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No State Regulation For Co-ops

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As the state continues to recover from this month's ice storm, the electric companies that power thousands of Oklahomans won't have to answer to state officials. As the state continues to recover from this month's ice storm, the electric companies that power thousands of Oklahomans won't have to answer to state officials.
law gives the larger electric co-ops the choice to opt out of being regulated by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission. law gives the larger electric co-ops the choice to opt out of being regulated by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission.
Ken Howard notes that the co-op ratepayers do have recourse in that they can vote the co-op out. Ken Howard notes that the co-op ratepayers do have recourse in that they can vote the co-op out.

As Oklahoma continues to recover from this month's ice storm, the electric companies that power thousands of Oklahomans won't have to answer to state officials. A 4-year-old law gives the larger electric co-ops the choice to opt out of being regulated by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission. The News On 6's Dan Bewley reports the Oklahoma Corporation Commission is the state's watchdog for utility services.

An ice storm, like we saw earlier this month, gives the state the chance to take a look at how the power companies responded. But, the commission won't have that opportunity for the electric co-ops.

Like hundreds of others, Ken Howard spends much of his day clearing debris left from the ice storm.

"I'll go on record and say this is the worst I've ever seen. Of course, I think that has already been spelled out," said Ken Howard, a Verdigris Valley Electric Co-op board member.

But, Howard has more of a vested interest than just clearing debris. He's also a 15 year member of the Verdigris Valley Electric Cooperative.

"Gee, we had like 1,700 poles down and at one time 25,000 outages," said VVEC board member Ken Howard.

For more than two weeks, VVEC utility crews have been working to restore power. As of Wednesday morning, official say less than ten residential customers are still without power. Some customers wonder how the process could take so long and what they can do to see it doesn't happen again. Typically, power companies report to the corporation commission. But, a 2003 state law allowed electric co-ops with more than 17,000 members to opt out and become self-regulating.

There are several reasons why that would happen, according to the Oklahoma Association for Electric Cooperatives. Co-ops are not-for-profit businesses, meaning ratepayers or members are also its owners and eligible for refunds. But, the big reason for opting out of the corporation commission's regulatory umbrella is it saves members money in yearly fees and expensive studies performed by the commission.

Despite not falling under state regulations, Ken Howard says electric co-ops across Oklahoma are still not completely on their own.

"If we get out of line and people take a look at it and say, 'What are you all doing?' There's recourses. Vote us out. They do have say. We are member-owned," said VVEC board member Ken Howard

Of the larger electric co-ops, only Northeastern Oklahoma Electric Co-op has not opted out of the corporation commission's control.

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