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Since the beginning of COVID-19, Blue Ridge Energy made the decision to suspend disconnects, waive late fees and offer special payment plans to assist our members and customers during this difficult time. While the decision had already been made to extend these special circumstances until August, Gov. Cooper issued a new Executive Order 142 on May 30 outlining the same timeline. We encourage everyone (including Flexpay members) to continue paying your energy bill to avoid a large balance at the end of this crisis. Call us at 1-800-451-5474 to set up a special payment plan.
Annual Meeting: Temporary Rate Reduction Continues, Reports Discussed, Director Elections Announced
In addition to business reports, director elections were announced at the Annual Meeting of Blue Ridge Electric Membership Corporation held Thursday evening, June 16, at the corporate office in Lenoir.
Elected to three-year terms on the Board of Directors were: Jeff Joines, Caldwell district; James (J.B.) Lawrence, Watauga district; Bradley McNeill, Ashe district, and Bryan Edwards, Alleghany district.
Over 7,000 cooperative members voted in this year’s director elections, primarily by mail and online. Director election kits including candidate biographies were sent to members on May 18 and included a proxy, postage return envelope and instructions for members wishing to vote by mail, online or attend the annual business meeting. Members who opted to receive the electronic director election kit received voting information by email.
The business meeting included a report from Secretary-Treasurer Joy Coffey who highlighted financial performance. She stated Blue Ridge Electric is in sound financial condition and is one of the top performing cooperatives in the nation.
Chief Financial Officer Katie Woodle affirmed that message, adding that favorable wholesale power costs primarily due to low natural gas prices enabled the cooperative to lower member’s electric bills in 2015 through a temporary rate reduction. This rate reduction continues all year in 2016. Woodle provided financial highlights and noted that the annual report is available in the June issue of Carolina Country and online at BlueRidgeEMC.com.
In his welcome, Board President Kenneth Greene recognized the many members serving on committees to ensure Blue Ridge Electric is truly a member-led cooperative: the Nominating Committee, Credentials and Election Committee, Member Advisory Committees and Community Leaders Council. “These individuals come from across our service area and I want to thank you on behalf of the Board of Directors,” he said.
Greene also thanked the members contributing to the cooperative’s Operation Round Up programs. “Because of those who support Operation Round Up, our Blue Ridge Electric Members Foundation is helping thousands of members keep warm with crisis heating assistance. The Foundation is also building long-term quality of life by awarding community grants for health care, education, emergency services and economic development.”
Greene closed by thanking employees for their efforts to provide members the best in electric reliability, satisfaction, safety and all areas of operation.
In his state of the cooperative address, Chief Executive Officer Doug Johnson began by saying: “I’m thankful I’ve been able to serve as CEO of Blue Ridge Electric for 27 years. As I reflect back, some of the best results I’ve ever seen are now occurring! Our employee team is achieving high mountain goals and doing great things for our members. I couldn’t be prouder and I’m also excited about the future!” he said, mentioning the “next generation” of bright, talented employees now joining the cooperative.
Johnson said key results from 2015 included extremely strong performance for the third consecutive year in all key operating areas:
• In customer satisfaction, Blue Ridge Electric achieved a score of 87 on the American Consumer Satisfaction Index in 2015 and is currently achieving an 88 score, which is at the highest performance of any utility in the nation. “That’s how people feel about the service their cooperative delivers.”
• Top quartile in the nation for electric reliability. “That’s an incredible record of keeping the lights on when you consider we often have up to 70 mile-per-hour winds in our mountains along with snow, ice, and rough terrain,” Johnson said. He recognized the linemen who are willing to get up any time of the night and work under severe conditions to get power restored quickly when an outage occurs.
• Top performance commendation from the North Carolina Department of Safety for both the cooperative and its propane and heating fuels subsidiary.
• Temporary rate decrease that continues in 2016. Johnson noted the many thankful letters from members and said “a 15 percent reduction is noticeable and I’m so thrilled we’ve been able to do this.”
• Capital credits: $4.6 million was refunded to members last year and another $4.8 was refunded in 2016. “That helps people out when we’re putting that much back into our member’s pockets—especially when combined with the rate reduction.”
• The cooperative’s subsidiaries, Blue Ridge Energies and Ridge Link, are also helping lower member’s bills. “Every dollar in net benefit from the subsidiaries is a dollar members don’t have to pay on their electric bills,” Johnson explained, adding that last year $3.7 million in benefit to members came from the subsidiaries.
Johnson also discussed future strategy and plans. Blue Ridge Electric is “reinventing ourselves, changing our organization and creating new programs and services. We want to be your trusted energy advisor,” he said, adding that the cooperative is rolling out new programs and services such as on bill financing for home energy efficiency loans and appliance rebates.
Cooperative leaders will stay focused on ensuring affordable power costs, he said, as 60 cents of every dollar paid by members is for wholesale power. Work will continue to assure favorable wholesale power costs and aggressive goals for subsidiary performance have been set.
Johnson added that the cooperative will continue investing time, energy and money in helping our counties grow and provide well-paying jobs for our members so that people have opportunities.
“I’m encouraged by seeing more manufacturing jobs and dropping unemployment rates, he said. “In 2010, much of our service area was at 16 to 17 unemployment and we’re now under six percent unemployment in every county we serve,” he said. “That’s good news—but we’re continuing to partner in our communities to drop it further and get wages up. We’re committed to making life better for our members and communities.”
Johnson concluded by thanking the 213 employees “who make it happen every day,” he said. “When you have a culture of strong values, integrity, care for people and service to others—and when you combine that with a compelling vision and strategy to do things that make life better for the people you serve—then you’ll see these top notch results year after year to benefit our members!”
Blue Ridge Electric serves some 74,000 members in Caldwell, Watauga, Ashe, and Alleghany counties as well as parts of Avery, Alexander and Wilkes counties. Learn more at www.BlueRidgeEMC.com. And on the cooperative’s social media: www.facebook.com/blueridgeemc and www.twitter.com/blueridgeemc.