Seth Heald, candidate for Region IV director on the Rappahannock Electric Cooperative board of directors, said he wants to reform the member-owned utility.
“I’m running because I think the board has a closed culture,” he said. “It’s very insular and it’s designed to make it hard for anybody to win an election, unless they are an incumbent. The result has been, over many years, board members who stay on for many decades pay themselves more than they should for what’s a part-time position on a board of directors.”
Heald is running against incumbent Sanford Reaves Jr. (His profile appears on the following page.) Region IV covers Culpeper and Orange counties.
“Ultimately, [directors] have been resistant to programs that could help reduce consumers’ bills. I just found there’s a culture there, ‘we know what’s best and you should just defer to us,’” he said.
As co-founder of the Repower REC campaign to reform the electric cooperative, according to his profile on the REC candidates’ webpage, Heald is a pro-consumer advocate who has worked to get REC to disclose its board members’ compensation, post its audited financial statements online, post board members’ contact information for co-op members to see, and implement energy efficiency programs such as Pay As You Save that can reduce electric bills for co-op members.
“Each board member gets a $2,000 per month stipend just for being on the board,” he told the Culpeper Times. “But in addition, each board member gets paid $500 for every day for which they attend meetings that are co-op business. That explains why some board members are paid more than others; some board members go to more meetings.
“Those meetings could include a board meeting itself, but they also could include going to other meetings of regional associations or if they go down to Richmond to lobby our legislators, they get paid $500 a day,” Heald said. “It’s a funny thing, because it gives people an incentive to go to lots of meetings.”
Another issue that Heald said he is “very interested” in is providing broadband Internet services to co-op members.
“There are co-ops all over the country, electric co-ops, that are setting up fiber-optic broadband to the members’ homes,” he said. “Many of them have already done it; some of them, the construction is not quite completed.
He noted that Central Virginia Electric Cooperative provides its members in Louisa County with broadband service.
“The funny thing about Louisa is, half the county is served by that co-op and half is served by REC,” he said. “People in the same county can kind of see what one co-op is doing and the other is saying, ‘ah, it can’t be done or shouldn’t be done.’”
Heald said that broadband services are needed, especially now that the COVID-19 crisis has people working from home, students learning solely online and even patients being through telemedicine.
“That has become a huge issue here. Because the REC board members tend to kind of not really interact with the public, I think they’re out of touch on that issue,” he said, adding: “I think just my winning at all would send a very strong message.
“[The directors] don’t really have any vision for what our co-op can and should be doing at time when there are a lot of changes going on in the industry,” Heald said. “I would be one of only nine board members, so I can’t promise everything will change overnight. I hope that if I win, that would send a strong message that the fact that I won to the management and the board that they need to listen more carefully to consumers.”
REC members can cast their vote now by mail or online, or live during the virtual meeting on Aug. 19. For more information on the vote for directors, visit www.myrec.coop.