HCGA meets with AEC general manager

Anza Electric Cooperative general manager Kevin Short speaks at the High Country Growers Association meeting Tuesday, Sept. 17. Diane Sieker photo

The High Country Growers Association held a public meeting at the Little Red Schoolhouse in Anza Tuesday, Sept. 17. The gathering was attended by growers, members of the press representing three news outlets, marijuana advocates and those in the community who wanted to learn more about cannabis cultivation in Anza Valley.

HCGA directors Jake Baird, Jazmin McCammon and Kendall Steinmetz were present.

Anza Electric Cooperative general manager Kevin Short fielded a detailed and informative question and answer session.

He was asked to clarify statistics from 2017 that indicated that the AEC suffered $500,000 in losses due to utility theft and other causes, and many other questions.

Short said that indeed some loss was from theft, but the system is also not 100% effective – there are other energy losses due to heat and voltage. Theft is the smaller component in the overall picture.

“We do report every single theft to the district attorney,” Short said. “We police our own members as diligently as possible.”

Utility theft can lead to substandard and dangerous electric connections, causing an extreme fire hazard.

Short also touched on the issue of cannabis growers’ needs overloading the system.

“Overloading is a potential fire hazard,” he said, and an issue that is constantly being addressed by the cooperative.

As far as cultivators potentially overloading transformers, leading to their failure, Short said, “The size of grows range wildly.”

Large green houses are big energy users, due to the employment of pumps, fans, lights, AC units and more.

The nonprofit AEC boasts some of the lowest electricity rates in the state, with members enjoying charges of one-third that of surrounding for-profit utilities, such as Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas and Electric.

“We really take care of our membership,” he said.

In the last two to three years, Short said that there has been a steady increase on transformer overloads, with grows being the lion’s share of the causes. Cultivators can help alleviate this issue by advising the AEC of load estimates and allowing the technicians to understand their needs to guide the growers in the safest manner in which to proceed.

When a residence is converted into a growing site, Short said, the loads skyrocket.

He announced that Phase Two of the SunAnza solar array has been funded and construction will begin soon. The battery backup project is also moving forward. The Santa Rosa solar array construction is on track, slated to provide the Tribe, AEC and its members free energy for the next 35 years.

McCammon asked how the growers could best work with the cooperative.

Short answered that the best thing to do would let the AEC know of load projections and have the technicians come out and help determine the best course of action and possible upgrades.

The AEC is studying a rate change as Short said that the current rates have not increased significantly in the last decade. Improvements to the system, including a new substation at Bautista Road, rebuilding the lines in the Village, upgrading meters and modernizing equipment is ongoing.

“This is the biggest work plan in our history,” Short said.

The cooperative serves 5,000 meters and about 4,500 members.

He answered a question regarding the AEC’s relationship with law enforcement and indicated that the confidentiality of the members is paramount. The AEC does not share personal information to anyone without a subpoena.

The ConnectAnza internet service is 50% deployed, he said, thanks to grants and hard-working crews.

Short said, “I’m always available; let’s talk. I used to be an electrician, now I talk for a living.”

Steinmetz read a statement about growing cannabis in Anza, reflecting on the long history of cultivation in the Valley. He mentioned the past persecution of growers, the good effects of legalization and the benefits of new tax revenues.

He spoke passionately of the failed war on drugs and its lasting effects that he said cannot seem to be resolved. Referring to this war as social inequity, he advocated for more education of the public and for certain laws to change. He suggested the establishment of a social equity zone in the Anza, Aguanga and Sage areas.

Anza has one of the best microclimates in the country for growing cannabis, Steinmetz said.

McCammon talked about HCGA involvement in community causes, including assisting in raising funds for the Hamilton Travel Club’s Puerto Rico trip and other charitable activities. She indicated plans for a harvest festival and an “Anza Cup” cannabis competition.

“Fun, up things,” she said.

Baird discussed the raids of June 5, indicating that he has received information of abuse by law enforcement during this action.

“We want to talk to people. Are they getting the proper abatement notices?” he asked, adding that the HCGA’s attorney is seeking this information for possible action.

Code Enforcement has to work 100% off complaints, he said, and they are destroying property.

A member of the audience indicated that his renter had been raided with no advance warning, and Baird said it is likely the tenant received an abatement letter but failed to let the landlord know. This is very common, he said.

The High Country Growers Association is a California nonprofit whose principal purpose is to educate the public about safe and sustainable farming practices, including but not limited to quality standards and best practices, environmental solutions and legal advice.

The group also serves as a lobbyist entity that seeks the best opportunities for small farmers and their surrounding communities.

The HCGA does not condone destructive farming practices such as the use of unpermitted or illegal pesticides and chemicals.

The goal of the HCGA is to advocate for small farms on residential-rural and residential-agriculture zoned properties, where at this time it is illegal to have a cannabis farm under Riverside County Ordinances 348 and 925.

The meeting closed with social mingling and friendly discussions of the subjects covered in the course of the assembly.

Memberships to the HCGA are offered at $100 per year with many benefits.

For more information on the High Country Growers Association, visit them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/highcountrygrowers.

Diane Sieker can be reached by email at dsieker@reedermedia.com.