Small vocal group protests at Dixie Power meeting

ST. GEORGE – On Wednesday night Dixie Power, a local electric cooperative that services nearly 15,000 customers in Southern Utah and northern Arizona, held its annual meeting at the Dixie Center St. George and while thousands of people – members and employees of the cooperative power company – turned out for the food, free prizes and fun, a small group of dissenters came out for a different reason.

Gary Engelman and Shirley Nelson hold protest signs and information at the Dixie Power annual dinner and meeting held at the Dixie Center, St. George, Utah, May 28, 2014 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News
Gary Engelman and Shirley Nelson hold protest signs and information at the Dixie Power annual dinner and meeting held at the Dixie Center, St. George, Utah, May 28, 2014 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News

Gary Engelman, a member of the Dixie Power co-op, and Shirley Nelson, also a member, came to the meeting to protest what they call the company’s scare tactics in convincing the members to sign a card which will be sent to the Environmental Protection Agency stating that they, the customers, don’t want their power rates to double.

The disagreement stems from the company’s use of coal burning power plants and the new standards to be set forth by the EPA to try and reduce the pollution caused by the use of existing plants.

Dixie Power claims that if the new regulations being proposed by the EPA were to take immediate effect and coal burning power plants be eliminated as a viable source of energy then customers rates would double, even triple.

“We have factual evidence that if coal is eliminated our customers’ rates will double,” said Corey Jenkins, communications specialist at Dixie Power.

To this end they have joined with electrical cooperatives from across the nation in asking their members to send a message to the EPA that they don’t want their rates to increase. To date the petition has about 500,000 signers.

One such signer, Nigel Gillingham, a recent translplant to the United States and Dixie Power customer said that he was signing it because America has so many energy resources and he believes they are being wasted.

“We are in a depression,” said Gillingham, “why take up people’s money and make it so they can’t go out and buy goods?”

Dixie Power boasts the second lowest energy rates in the country and states that as a nonprofit organization there is no benefit to them in signing this petition except what they believe is in the best interest of their customers, said Jenkins.

“We have people whose service is being disconnected because they can’t pay a $25 bill,” said Colin Jack, engineer of operations at Dixie Power, “if we increase rates we are disenfranchising the poorest among us.”

A sign asking members to stop at a booth and sign a petition to be sent to the EPA is set up at the Dixie Power annual meeting held at the Dixie Center, St. George, Utah, May 28, 2014 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News
A sign asking members to stop at a booth and sign a petition to be sent to the EPA is set up at the Dixie Power annual meeting held at the Dixie Center, St. George, Utah, May 28, 2014 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News

Engelman disagrees calling their claims a “bald faced lie,” and citing a recent article in the Salt Lake Tribune that states there is little justification to the claim that people will see their rates double.

Engelman was further concerned that Dixie Power, a nonprofit, nonpartisan cooperative was using money and resources paid for by its members to lobby against the EPA even though not all of its members agree.

“If nobody speaks out they think everyone agrees with them,” Engelman said, “this is our company, they are hired by the membership and that money is coming out of everyone’s pockets.”

Nelson, Democratic candidate for House District 62 and vocal environmental activist, came to the meeting not as a candidate but as a concerned citizen and member of the co-op, she said.

“Without clean air and water nothing else matters,” Nelson said, “we don’t want them to shut down entirely, we just want them to comply with EPA standards.”

Dixie Power counters that they are already exceeding current EPA emissions standards and only ask that they be given the chance and the time to take a balanced approach to decreasing emissions and implementing alternate energy sources, Jenkins said.

The company is currently implementing and has future plans to use sources such as solar power, hydropower and geothermal energy.

While the two groups fundamentally disagree with one another both claim that their sole purpose is to educate the people so that they are making the best choices for the future of the economy and the environment and both agree that the issue – and whatever side of it people fall on – reaches across party lines and beyond the rural area serviced by Dixie Power to all of the country.

Members of the Dixie Power cooperative electric company attend the annual dinner and meeting held at the Dixie Center, St. George, Utah, May 28, 2014 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News
Members of the Dixie Power cooperative electric company attend the annual dinner and meeting held at the Dixie Center, St. George, Utah, May 28, 2014 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News

The mostly peaceful demonstration did have one moment of commotion when a Dixie Center employee asked the protesters to leave stating that they were not allowed to protest inside the building.

Both Engelman and Nelson declined to leave citing their rights to be there as members of the co-op and invited guests at the meeting.

After some discussion with Dixie Power, CEO, Ladel Laub, they were allowed to stay without further incident.

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8 Comments

  • Brian May 29, 2014 at 8:59 am

    I’m sorry, but these two and the EPA are dead wrong. This winter was very cold in the northeast, and even operating at almost 100% of national capacity there almost wasn’t enough electricity to go around. This is well documented and easily verifiable (see the Forbes article “Harsh Winter Reveals Necessity Of Coal” or NYTimes article “Coal to the Rescue, but Maybe Not Next Winter”, for instance). Without coal plants the entire eastern grid would have gone down, period. There was simply way too much demand. Until they ~actually~ figure out how to generate electricity and heat from pixie dust and unicorn excrement we’re stuck with what we have: coal, natural gas, and *gasp* nuclear *gasp* energy. There is zero doubt we should do things as cleanly, efficiently, and environmentally friendly as possible, but lets be prudent and wise or people are going to die in very non-hypothetical ways (like hypothermia). It also needs to be recognized that the vast majority of efforts towards carbon offsets are motivated by greed and power, not true environmental concern, otherwise people like al gore would practice what they preach. If we could find a way to generate electricity and heat from hypocrisy we’d be set!

    • Nic May 29, 2014 at 5:11 pm

      I concur…to all of the above!!!! *gasp*

  • MikeyW May 29, 2014 at 12:21 pm

    The speaker last night, Kimball Rasmussen, explained if coal power was eliminated, they would obviously have to replace it with additional power from another source. And Dixie Power is kinda lying, saying our rates would double, because it would more than double.

    • Brian May 30, 2014 at 10:28 am

      They’ll obviously have to replace it, which works ~over time~ (at least in Utah, since we have so much natural gas and its cheap here). But that’s the rub, the EPA isn’t giving the companies any time, so no replacement is forthcoming (and won’t be for years). It doesn’t take a crystal ball to see massive blackouts in the east coast’s future. Power companies and facilities don’t just spring out of the ground on-demand. They take 5 years to build in the best of times. With current environmental regulations you’re talking longer than that (easily a decade +). Time to start a business selling blankets in New England…

  • DB May 29, 2014 at 2:41 pm

    “We are in a depression,” said Gillingham,”

    Huh??

  • Zeke May 29, 2014 at 10:09 pm

    “A small vocal group”. So did they sing their protests to the audience ? Just wondering

  • S Steed May 30, 2014 at 8:57 am

    If this is really an issue: why aren’t we putting solar systems into every new house being built in the St. George area? The cost would be minimal if it’s built in and you can make the payment to the bank instead of the power company.

    • Brian May 30, 2014 at 10:24 am

      I agree completely, as long as it is by choice and not by mandate. It really is crazy to build a house now without a south-facing roof covered in solar panels. The ROI on solar systems is only about 10 – 12 years (at current rates), and they last 25 – 30+. As power rates continue to increase (and they will!) the ROI time will decrease, including on existing systems. Add to this any emergency preparedness benefits (my power has been out 5 times in 2 weeks, totaling over 24 hours; thanks Rocky Mountain Power!) and adding solar to new construction is a no-brainer. Getting financing after the fact is more difficult, but still makes complete financial sense unless you’re renting or plan on moving.

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