ST. MARYS — Midwest Electric Inc. had its 81st annual meeting, Saturday, June 2, in the Saint Marys Memorial High School.
The electrical cooperative meets every year to update members on the business and financial aspects of the organization and announce the results of the board elections. Those in attendance were also given chance to ask questions or comment about their electrical service.
Approximately 700 people attended the event, which kicked off at 8:15 a.m. with a breakfast buffet catered by the Old Barn Out Back from Lima. Live music was provided during the breakfast, and a crew of clowns interacted with those in attendance, cracking jokes and passing out balloons twisted to resemble animals and other shapes. There were games for the kids and attendees had a chance to win $3,000 in a drawing for cash prizes after the meeting.
After breakfast, the crowd moved to the auditorium where Midwest CEO Matt Berry welcomed everyone before inviting those in attendance to join him in the pledge of allegiance and a prayer offered by Vice President James Wiechart.
Berry then gave a brief overview of last year and the progress made and how the cooperative had been able to hold the line on electrical rates while still investing millions of dollars in power reliability upgrades.
“Our goal has been to offer the best possible service at the most competitive price. We have a great history we are very proud of and a bright future ahead of us,” Berry said. “The key to our success is the creativity and productivity levels achieved by your employees. We haven’t been sitting still. During these past eight years, we’ve invested $18 million in electric system upgrades and returned $10 million in patronage capital, all without raising rates. Those investments in reliability are paying off as the typical member had just 1.06 outages last year.”
He added the cooperative is about to begin a multi-year “distribution automation” project, where major circuits could have power restored in minutes rather than hours. While the cooperative is in good financial condition, Berry noted it will perform a cost of service and rates study in 2019, with the potential for a rate change later next year.
On the community front, Berry thanked members for participating in the Community Connection Fund, also known as “round up,” which passed the $1 million mark in local donations last year. The cooperative’s economic development revolving loan fund has made $1.8 million in loans to local small businesses, supporting 159 area jobs. The cooperative also funded a program to take veterans on several trips and helped numerous local residents with their power needs.
“Helping out is the co-op way,” Berry said. “We are constantly looking for ways to better things in our community.”
Board President Larry Vandemark reported the cooperative had a good year in 2017, with stable electric rates, patronage payments back to the members and strong power reliability.
“Kilowatt hour sales decreased about 1 percent, compared to 2016. As a result, operating revenues remained at $29 million dollars,” Vandemard said. “Despite the lack of growth, member equity actually increased from 47 percent to 49 percent, thanks in part to our focus on cost control. Midwest was able to return $1.3 million in patronage capital to members in late 2017.”
On the operations side, Vandemark noted, “Rights-of-way clearing is performed annually to help reduce tree-related outages. Tree pruning took place along 88 miles of lines in the Amanda substation area. We tested and treated 2,414 poles in the Macedon substation area with less than a 2 percent rejection ratio. Those poles rejected were replaced with new poles.”
In his closing remarks Vandemark said, “I want to especially thank our employees for their dedication to providing the best possible service. I believe electricity is the greatest value around, and having knowledgeable, service-oriented employees makes your electricity an even greater value. Our future also depends on you, our members. As an owner of this cooperative, you have a responsibility to stay informed and involved.”
Berry introduced Tom Alban, vice president of power generation for Buckeye Power, which provides electricity for the cooperative. Alban focused on Buckeye’s taking over operational control of the Cardinal, Greenville and Mone power plants earlier this year.
“This is perhaps the most significant change in Buckeye’s history,” Alban said. “And while all of these changes have kept us extremely busy at Buckeye and Ohio rural electric cooperatives, we do not anticipate any significant impacts of these changes on our rates. In the short term, I expect that the cost of services provided to our plants will be reduced, and over the long term, co-op members can continue to expect a safe, reliable, affordable and environmentally responsible supply of electricity. Buckeye’s rates, which account for about 67 percent of Midwest Electric members’ rates, have been flat since completing $1.2 billion in environmental upgrades in 2012, and we project relatively flat rates for at least the next few years.”
He outlined the potential effects regulations and distribution play in electrical costs.
“The biggest threats to continued rate stability come from greater environmental regulations. Costs for transmission investments by Ohio’s investor-owned utilities have also impacted us. Ohio’s investor-owned utilities have been leaving the generation business and instead have been making significant investments in transmission. While these investments are important and necessary for reliability, their costs are passed through to the users of the transmission system like Buckeye Power and Midwest Electric. Higher transmission costs will continue to apply upward pressure to Buckeye’s rates,” Alban said.
He also discussed cooperative principles, such as “cooperation among cooperatives.” Alban noted that 72 operations employees from 19 Ohio co-ops helped restore power in Georgia after Hurricane Irma last year, and then six weeks later, another 50 employees from 11 co-ops were deployed to New Hampshire after a devastating wind storm. On safety, Ohio’s electric cooperatives opened the state-of-the-art indoor training center for the Central Ohio Lineworker Training program last July.
“The new center allows our linemen to train hands on, year-round, and it’s truly the result of your co-op coming together with the other co-ops in the state to collaborate and demonstrate their commitment to safety and education,” Alban said.
Attendees also heard the results of the election of the board of trustees. Annual elections were conducted by mail and online: Incumbents Gary Knapke, of Mercer County, Roger Rank, of Van Wert County, and Bob Barnt, of Allen County, were re-elected, and members approved minor updates to the articles of incorporation and code of regulations.
The writer is a regular contributor to the Sidney Daily News.