ST. MARYS — The 83rd Midwest Electric annual meeting was held virtually for the first time ever due to the pandemic restrictions.
The meeting featured a discussion about an electric rate adjustment planned for 2021. It will be the cooperative’s first rate increase in more than 10 years.
Annual board director elections were conducted by mail and online prior to the meeting, and results were announced at the meeting. Randy Heinl of Wapakoneta (District 1) and Larry Vandemark of Elida (District 2) were re-elected to serve a three-year term on the board.
CEO Matt Berry said the COVID-19 lockdown has not caused the rate increase projected for early 2021, stating the board and staff have been considering the rate change for the past year.
“In fact, we’re seeing if we can reduce the amount of the needed increase because of the lockdown’s impact on people’s finances and whether we can push it off longer into 2021,” he said. “But we’ve invested $30 million in electric reliability and maintenance since our last rate change, and we need to continue investments to keep the lights on.
“I understand with the lockdown’s impact on our economy, a rate adjustment is a difficult topic to address,” he said. “We really have done everything we can to operate as efficiently as possible. The fact we’ve gone 10 years without a rate change is proof of our efficiency and productivity. But we need to continue power reliability investments.”
Berry said Midwest Electric has spent $30 million on electric reliability during the past 10 years, without raising rates. Some of the reliability investments from the past 10 years include:
• Tree trimming along 1,500 miles of power line – completing two cycles throughout its territory
• Pole testing each of its 33,000 poles for reliability
• More than 97 miles of rebuilt power line
• A new substation north of Wapakoneta
• New bucket trucks and digger trucks
• Transformers, voltage regulators, switches
• Advanced digital electric meter system, and a complex hardware and software system
• New distribution automation project to reduce the length of power outages by remotely transferring circuits
• Ongoing maintenance, repair, and outage restoration
“Our electric system investment is more than $4,700 per residential member. That’s almost $1,000 more per consumer than the local investor owned utilities,” Berry said.
The amount of the rate adjustment and other details are being worked on this summer, with a projected date of early 2021 for the new rates. The co-op’s last rate adjustment was August 2010.
Work on the distribution automation project has started in the Rockford/Jonestown/Spencerville area, and it has already paid dividends, Berry said.
“During an early May power outage when the local transmission provider lost power to our substation, we used distribution automation to remotely transfer load to another station,” he said. “As a result, the power outage only lasted 15 minutes while the other utility customers were out for hours.”
Berry thanked employees “for the outstanding job they’ve done of maintaining exceptional service to our members during the pandemic. Our employees from day one have embraced this challenge head on.”
He said it has been a real-life test of the cooperative’s disaster response systems, and the cooperative has performed exceptionally well. Berry added that the co-op has done a number of things to help members, including waiving late fees, suspending disconnects, increasing rebate amounts and increasing auto pay incentives.
“And we’ve never charged fees for any payment method,” he said.
Board President Larry Vandemark also expressed gratitude for the cooperative’s employees.
“Our employees demonstrated innovation, commitment and dedication in the face of unknowns that changed by the day,” Vandemark said.
Vandemark said 2019 was a record year for Midwest Electric in many ways:
• The highest customer satisfaction score in the co-op’s history
• The co-op’s most patronage cash back to members in any year: $2.1 million
• Record kilowatt-hour sales
• Other highlights from 2019 include tree trimming about 170 miles of power line in the Bluelick, Rockport and Noble substation areas; pole testing more than 3,300 poles in the Noble and Kossuth station areas; rebuilding 21 miles of power line in Noble and Kossuth; and the purchase of two large digger trucks.
Later in 2019, consolidation discussions ended with neighboring Paulding Putnam Electric, Vandemark told viewers.
“We have many similarities with Paulding Putnam Electric. But there were some difficult hurdles, especially when it comes to how we allocate and pay back patronage equity,” he said. “For the past three years, we’ve been in a shared services arrangement with Paulding Putnam where we share a couple of employees. This has provided good service to the members with substantial savings, and we are continuing the shared services with Paulding.”
Vandemark ended his remarks by thanking fellow Director Gary Profit, of Ohio City, whose term expired this June and is no longer serving.
“Gary has been a dedicated board member for the past six years,” Vandemark said. “Prior to that, he served on our charitable board, the Community Connection Fund. He obviously has a passion for your cooperative and a desire to make this cooperative the best it can be for you, the members.”
The full Annual Meeting video broadcast can be viewed on Midwest Electric’s YouTube channel, www.YouTube.com/MidwestElectric.
Based in St. Marys, Midwest Electric is the not-for-profit, customer-owned electric cooperative serving 11,000 homes, farms, and businesses in Allen, Auglaize, Mercer, Van Wert, Shelby, Putnam and Darke counties. To learn more, visit www.midwestrec.com.