‘Everybody says it’s important, but nobody wants to put up the money’
Sanford Reaves Jr., incumbent candidate for Region IV director on the Rappahannock Electric Cooperative board of directors, said it would cost the member-owned utility too much money to provide broadband service and it wouldn’t offer a return on investment by the time the technology is antiquated.
He said it would cost the co-op $500 million and be 10 years down the line before REC would see a return on its investment. By then, Reaves said, it would likely have outdated technology that would be replaced by satellite or 5G or greater cell service.
“Everybody says it’s important, but nobody wants to put up the money,” he said. “What’s going to happen when I OK a $500 million investment, knowing we’re not going to get a return on investment for at least 10 years? . . . I’m not going to sit the cooperative in that situation.”
Sanford, who has served on the REC board for the past three years, has been the owner and president of Sanford and Sons Construction and Janitorial service since 1995, according to his profile on REC’s website.
He is also a local Realtor, the pastor at Mt. Zion Baptist Church for 13 years and has served on the Culpeper County Planning Commission for 28 years and currently holds the position of chairman.
“We hear our opponent say, ‘Well, [directors] are against broadband,’” Reaves told the Culpeper Times, a sister publication of the Rappahannock News. “We’re not going to make a move until we know that we’re spending the money in the best way for our member/owners. Not right now, but for the future because things are changing.
“People are saying, ‘They’re not pro-solar, they’re not pro-broadband,’” Reaves said. “Yes, we are, but we have a fiduciary duty there and that’s what we’ve got to do.”
He said REC has had two studies on providing broadband, and they showed that it’s not economically feasible to provide that service across the co-op’s 22-county territory.
“What we want our member/owners to understand is this, we consistently work on broadband,” Reaves said. “We know our customers. Our members have asked for it. . . . We are consistently trying to find ways but we can’t have it all put on the backs of our members/owners.”
“My opponent and those who oppose some of those things . . . they will say, ‘Well, you know Rappahannock Electric has all this money and they have the access to be able to put broadband in everybody’s house. It’s their wish list. They’re not telling our member/owners the whole story. Startup costs. They act like it’s free.”
Reaves also questioned why his opponent, Rixeyville area resident Seth Heald, would say that the REC board isn’t transparent.
“Rappahannock Electric has [myrec.coop], and you can go on that. We stress transparency,” Reaves said. “It’s a nonprofit; people don’t realize that. Rappahannock Electric is a nonprofit, so at the end of the year . . . the profits that we have, we scatter those to member/owners in what we call capital credits. . . . A lot of times that pays for your bill.”
He said that REC distributed those capital credits early this year because of the COVID-19 crisis, to help people pay their bills.
Reaves also justified the $2,000-a-month stipend, plus other expenses sometimes, that REC’s directors are paid.
“We are one of the biggest cooperatives on the East Coast and we have to go to a lot of training sessions. . . . We have to go through these extensive training sessions,” he said. “We have to get so many hours within the first two years you’re there to get your certification. And then once you get your certification, there’s another level, an advanced level you have to go through, and there’s so many credits required.”
REC members can cast their vote now by mail or online, or live during the virtual meeting on Aug. 19. For more information on the vote for directors, visit www.myrec.coop.
— Editor’s note: Rappahannock Electric Co-op sent a letter on March 11, 2020 to the Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors gauging the county’s interest in partnering with the utility to make fiber broadband accessible to Rappahannock homes and businesses. The outreach from REC was unexpected. The BOS broadband committee for years has sought a business partner to help go after state and federal grant money. In fact, the broadband committee had all but given up on REC’s interest. REC said it will be participating in phase 1 of the Federal Communication Commission’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund auction. As a result, it can't comment on the status of that query due to FCC’s rules on prohibited communications during what's known as the “quiet period,” which started on July 15. Updates will be provided once the FCC gives official notice that the quiet period has ended, a spokesperson said. In response to REC's query, County Administrator Garrey Curry sent a letter saying that Rappahannock would support a joint search for funding to pay for expanding fiber to the county and had agreed to commit $300,000 to it.
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