In addition to business reports, director election results were announced at Blue Ridge Electric Membership Corporation’s annual meeting, held June 25.
Due to COVID-19 precautions, this year’s annual meeting was available to members by telephone instead of in person at the corporate office. Recordings of reports will be online soon at www.BlueRidgeEnergy.com.
More than 6,100 cooperative members voted in this year’s director elections by mail and online.
Elected to three-year terms on the Board of Directors were: David Eggers, Caldwell district; Tom Trexler, Watauga district; David Boone, Ashe district; and John F. “Johnny” Wishon, Alleghany district.
The business meeting included a report from Secretary-Treasurer Joy Coffey. Referencing the annual report sent to members in May and on the cooperative’s website, Coffey stated the cooperative is in strong financial condition and continues to advance major goals in the areas of reliability and lower power costs.
Chief Financial Officer Katie Woodle affirmed that the cooperative is in sound financial position. Last month, the cooperative returned $5.3 million in capital credits to members. Woodle noted that no rate increase will be necessary this year. She noted that 2019 was a warmer year and resulted in lower kilowatt-hour sales and propane gallons as compared to 2018, but current market conditions remain stable for both electric and propane and fuels.
While meter growth continues to be a challenge, she said, cooperative efforts in cost savings and performance of the two subsidiary companies help benefit the cooperative and its members.
Full financial results are available in the cooperative’s annual report, which is published in the June issue of Carolina Country and available at www.BlueRidgeEnergy.com.
Board President Jeff Joines recognized the many members serving on committees to ensure Blue Ridge Electric Membership Corporation is a member-led cooperative: the Nominating Committee, Credentials and Election Committee, Member Advisory Committees and Community Leaders Council.
Joines added that a key way Blue Ridge Energy is working on behalf of members is through the Blue Ridge Energy Members Foundation. Funded by member and other donations to Operation Round Up, the Members Foundation this year has focused entirely on crisis energy bill assistance to Blue Ridge Energy members and propane and fuels customers due to impacts from COVID-19.
Joines said that that the cooperative is pleased to continue providing college scholarships to local youth, Bright Ideas grants to local teachers, and for the cooperative’s role in securing local funds through the government’s Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant Program which have recently gone to emergency responsive initiatives such as building fire departments, purchasing fire trucks and emergency personnel training.
In his state of the cooperative address, Chief Executive Officer Doug Johnson expressed his appreciation to serve the cooperative’s members.
“As a critical infrastructure company, we’re working through COVID-19 with business continuity plans, executive orders from the governor and phased reopening of offices,” Johnson said. “This has been an extremely difficult time for many and we’ve had overarching guidelines to lead with the heart to be kind and generous as we help members recover from this pandemic and resulting economic landslide that has hurt so many people. We’re prepared to help local communities for the coming months and are asking members who are able to join us in giving a helping hand to those who have lost jobs and economic security. And, we’re working safely and smartly to protect the health and safety of our employees,” Johnson said.
He went on to say key performance indicators show the employees of all three companies (the cooperative, propane and fuels subsidiary and RidgeLink subsidiary) achieved excellent results that are producing benefits such as: earning customer satisfaction scores that place the cooperative among the top five utilities in the nation; top quartile in the nation in electric reliability; no rate increases in 2018, 2019 and 2020; more than $5 million returned to members in capital credits refunds this year; subsidiary performance that benefits members with lower costs; and WorkSmart initiatives of more than $46 million in cumulative savings from employee-led ideas to reduce costs, improve efficiencies and use of new technologies.
He added that the cooperative is currently planning a 11 megawatt utility scale solar facility to join the cooperative’s five community solar sites, energy efficiency rebates, peak demand management programs to join the cooperative’s Beat The Peak program and new initiatives to encourage more distributed energy resources at members’ homes and businesses.
He reported the cooperative was able to give $4 million back to members in November and December of 2019 due to wholesale power savings from utilization of more natural gas, hydro, solar and nuclear and reduced use of coal generation.
Johnson spoke to the cooperative’s $40 million in electric plan investment for 17 miles of 230 kV transmission line from West Jefferson to Boone and a 230 kV transmission substation in Rutherwood. The second half of line construction is underway this year, with grading of access roads and line construction planned for 2021 and the Rutherwood substation after that.
The cooperative, which rebranded in 2016 under the market name of Blue Ridge Energy along with its propane and fuels subsidiary, serves some 76,000 members in Caldwell, Watauga, Ashe, and Alleghany counties as well as parts of Avery, Alexander and Wilkes counties.