By Joy Campbell Messenger-Inquirer
Some non-Kenergy Corp. members have been baffled by the barrage of campaign advertising for contested seats on the co-operative’s 11-member governing board.
One seat in particular, District 6 — which covers all of west Daviess County except for members located on the east side of U.S. 431 — has two candidates trying to unseat 18-year incumbent Larry Elder.
Elder said this is the first time he has had opposition for the seat.
“I think it’s because of the rate increases from Big Rivers with Century Aluminum leaving the system,” Elder said.
The 11-member board is comprised of 10 district members and one member to represent large industries. To be considered for the board membership, candidates must file petitions with 15 or more co-op members’ signatures. For the industry seat, five or more industrial members must sign the nomination petition.
Board members are paid $650 per month as a retainer and $300 per day for meetings.
Kenergy is one of three retail distribution co-operatives that own Big Rivers Corporation. Jackson Purchase Energy Corp. and Meade County Rural Electric Cooperative Corp. are the other co-op owners.
Kenergy owns 50 percent of Big Rivers and has two seats on that board.
Century Aluminum’s two smelters in Hawesville and Sebree — Big Rivers’ two largest customers — canceled their contracts and are now buying power off the electric grid. The utility has gone through a grueling cost-cutting and rate-boosting experience to make up for the losses.
Challenging Elder in District 6 are Billy Boyle, president and CEO of James H. Davis Funeral Home & Crematory in Owensboro and Cecil Funeral Home in Whitesville, and Sean Byrne, plant manager of Century Aluminum, Hawesville.
District 9 also is a contested race with Richard A. Basham, a Domtar, Hawesville employee, challenging incumbent Brent Wigginton, Lewisport city administrator, for that seat.
And two candidates are vying for Kenergy’s industrial director seat on the board. Steve Henry, Domtar’s general manager, and Jason Curry, Century Hawesville’s human resources manager, are seeking that post. Allan Eyre currently holds the seat and is not seeking another term.
Domtar was one of the large industries that formed a grassroots organization called Fair Rates Kentucky to lobby for lower electric rates.
Byrne said Friday that Century’s corporate office did not ask him to run for a district director seat on Kenergy’s board.
“This is about me as a rate-payer in District 6,” he said. “I will bring a different perspective on how to efficiently operate a business from opening a couple of car washes on my own and from being a plant manager. You have to learn to be efficient to stay in business.”
Byrne said the Kenergy and Big Rivers boards are responsible for oversight of management. “A nonprofit mindset leads to inefficiencies,” he said. “If your mindset is that we don’t have to make a profit, then spending can get out of hand.”
He would like to get on the Kenergy board and appoint appropriate members to the Big Rivers board. “We need a fresh perspective, and we need to challenge appropriately.”
Boyle said his decision to run for the Kenergy board seat in District 6 has a lot to do with the recent rate increases associated with the two Century smelters’ leaving the Big Rivers system.
“I believe that Big Rivers has some issues,” he said. “The Century Aluminum thing highlights the problems they have. Basically, electricity is more expensive than we wish it was.”
Boyle said since he’s not on the board yet, he has not seen the books and does not know anything about the operations.
“I just think something needs to change,” he said. “I think it’s interesting that Century has someone running for this seat, and, I believe, for the industry seat. And someone from Domtar also is running for one of the seats.”
Boyle said he has not campaigned as heavily as his opponents. “I hope enough people see what’s going on and will look at my qualifications.”
Elder said he hopes people will see that he has the experience for the board seat and understands the issues facing Kenergy and Big Rivers. He has been serving as secretary-treasurer on the Big Rivers board. He also represents Big Rivers on the Kentucky Association of Electric Co-operatives.
“I feel I am the most qualified,” he said. He said he served on the consolidation committee when Green River Electric Corporation and Henderson-Union Electric Corporation merged. “That has resulted in huge savings for the co-op — about $2 million to $3 million per year.”
Greg Starheim, Kenergy’s president and CEO, said he’s pleased to see the interest in the elections, and he can’t speculate about any campaign the industries may have launched.
“I can’t say that the interest is tied directly to what’s going on with Big Rivers,” Starheim said. “I think it would be a stretch to think there is something deliberate going on. If there was a deliberate attempt by industries to get seats on the board, they probably would have had candidates in the other districts.”
Two other candidates are running unopposed. Incumbents Randy Powell in District 4 and Billy Reid in District 8 will retain their seats for another three years. Other board members are: District 1, Glenn Cox; District 2, Robert White; District 3, Chris Mitchell; District 5, William Denton; District 7, John B. Warren II; and District 10, Jonathan Ayer.
The board election results will be announced at Kenergy’s annual meeting on June 10. Deadline for voting is June 5.
Joy Campbell, 691-7299, email@example.com