The Pryor Times

July 18, 2013

Fallin wants to sell GRDA

Staff Writer
Cydney Baron

— Gov. Mary Fallin has issued an executive order to establish a task force to research the possibility of dismantling Grand River Dam Authority and selling its assets.

The executive order creates a task force of 15 appointed members who have “experience or interest in energy issues.” Fallin outlined who is qualified to serve on the task force, which will include two members from her “Bold Ideas” task force. The order states “all members shall be appointed and serve at the pleasure of the governor.”

GRDA is an electricity supplier for 24 counties across Oklahoma and three other states. It employees approximately 500 people.

The 70-year-old company is consistently ranked as one of the most reliable and efficient electric generating plants in the nation. GRDA sells power to utility providers, including Pryor.  

“Grand River Dam Authority is more than a power agency. It manages water consumption by 700,000 people, irrigation, navigation and recreation. As a power provider, it sells electricity at a reasonable cost to Oklahoma cities throughout the region and through power purchases made by the Oklahoma Municipal Power Authority, to systems across the state,” said Tom Rider General Manager of Municipal Electric Systems of Oklahoma.

Rider said revenue generated by the sale of electricity aids in funding police and fire protection, street repair and public parks for communities and families.

GRDA provides investment in water quality, fish and wildlife enhancement, public safety, lake patrols, land use management, air quality improvements, economic and community development.

This is not the first time the sale of GRDA has been suggested. The theory is that if GRDA were sold to investor-owned utility companies, the state would benefit by increased tax revenue. But local electricity managers agree current GRDA customers would see an increase in electricity costs. Low-cost power has always been an incentive for industry growth in MidAmerica Industrial Park.

GRDA is a state agency in that it must follow state laws for purchasing, accounting and personnel. However it is non-profit and not supported by tax revenue. Since GRDA cannot make a profit, the electricity sells for much less, thereby acting as a stabilizing force for the cost of power in the state.

Rider disagrees with the governor's plan. He recently sent out a statement to all public power customers in which he broke down her executive order and suggested a resolution opposing it.

“Your city's immediate response is needed to ensure the governor is aware of the opposition she will face if she continues to follow this path,” said Rider. “I'm asking that your City Council/Trust Authority also pass this proposed resolution against this task force and its effort to determine ways to sell GRDA.”

At their most recent meetings, both Pryor City Council and Pryor Municipal Utility Board voted to adopt the suggested resolution which outlines both Fallin's plan and their opposition.

“All of the assets of the Grand River Dam Authority have been paid for by our city and 59 other cities across Oklahoma as well as by rural electric cooperatives and industrial customers, and GRDA's affordable electric costs are an economic incentive to locate in customer communities,” the resolution states.

The resolution also says that the state of Oklahoma has never had to appropriate any funds for the benefits provided by GRDA including lakes, with hundreds of access points, flood control and water storage at no cost to taxpayers.

“Provision of water supply storage at next to no cost for 700,000 people is valued at well over $6 million per month,” the resolution states.

“Nearly all funds for these many benefits come from the revenues supplied by our city and other power customers of GRDA and we find it disappointing that the state of Oklahoma might try to seize assets that we have paid for,” it continues.

The resolution ends by asking that Fallin rescind the executive order and “recognize that the governing board of GRDA, which includes representatives of the customers, the lake area, the legislature, and the governor herself are well suited to recognize the needs of the customers of GRDA who reside in nearly every county of Oklahoma and are well suited to determine how GRDA benefits to Oklahomans are determined.”

Their disappointment is mirrored by Rider who says action is necessary.

“If we stand by and do nothing, everyone loses. GRDA is a customer-focused organization. The decisions the board and staff make are for the good of the customers they serve,” said Rider. “We need your help to keep this 70-year-old organization, paid for by its customers, in the control of the customers.”