More than 700 members and guests attended the 80th Midwest Electric Annual Meeting on Saturday, June 3, at St. Marys Memorial High School. The results of the trustee elections, which had been conducted by mail and online prior to the meeting, were announced.
Incumbents Randy Heinl and Larry Vandemark were re-elected to three-year terms on the Midwest Electric Board of Trustees.
Board President Larry Vandemark welcomed Midwest Electric’s new CEO Matt Berry, who was announced for the position in late May by the board. Berry, Midwest Electric’s former manager of community and customer relations, has served as interim CEO since February and began his tenure with the co-op in 2000. Berry’s other responsibilities include service as executive secretary of the Midwest Electric Community Connection Fund and chair of the Midwest Electric Revolving Loan Fund.
“Matt’s service and commitment to the members of Midwest Electric, coupled with his business acumen and the depth and breadth of his credentials within the cooperative arena, made him a strong choice to lead our co-op to an enhanced level of member service,” Vandemark said.
After taking the stage, Berry credited the success of the co-op last year to its employees and board, highlighting Midwest Electric’s commitment to safety. Due to employees’ commitment to cost control, he said rates have remained “fair, competitive, and stable” and have not increased since August 2010 — over seven years.
Investing in reliability upgrades, including upcoming plans to begin an automated backfeed project that would restore power dramatically faster, has been a key focus for Midwest Electric, something Berry says all translates into member satisfaction.
“We invest about $3 million each year in reliability upgrades, and the results are showing,” Berry said, citing that in 2016, the average Midwest Electric member had power available 99.98 percent of the time.
In April, Matt said, the co-op scored its highest American Customer Satisfaction Index score yet — an 89 — proving that the cooperative business model and the effect Midwest Electric’s Community Connection Fund has on the communities it serves provide immense value to members.
Areas of improvement Berry noted for the year to come include communication with younger generations, strengthening community outreach and economic development within the local community, power reliability, and planning for employee succession and retirements.
Vandemark reported that 2016 saw a slight increase in kilowatt-hour sales and operating revenues, while the co-op gained 7 miles of energized distribution line and continued right-of-way maintenance by pruning 455 miles of trees along power lines. Midwest Electric also broke the 11,000-meter mark in 2016 with 11,042 meters currently in service, a trend Vandemark hopes will continue going forward.
“Last year, we created a new three-year strategic plan,” Vandemark said. “This provides the platform to guide our decisions with the overall goals of competitive electric rates, strong power reliability, and a commitment to our communities.”
More than $1.4 million in patronage capital credits was returned to members in 2016, Vandemark said, a sign of financial stability for the cooperative.
Pat O’Loughlin, president and CEO of Ohio’s Electric Cooperatives, Midwest Electric’s power supplier and statewide trade association, summarized some of the biggest changes affecting Ohio electric cooperatives: cleaner power production, improved reliability, an expanded lineworker training program, development of the community OurSolar project, a newly redesigned and renamed member magazine — Ohio Cooperative Living — and the continual need to advocate for common sense solutions to energy and environmental issues.
“We pushed back hard against the EPA’s proposed plan to further regulate and restrict the use of coal at our power plants — not because we’re opposed to clean power, but because the regulation just didn’t make sense,” O’Loughlin said. “It would have achieved very little environmental benefits, but at a great expense.”
At the event, members enjoyed a free breakfast buffet with a bounce house and games for kids. Over $2,500 was given away in cash prizes, members were able to take advantage of the health fair, and LED lightbulbs were sold with proceeds donated to the nonprofit Fallen Linemen Organization.