Oakley, Palasciano face off in PEC forum

Hear from District 5 candidates who spoke in Johnson City Thursday, April 21.

By Lew K. Cohn

The Highlander

Managing Editor

 

Burnet County Judge James Oakley of Spicewood and Carlos Palasciano described their respective visions about the future of the Pedernales Electric Cooperative during a Thursday evening forum in Johnson City.
The two men are candidates for the District 5 place on the board currently held by Oakley, who also serves as the board president. PEC hosted a forum for the candidates at their cooperative headquarters.

The District 5 race is the only one which is contested. Former Hays County Judge Jim Powers is the only candidate for the District 4 seat being vacated by Windhorse Energy president and founder Chris Perry.

One question which pitted the two men on opposite sides was the issue of single-member districts. Oakley said he supports them while Palasciano is opposed.

“I support single member districts and they are consistent with other governments at different levels, including most recently, the city of Austin,” Oakley said. “In this way, only the people in that district vote for that representative.”

“I am totally against single-member districts,” Palasciano said. “I think that as a board member, my primary duty would be to represent all member owners so that one can look at every issue cohesively as a unit. You make a decision globally for all PEC members.”

However, both candidates indicated they were not supportive of entering PEC into a market that opens up customers to having to choose an electric provider. Currently, PEC customers cannot shop individually for their electric power, unlike nearly 70 percent of the Texas market.

“I am against customer choice and will tell you why I am,” Palasciano said. “The energy companies are for-profit companies. Their number one allegiance is not going to be the PEC member owner; their number one allegiance is to their shareholders. They have to bring in revenue and maximize profit.

“Also, can you imagine energy companies' money entering all open wide in our elections? It would be disastrous to have money from these corporations out of town.”

“While I am open-minded on most everything and open-minded to this as well, I think I have some problem with choice because the way it is set up now, if you opt into that, all members would be exposed to that and it is irrevocable and irreversible,” Oakley said. “We are very competitive in the Texas marketplace already. While there are a few people that are asking about that opportunity to get into the choice market, the vast majority of our membership is very happy with all aspects of PEC.”

Oakley, a fifth-generation native of Burnet, is seeking his second term on the PEC board. Prior to serving as county judge for Burnet County, Oakley was a county commissioner for eight years and also worked for a publicly traded firm based out of Washington, D.C., which deals with governmental agencies and Texas was his client. Oakley ran for and was elected county judge in 2013.

“I originally ran to be on the board of the PEC to reduce rates, enhance customer service and to streamline governance and transparency,” Oakley said. “I'm proud to report to you after the first term that those have all been done.

“Rates in the last two years, or during my first term, have gone down by about 12 percent. This has been done by negotiating a new lucrative, less costly wholesale power agreement. It has been done by collaborating with the LCRA to reduce our contract with them by about $220 million over the life of the contract.”

Oakley said the board has worked with PEC CEO John Hewa to restructure staffing levels at the cooperative so that they are now equal to what they were 14 years ago while serving about 110,000 new meters since that time.

“That is a 65 percent increase in new meters with the same amount of staff as we had in 2002,” Oakley said.

Oakley said during his term on the board, they have restructured PEC debt, generating about $15.3 million in savings, while also implementing a new operating platform and enhanced customer interface that will save the cooperative about $5 million per year.

He also said the coop has been able to provide new tools and equipment for employees to perform their jobs safely and the board has streamlined its governance by meeting an average of once per month with televised and webcast meetings.

“I ask for your vote to continue the trends we started in the first term to not only continue what we've done but to implement new technologies that will better serve the membership,” Oakley said.

One of those ideas is to “partner with market leaders to utilize PEC infrastructure to deliver broadband internet to the areas where there is none,” he added.

Palasciano, who has been a resident of Texas for 40 years, has been a 12-year PEC member owner. He said his 40 years of pharmaceutical experience in sales, sales management, marketing, senior management and pharmaceutical contracting make him well suited to be on the board of directors.

“My seasoned professional background is well suited for Pedernales Electric because it has many critical similarities,” Palasciano said. “I am successful in dealing with rapid changes, capable in dealing with complex, technical issues, proficient in drafting and following long-term goals and visions, focused and dedicated in reliable service, experienced in contract negotiations, proficient at modeling customer education programs.”

Palasciano said he regularly attends PEC board meetings and is familiar with board culture and the issues the board faces monthly.

“My perspective of the challenge and opportunities for PEC is based on my objective observation of events and by analyzing decision-making at these board meetings,” he said. “I frequently speak with other PEC member owners with diverse backgrounds and opinions and listen to their presentations at the board. Actions taken by the board frequently result in a predictable 4-3 vote and dissenting voices are not being heard.

“I represent a fresh, independent voice that is free of political or energy consulting conflicts of interest,” Palasciano said. “I am dedicated to moving PEC forward from a period of reform to a goal of modernization.”

Palasciano said his approach would be to enhance and improve the current rate design to provide greater value for member owners. He noted that currently PEC charges a flat fee of $22.50 per month to member owners, regardless of consumption.

“This month our charges were substantially higher than what other energy providers in Texas are currently charging,” Palasciano said. “On behalf of the member owners, I advocate for the monthly service availability charge to include a minimum of 100 kilowatt-hours of electricity service. This charge protects PEC's fixed monthly revenue stream and also brings a predictable and fair charge to all member owners by lowering the monthly rate for all.”

Palasciano also said he favors revamping what he called a “cluttered, confusing and expensive to produce” energy efficiency information program and also wishes to rein in legal and litigation costs incurred by PEC.

Candidates had five minutes to introduce themselves to cooperative members and tell of their qualifications. The rest of the forum was a question and answer session in which members were able to ask questions of the candidates. Daniel Gibson was the moderator for the evening.

Powers was not present, but did record a video message to the constituency regarding his candidacy. A 30-year Texas resident, Powers served on the Planning & Zoning Commission for Dripping Springs for six years and was appointed by former Gov. Rick Perry to the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority, where he served six years. In 1998, he ran for Hays County Judge and served in that position for eight years.

“I am proud of the fact when I took office in 1998 the tax rate we had as citizens of Hay County was the same tax rate we had when I left,” Powers said. “I am committed to making sure we are responsible and efficient and I will continue to take that commitment and pledge to you as representing you on the PEC board. I have two passions in life you might say – one is public service and the other is business.

“It's a privilege for me to be able to serve as a director. My commitment to the members of the coop is to making sure our utility rates are the lowest possible rates out there.

“I've always been a passionate follower of the Pedernales Electric Cooperative,” Powers added. “I am a fan of what they do and I appreciate the leadership and the staff and I think they are a great organization. My commitment is to continue to focus on the future and to make sure we continue to do the best for our citizens and our constituents. I am excited about the future of PEC.”

 

 

 

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