men­tal friend­ly pow­er and help local farms with an addi­tion­al source of income to ensure that our farm­land is not lost forever.

OPALCO depends on hydropow­er from the main­land for more than 84% of its total pow­er sup­ply. How impor­tant is hydropow­er in your vision for a future ener­gy sup­ply in the islands?

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, it is not sus­tain­able to con­tin­ue to depend on hydropow­er from the main­land for most of the pow­er on the islands for a wide vari­ety of rea­sons. First off, with the impacts of cli­mate change on snow­pack and tem­per­a­ture extremes, hydropow­er may become less reli­able in the region just as pow­er demands increase rapid­ly. Main­land sup­pli­ers may be forced to reduce pow­er out­put or dra­mat­i­cal­ly increase prices as we saw this win­ter. We also know that many of the dams used for pow­er pro­duc­tion need to be removed in order to ensure the sur­vival of salmon and our beloved South­ern Res­i­dent Killer Whales. Final­ly, rely­ing on pow­er from the main­land leaves us reliant on run­ning very expen­sive cable through the ocean to the islands and leave us with­out pow­er if that cable is ever dam­aged. We need to cre­ate resilient and redun­dant sources of renew­able ener­gy here on the islands to ensure that we are not depen­dent on, and at the mer­cy of, pow­er com­pa­nies that pri­or­i­tize sup­ply­ing pow­er for their com­mu­ni­ties first.

It’s esti­mat­ed that OPALCO’s load growth will dou­ble between now and 2050 due to the elec­tri­fi­ca­tion of heat­ing and trans­porta­tion. Where should this new ener­gy come from?

This new ener­gy should be sup­plied by local renew­able ener­gy projects and investment.

Where should new renew­able projects be located?

New renew­able projects should be locat­ed on all the fer­ry served islands and should be dis­persed with an upgrad­ed smart grid sys­tem to ensure true local resilience. The lat­est research indi­cates that hav­ing a smart grid that can respond to local pow­er needs and redun­dant renew­able sources dis­trib­uted across the land­scape is the best way to pro­vide resilient pow­er to communities.

Will local resis­tance lim­it sit­ing and permitting?

Poten­tial­ly, but with increased trans­paren­cy and com­mu­ni­ca­tion I think the com­mu­ni­ty is ready to embrace resilient island-pro­duced energy.

Who pays for it?

We need to be proac­tive in work­ing with local non-prof­its, city, coun­ty and state gov­ern­ments, and local busi­ness and landown­ers to seek diverse fund­ing sup­port for resilient renew­able ener­gy. There is a grow­ing recog­ni­tion of the impor­tance of these sys­tems, espe­cial­ly in rur­al areas and we need to be very proac­tive in seek­ing out gov­ern­ment fund­ing, grants, and col­lab­o­ra­tions to become a leader in resilient, com­mu­ni­ty-focused ener­gy programs.

OPALCO’s cur­rent rate struc­ture col­lects rev­enue to cov­er fixed costs through the kWh (ener­gy use) charge. As we become more ener­gy effi­cient and embrace more renew­able ener­gy, OPALCO won’t col­lect enough kWh rev­enue to cov­er fixed costs. How would you address this rate struc­ture dilemma?

Some of these fixed costs may actu­al­ly be reduced by using grants and gov­ern­ment fund­ing to upgrade our sys­tems to sys­tems that are more effi­cient and more resilient. This will reduce the over­all costs that need to be cov­ered by kWh charges. In addi­tion, funds that are cur­rent­ly set aside to repair or replace cables from the main­land could also be repur­posed towards fixed costs if these become unnec­es­sary due to cre­at­ing a resilient sys­tem. Ide­al­ly, pro­duc­ing our own renew­able ener­gy will be low­er cost that pur­chas­ing ener­gy from the main­land and will have few­er spikes in pric­ing, but the upfront cost may require cap­i­tal invest­ment that should be sup­port­ed by proac­tive grant writ­ing, access­ing state and fed­er­al funds for mod­ern­iz­ing rur­al ener­gy grids, and through fundrais­ing. One option may also be an increase on prop­er­ty tax­es for sec­ond homes – many loca­tions have tax codes that allow for low­er tax­es for year-round res­i­dents but high­er tax­es for vaca­tion homes.

The Coun­ty Com­pre­hen­sive Plan cites “ener­gy inde­pen­dence” as a goal. What is your under­stand­ing of this goal? How would you achieve it?

Ener­gy inde­pen­dence should mean sourc­ing our ener­gy from renew­able sources with­in the islands – inde­pen­dence from both unsus­tain­able fos­sil fuel use and from buy­ing our ener­gy from the main­land. I would achieve this through a mix of redun­dant, dis­trib­uted, renew­able ener­gy sources across the main fer­ry served islands and an upgrad­ed grid sys­tem with bet­ter efficiency.

OPALCO is a non-prof­it coop­er­a­tive. How would you pro­pose to keep member’s pow­er bills affordable?

I would pro­pose to keep member’s pow­er bills afford­able by aggres­sive­ly going after grants and gov­ern­ment fund­ing to upgrade our pow­er grid and cre­ate local renew­able ener­gy sources. This would also allow the islands to become inde­pen­dent from main­land pow­er sources that can increase costs dur­ing high demand and allow OPALCO to invest in renew­able pow­er gen­er­a­tion on island instead of expen­sive cables to the mainland.

What is your vision for pro­vid­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tion tech­nol­o­gy through­out SJ County?

We need to ensure that every house­hold can afford­ably access both phone and high­speed inter­net. Like pow­er, we should aggres­sive­ly pur­sue grants and fed­er­al fund­ing for rur­al con­nec­tiv­i­ty. We are cur­rent­ly in a time peri­od where there is a lot of sup­port for rur­al access to high-speed inter­net due to changes in edu­ca­tion and work from the COVID cri­sis and we need to make sure as a com­mu­ni­ty that we are able to access fund­ing while it is available.

Rock Island pro­vides inter­net con­nec­tions to near­ly 50% of the OPALCO mem­ber­ship. How impor­tant is it to pro­vide inter­net to the bal­ance of our membership?

It is incred­i­bly impor­tant for the com­mu­ni­ty for there to be an equi­table and inclu­sive dis­tri­b­u­tion of high-speed inter­net and unfor­tu­nate­ly we are not there yet. As we have all seen dur­ing the COVID cri­sis, we are increas­ing­ly depen­dent on being able to access high speed inter­net for edu­ca­tion and cer­tain high­er pay­ing jobs. If many of our res­i­dents are unable to access high speed inter­net it reduces both edu­ca­tion­al and employ­ment oppor­tu­ni­ties, which makes it even hard­er for peo­ple to afford to live here year-round. There is grow­ing recog­ni­tion around the world that access to high speed inter­net has become an equi­ty issue and this recog­ni­tion also comes with fund­ing if we are able to act quick­ly to ensure that our com­mu­ni­ty is able to ben­e­fit from this cur­rent dri­ve to ensure rur­al areas have access to high speed internet.

Who should pay for the cost of inter­net connections?

Ide­al­ly, we should be seek­ing out grant and gov­ern­ment sup­port for ensur­ing that all com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers have equi­table access to inter­net con­nec­tions. Cur­rent­ly the “last mile” costs are far too expen­sive for many coun­ty res­i­dents. OPALCO should part­ner with the coun­ty and local non-prof­its to access grants and gov­ern­ment pro­grams designed to increase rur­al access to high-speed inter­net and use these fund­ing sources to help reduce con­sumer costs, espe­cial­ly for low­er income and year-round residents.

How would you assist Rock Island in real­iz­ing that vision?

I have exten­sive expe­ri­ence writ­ing and col­lab­o­rat­ing on grants and would be excit­ed to help lead the charge in secur­ing grant and gov­ern­ment fund­ing to ensure equi­table access to high-speed inter­net for coun­ty res­i­dents. As a sci­en­tist, I’m expe­ri­enced in find­ing fund­ing sources, find­ing fund­ing part­ners, and work­ing togeth­er to secure grants to make projects happen.

You can support the San Juan Update by doing business with our loyal advertisers, and by making a one-time contribution or a recurring donation.

Categories: Around Here

No comments yet. Be the first!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

By submitting a comment you grant the San Juan Update a perpetual license to reproduce your words and name/web site in attribution. Inappropriate, irrelevant and contentious comments may not be published at an admin's discretion. Your email is used for verification purposes only, it will never be shared.

Receive new post updates: Entries (RSS)
Receive followup comments updates: RSS 2.0