Pedernales Electric board member sues co-op

A long-running fight between a Pedernales Electric Cooperative board member and the utility has landed in a Blanco County courtroom.

Co-op director Chris Perry — who has long pushed to allow other providers to sell power to co-op members — has filed suit against the member-owned utility to gain access to its agreements with the Lower Colorado River Authority.

The co-op buys its power from wholesale providers, and the LCRA accounts for the majority — 84 percent — of that power.

“PEC has unlawfully restricted plaintiff’s absolute right to access corporate books and records,” Perry claims in an eight-page lawsuit filed in Blanco County court Monday.

The co-op responded Tuesday that its board has not yet decided the next step in the litigation. The utility has a code of conduct that spells out how directors should make information requests, board president Patrick Cox.

“All directors at PEC follow a procedure according to our code of conduct for director inquiries and everyone submits those throughout the year,” Cox said.

Board member Cristi Clement said directors are balancing requests against demands on the co-op’s research staff.

“We’ve had a pattern of excessive requests. Its been going on for years,” Clement said. “We have to balance data requests with reasonableness and the time and cost for staff research. It’s our duty.”

Pedernales is the country’s largest member-owned electric utility with more than 250,000 member accounts.

Perry joined the co-op board in 2010, part of the co-op’s first democratically-elected board following years of scandal that rocked the utility. Since his election, Perry, a power industry consultant, has been on the opposing end of a majority of the utility’s seven-member board numerous times.

In 2013, the board moved to reprimand Perry for an opinion piece he wrote for the American-Statesman and other publications pushing for “consumer choice” in the utility’s service area.

That year, the majority of the board blocked resolutions by Perry to move towards a competitive market and asked Perry, who was stripped of his title as secretary-treasurer, to resign.

Perry, who had support from one other board member, refused and ran for re-election that year. His current three-year term ends in 2016.

Member-owned co-ops and city-owned utilities weren’t deregulated under a 1999 measure allowing competition in areas served by for-profit utilities such as Houston and Dallas.

In December, following a records request from Perry tied to LCRA contracts, the co-op installed new measures to limit what they considered as onerous requests to less than four hours of staff time or $500 in related costs.

Perry said in the suit that utility and LCRA records are key to his work as a Pedernales Electric director.

“Current and prospective contractual relations between PEC and LCRA… are matters of appropriate concern for PEC’s directors,” the suit said. “Plaintiff is entitled to such materials.”

This article first appeared in the Austin American Statesman on May 5, 2015.