Dakota Energy members want special meeting to get answers
By MARY GALES ASKREN, Staff Reporter
Dakota Energy, a rural electric distribution cooperative, is at the center of a whirlwind of unanswered questions these days. Not only is the cooperative seeking to obtain answers, but Dakota Energy's members are also seeking to get answers from the general manager and board of directors.
Over the weekend, they launched a petition drive at the Performance Radio Outdoor Show in Huron to call for a special meeting.
"It's a way for the members to have input into the system when the system isn't listening to the members," said Jim Propst, who is not only a Dakota Energy member, but also a retired WAPA -- Western Area Power Administration -- employee.
He and Pat Doak, another retired WAPA employee, have been trying to get answers since Dakota Energy announced late last year that it had filed a lawsuit against East River Power Cooperative, a wholesale electric distribution cooperative, in an effort to leave the cooperative. Based on their experience, the action doesn't make sense.
"We think the board didn't do their homework," Doak said.
Both Huron men were also concerned because members knew nothing of Dakota Energy's plans to leave the cooperative until the lawsuit was filed. They do not believe the board of directors should change the cooperative's business model without a vote from the membership.
While members are attempting to get answers from Dakota Energy, Dakota Energy is seeking to get answers as well. In their initial press release, the company posed questions which it continues to reiterate. "Why are we paying for $700+ million losses passed from Basin Electric through East River? Why do executives at East River have such high salaries with annual raises, while rates increase and infrastructure improvements are neglected?"
While not actually accusing the manager and board of using those questions to shift the focus from their own management decisions, Dakota Energy members do note that the distribution cooperative charges nearly as much to distribute the power locally as neighboring cooperatives charge for power.
"Why are we paying so much more?" Propst asked. "Why is Dakota Energy the most expensive place to get your energy when we all get it at the same place?"
He added that with the lawsuit, the board and manager "have turned the spotlight on themselves," and have raised questions about their stewardship of cooperative energy.
At this point, Doak and Propst are part of a small coterie of members who are frustrated because the board and general manager Chad Felderman refuse to answer their questions. That has led them to embark on a petition drive to call for a special meeting.
"What do we have left to do but call for a special meeting and have the members vote?" Doak asked.
They will need 10% of the membership, which numbers approximately 2,500, to call the meeting. At the outdoor show over the weekend, they began the process of collecting those signatures.
"They booth really helped us. We didn't get many signatures, but it helped us spread the word," Doak said.
He indicated that quite a few people stopped to get more information, and those who signed were primarily interested in ensuring the membership had a voice in the decisions being made. Doak does not know how long it will take to get the necessary signatures because the committee has just embarked on the campaign.
He emphasized that the purpose is get answers and give members a voice.
"Whether you agree or disagree with our point of view, we think members should have a say," he said.
Note: This story originally appeared on the Daily Leader Extra
March 8th, 2021