Midwest Electric’s 2022 Annual Meeting reports on power industry changes, challenges for cooperative, and highest-ever member satisfaction score
More than 500 Midwest Electric members and guests attended the 85th Annual Meeting on June 4 at St. Marys Memorial High School. Director elections were held in May by mail and online, with results announced at the meeting. Incumbents Jim Wiechart (Mercer/Darke), Kathy Brake (Van Wert), and Steve Bauer (Auglaize/Shelby) were reelected. Members also approved a change to the cooperative’s Code of Regulations, updating director qualifications pertaining to conflicts of interest.
St. Henry native Austin Watercutter also received a $1,000 scholarship, which was drawn at random from those in attendance. He will be attending Bowling Green State University.
Midwest Electric CEO Matt Berry expressed concern about government energy policies. He cited industry experts who say the move to wind and solar power are leading to electricity shortages and higher prices because renewables are intermittent and not capable of providing a consistent supply of power.
“Despite what you hear in the media and from some politicians and environmentalists, electric power generation in America is NOT a major cause of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Not even close. Yet the affordability and reliability of electricity is under serious attack under the guise of reducing CO2 emissions,” he said.
Berry said coal power in the U.S. accounts for less than 3% of global CO2 emissions.
“American emissions have been on a significant downward trend, while global emissions have increased, particularly from China,” Berry said. “In fact, if every American and European stopped emitting carbon entirely and went back to living in caves, the world as a whole would still produce more carbon dioxide now than it did 20 years ago.”
America’s CO2 reductions are having no benefit, but come at great cost, he noted. Berry added that coal and nuclear are exponentially more efficient than renewables when it comes to land use.
He also addressed a record high score — 92 — that Midwest Electric earned this year on the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), “placing us in the top 10% of America’s 900 electric cooperatives.”
Berry recognized employees for their talent and dedication. He also pointed to other features that helped drive the high score: community involvement, patronage cash back, billing and payments technology, high power reliability, member service programs like rebates and energy audits, and stable electric rates, with the cooperative’s last rate increase being 12 years ago.
Berry said thanks to employees’ dedication, along with the cooperative’s commitment to training and development, Midwest Electric has not struggled with many of the workforce issues that other companies have dealt with in recent years.
“On the personal touch side, we have people — not computers — answer the phone during normal business hours,” he said. “And our member service representatives are the best in the business. We consistently get great feedback on work they do for you.”
He said in 2021 the average Midwest Electric member had power available 99.98 percent of the time thanks to an average $3 million each year invested in distribution system upgrades and maintenance.
“And we’re using the latest technology in electric distribution, with our automatic recloser system that helps us restore power in minutes in areas where it used to take hours,” he said. “We also work with the transmission providers, to make upgrades in transmission in this area for increased capacity and power reliability. As a result, we plan to build at least two new distribution substations in the next couple of years, to provide more capacity for growth and improved power reliability.”
“But without safety, the high customer satisfaction scores mean nothing,” Berry said. “We work in a dangerous industry. Your employees and board are deeply committed to employee and public safety. And we are very grateful for our statewide organization, as Ohio’s electric cooperatives have a leading reputation for safe work practices.”
On another subject, with homeowners across Ohio being duped by unscrupulous solar dealers, Berry encouraged members to contact the cooperative first before signing anything with a solar dealer.
Board President Larry Vandemark said the co-op remains financially sound with an equity level of 49%, which is in the standard and healthy range for electric distribution cooperatives. “Having an equity level at our range helps us to minimize our cost of capital while still having flexibility to invest in our electric system and still return patronage cash back to you over time.”
“We now have 1,533 miles of distribution lines. Tree clearing is performed annually to help reduce tree-related outages. Tree trimming took place along 93 miles of lines in the Lake Substation area,” he said. “Also, we tested and treated nearly 4,000 poles in the Coldwater, Sharpsburg and Spencerville areas with a 1% rejection ratio. Those poles rejected will be replaced.”
Vandemark thanked the 700 members who belong to Co-op Owners for Political Action, the grassroots legislative action group for America’s electric cooperatives. “When we speak with one unified voice, we stand a much better chance of fighting our challenges and affecting legislative decisions that impact our cooperative and its members. And we are facing serious threats to the cost and availability of electricity. We must keep a strong force in Washington to make sure that Midwest Electric can continue to offer our members reliable and reasonable electricity,” he said.
Tom Alban, vice president of power generation for Buckeye Power, discussed how unifying our power supply needs in 1965 under Buckeye Power has allowed Ohio’s electric co-ops to own and operate our own power generation resources.
“Buckeye Power first invested in coal generation to take advantage of this local resource and its cost advantages,” Alban said. “Buckeye Power continues to operate these plants after investing $1 billion in environmental controls making our fleet among the cleanest power plants in the world. As natural gas has become more abundant and renewable resources more available, we have grown and diversified our portfolio. To meet your needs during the hottest and coldest days of the year, we have developed both demand reduction strategies and peak generation facilities.”
These portfolio moves have allowed Buckeye Power to provide competitive and stable whole power costs to the nearly 1 million Ohioans that depend on their electric cooperative. Alban said Ohio’s electric cooperatives are committed to a future that includes coal power, for the sake of power availability and affordability.
“We cannot commit to a carbon reduction goal until there is a technological path that allows us to understand when and at what cost those goals are achievable,” Alban said. “And Buckeye Power will advocate for policies that support the need for baseload generation that is clean and reliable as well as technically feasible.”
The full Annual Meeting video livestream can be viewed online at www.midwestrec.com, on Midwest Electric's YouTube channel: www.YouTube.com/MidwestElectric, or on Facebook.