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Annual Meeting: Reports Presented, Director Election Results Announced
In addition to business reports, director election results were announced at the Annual Meeting of Blue Ridge Electric Membership Corporation held Thursday, June 23.
The meeting was available for members to attend at the corporate office, participate by telephone or watch by livestream. Members were sent instructions in their June Carolina Country regarding how to participate. Recordings of reports will be online soon at www.BlueRidgeEnergy.com.
Over 5,000 cooperative members voted in this year’s director elections by mail and online. Director election kits including candidate biographies mailed 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, Jeff Joines, Caldwell district; J.B. Lawence, Watauga district; James Young, Ashe district; and Bryan Edwards, Alleghany district.
The business meeting included a report from Secretary-Treasurer Kelly Melton, who stated the cooperative is in strong financial condition. “Noteworthy from 2021 was the $6 million dollars we were able to give to members in bill credits last August,” she shared. “We received these funds from our wholesale power provider as a result of a settlement between Duke Energy, the North Carolina Attorney General, our state's Utilities Commission, and the Sierra Club related to the largest coal ash cleanup in history.”
Melton also shared the cooperative was pleased to return over $5 million in capital credits to members for the past several years as well as the Blue Ridge Energy Members Foundation awarding $200,000 to local community projects.
Chief Financial Officer Katie Woodle affirmed the cooperative’s sound financial condition. She added: “Challenges associated with the Covid-19 Pandemic certainly continue, but the cooperative was in sound financial condition from the start and has maintained that status. The cooperative’s overall vision remains making life better for our member-owners. It is important that the cooperative has a strong financial position for this vision to be achieved,” she said.
Woodle added that kilowatt-hour sales increased by 3 percent as compared to 2020 due to colder weather, and propane sales were up by 12 percent. She said for RidgeLink, the cooperative’s dark fiber subsidiary, growth continues. Together with the Propane and Fuels subsidiary, the two contributed $4 million in benefit to Blue Ridge Electric members in 2021. Details on financial results for 2021 can be found in the annual report published in the June issue of Carolina Country magazine and at BlueRidgeEnergy.com, she said.
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 recognized the Blue Ridge Energy Members Foundation as a key way the cooperative is making life better for members. Supported by Operation Round Up and donations from the cooperative’s two subsidiaries, the Foundation awards annual community grants that helps members in a variety of ways. Crisis energy assistance is a cornerstone of the Foundation nearly 1,000 families in need received funds in 2021.
Joines said through the cooperative’s role in the government’s Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant program, local communities secured over $1.7 million dollars for fire departments and economic development initiatives.
He also shared the cooperative’s efforts to help bring broadband to local areas. “Through our partnership with SkyBest Communications, we were awarded a GREAT grant from the state of North Carolina,” he said. Completion is slated for 2023, with construction well underway to install 70 miles of fiber in northern Caldwell County. SkyBest will provide home connection and service to up to 400 members benefited by the project.
“We are also partnering with SkyBest on a similar project with grant funds secured from the Watauga County government for areas in that county lacking broadband,” Joines said.
He concluded that the cooperative is pleased to continue providing college scholarships to local youth and Bright Ideas grants to teachers as another way to improve local quality of life.
In his state of the cooperative address, Chief Executive Officer Doug Johnson thanked those participating in the annual meeting and expressed his appreciation to serve the cooperative’s members.
Johnson recognized the excellent results achieved last year from all three companies as employees demonstrated commitment to “nothing less than our very best!” Results included:
- Earning an 88 on the American Consumer Satisfaction Index, placing Blue Ridge Energy among the top performing utilities in the nation for customer satisfaction.
- Blue Ridge Energy Propane and Fuels subsidiary achieved a 9.99 on a 10-point scale for customer satisfaction.
- Ranking among the top utilities in the country for providing the most reliable electricity, even in mountainous terrain with severe winter weather.
- No rate increase has been necessary since 2013.
- Over the years, members received more than $40 million dollars in wholesale power cost settlements, and a recent capital credits refund of $5.6 million in May.
- WorkSmart savings by employees have resulted in almost $57 million in savings and improved efficiencies.
- Cooperative subsidiaries produced over $4 million in after-tax net benefit.
As a strategic initiative, Johnson said Blue Ridge Energy’s Brighter Future vision centers on three pillars:
- Enriching the lives of members and communities.
- Reducing its carbon footprint by 50 percent over 2005 levels by 2030, and achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
- Providing the lowest cost, most reliable electricity possible by using innovative energy solutions to make the grid more flexible, efficient and resilient than ever before.
Johnson noted other key projects to benefit members, including an 11 megawatt utility scale solar facility in Caldwell County that is helping with peak demand load and costs. The cooperative also has five community solar sites, energy efficiency rebates, Beat The Peak and other peak demand management programs, new technology and expanded offerings in showrooms. Beneficial electrification is included in the cooperative’s efforts with a rise in new initiatives to encourage more distributed energy resources at members’ homes and businesses.
“Wholesale power costs have been significantly more volatile this past year…and cost of generation fuels are at extremely high levels for natural gas, coal and uranium”, Johnson reported, noting the significant challenge.
Working to keep electricity reliable now and for future generations, Johnson noted completion of 17 miles of high voltage 230kV line from West Jefferson to Boone. He recognized Blue Ridge Energy line technicians who were specifically trained and built the last eight miles—typically a job reserved for specialists in transmission work.
Finally, Johnson noted the cooperative is working toward next generation automated metering infrastructure and other projects as exponential changes occur in information and operations technology.
Johnson concluded the meeting by saying: “I want to personally express my appreciation to all our Blue Ridge Energy employees who continue to deliver incredible results to our member-owners and customers. 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!”
Find annual meeting videos and information at www.BlueRidgeEnergy.com.
Under the market name of Blue Ridge Energy, Blue Ridge Electric Membership Corporation serves over 78,000 electric cooperative members in northwest North Carolina. Blue Ridge Energy’s Propane and Fuels subsidiary provides residential and commercial propane, fuels and related hearth and outdoor living products in each local district office showroom as well as Morganton, North Carolina. Blue Ridge Energy also offers energy efficiency programs and other energy solutions. More information about Blue Ridge Energy can be found at www.BlueRidgeEnergy.com.