In addition to business reports, director election results were announced at the Annual Meeting of Blue Ridge Electric Membership Corporation held Thursday afternoon, June 28, at the corporate office in Lenoir.
Elected to three-year terms on the Board of Directors were: Kelly Coleman Melton, Caldwell district; Joy Coffey, Watauga district; Kenneth Greene, Ashe district, and Mitch Franklin, Alleghany district.
Over 6,300 cooperative members voted in this year’s director elections, primarily by mail and online. Director election kits including candidate biographies were sent to members on May 30 and included a proxy, postage return envelope and instructions for members to vote by mail, online or attend the annual business meeting. Members who opted to receive the electronic director election kit received the kit by email.
The business meeting included a report from Secretary-Treasurer Joy Coffey who stated the cooperative is in sound financial condition and continues as one of the nation’s top performing cooperatives. Coffey said strong performance in the areas of customer satisfaction, reliability and operational savings, in addition to improving quality of life through the Members Foundation and working to support and implement projects for cleaner, renewable energy, all contribute to the sound financial condition of the cooperative. Additionally, she noted, “there have been no rate increases in the past five years.”
Chief Financial Officer Katie Woodle affirmed strong cooperative financial performance, even while overcoming challenges of warmer weather in 2017 which reduced sales of kilowatt-hour and propane and fuels, and low meter growth across the service area.
Woodle said nearly $2.2 million was contributed last year by the cooperative’s two subsidiaries: RidgeLink, which leases dark fiber to other businesses and government entities, and a Propane and Fuels subsidiary. These funds benefit members by helping hold down rates.
She noted the cooperative was able to return $5 million in capital credits to members this year as well as deliver member savings of $27 million through temporary rate reductions in 2014 to 2017 due to operational efficiencies and favorable wholesale power costs resulting from low natural gas prices.
Full financial results are available in the cooperative’s annual report, which is published in the June issue of Carolina Country and available at BlueRidgeEnergy.com.
Board President Kenneth Greene 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.
Greene said Blue Ridge Energy is staying true to its cooperative roots, most notably by helping local members and communities with crisis heating assistance and quality of life improvement grants through the Blue Ridge Electric Members Foundation.
“Making life better for those we serve drives every decision and action we take,” Greene said, adding that keeping electricity affordable and reliable are the top priorities.
In his state of the cooperative address, Chief Executive Officer Doug Johnson welcomed attendees and expressed his appreciation to serve the cooperative’s members.
Recognizing hard work by employees to achieve goals in key performance areas, he said: “We have a deep commitment to our communities, and a work environment that honors and appreciates our members and customers. That’s why our employees continue to produce top results year in and year out,” said Johnson.
He noted those efforts and cooperative values place Blue Ridge Energy among the top utilities in the nation for customer satisfaction with a high score of 88 on the American Consumer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) and in the nation’s top performing quartile of energy companies for reliable electric service. The cooperative is also achieving top safety performance.
Additionally, Blue Ridge Energy has held rates level since 2013. Helping achieve that is the cooperative’s two innovative for-profit subsidiaries which produced over $2 million in net benefit to the cooperative last year.
Johnson further explained that the employee-led WorkSmart initiative has implemented ideas for cost reductions, improved operational efficiencies and utilized new technologies to produce savings of over $30 million, also for the purpose of holding down member rates and keeping bills low. And, with the help of favorable wholesale power cost, the cooperative was able to give members temporary rate reductions to lower their bills during portions of 2014, 2015, 2016 and most of 2017.
Johnson said the cooperative continues to strengthen its role as the area’s trusted energy advisor. Through the Innovative Energy Solutions area, Blue Ridge Energy is offering renewable energy through community solar, energy efficiency rebates, peak demand management programs such as Beat The Peak to enable members to join in the effort to hold down wholesale power cost, energy saver loan options, new technology, and expanded home, hearth and outdoor offerings in the district office showrooms in Lenoir, Boone, West Jefferson and Sparta as well as Morganton.
Referencing management of wholesale power cost to keep rates low, Johnson said the cooperative’s supplier, Duke Energy Carolinas, is using more natural gas and less coal for electricity generation. New regulations on state and federal levels resulting from coal ash remediation, however, continue to be a challenge for many utilities. The total cost from 2015 to 2031 will add up to $25 million for Blue Ridge Energy. However, the cooperative was able to avoid a rate increase in 2018 due to the Tax Cut and Job Act, or federal tax reform, that offset the impact on wholesale power cost from coal ash regulations.
Future cost challenges the cooperative continues to manage include maintaining energy delivery systems to reliably and efficiently serve current and future generations. Much of our nation’s electric grid is reaching its usable lifespan and must be replaced. And Blue Ridge Energy is beginning its largest and most critical system improvement project in its history: a 230 kV line from West Jefferson to Boone and a new Rutherwood 230 kV substation. This is a replacement of a 50-year-old transmission system responsible for delivering power to our mountain counties. The total project cost is $40 million, which reflects $25 million for the transmission line and $15 million for the new substation.
Johnson said the cooperative has a strong strategy for managing rising costs to keep rates as low as possible. These include the subsidiaries, wholesale power cost management, and WorkSmart.
Strong community focus areas for the cooperative includes continued economic development support for new and better jobs, much needed affordable housing, and improving quality of life to make life better for members and communities, he added.
“Let me wrap up by saying thank you to our employees who are achieving incredible results and helping us meet the challenges of the future,” said Johnson. “Our secret sauce is our love and care for others. We’re here to make life better and to achieve incredible results for our member-owners and customers!”
The cooperative, which rebranded in 2016 under the market name of Blue Ridge Energy along with its propane and fuels subsidiary, serves some 75,000 members in Caldwell, Watauga, Ashe, and Alleghany counties as well as parts of Avery, Alexander and Wilkes counties. Learn more at www.BlueRidgeEnergy.com and on the cooperative’s social media: www.facebook.com/blueridgeenergy; www.twitter.com/blueridgeemc and www.instagram.com/blueridgeenergy/.