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, 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.”
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.
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.
- To learn more about the Dixie Power cooperative visit their website
- To read more about the petition visit this site
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