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Blue Ridge Annual Meeting Held, Directors Elected
In addition to business reports, director election results were announced at the Annual Meeting of Blue Ridge Electric Membership Corporation held Thursday, June 22.
The meeting was available for members to participate in by attending the meeting at the corporate office or by telephone using instructions provided in the director election kit and Carolina Country magazine sent to all members. Members could also watch by live stream. Recordings of reports will be online soon at www.BlueRidgeEnergy.com.
Nearly 6,000 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 David Eggers, Caldwell District; Tom Trexler, Watauga District; David Boone, Ashe District; and John F. “Johnny” Wishon, Alleghany District.
The business meeting included a report from Secretary-Treasurer Kelly Melton, who stated the cooperative is in strong financial condition to serve its member-owners. “We were pleased to return over $5.8 million in capital credits to members in May,” she said, adding that for the past several years the cooperative has returned over $5 million to members each year.
“Also noteworthy is our special campaign, Neighbors Helping Neighbors, which raised over $107,000 to help 700 families with winter heating bills, which was an addition to our regular Operation Round Up campaign,” Melton said. She noted that through the Blue Ridge Energy Members Foundation, the cooperative was able to award an additional $190,000 to community projects that help members in other valuable ways.
“These positive results directly reflect the daily work and commitment to providing a strong cooperative for the members,” Melton said. “It is also due to outstanding leadership and strategic planning and execution by the employees at Blue Ridge Energy.”
Chief Financial Officer Katie Woodle affirmed the cooperative’s sound financial condition, as well as the cooperative’s two subsidiary companies. She discussed rising cost challenges, and the cooperative’s efforts to plan and maintain financial strength to keep member bills as low as possible.
Woodle added that kilowatt-hour sales increased by 2 percent as compared to 2021, especially due to extreme cold at the end of last year. She also noted the cooperative is experiencing growth in members for the first time in several years, with a 1 percent increase in meters.
Propane sales for Blue Ridge Energies, LLC, the cooperative’s Propane and Fuels subsidiary, were consistent from the previous year. At RidgeLink, the cooperative’s dark fiber subsidiary, growth continues, and the two subsidiaries together contributed $4.9 million in benefit to Blue Ridge Electric members in 2022.
Details on financial results for 2022 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. He also recognized Angie Miller, who was appointed to the Board in February to fill an open Watauga District seat that became vacant when the previous board member moved outside the cooperative’s service area.
Joines noted the Board and cooperative employees are all working toward a common goal: making life better for members and local communities. He cited that the biggest challenge faced in recent years is rising costs that are also impacting all businesses. “Even after diligent efforts to reduce costs and manage increases, earlier this year we had no choice but to raise rates for the first time in nearly a decade. On behalf of the Board and management team, I want to assure you that despite these significant cost pressures, we remain committed to keeping your electricity both reliable and affordable,” Joines said.
Joines said one way the cooperative helps members is through the Blue Ridge Energy Members Foundation. Supported by Operation Round Up and donations from the cooperative’s two subsidiaries, the Foundation awards annual community grants to non-profits that help members in a variety of ways. Crisis energy assistance is a cornerstone of the Foundation. “A special campaign was created late last year when heating costs were spiking and putting a burden on many in our area,” he said. “Our “Neighbors Helping Neighbors” campaign raised over $100,000 that helped 700 families pay their energy bills and stay warm this winter. That would not have been possible without contributions from our subsidiaries, Board of Directors, and employees as well as from local individuals wanting to help.”
The Foundation also awarded over $190,000 to local not-for-profit organizations that are also working to make life better for members, he added.
Joines said through the cooperative’s role in the government’s Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant program, local communities secured over $3.5 million for healthcare equipment, adding additional fire trucks, as well as job development and expansion.
Through our partnership with SkyBest Communications and a grant from the state of North Carolina, our first major broadband project is complete. In Caldwell County, 400 homes now have access to high-speed internet for the first time!
In Watauga County, thanks to funds awarded by the Watauga County Board of Commissioners from the American Rescue Plan, we’re building infrastructure that will help 1,700 homes and businesses have high-speed internet access.
In his State of the Cooperative address, Chief Executive Officer Doug Johnson expressed gratitude to those participating in the annual meeting and serving the cooperative's members. He highlighted the challenges faced in 2022 and commended the employees for their exceptional performance and dedication in delivering excellent service to the member-owners.
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:
- Blue Ridge Energy was ranked as the #1 electric utility in the country in the third quarter of 2022 for customer satisfaction.
- Propane & Fuels achieved a customer satisfaction rating of 9.98 out of 10.
- Ranking among the top utilities in the country for providing the most reliable electricity, even in mountainous terrain with severe winter weather.
- Safety Culture: Strong safety practices resulted in outstanding safety performance.
- Over the years, members received over $40 million in capital credits, with a May refund of $5.8 million.
- Subsidiary Performance: Propane & Fuels and RidgeLink generated $4.9 million in after-tax net benefit to the Cooperative, which ultimately benefits members by helping keep rates low.
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.
Johnson addressed the North Carolina Energy Solutions Act (HB951) and expressed concerns about the potential impact on reliability and affordability for members. A key concern is going too far, too fast with the energy transition to renewables. He referenced the Christmas Eve 2022 event when the cooperative experienced its first-ever call from Duke Energy, the cooperative’s power provider, to initiate rolling blackouts due to a lack of adequate generation fuels to meet extreme electric demand caused by Winter Storm Elliott.
As a result of this storm and other world factors driving up power costs, Johnson said the cooperative had to implement an increase in October of last year—the first since 2013. Continued rising costs also led to a wholesale power cost adjustment that began in February.
Cost pressure is also coming from necessary capital investments in the electric system needed for reliable, resilient electricity. The largest system improvement in the cooperative’s history should be complete by the end of this year. This $46 million investment was needed for a major upgrade to 17 miles of 230kV transmission line between Ashe and Watauga counties, as well as the new Rutherwood substation which will go online next year. Additional improvements include operational and technical upgrades.
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. More information about Blue Ridge Energy can be found at www.BlueRidgeEnergy.com.
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