Director elections were announced at the annual meeting of Blue Ridge Electric Membership Corporation held Thursday, June 13, at the corporate office in Lenoir.
Elected to three-year terms were: Jeff Joines, Caldwell district; James Burl “JB” Lawrence, Watauga district; Bradley McNeill, Ashe district; and Bryan Edwards, Alleghany district.
More members than ever are participating in director elections due to convenient options to vote by mail and Internet: nearly 7,000 voted in this year’s election. Director election kits were mailed to members on May 15, and included a proxy for voting and a postage-paid return envelope, directions for the option to vote online, and candidate biographies.
The business meeting included a report from Secretary-Treasurer Joy Coffey that the cooperative is sound financial condition and one of the top performing cooperatives in the nation.
CEO Doug Johnson reported that recently completed strategic plans include addressing rising wholesale power costs that are impacting the industry.
“It is very important to us to implement initiatives that reduce costs so that we can keep your bill as low as possible without sacrificing service or reliability,” he said.
Johnson said based on projections from the cooperative’s wholesale power supplier, Duke Energy, it appears wholesale power may increase over the next five years as a result of closing older coal plants and replacing them with new natural gas and coal plants for environmental compliance.
“If Duke’s estimates are accurate, it will cause us to have annual retail rate increases of two to three percent,” he said.
He summarized Blue Ridge Electric’s strategy for offsetting rising costs and adding member value:
First, an employee WorkSmart team has implemented plans which are resulting in $3 million of annual, on-going savings. Additionally, the cooperative’s two subsidiaries, Blue Ridge Energies and RidgeLink, are expected to provide about $1.5 million in direct member benefit to help hold down rates.
Secondly, the cooperative will continue offering innovative ideas and information to help members be energy efficient and manage their monthly electric cost.
Thirdly, Blue Ridge is committed to providing exceptional service. Member satisfaction ratings put Blue Ridge Electric among the top three utilities in the country. Electric reliability also places Blue Ridge among the best in the nation.
Fourth, Blue Ridge Electric is utilizing technology to operate efficiently and make it easier for members to do business. “Our automated metering system is providing incredible opportunities for members to better manage their energy usage,” Johnson said. He noted that the new FlexPay “pay as you go” program is becoming popular with members and that kiosks are being installed in district offices to allow payments anytime, day or night.
Finally, one of the most important cooperative strategies, Johnson said, is “commitment to cooperative principles and the communities we serve.” For example, in May the cooperative returned $4.2 million to members in capital credits. He also noted that the Blue Ridge Electric Members Foundation provided more than $160,000 to members who needed a hand up and more than $113,000 in community grants last year.
Johnson concluded by commending employees. “We know that our members deserve nothing less than our very best,” he said. “The commitment of our employee team enables Blue Ridge to be an outstanding cooperative utility. We’re both motivated and honored to serve the energy needs of our members and customers!”
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.