In addition to business reports, director election results were announced at the Annual Meeting of Blue Ridge Electric Membership Corporation held Thursday afternoon, June 24.
Due to continued COVID-19 precautions, this year’s annual meeting was available to members by telephone instead of in person at the corporate office. For members who wanted to only watch and not participate in motions or the Q&A also had the new option this year of viewing by live stream. Members were sent instructions in their June Carolina Country regarding how to participate in their annual meeting. Recordings of reports will be online soon at www.BlueRidgeEnergy.com.
Close to 6,000 cooperative members voted in this year’s director elections by mail and online. Director election kits including candidate biographies were sent to members in May and included a proxy, postage return envelope and instructions for members to vote by mail, online or during the annual business meeting. Members who opted to receive the electronic director election kit received it by email.
Elected to three-year terms on the Board of Directors were, Kelly Melton, Caldwell district; Joy Coffey, Watauga district; Cindy Price, Ashe district; and Mitch Franklin, Alleghany district.
The business meeting included a report from Secretary-Treasurer Joy Coffey, who stated the cooperative is in strong financial condition. “Eight straight years without a rate increase and the return of over $5 million annually in capital credits the past few years are just two examples of your cooperative’s strong financial condition,” she said, crediting Blue Ridge Energy’s strong leadership and commitment to members. Coffey also mentioned the challenge of COVID-19. “We are very pleased that your cooperative was able to help members in their time of need,” she said. “Among other efforts, our In This Together COVID-19 Relief Fund helped over 2,300 members with thousands of dollars in crisis energy assistance.” She also referenced efforts in bringing broadband to unserved locations in the cooperative’s service area as well as helping secure government grants worth $2 million for local organizations and their efforts to improve emergency response and economic development.
Chief Financial Officer Katie Woodle affirmed the cooperative’s sound financial condition, saying: “While 2020 was full of challenges, strong financial results continued for the cooperative and the subsidiaries.” Woodle added that another relatively warm year in 2020 resulted in lower sales of kilowatt-hours and propane gallons as compared to 2019. For RidgeLink, the cooperative’s dark fiber subsidiary, financial growth continues as the company expands its footprint and customer base. She said the two subsidiaries contributed $3.2 million in benefit to the cooperative last year. Woodle noted that more details on financial results for 2020 can be found in the annual report published in the June issue of Carolina Country magazine and at 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 said: “Making life better for those we serve continues to be at the heart of everything we do.” He said the Blue Ridge Energy Members Foundation is one example. Supported by Operation Round Up and donations from the cooperative’s two subsidiaries, the foundation funded the cooperative’s In This Together COVID-19 Relief Fund. “With so many in our area hurting from the economic impact of COVID-19, the decision was made to dedicate all foundation funds last year to crisis energy assistance,” he said, adding that over $265,000 was raised to help over 2,300 members in need.
Joines said the cooperative was pleased to continue providing college scholarships to local youth and Bright Ideas grants to local teachers. He also noted the NC GREAT grant the cooperative secured to help bring high speed internet to northeast Caldwell County and how Blue Ridge Energy is working to bring broadband to more locations in the cooperative’s service area.
In his state of the cooperative address, Chief Executive Officer Doug Johnson thanked those listening and expressed his appreciation to serve the cooperative’s members.
Johnson noted the cooperative was able to operate successfully despite COVID-19 challenges, with all employees working hard to deliver strong performance results in 2020. Those results included:
Achieving an 89 on the American Consumer Satisfaction Index, placing the cooperative among the top utilities in the country for satisfaction.
Top satisfaction ratings earned by the Propane and Fuels subsidiary
Ranking among top utilities in the country providing the most reliable electricity, even in mountainous terrain with severe winter weather
Continued strong employee and public safety performance
No rate increase for eight years
Capital credits return of nearly $5.5 million to members
WorkSmart savings that reduce costs and improve efficiency
Subsidiaries produced nearly $3.2 million in benefit to the cooperative which in turn helps keep rates low and contributed to no rate increase in eight years
Johnson recognized the cooperative’s “Brighter Future” vision which centers around low cost, low carbon and community goals:
Enrich the lives of members and communities served by Blue Ridge Energy
Achieve a 50 percent reduction in the cooperative’s carbon footprint over 2005 levels and net zero carbon emissions by 2050
Provide the lowest cost electricity possible by utilizing innovative energy solutions to make the cooperative’s power grid more flexible, efficient and resilient than ever before
Johnson noted that Brighter Future is a business goal reflecting reliable, affordable and sustainable energy that will be achieved in a way that benefits members with this balance mind.
Johnson noted other key projects to benefit members, including an 11 megawatt utility scale solar facility in Caldwell County that will help with peak demand load and costs. The facility joins the cooperatives five community solar sites, energy efficiency rebates, Beat The Peak and other peak demand management programs, expanded showroom products and beneficial electrification such as supporting the growth trend in electric vehicles.
Another critical project is a $46 million investment for increased reliability and resiliency to serve members in the cooperative’s mountain counties now and for future generations. The project includes 17 miles of 230kV line from West Jefferson to Boone as well as a Rutherwood substation.
New initiatives coming from the cooperative will encourage and support more distributed energy resources at member homes and businesses, he said. Examples to come include advanced time of use rates, critical peak whole house pricing as well as programs for electric vehicles and roof-top solar.
Johnson said that the cooperative has worked on behalf of members to achieve excellent wholesale power cost and rates and that information about a refund to members is coming soon. He noted the wholesale power supply is reflecting more solar, natural gas and hydro and much less coal generation.
Johnson concluded the meeting by saying: “I want to express my personal appreciation to all of the employees of Blue Ridge Energy that continue to deliver such incredible results to our member-owners and customers,” he said. “Our culture is based on strong values, hard work and a deep belief that providing great service to our members and customers is our highest priority!”
The cooperative, which rebranded in 2016 under the market name of Blue Ridge Energy along with its propane and fuels subsidiary, serves some 78,000 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/