San Juan County council candidates weigh in on OPALCO issues

  • Oct 17, 2020
  • Islands' Sounder

With the energy world changing dramatically, OPALCO leadership invited County Council candidates to state their positions on key issues affecting the co-op members. Climate change, carbon legislation and the transition to renewable power are all affecting energy for the region. OPALCO has a plan to meet these new challenges but OPALCO will need a County Council that will work closely with them to realize a healthy, sustainable energy future in the islands.

Each of the candidates was asked the following 12 questions:

• What is your vision for the future of energy for San Juan County as a whole?

• What are you, as a candidate, doing to educate yourself on the complexities and impacts of energy policies on the citizens of San Juan County?

• The Comprehensive Plan Update (Section B, Element 2, Land Use) speaks to land use for alternative energy resources and identifies essential public facilities. Two questions: a) what makes an energy source “compatible with the natural environment” in your opinion; and b) how do you see energy generation and storage as part of essential public facilities?

• What is your position on siting of utility-scale solar installations for local renewable power in SJC?

• How about tidal generators? Do you plan to encourage electrification of transportation for the people, and if so, how?

• What energy efficiency standards would you propose for new construction in SJC?

• How important is broadband connectivity to economic development and quality of life in SJC?

• How will you address disparities in access to broadband – especially for seniors in need of remote telemedicine and households with kids in school?

• Given our need to firm up local renewables with power generated on the mainland (when the sun doesn’t shine, wind doesn’t blow and batteries fully discharged), how important is hydropower in your vision of the County’s future energy supply?

• Where will you draw the line between local energy resilience and island aesthetics?

• How would you promote SJC as a model of energy sustainability? How would visitors participate?

• What do you see as San Juan County Council’s role in working with OPALCO and Rock Island?

Answers from District 1 Candidates Christine Minney and Ryan Palmateer are available at

Answers from District 2 Candidates Rick Hughes and Cindy Wolf are available at

Keeping the islands energized and connected while protecting the sensitive marine environs and keeping the character of the rural communities is paramount to OPALCO’s long-range plan. There are major challenges ahead to find suitable land to site utility-scale renewable generators, transition our transportation from fossil fuels to electric and inspire people to change their energy habits. San Juan County needs reliable power even when the sun isn’t shining and wind isn’t blowing; with coal and natural gas plants closing, hydro is the best bet for clean and affordable firm power. Energy costs are on the rise and the region is facing potential energy shortages during periods of peak demand. As OPALCO builds a local renewable power supply in our beautiful islands, we face the cost of those projects, aesthetic trade-offs and limited land for siting them.

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