By Roger McKinney
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Almost never is 14 percent support considered a victory.
A shareholder resolution, proposed by Jim Evans and supported by the Missouri Sierra Club, received a nearly 14 percent favorable vote at Thursday’s annual meeting of Empire District Electric Co.’s shareholders. Evans called the vote a “full-fledged victory.” Harry Alper, an organizer with the Missouri Sierra Club, said the favorable votes represent 3.2 million shares of Empire stock.
Empire spokeswoman Amy Bass characterized the result as a win for the utility, with more than 86 percent of votes cast against the resolution, as the board of directors had asked shareholders to do.
The resolution would have directed Empire to provide shareholders with a report of actions the company is taking in the area of energy efficiency. It relates to the 2009 Missouri Energy Efficiency Investment Act, which allows utilities to recover costs of energy efficiency program investments.
Evans and Alper said the vote far exceeds the 3 percent threshold required to bring the resolution back next year to shareholders.
Evans, of Republic, said because the Joplin-based utility’s board issued a statement opposing the resolution, shareholders were inclined to vote against it.
“There is the full force of the company against it,” Evans said by phone after the vote. “They essentially tell shareholders to vote against it. The fact that we got 14 percent is pretty encouraging.”
Evans said the vote puts pressure on Empire to avoid another vote next year.
“They are probably going to go ahead and go forward with what we’re asking for anyway,” Evans said. He said he had faith that the utility would do the right thing and that he wouldn’t need to propose the resolution next year.
Bass said Empire already had planned to make a filing under the state law in the fall when the shareholder resolution was presented. Empire made a filing in 2012 that was withdrawn so that information could be updated.
An Empire news release after the vote Thursday said the company currently offers many energy efficiency programs for customers. The list provided included a low-income weatherization and high-efficiency program, and the Home Performance with Energy Star Program.
Evans said he has owned Empire stock since the 1980s and that he’s not someone who bought a few shares in order to be a thorn in the company’s side. He said his motivation is to keep Empire viable into the future.
“I’m a fan of Empire,” Evans said.
Evans said during a news conference before the vote that he powers his house with solar power and has an electric car.
“My home and my car use less electricity than my solar collectors generate,” Evans said, noting that he is a power producer, a customer and a shareholder. He said the dividends he receives from his Empire stock amount to less than the $300 a year in electric bills he pays as an Empire customer.
He said he produces an average of 12,500 kilowatt-hours of energy annually.
During the news conference, Alper said that other utilities are investing far more in energy efficiency measures than Empire is. He praised the investments made by Ameren Missouri and Kansas City Power & Light, which plan to invest $147 million and $41 million, respectively, in energy efficiency programs over the next three years.
EMPIRE DISTRICT ELECTRIC CO. on Thursday reported first-quarter consolidated earnings of $12.6 million, or 30 cents per share, compared with 2012 first-quarter earnings of $9.8 million, or 23 cents per share. Weather was the primary driver of increased revenue, the company reported.