When its founders established Washington Electric 80 years ago, no one could have predicted that members would one day have to participate in the cooperative’s largest event from the comfort of their own homes. But that’s exactly what happened on June 25, as health and safety concerns regarding the Covid-19 pandemic shifted the annual meeting of members from an in-person to a virtual event on the co-op’s Facebook page.
Board Chairman Paul Fleeman opened the business meeting with an overview of the cooperative’s achievements in 2019. He noted that Washington Electric’s operational focus has been on improving reliability through proactive measures such as right-of-way clearing, pole testing, and upgrading lines and other equipment to reduce the potential for power outages while also making it safer, easier, and quicker for the co-op’s lineworkers to restore service when outages do occur.
Fleeman explained that the cooperative relies on AEP for transmission service. AEP continues to upgrade its transmission system throughout southeastern Ohio and as a result, Washington Electric needed to rebuild four of its substations to accommodate the higher voltage. The second of these, the Rouse substation in the Rinard Mills area, was completed in 2019 and energized earlier this year. The Highland Ridge substation in Marietta will be energized in 2020, and a new substation in the Dart area is planned for 2021. The South Olive substation was rebuilt in 2018.
Fleeman also noted that the cooperative had earned an American Consumer Satisfaction Index score of 78, placing it ahead of Ohio’s municipal and investor-owned utilities and above the average for Touchstone Energy cooperatives across the country.
In his report, General Manager/CEO Jeff Triplett said much of the co-op’s focus in 2019 involved planning for the future. The cooperative completed a construction workplan that will guide its capital investments across the system for the next four to five years, and a 10-year financial forecast that helped develop a plan to ensure the co-op can continue a reasonable level of system investments while maintaining a solid financial position.
Triplett said the co-op performed a cost-of-service study to identify how much it costs to provide service to each of the rate classes and to make sure rates are fair and equitable. The co-op’s board and management team also developed a strategic plan that refined the co-op’s mission statement and identified major goals and initiatives. Triplett said the strategic plan includes a simple tagline – Member Driven, Member Focused, and Member Accountable -- that will help keep everyone focused on the driving force behind all the cooperative’s efforts and planning: The members.
Board Secretary-Treasurer Betty Martin reported that the cooperative retired $390,000 in capital credits to members in 2019. Because Washington Electric’s consumers are also owners of the co-op, excess revenue is returned to members as capital credits based on their consumption of electricity, when the board finds that the cooperative is financially able to do so.
Martin also noted that net margins for 2019 were approximately $1.1 million, with over $600,000 coming from external sources such as interest and capital credits from other cooperatives of which Washington Electric is a member. Over half of the cooperative’s revenue is used to cover the cost of power, with the next highest expense being operating and maintaining distribution lines and equipment. The cooperative spent $1.3 million on right-of-way expenses in 2019.
At the regular monthly meeting held just prior to the annual meeting, board members voted to donate a portion of the money saved from not having an in-person meeting to local charitable organizations that provide food and other types of assistance. Washington County Harvest of Hope, the HARP Mission in Caldwell, and the Lewisville Food Pantry will each receive $500.