The Pryor Times

August 8, 2013

Task force to look at GRDA sale

Staff Writer
Cydney Baron

— People are powered-up about Gov. Mary Fallin’s proposed Grand River Dam Authority task force.

GRDA produces and sells electricity to many outlets at a low cost because as a state entity, GRDA is not allowed to make a profit. This arrangement has kept electricity rates from skyrocketing.

Fallin is creating a 15-member task force who will be charged with executing a thorough study of GRDA to explore the possibility of privatizing/selling GRDA.

“The task force shall consist of 15 appointed members who have experience or an interest in energy issues including at least: two members from electric sector including both rural and electric cooperative and their general and transmission organization, investor owned utilities, municipal power authorities and entities, and independent generation and/or transmission operators; one member connected with Grand Lake: the Director of Tourism or designee; one member with experience in economic development; and two members from my Bold Ideas task force,” said Fallin’s order.

No other requirements or specifications are outlined in the order. The order states the individuals meeting those guidelines would be appointed at “the pleasure of the governor,” as will be the task force chair person.

Rep. Doug Cox has expressed concern about Fallin’s decision in several area newspapers. Cox, who represents an area of Oklahoma serviced by GRDA, is puzzled by Fallin’s decision not to inform him of her plans and by who she is allowing on the task force.

Cox said he is particularly disturbed to discover that investor-owned PSO and OG&E would be represented among the 15 appointees. His opinion mirrors that of many municipalities, and community residents covered by GRDA, who don’t understand the decision to allow competitors access to GRDA’s information.

“They have no vested interest in seeing GRDA do anything but fail,” Cox told the Grove Sun.  

In a community with GRDA at its heart, there are many rumors and concerns. One of the two competitors to be represented on the task force has previously purchased power from GRDA.

Among Fallin’s appointees are two representatives of the Bold Ideas task force. That group focuses on gaining support for privatizing state services and dividing up assets. The Bold Ideas task force was created alongside Fallin’s signing Senate Bill 1008 into effect, which created the Oklahoma Office of Privitization Act.

Many believe this is the danger of a lawmaker issuing an executive order rather than going through any other channels during which opposing opinions could have been heard.

“We all like to badmouth Washington D.C and we all enjoy badmouthing President Obama. One of the things we say about him is that he is bypassing Congress and ruling by executive order,” said Cox in multiple interviews. “It seems to me we have a little bit of Washington D.C., right here.”

At the beginning of her term, Fallin proposed making up the state’s $400 million budget deficit with several steps; state agency budget cuts, increased tax enforcement, state agency consolidations and government modernization. Pressure to uphold that promise may be the reason behind Fallin’s decision. It has been reported by numerous news outlets that donors with ties to the energy and natural resource sector contributed $617,000 to Fallin’s bid for lieutenant governor and governor and that roughly $56,000 came from donors with electric utility ties.

It is rumored that another power company has expressed interest in purchasing GRDA and that an executive from that company is instrumental in Fallin’s decision, though the rumor has not been confirmed and no one will go on record to discuss it.

The company allegingly expressing interest in purchasing GRDA is the Kansas-Arkansas-Missouri-Oklahoma Electric Co-op (KAMO) who buys power from GRDA and owns part of the coal-fired complex.

“The privatization of GRDA is not only potentially harmful to its existing customer base but to the entire energy consumption marketplace-all of who could be impacted if GRDA is gone from the landscape,” said Rep. Ben Sherrer. “I’ve always heard that public power, while not serving the entire marketplace, serves as a price regulator for the entire market.”