It took Gov. Rick Scott’s signature, but a law passed in 2017 gives voters living outside Key West representation on the Utility Board of Key West. It governs Keys Energy Services (KEYS), which serves 28,000 customers from Key West to the east end of Seven Mile Bridge. Robert Barrios, Greg Daniels, Walter P. Drabinksi and Beth Ramsay-Vickrey are voting for the newly created Seat D.
KEY WEST UTILITY BOARD, SEAT D
$20,683 + medical benefits + optional retirement after eight years served
1. What experience and ideas do you bring to this position?
2. What singular budget item will you place the most focus on and why?
3. Would you be in favor of broadcasting or adding additional transparency to board meetings? (i.e., live video, recorded video and audio)?
4. What environmental or green initiatives at Keys Energy, if any, do you feel can be added or improved upon.
Robert Barrios, nonpartisan
After working for Keys Energy Services from 1988 to 2016, Robert Barrios said he has the experience needed to sit on the Utility Board. At the utility, he’s been a meter reader, worked in generation, customer service, engineering and purchasing. He was also the safety and risk officer for the last four years of his career there. Barrios has lived in Key West his entire life, has been married for 24 years and has one daughter.
• Top three issues: Aging workforce, reliability, rates
1. I have over 28 years of experience with the daily operations, the infrastructure and our customer needs. While at Keys Energy Services, I was a Meter Reader, worked in Generation, Customer Service, Engineering and Purchasing. I finished my last four years as the Safety and Risk Officer.
2. Travel/Training: With the aging workforce at KEYS, there are a lot of experienced employees who will be retiring, there should be a higher emphasis on secession planning, so that the younger generation get all the training and knowledge necessary to succeed. There are times when it is beneficial to bring a trainer in, rather than send several employees away for training.
3. Yes, I would be in favor of broadcasting the board meetings if it is cost effective. I wouldn’t want to cut services to broadcast. At the very least we should have the audio, from our board meetings, available to our customers. Over the years, the board meetings have not been well attended. I am not sure if there would be that many interested viewers but offering another option for participating might lead to greater interest.
4. Keys Energy Services has replaced all the traffic lights with LED bulbs. They have recently changed their policy to replace the street lights with LED fixtures as they go bad. I think that KEYS should continue to explore other forms of renewable energy. I would also like to see KEYS partner with other governmental agencies (school board, city and county), to help retrofit existing buildings, throughout our service territory, with solar panels. I also think with should work with the building departments and HARC to ease the restrictions to encourage solar panels.
Beth Ramsay-Vickrey, nonpartisan
Beth Ramsay-Vickrey, who sits on the Keys Energy Advisory Board and county Planning Commission, is seeking her first term on the KEYS Utility Board. She retired from the industrial real estate business 12 years ago. The Marathon native has lived on No Name Key for more than a decade and has two daughters with her husband of more than 35 years. They have one granddaughter.
• Top three issues: Costs, community, and conservation.
• www.beth4keysenergy.com and Beth4KeysEnergy on Facebook
1. I’m the only candidate with experience and involvement in forming and advancing our local County policies and goals regarding utilities and conservation efforts. I’ve spent more than 10 years attending nearly 300 meetings towards advancing our local utility and conservation policies: 6½ years as a private citizen -then- 3¾ as your County Planning Commissioner. I would bring new and expanded home energy and conservation programs to you the customer (in your own communities) via senior citizen center meetings, Rotary, Chamber, and other community resources. We can lower customer costs in our own Keys community through better conservation.
2. FEMA reimbursements, which of course is the same challenge faced by our County, our incorporated Cities, and our other utilities as well. Keys Energy expected this delay given that other utilities (in other parts of the Country) are still waiting for FEMA reimbursements for events that occurred in 2017; but this time-lag for Hurricane Irma related FEMA reimbursements (in excess of $45 million dollars) still presents a financial and budgetary challenge.
3. I always believe in transparency in government. My only concern would be in finding the broadcast medium that would be most cost effective for the rate-payers (i.e. not increase monthly bills).
4. New and expanded home energy and conservation programs throughout our community. We can help Keys Energy customers save on their monthly utility bill, and protect our Keys environment, through better conservation. I’d work on initiating a new grant program for programmable thermostats, initially targeting our seniors and disabled. Air conditioning is the largest portion of ones’ monthly electric bill, and it is often difficult for seniors and the disabled to remember or to access their thermostats. The installation of programmable thermostats would go a long way in monthly cost savings for our customers and towards the conservation of energy.
Walt Drabinksi, nonpartisan
Walt Drabinksi has MBA from the Wharton School of Economics, is the president of Vantage Energy Consulting LLC and has worked for three other power companies. He’s written five industry-related books on power plant operations and instrument control, worked as a consultant for 25 years to more than 100 utilities and has been active on environmental boards and corporate boards. He and his wife Dr. Jean Gormley Drabinski have two children and six grandchildren. They’ve lived on Cudjoe Key since 1998.
• Top three issues: Solar energy, storm hardening, and reliability.
• Campaign website: www.electkeysenergywalt.com
1. Ten years as a utility manager, author of five books on power plant operations, and instrument & control, 25 years as a consultant to over 100 utilities, state and federal governments, active on environmental boards and five corporate boards. Ideas for solving problems and arising issues.
2. Sixty percent of budget goes to the Florida Municipal Power Association for energy. This cost is almost twice the current market rate leading to unnecessarily electric high rates for Keys Energy ratepayers.
3. Live broadcast, video, and most importantly, means of sending questions to Board members. Currently there is no vehicle for contacting Board Members.
4. Policies on solar must change. Limit on total amount of solar permitted by customers must be increased above 2.5% of system load. Net metering, or payment for energy sent to system, should be fairly priced (was reduced from 12¢ to 4¢ in 2017), neighborhood solar programs should be encouraged, and additional regional participation should be targeted.
Greg Daniels, nonpartisan
Construction coordinator and small business owner Greg Daniels said his 18 years of experience working for Comcast will help him on the Utility Board. He said he’s successfully managed numerous fiber optic and coax system upgrades and worked on other projects in the Keys. For the past eight years, he’s served on the Keys Energy Services Advisory Committee and has been chair or vice chair for six years. Daniels and his wife Donna live on Cudjoe Key.
• Top three issues: Lines underground, outside labor costs, succession planning
• Campaign website: www.votegregdaniels.com
1. I have 18 years of real world experience working for a major utility. I work with just not Keys Energy, but Florida Keys Electric Co-op and occasionally Florida Power and Light. I have successfully managed numerous fiber optic and coax system upgrades, system rebuilds and new build projects in the entire Florida Keys. For the past 8 years I have served on the Key Energy Services Advisory Committee, 6 of those years I have been the chair or vice chair. I am a very driven individual, I am beholden to no one, and I will always be honest and forthright
2. I do not believe there is one single issue or area but a combination that can create savings. Just as with a family budget, small savings over time make large savings. The Utility Board must continue to protect ratepayers’ and voters’ interests by continuously reviewing costs and where appropriate, cutting expenses to create savings and streamline services without sacrificing the quality of those services. This includes a review of every consultant and contract labor position. We need to look at every department and expenditure each time the budget is brought before the board.
3. I believe in full transparency. The current board questioned the need for live broadcasts because of the cost associated with live broadcast versus the amount of people who wish to view it. The board directed staff to reach out to other government agencies about live viewership of meetings and costs. After the information came back, the board voted not to broadcast live due to the costs involved. I agree with this decision, however I wish the board would have considered videotaping the meetings and posting the video on the KES website, much like they do with the meeting agendas and minutes.
4. I am a strong proponent of LED technology. I believe we can make giant steps forward by replacing streetlights and other lights in public places with LED lights and the utilization of smart technology to run those lights. The solar initiatives that Keys Energy Services is already investing in will help research to improve solar power and make it cheaper for everyone. Think about where we were with electric cars 10 years ago and where we are now. With continued investment in these technologies, I cannot imagine where they will be in 10 more years.
Editor’s note: Candidates’ answers appear as submitted.