To be linked with the historical figure Paul Revere would suggest something special took place.
For Lyn Opalka, there were many special moments over the course of 35 years as a Mohave Electric Cooperative board member, 27 of which were spent as president.
But, it all culminated with the passage of SB 1412, which keeps assigned capital credits local.
In recognition for her effort, Opalka received the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association Paul Revere Award, which was accepted on her behalf by current board president Joe Anderson at the NRECA annual meeting March 10-14 in Orlando, Florida.
Opalka played a vital role in MEC’s “Call to Action” outreach to members that resulted in getting the bill passed unopposed in both the Arizona House and Senate before it was signed into law by Gov. Doug Ducey in March 2018.
“The role Lyn played in the passage of the bill can’t be overstated,” said Tyler Carlson, CEO of MEC. “Sen. Sonny Borrelli called the efforts ‘impressive’ and were successful in sending a message to lawmakers, who responded by passing the legislation.”
The call to action generated more than 6,600 letters from MEC’s membership of 33,182. The letters were hand delivered to the State Capitol in Phoenix.
The award is in recognition of an outstanding achievement in the mobilization of an electric cooperative grassroots effort on an issue of importance.
“It was Lyn’s strong commitment and connection with the community that resulted in accomplishing the legislative action needed to allow Arizona electric cooperatives to continue supporting important local programs benefitting their members,” said Jim Matheson, CEO of NRECA.
Opalka, who retired from the board in December 2017, received word of the award in July 2018.
“This award stands for great things we have accomplished by working together: Mohave’s board of directors, management, employees, and most of all, our members,” Opalka said. “We can all be very proud our actions are recognized among electric cooperatives at the national level and rewarded with this honor.
“I want to thank our members for the trust they placed in me to represent them and for their efforts to help make positive changes in our community.”
Under Opalka’s leadership, MEC members approved a bylaw provision allowing assigned capital credits to be used for community programs, but without the protection of SB 1412, MEC could have been forced to stop its support for community programs and organizations.
Some of the programs supported through assigned capital credits are: the Mohave Electric “Members Helping Members” Energy Assistance Program, Classroom Grants, Washington Youth Tour, and the School Electrical Safety Program.
May celebrates electrical safety and some simple steps can help
There is a day for almost everything imaginable; National Spaghetti Day, National Pizza Day, National Purple Day, National Dr. Seuss Day, and National Mickey Mouse Birthday Day among others.
All true. You can look it up.
Some things, however, are so important they are dedicated an entire month.
Such is the case in May, when guest speakers appear in schools across the nation to teach electrical safety.
But education should not be limited to youth. The month’s effort is to promote electrical safety in the home, school, and workplace stressing awareness of possible hazards and avoiding potentially serious injury.
“The advice easiest to follow is to avoid doing any electrical work you are not qualified to do,” said Rick Campos, manager of engineering, operations, and energy services. “Electricity is an asset to our everyday lives, but some people forget about the dangers that can lie behind a wall or panel.
“It is better to call a professional and spend a few dollars than to wake up in a hospital room or worse.”
For those do-it-yourself members, don’t leave anything to chance. Never assume it is safe to work on an electrical outlet just because a breaker has been flipped off. Use a voltage tester to verify electrical circuits are de-energized prior to working on electrical projects.
Some safety tips are as simple as replacing broken or missing wall plates. These outlet covers don’t simply cover a gap in the wall, they exist for protection, preventing fingers from contacting wires.
Other tips may require breaking long-term bad habits.
“Removing plugs from a socket by pulling on the cord may seem easier than bending over, but that simple step can add to the longevity of electronic products and help prevent injury,” Campos said.
Turns out yanking on cords, especially over the long term, is a bad idea. This practice can cause cords to snap and potentially damage the plug, which could cause a fire.
Another dangerous practice involves poor decisions when trying to hide unsightly extension cords.
“Cords running around the house can be unsightly and potentially dangerous,” Campos said. “Left in the open in areas with foot traffic could lead to tripping accidents, but throwing them under a carpet or stapling them to a wall can have dire results.”
Placing cords under carpets or stapling them can lead to an electrical fire or electrocution.
“The best method is to use only the amount of cord needed to reach and socket and wrap up excess cord with a cable or zip tie,” Campos said. “Keeping the cords tied is not only a safe practice but will keep the cords from becoming tangled and difficult to separate.”
There is a great deal of advice to provide for those spending time in the kitchen. For those using a traditional toaster, metal objects should never be used to dislodge a trapped piece of toast while it is still plugged in.
Because water is prevalent in the kitchen, a good practice is to make sure nothing electrical is next to a sink and hands are perfectly dry when using or unplugging such items.
“Our goal is to provide a safe and reliable source of electricity,” Campos said. “With members taking just a few precautionary steps, the safety factor rises. Use Electrical Safety Month as a springboard to adopting new habits at home, school, and work.”
In its continued support of education, Mohave Electric Cooperative has a $5,000 grant available to one school.
The catch? The SunWatts Education Grant must support a renewable energy curriculum.
The application process is simple: provide a short writeup of the curriculum and any items to be purchased in support of the curriculum by the 5 p.m., July 19 deadline.
The grant money comes from the Renewable Energy Standard and Tariff surcharge mandated by the Arizona Corporation Commission, which supports numerous programs.
“MEC believes in supporting the communities it serves,” said Rick Campos, manager of engineering, operations, and energy services at MEC. “We can choose from a number of programs, but we always look for those that best support our members.”
The Academy of Building Industries in Fort Mohave won the grant last year and used the funds for a School Bus Greenhouse Project. Students at the school converted a retired school bus into a solar greenhouse.
“Because AOBI does not qualify for the national school lunch program, the greenhouse project has always been dear to us,” wrote Jean Thomas, AOBI administrator, in a thank you letter to MEC. “Many of our students live in the poverty range, so we needed to figure out a way to supply them with healthy food for free every day.
“The students love the idea of a free salad bar they have grown themselves. Thank you for being a good neighbor.”
All member service area schools are eligible to apply. Although the curriculum may have segments on energy conservation, Campos stressed it must have a major renewable component, such as wind, solar, or hydro.
“This grant provides an opportunity for students to be creative and learn about renewable energy and conservation,” Campos said.
The grant will be for the next school year.
Applications should be sent to Steve Bouman, PO Box 22530, Bullhead City, Arizona 86439.
The United States had not yet been born when, many believe, free-thinking Benjamin Franklin formed the first cooperative in the New World.
Obviously, in 1752, it wasn’t electric, but an insurance cooperative called the Philadelphia Contributionship for the Insurance of Houses from Loss by Fire. And, Carpenter’s Hall, the building in which the Continental Congress met in 1774, was insured by the contributionship.
It was the first fire insurance company in America and has been so successful it continues to this day.
The world has changed substantially over the last 240-plus years, but the structure of a cooperative has remained relatively intact. They remain democratically controlled by those who use the service(s) and are designed to benefit their users, or members.
Although Mohave Electric Cooperative is a utility, cooperatives extend into nearly every walk of life.
Consumers use cooperatives for services such as housing, credit and financial services, groceries, education, telecommunications, and, of course, utilities.
Those who have stopped by KFC, Popeye’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, Ace or True Value hardware stores, or even Burger King, have supported a cooperative because these establishments purchase some of the products they sell from cooperatives.
“Cooperatives, or cooperation, is not a new idea,” said Ardie Lauxman, chief financial officer at MEC. “Ben Franklin might get deserved credit for organizing the Philadelphia Contributionship, but the idea itself dates back to the start of civilization.”
Consider that survival of humans depended on what might be considered a modern day cooperative model.
“Many would go on a hunt together and the meat would be divided with all,” Lauxman said. “Having a group work together toward a common goal is more effective than a single individual trying to survive alone.
“Cooperating is among the reasons we are all here today.”
Three primary principles are practiced among cooperatives: user-benefit, user-owner, and user-control.
Members work together to get services that might not otherwise be available.
This was the case with electricity in rural areas. In the 1900s, because existing utilities saw no profit in powering rural America, groups formed to purchase electricity with help from the Rural Electrification Administration.
Working together provides the advantage of bargaining power. Those who may have haggled over the price of a car may understand the general principle. If a car lot is full and a new shipment is anticipated, creating space for the new inventory becomes imperative.
The people who belong to a cooperative, own it. Members own the assets and have the obligation to provide financing to keep a cooperative in business and allow it to grow for the benefit of, and in cooperation among, all members.
Because cooperatives follow a democratic model, members have control through voting at the district and annual meetings. Regardless of how much any one individual has spent in a cooperative, each member has only one vote.
From the time of early humans to Franklin organizing the nation’s first cooperative, the cooperative model continues to grow, and members continue to discover and reap the benefits.
Members vs. customers … that’s the cooperative difference.