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WEST JEFFERSON — The Ashe County Democratic Party held its first meeting of the year on Jan. 28 at Smoky Mountain Barbecue to discuss party business and a presentation about solar energy by a representative from Appalachian Voices.

There was a large turnout for the monthly meeting and very few seats were left unoccupied.

LeVonda Clouse provided the treasury report which stated that the party’s current balance was $6,077.63.

Ray Russell, House representative for the 93rd district, held his town hall on Dec. 4 which had a good turnout and good discussions on Medicaid.

Russell spoke about one of the candidates for commissioner of agriculture, Jennifer Wadsworth. Wadsworth grew up on a farm and is a vibrant, articulate candidate, according to Russell.

Russell Killian, who is running for a seat on the board of commissioners, introduced himself and shared his background as a self-employed auctioneer since 1987.

Chairman Ralph Sorrell discussed the plans for the annual FDR dinner. For the past few years, it has been held at the Ashe Senior Center. However, since the turnout has been fairly large, the party is looking into finding a bigger venue for this year’s event.

The party plans on searching for a venue for the dinner and provide an update on where they stand at the next meeting.

The consensus was to schedule the dinner for April 4.

Amanda Lugo, field organizer for the Mike Bloomberg campaign for Ashe and surrounding counties was present during the meeting and provided buttons and bumper stickers.

“I wanted to officially introduce myself and get involved with whatever issues that you all are facing and are passionate about this election cycle,” Lugo said.

The evening’s guest speaker, Rory Mcllmoil, discussed issues facing electric cooperatives and members of those cooperatives. He has been an employee of Appalachian Voices, an American environmental organization based in Boone, since 2013.

A print-off of a powerpoint created by Mcllmoil was passed out to those present to refer to during his presentation.

“What I want to talk to you tonight about is mainly policies that Blue Ridge Energy policies and rate structures that aren’t very friendly to clean energy at all and for all of you, if you wanted to go solar in their service area, they don’t make it easy,” Mcllmoil said.

He also urged all in attendance to become involved in their electrical cooperation.

Mcllmoil pointed out that BRE has closed board meetings and the agenda for meetings and minutes are not disclosed to the public.

This information sparked a great deal of discussion during the meeting because it discourages public involvement in their respective electric cooperatives.

“As a result of all this, we members don’t have any access to any information required to make informed decisions over the policies that are passed by our cooperative,” Mcllmoil said.

He also discussed the rate structures, such as fixed cost of $24.17/month, and how the structure affects members.

According to his research, he found a big fundamental problem with the structure.

“If you put a solar on your roof, you’re saving them on demand charge, but they’re not giving you that value. They’re saying, ‘that value is just swept under the rug, we’re gonna keep that money and we’re not giving it back to you even though you’re providing a cost-saving service to the co-op,” Mcllmoil explained.

His final argument he presented was that although BRE admitted that when they looked into changing their net-metering policy, they decided to go fully-conservative using the most risk-averse rate policy.

“That’s only justified when solar accounts are 5 to 15 percent of the actual electricity generated on our grid. … Blue Ridge is at less than 0.1 percent of their electricity coming from custom member-owned solar systems, we’re not even close to that being a problem and yet they’re treating us as if we’ve already exceeded our threshold,” McIlmoil said.

He closed his presentation by expressing that although BRE can stand to improve their policies on renewable energy and rate structures, they are excellent at customer service and restoration of power.

“If y’all want to get involved more and there are certain topics you care about, you want to learn where to find the information or you want to learn about writing to the board; I am here for you no charge. This is what I do, this is what I love. And to see so much of y’all here, being engaged in politics is outstanding,” Mcllmoil said.

The next meeting of the Ashe County Democratic Party will be on Feb. 25 at Smoky Mountain Barbecue.

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