DMEA has begun construction on its fiberoptic network.
The co-op’s board of directors was given an update on the work during its regular monthly meeting on July 22.
The work being done now installing fiberoptic cable to electric substations is part of DMEA’s own, in-house broadband network system. Staff reported the work is moving ahead of schedule.
The idea of allowing broadband Internet suppliers to extend DMEA’s fiberoptic from substations to public users in local communities is still under consideration by the DMEA board.
A study has been commissioned to review the idea in detail. The DMEA board has scheduled an Aug. 12 work session meeting with consultant Dave Stockton of Uptown Services to discuss specifics of the “middle mile” concept. DMEA staffer Mark Kurtz noted there is a DMEA position statement on the middle mile idea posted on the co-op’s website.
In response to an inquiry by the DCI on the subject, DMEA board president Olen Lund emphasized that the utility is taking a step-by-step approach. “The issue of broadband provision seems to be a pretty big issue locally. I am told several electrical co-ops have been burned by this issue because they didn’t have their eyes open when they got into it,” he explained.
“DMEA is putting in the fiberoptic cable to our substations for our own use (now), and if we can, we would like to provide the added benefit to the community. Yet we don’t want to waste our member’s money, so we are continually looking at what we are doing as we head down the road.
“Region 10, through DOLA, is working on a study right now looking at how best to provide that (community) connection to the public. This issue is ongoing, and basically we as a board are getting regular updates so that we can make prudent decisions as we go along,” Lund concluded.
Staff reported that DMEA was able to use a local business, Lightworks Fiber and Consulting, as low-bid contract provider on the project.
In other business at its July 22 regular meeting, the DMEA board dealt with the following matters:
• Staff reported that the South Canal hydro unit was back on line during June following down time in April and May. The unit contributed $350,000 in reduced power purchases from Tri-State during the month, it was reported.
• The board held a discussion of Tri-State payments to the DMEA board member who sits on the Tri-State Board. Some see it as a conflict of interest for DMEA’s representative on Tri-State’s board to receive payment from Tri-State. The proposal being discussed was that Tri-State pay the stipend directly to DMEA, and DMEA then pays that to its appointee, according to Lund. No action was taken on the idea.
DMEA’s representative to Tri-State is paid a minimum $500 per day to attend two days of monthly meetings in Denver, a per diem of $150 per day, and travel expense reimbursement, according to discussion at the board’s meeting. There had not been confirmation from DMEA at deadline whether the $500 per day is paid for travel days also.
In some cases, the DCI has learned, any of the 44 local co-op electric directors who sit on Tri-State’s board can make substantially higher amounts from their Tri-State service, well into the five figure range annually, depending on other assignments they might receive.
• During a financial trends report, CEO Jasen Bronec noted that DMEA’s past due accounts receivable and write-offs are an issue. A discussion then centered on issues involving the utility’s $360,000 in annual residential writeoffs versus the $1 million in payment late fees it collects annually.
• The companywide average wage for DMEA employees is $37 per hour, Bronec reported.
• The utility’s “large commercial accounts,” which provide 23 percent of revenue, are operating on essentially a “pass through” electric rate, it was noted. DMEA buys electricity for 7.5 cents per kilowatt-hour (kwh) and sells it to “large commercial users for 7.6 cents per kwh. Discussion involved finding the right blend of commercial and residential rates in the utility’s overall rate structure.
• There was a discussion on whether and how to use roll call votes for official board decisions.
• A presentation by Kent Singer with the trade association Colorado Rural Electric Association (CREA) revealed that DMEA’s dues to the organization are $75,000 per year. Answering a question from DMEA director Mark Eckhart, Singer said CREA’s 15 employees receive “midrange” benefits comprised of a health plan, a 401K, and a defined benefit retirement plan.
• The DMEA board received requests for donation assistance: from the local Soil Health program for $5,100 to help pay costs for expanded participation in the program. “We believe that the soil health program is crucial for sustainable agriculture,” said Dave Dearstyne, an NRCS soil scientist who made the request along with Jerry Allen of the Shavano Conservation District. Also, the Olathe health clinic needs a new electric transformer costing $11,986 at its new downtown facility.
• CEO Bronec presented five letters of thanks and/or appreciation that had been received from co-op members.
• Staff reported that a conference call with Tri-State had been scheduled to answer a question from Kay Heinschel, formerly a candidate for DMEA director, concerning certain “overhead costs” that DMEA may be paying.