|New Directors Elected at BREMCO Annual Meeting|
|Written by Renee Whitener|
|Sunday, 13 June 2010 05:07|
West Jefferson, North Carolina (June 12, 2010) – In addition to updates on the state of the cooperative, four directors were elected today to the board of Blue Ridge Electric Membership Corporation during the cooperative’s Annual Membership Meeting held at Ashe County High School.
Re-elected to serve three-year terms on the board were: Jeff Joines of Caldwell district; James Burl (J.B.) Lawrence Jr. of Watauga district; Bradley McNeill of Ashe district; and Bryan Edwards, Alleghany district.
During the business session, President Kenneth Greene welcomed the crowd of approximately 1,200 members. Joy Coffey, secretary-treasurer, reported that the cooperative is in sound financial condition and remains one of the strongest cooperatives in the nation.
In his update, Greene told the audience that Blue Ridge Electric’s goal is to provide the most reliable electricity at the lowest possible cost. “It’s also our goal to partner with our communities to improve the quality of life for those who live and work here.
“As you know, we are a non-profit cooperative, so there are no excess funds—we provide ‘at cost’ electricity. But we do have the power of cooperation among our members and we have some of the most giving, community-spirited members anywhere.”
Greene was referring to Operation Round Up, a voluntary program that allows members to round up their electric bills to the next dollar amount and contribute the change to Operation Round Up. These funds flow into the Blue Ridge Electric Members Foundation which was able to give $106,866 in crisis heating assistance to households in need last year and nearly that same amount to local non-profit organizations providing services and programs to help local people and improve the quality of life in this area.
Greene also noted the particularly difficult winter this area experienced and the impact it had on both the cooperative and its members. Nearly half the cooperative’s electric system was damaged after the Christmas ice storm. Line technicians and other employees worked diligently for six days until power was fully restored after the most damaging storm since Hurricane Hugo hit the area. Greene said high bills due to the severe winter were a concern and that the cooperative had a record demand for electricity.
“As a cooperative, our first thought was ‘how can we help our members’?”, he said. “We knew in the current economy many were already struggling. An important step your Board took was to approve a temporary rate reduction to help reduce electric bills by about nine percent for the average member. We saw unexpected lowered wholesale power costs in February and March,” he explained, “so we were able to continue this temporary reduction for two months and we were pleased this was able to help all our members.”
In his address, Chief Executive Officer Doug Johnson, gave an overview of how cooperative staff is working to provide value to members by managing costs, using innovation in delivering services, and striving to serve members. Because of the commitment to members, Johnson said he is pleased Blue Ridge is one of the best performing utilities in reliable electric service as well as one of the top rated utilities by its members for customer satisfaction. Blue Ridge is also nationally accredited in safety, which is critical for employees but also benefits members from savings on insurance premiums.
Johnson emphasized ongoing work with the cooperative’s wholesale power provider has helped contain rising costs for members during a time when utilities all across the nation are experiencing cost pressures from a variety of sources. He also noted that an employee driven Work Smart initiative has also helped by saving the cooperative $1 million in operations costs to date.
Johnson said that future savings will be realized by coordinating with its power provider to achieve the requirements of the North Carolina Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standards law designed to incorporate more renewable energy and energy efficiency into power supplies.
Referencing emerging federal energy and climate change legislation, Johnson said, “In an industry in transition, it looks like a very complicated future. This country doesn’t need a cap and trade program that will make electricity more expensive for us all.”
Johnson proposed a vision for the country instead of a tax. “Using better technologies for nuclear power and natural gas can help us be carbon neutral,” he said.
He went on to discuss innovative technology the cooperative is using. Smart meter installations will be complete for the entire service area once Watauga County is complete by the end of this year, he explained. “We’ve had great response from members on the services smart meter technology has made it possible for us to offer,” he said. “With smart meters, you have a greater amount of information available to you about your electricity usage that you can access right from the screen of you computer, and this can help you be more efficient in your energy usage,” he explained.
Johnson added that programs like FlexPay are also available due to smart meters. Members signed up for FlexPay can pay “as they go”, purchasing electricity daily, weekly or monthly in any amount they wish. Payments can be made by phone, web site or in the office and the member selects their option of a phone call, text message or email to receive account status updates.
Johnson concluded by discussing the new Ashe district office being built on NC Hwy 163 in West Jefferson. “Approximately 10 years ago, we were already beginning to outgrow our current facilities,” he said. “Then significant development occurred on (Mount Jefferson Road). Getting our big trucks and equipment in and out of the garage and onto the road became a larger safety issue. Operating efficiency became a concern,” he explained.
The new office, which will open June 21, is in a location and facility that will be safer for the public as well as cooperative line technicians and other employees. It will provide better operating efficiencies, Johnson added, as well faster response to outages.
“The new office is a commitment that we’ll be here for many years into the future” to provide a local office and operations for Ashe County, said Johnson. He added that a community open house is planned for July 20.
Johnson ended by thanking the members for their presence at the annual meeting and for the opportunity to serve their electricity and energy needs.
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