Overton Power District Candidates Answer Questions from MLN

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The Mesquite Local News emailed out questionnaires to each of the candidates running for the Overton Power District Board of Trustee’s. Below are the answers to those who submitted a response. None of the responses have been edited whatsoever by staff at the MLN.

 

Robert Bunker did not respond. (Trustee, OPD 4, Bunkerville)

Michael Wilson (Trustee, OPD 4, Bunkerville) no photo submitted

  1. Because OPD does not levy a property tax, the district is exempt from Nevada’s open meeting laws.  Do you support or oppose having the district operate under open meeting laws even though they are not required to?

Board members need to conduct the business of OPD in the open, be transparent and follow the law.  The trustees of Overton Power must follow the law of NRS 318.  The open meeting law is located at NRS 241.  The Office of the Attorney General for the State of Nevada in a letter referencing AG File No.12-035 states:

“We have reviewed recent OPD agendas and minutes from Trustee meetings.

These records reflect open public meetings, in which the agenda was posted in several places, video-conferencing was available, and two public comment periods appear on the agenda. Other information on the agenda indicated compliance with OML requirements regarding access for the handicapped and a notice informing the public about how agenda items could be pulled, taken out of order or combined. Despite OPD’s denial of public body status, it appears that it seeks to comply with the OML.”

  1. Do you support or oppose making all financial records of the district available to the public?

Yes.  Financial records are currently online.  www.opd5.com under the heading of Member Information, then Financial Information.  There you can find Financial Presentations for 2013, 2014, Credit Card Statements from September 2012 through current statements, Bond information, and Audited Financial Statements from 2008 to 2013.

  1. Do you support or oppose making salaries of employees of the district public?

The salaries of all Overton Power District employees are available online.

  1. Do you believe the residents of Mesquite are adequately represented on the board given the large population compared to the Overton area?

The Nevada Legislature in 2009, 5 years ago, addressed this.  They changed NRS 318 to add two more trustees to Overton Power.  This gave Mesquite one additional trustee and added an at large trustee.

  1. Do you support or oppose moving the district to more use of wind and solar power?

I support renewable energy as long as it is as affordable and reliable as the energy we are currently receiving.

  1. Do you believe the districts bond debt is low, about right or too high?

I wish Overton Power had no debt.  As I make decisions, I look at how it would affect my neighbors, the community, and people who are like my parents, that live in the Overton Power District service area, and are on a fixed income.

  1. Why should people vote for you?

I am an independent voice on the Board of Trustees.  These past four years, I have helped reduced the operating costs.  I have helped provided transparency, openness and access to the financial and other records of OPD.  I have helped stabilized the financial position of Overton Power District in relation to the Bonds.

If elected, I will continue to find ways to reduce costs and provide transparency at Overton Power District.

 

Jim Pugh (Trustee, District 5, 2-Year Unexpired) MLN-OPD1oct23-14

  1. Because OPD does not levy a property tax, the district is exempt from Nevada’s open meeting laws. Do you support or oppose having the district operate under open meeting laws even though they are not required to?

I do not fully understand the implications of the Open Meeting Law, and how it would impact the OPD5 Board Meetings, but I fully support public participation in all matters considered by the OPD5 Board, except personnel and legal matters.

  1. Do you support or oppose making all financial records of the district available to the public?

I fully support the availability to the public (this is the current policy) of all financial records of OPD5.  I have exercised this use of this policy as a ratepayer on several occasions have not been denied access to any records.

  1. Do you support or oppose making salaries of employees of the district public?

I support making the salaries of OPD5 positions in accordance with the organization chart available to the public.  This is also the current policy, and has been provided to requestors in the past.  The salaries however, are provided by position according to the organization chart, and not by individual employee name.

  1. Do you believe the residents of Mesquite are adequately represented on the board given the large population compared to the Overton area?

OPD5 has approximately 14,000 customers of which around 75% reside in Mesquite.  Mesquite is definitely the largest ratepayer base for OPD5.  With two trustees from Mesquite District 5,  one trustee from Bunkerville, and an “At Large” trustee, out of a total of seven trustees on the board,  Mesquite is not adequately represented.  I would propose combining the small ratepayer base in Moapa & Logandale into one trustee, and adding one additional trustee from Mesquite.  In addition, I feel that all Board meetings except once a quarter should be held in Mesquite as that is where the majority of ratepayers reside.  I have attempted whenever possible, to schedule Board Meetings in Mesquite.  If elected one of my primary agenda items is to change OPD5  Policy to bring 9 months of meetings to Mesquite.

  1. Do you support or oppose moving the district to more use of wind and solar power?

I fully support OPD5 involvement in Solar and Wind power if economically feasible.  During my tenure on the board, we considered a major Solar Project (40 Megawatts) to be constructed on Mormon Mesa, and fully funded by the EPC contractor.  OPD5 was required however to sign a 30 year Power Purchase Agreement, and buy the outdated plant from the contractor at the end of the contract.  Due to rapidly changing technologies, continued downward movement on cost of solar equipment, and a co-signing of loans by OPD5 for the $90 million loan, it was considered not feasible.  Although not mandated by Federal Renewable Portfolio Standards, we are continuing to pursue smaller scale solar installations on our system.  We have not seen any studies which would indicate the availability of sufficient wind in the Mesquite area to consider investment in any type of wind power.  In addition, with the expiration of Federal subsidies the wind generation industry has slowed greatly.

  1. Do you believe the districts bond debt is low, about right or too high?

OPD5 currently has two components of debt.  One is the 2008 $15 million bond issues that were used to make system improvements.  These bond repayments are easily integrated into the OPD5 expenses each year, and I feel this debt is reasonable.  The second component is a $40 million lawsuit settlement against OPD5 related to Power Purchase agreements.  This debt payment requires a substantial amount of the yearly OPD5 budget but have been made on time for several years and will continue to be.  I feel this debt is too high, but there is no solution to greatly reduce it.

In addition to the points listed above, one of my primary concerns is the absence of a backup supply for the OPD5 System.  All power supply for the OPD5 System comes from antiquated equipment on one 230 kV line from NV Energy Reid Gardner Power Plant.  Failure of this one supply (as experienced during recent storms) will result in a power outage to the entire OPD5 system.  An alternate supply from some other source capable of providing for the entire OPD5 Load, must be established to provide backup reliability for the OPD5 system.  If elected, it will be my number one agenda item to promote establishment of this backup supply.

  1. Why should you be elected?

Out of the 7 Board Members, I am the only Electrical Engineer.  I have 46 years experience in the power generation and transmission field.  I have worked in all aspects of power generation including fossil fuels, (coal, natural gas), hydro, nuclear, geothermal, solar and wind.  My range of experience starts in Detroit Michigan with Detroit Edison Company after graduation from the University of Toledo in 1968.  After 5 years with Edison, I participated in the construction and operation for 9 years of an 1100 megawatt nuclear plant in Sacramento California with short assignments at company owned hydroelectric and geothermal facilities.

In 1980, I relocated to Jubail Saudi Arabia with the Arabian American Oil Company to oversee the electrical infrastructure development for the building of a massive industrial city there.  On completion of the Jubail Project in 1998, I returned to the USA to start my own company called Electrical Protection & Control.  I have performed work with most utilities in the Arizona, Nevada, California area, and have established good working relationships with key personnel in these utilities, namely NV Energy, that have proved a benefit to me in my OPD5 Board Position. Based on my power generation and transmission background, I feel I am well qualified to make prudent decisions on key issues for OPD5 in the future.

 

Mike Young (Trustee, District 5, 2-Year Unexpired) MLN-OPD2oct23-14

  1. Because OPD does not levy a property tax, the district is exempt from Nevada’s open meeting laws.  Do you support or oppose having the district operate under open meeting laws even though they are not required to?

Open meeting law comes from our state constitution and is the will of the people. I believe any public utility should be bound by that law. The people should have the unfettered right to have open meetings because public utilities were intended to operate in the public’s interest not to the interest of a few insiders. I attended an OPD meeting when an outside auditor was presenting their findings and the public was forced to leave the room. If elected I will support the open meeting laws and make every effort to get them accepted for OPD.

  1. Do you support or oppose making all financial records of the district available to the public?

All records, other than those protected by law, should be open to the public. Those people have concealed their expense accounts, both the board and the top staff. Recent reports of credit card charges to i-tunes and Bass Pro Shops should be a matter for board investigation. This is our utility; the board is our representatives and trustees for our interests. Why would you hide anything?

  1. Do you support or oppose making salaries of employees of the district public?

I don’t support revealing individual employees’ salaries but will work to insure the ratepayer knows what the salary ranges are. All salaries set by the board should be public record. That would include the General Manager and department heads. Remember we are paying those salaries through our power bill. However, it is not only salaries but benefits that add up. Recently the board passed a $750,000 contract for insurance without bid!  That is about $15,000 per employee. Plus the ratepayers pay 27.5% of salaries towards the employees’ retirement.

  1. Do you believe the residents of Mesquite are adequately represented on the board given the large population compared to the Overton area?

No I do not. But things change slowly. Mesquite has grown rapidly and now makes up a large percent of OPD’s customers. A good plan would be re-evaluate the customer base every ten years and re-allocate the representation on the Board.

  1. Do you support or oppose moving the district to more use of wind and solar power?

I like most people support alternative energy development. However, it must be cost effective for the general customer. Those of us that support solar believe that a solar farm is a great idea. A customer can buy a share in the solar development and is entitled to a percentage of the solar output. Those that have the means and a commitment to green energy can invest in the future without burdening the general rate payer with the increased cost of power production. As alternative energy sources become more affordable we should consider it.

  1. Do you believe the districts bond debt is low, about right or too high?

Way too high. When Mesquite was booming OPD borrowed to build new infrastructure. Some of the bond money was never used for new infrastructure but rather for maintenance and propping up the general fund. That debt was added to a $50 million dollar debt from poor management decisions years ago. Unfortunately most of it is at high interest rates of around 6% and the board has made no attempt to renegotiate the interest rates. Now that this has been brought up, the current board members are all scrambling to say they support refunding the debt but haven’t done anything for years. We could save over a million dollars a year in interest costs. You get change from changing the people not from new promises from the same old players.

  1. Why should people vote for you?

You might ask “Why elect Mike Young?” Because I have 40 years in the water and power utility business. I ran the operation of a water and power system serving 16 million people, reported to a Board of Directors who wanted to understand the financials, who wanted to understand the business and keep rates low. I graduated with a degree in Public Administration. Then I learned about the real world from my Board. I have worked on negotiating federal, state and local utility service contracts. I also served on President George W. Bush’s Critical Infrastructure Protection Council.   After retiring, I was asked to be the Executive Director for a professional association with 7,000 members.

I’m running for the 2 year seat because I just want to get things squared away. I don’t want a lifetime job. I’m retired and would rather golf and travel but unless citizens stand up and step forward government doesn’t work right. Somebody needs to step up, so I ask for your vote.

 

Douglas Waite (Trustee, OPD 6, Mesquite) MLN-OPD3oct23-14

  1. Because OPD does not levy a property tax, the district is exempt from Nevada’s open meeting laws. Do you support or oppose having the district operate under open meeting laws even though they are not required to?

The District follows almost all open meeting laws. There are some business and legal issues that are confidential until final.

  1. Do you support or oppose making all financial records of the district available to the public?

The District already does this.

  1. Do you support or oppose making salaries of employees of the district public?

The District already does this also.

  1. Do you believe the residents of Mesquite are adequately represented on the board given the large population compared to the Overton area?

Yes, we have two in your district. The other communities have one.

  1. Do you support or oppose moving the district to more use of wind and solar power?

When it becomes economically feasible.

  1. Do you believe the districts bond debt is low, about right or too high?

It can’t be too low. We are working to lower our debt.

 

David Ballweg (Trustee, OPD 6, Mesquite) MLN-OPD4oct23-14

  1. Because OPD does not levy a property tax, the district is exempt from Nevada’s open meeting laws. Do you support or oppose having the district operate under open meeting laws even though they are not required to?

I support the requirement for Overton Power District to strictly comply with NRS 241, MEETINGS OF STATE AND LOCAL AGENCIES; commonly known as the Open Meeting Law(OML).

In my opinion, the ruling of Attorney Generals that his office did not have jurisdiction over OPD because it was operating under NRS 318 was incorrect on several levels. I cannot find any exclusion in NRS that would limit the AG’s office oversight of any elected public entity organized under any statute of Nevada Law. The other reason that the AG offered was that OPD is not directly bound by OML because it does not spend any tax money. Technically correct that OPD does not currently spend any tax money, under NRS 318.225, it has the power to levy taxes: “In addition to the other means for providing revenue for such districts, the board shall have power and authority to levy and collect general (ad valorem) taxes on and against all taxable property within the district, such levy and collection to be made by the board in conjunction with the county and its officers as set forth in this chapter”. Without a binding requirement for the Board of Trustees to strictly adhere to OML, they could meet in a closed meeting and decide to levy taxes without public knowledge because they would not be required to offer any public notice or allow the public to attend. I have urged compliance with OML repeatedly at OPD Board meetings. At one meeting, the OPD legal counsel described OML laws as “silly”. If I am elected to the Board, I will demand strict compliance with Nevada Open Meeting Laws.

  1. Do you support or oppose making all financial records of the district available to the public?

I support full disclosure of all financial records. They should be online, in a general ledger format, with each expenditure tied to an account and current budget balance indicated for each account item. It will facilitate improved budget compliance review and before any expenditure could be made that would exceed the current budget; the Board of Director would have to vote to augment the budget. I would also post online all contracts, including power purchase contracts which are about 66% of the budget.

  1. Do you support or oppose making salaries of employees of the district public?

All salaries should be public. This year is the first year that OPD has supplied information for year 2013 to TransparentNevada.com website. TransparentNevada.com is the online information site of the Nevada Policy Research Institute (NPRI), which reports public salaries for government entities statewide. The one shortcoming is that the Board of Trustees salaries are not included. If elected, I will advocate that OPD fully cooperates with such disclosures and that the Board of Director’s salaries are included in the future. If the readers want to get a perspective of the pay scale of OPD employee’s, follow this link: http://www.transparentnevada.com/salaries/overton-power-district-5/?page=1

  1. Do you believe the residents of Mesquite are adequately represented on the board given the large population compared to the Overton area?

Mesquite is absolutely underrepresented on the Board. Mesquite, by total number of connections or total revenue, represents 60-75% of OPD. With that significant percentage of OPD, Mesquite only has two seats on the Board. As the Board is currently constituted, Mesquite = 2, Bunkerville = 1, Overton = 1, Moapa = 1, Logandale = 1 and an At Large = 1. If elected, I will investigate the procedure and requirements to convert the At Large seat to a Mesquite Seat. There is no justifiable reason that Mesquite has only 30% of the Board representation when it constitutes 60-75% of OPD.

  1. Do you support or oppose moving the district to more use of wind and solar power?

I am in favor of renewable energy sources if they have market based viability. That is, it has to make financial sense without government subsidies because those subsidies could disappear which could require substantial rate increase to offset. I will not be in favor of any renewable power implementation if it means any type of general rate increase. If elected, I will propose an OPD True Net Metering policy. This will provide incentives to private individuals and companies to invest more in renewable power equipment. In very simple terms, because it can be a complicated issue to explain quickly, compared to today’s OPD renewable metering policy, a homeowner would see twice the return on solar power generated by their array then currently receiving.

  1. Do you believe the districts bond debt is low, about right or too high?

OPD’s indebtedness is unacceptably high. It is a reflection of the years of mismanagement and lack of oversight by the Trustee’s. Unfortunately, there is little that can be done in the short term to reduce the bond balances. But there is one significant step that can be addressed, it the refinancing of the bonds. There are a significant number of the bonds that have interest rates twice the current municipal bond market rates. A very conservation estimate with the refinancing of the current bonds that are at 6% or higher would yield a $600,000 annual debt service savings. If elected, I will push for the refinancing of the debt.

  1. Why should people vote for you?

I am knowledgeable on the issues facing OPD. I have regularly attended Trustee Board meetings for the past 3 years. I am the individual that made the fist 911 call to the rate payers of OPD in the September of 2011 informing everyone of the gross mismanagement that I witnessed at the Board meetings. In those meetings, I urged the Trustees to initiate a cost reduction policy with a goal of a 10% operations reduction before any rate increase. As everyone knows by their power bill, this was ignored. I have 40 years of technical experience in onsite power generation and distribution as well as business management of my electrical manufacturing company Loadtec which will be celebrating its 30th anniversary in December. This election is important to every household. Every home gets an OPD bill every month. The amount of that bill is a significant to every home and business budget. I am committed to establishing fiscal accountability of OPD and rate stability to its customers. Vote for David Ballweg and I will do everything in my power to accomplish that goal.

 

Judy Metz (Trustee, OPD 7, At Large) MLN-OPD5oct23-14

  1. Because OPD does not levy a property tax, the district is exempt from Nevada’s open meeting laws. Do you support or oppose having the district operate under open meeting laws even though they are not required to?

I support OPD having open meetings with the ability to have closed sessions when necessary.

  1. Do you support or oppose making all financial records of the district available to the public?

I support the release of financial records to the public.

  1. Do you support or oppose making salaries of employees of the district public?

I support the release of salaries of District employees, along with financial information.

  1. Do you believe the residents of Mesquite are adequately represented on the board given the large population compared to the Overton area?

The residents of Mesquite have 2 representatives, Overton as only 1.  As a resident and business owner in Overton, I have always supported the City of Mesquite and their businesses. The At-Large seat should be able to support all areas within the District.  We need to work together for success in our rural areas.

  1. Do you support or oppose moving the district to more use of wind and solar power?

I support the current stance of the District, with their use of rebates.  We do need to move into the future with directives towards use of solar power, so we can conform to new regulations.

  1. Do you believe the districts bond debt is low, about right or too high?

I believe the bond debt is about right, perhaps on a safer low-side.

  1. Why should people vote for you?

I believe people should vote for me, because of my continued support in all areas.  I want to work to keep our rates feasible, and continue on a path or reasonable institution of solar energy. While being on multiple Committees and Boards in Overton, I have also worked with the Mesquite Fire Dept, the Mesa View Hospital Planning Committee, the American Legion, Mesquite Resort Association, and the Mesquite Airport Research Committee.

Shawn Hughes (Trustee, OPD 7, At Large) MLN-OPD6oct23-14

  1. Because OPD does not levy a property tax, the district is exempt from Nevada’s open meeting laws.  Do you support or oppose having the district operate under open meeting laws even though they are not required to?

I believe that all public agencies should operate under the open meeting laws, and if elected, I will work hard to convince the other board members that we should welcome all public input in OPD meetings and be more transparent with the rate payers.

  1. Do you support or oppose making all financial records of the district available to the public?

I believe the public has the right to know where the money is being spent.

  1. Do you support or oppose making salaries of employees of the district public?

Once again, I believe all financial records should be public info, including employee salaries.

  1. Do you believe the residents of Mesquite are adequately represented on the board given the large population compared to the Overton area?

At this time, I feel that the number of trustee seats are adequate, however I feel that the mesquite rate payers have not been represented equally by there board members in the past.

  1. Do you support or oppose moving the district to more use of wind and solar power?

I believe the district needs to continue to investigate renewable energy sources and when they become cost effective for the district to move forward we need to be ready and able to invest in renewable energy.  I think we are there yet, so we need to continue to upgrade our current power source to make it more reliable and find ways to keep rates low.

  1. Do you believe the districts bond debt is low, about right or too high?

Not only is it to high, the district is paying to high of an interest rate, and it needs to be refinanced at a lower rate.

  1. Why should people vote for you?

I have worked in upper management in the private sector since I graduated college and I feel that my experience can help OPD operate more efficiently and effective.  Honesty and integrity have been missing from the current board and I feel that I have both these attributes to represent the district as a whole.  I have no special interest in OPD or any hidden agenda, I have lived here my whole live and I want to be involved in making sure that OPD can continue to offer reliable power at an affordable price.  I want to make sure that the public have access to their representatives and fell welcome to express their ideas and opinions at REGULARLY scheduled meetings.

Steven Miller (Trustee, OPD 7, At Large) did not respond.

Bill Hurd (Trustee, OPD 7, At Large) MLN-OPD7oct23-14

  1. Because OPD does not levy a property tax, the district is exempt from Nevada’s open meeting laws. Do you support or oppose having the district operate under open meeting laws even though they are not required to?

I believe that that OPD should be much more open than the minimum requirements of the Open Meeting Law (NRS 241) or NRS 318 under which OPD is required to operate. At Board meetings, I favor allowing and encouraging public comments on each agenda item, in addition to comments at the beginning and end of each meeting. This would better enable OPD to respond to the needs of ratepayers, and to benefit from their ideas.

  1. Do you support or oppose making all financial records of the district available to the public?

I support making all financial records available to the public, except when prohibited by law.

  1. Do you support or oppose making salaries of employees of the district public?

Salaries for high-level employees should be public.  For others employees, salaries should be public for job categories, but not for individual employees. All employee benefits and their costs should also be public. Pay and benefits should be compared to the same data for other utilities and for other large employers in the area to determine if OPD compensation is appropriate.

  1. Do you believe the residents of Mesquite are adequately represented on the board given the large population compared to the Overton area?

I believe that Mesquite residents are under represented on the Board of OPD. However, I do understand the need for each community to be represented, and I know that some people in the other communities think it is unfair for Mesquite to have two seats whereas their community has only one. I am a candidate for the at-large seat, and I plan to fairly represent all ratepayers of all communities.

  1. Do you support or oppose moving the district to more use of wind and solar power?

I support using more renewable energy when it can be done without causing rate increases, or when required by law or regulations. In the meantime, I support OPD in accommodating homeowners and businesses that install privately owned systems. In this area, the average wind speed is not high enough to generate electricity efficiently, so solar is the best bet.  I keep up with both the technology and the cost of solar generating systems, both for utility-sized arrays and for residential and other small arrays. Installing a rooftop array during initial construction is very cost-effective, and Sun City and perhaps other builders are now offering this option. Another opportunity for ratepayers to get solar energy is the solar array garden that OPD is planning. Ratepayers will be able to sign up to get shares of the solar energy from the garden. I favor OPD charging solar garden subscribers only enough to recover actual cost, so that other ratepayers will not subsidize the garden but also will not profit from it.

  1. Do you believe the districts bond debt is low, about right or too high?

The district’s debt is much higher than is desirable. Over $50 million of debt was incurred as a result of a purchase agreement made during the Enron crisis. When energy prices went back down after the crisis, it cost OPD more than $50 million to get out of the contract. OPD refinances portions of the debt at lower interest rates when possible. The debt load has an impact on electric rates, and may make it difficult for OPD to borrow more money if needed. In 2013, OPD paid interest and principal on the debt of about 14 percent of OPD’s total budget. This means that the average electric bill could be about 14 percent lower without the debt. I view this as an unfortunate circumstance that was not the fault of present management, and as something we have to deal with the best we can.

  1. Why should people vote for you?

People should vote for me, Bill Hurd, because I am the most qualified. I am also dedicated, open, independent and ethical, and will do more than anyone else to make Overton Power District a better utility that serves all ratepayers. I earned a Ph. D. in Electrical Engineering at the University of Southern California, and have 40 years experience in engineering and management at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. I am now retired and have devoted needed time and energy to learn about OPD, rural electric companies in Nevada, solar and other renewable energy, and the political, regulatory and technical changes that are impacting the energy industry. As Trustee, I will spend substantial time working to serve the ratepayers and OPD. I have a relationship of mutual respect with OPD management, employees and current Trustees, which will enable me to be effective in collaborating with all. I am completely independent and objective and have no personal or business conflicts of interest. I will be a reliable and enthusiastic representative of all the ratepayers in the district.

Comments

  1. There is something wrong with James Pugh’s statement of qualifications. He states that he is an Electrical Engineer which is clearly not supported by his resume that he submitted to Overton Power District to obtain his appointment to be a Trustee. He is also misleading in his statement to Mesquite Local News where he stated that he graduated from Univ. Of Toledo, he did so but with an Associate of Arts degree in Electrical Engineering Technology, that’s not a 4 year engineering degree. According to his resume his BSEE comes from Pacific Western University and that School has been out of business since they were exposed as a Diploma Mill by the United States General Accounting Office (GAO) in a 2004 report. He also is not registered as a Professional Engineer. That would have required graduation from an accredited school and a demanding professional test. His work history shows all technician jobs, with only a self-proclaimed engineer title from Saudi Consolidated Electric Company in his very last year of regular employment. Embellishment of his credentials seems like an attempt to mislead the voters.

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