CEO’s Message – November 2020
Getting Results – Cooperative Success in 2020
In last month’s article, I discussed the annual planning that we do at Stearns Electric Association. Planning is essential, but achieving our goals and getting good results is just as important to ensure the Cooperative’s success.
Recently, the Stearns Electric Board of Directors conducted an annual review of our Cooperative work results to identify future goals. As we get ready to wrap up the year, Stearns Electric has accomplished quite a few major initiatives in 2020.
In 2020, Stearns Electric invested over $7 million in our electrical distribution infrastructure. Our growing member base, which includes residential, commercial and industrial accounts, requires a system that reliably serves all members’ electricity needs. Building and maintaining a robust electrical system supports and promotes economic development throughout the Stearns Electric service area.
Additionally, the Cooperative also manages a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) economic development loan program that is used to help fund businesses and community projects throughout our area. These loan funds have been utilized by private businesses, cities, health care systems and churches.
WORK MANAGEMENT TECHNOLOGY
It was a big year for technology advancements at Stearns Electric. In 2020, the Cooperative upgraded its service order processing from a manual paper-based process to an electronic work management system that allows us to enable business process workflows and assign and schedule tasks across the entire organization. This update allows us to be much more efficient in allocating Cooperative resources and managing employee workloads. We are now scheduling and assigning tasks to our employees electronically via their mobile devices.
This upgrade provides critical communication links among our member service, engineering and operations departments.
The Cooperative is on track to complete its aggressive four-year Right-of-Way (ROW) cycle by year-end. This tree clearing project started back in 2016 with a detailed study conducted by outside contractor ACRT, Inc., the country’s leading independent utility vegetation management consultant. The results of the study recommended a four-year tree clearing cycle to improve overall reliability across Stearns Electric’s distribution system.
So far, the Cooperative has seen a nine percent reduction in tree-related outages since the ROW cycle began. In early 2021, I’ll be expanding on the results we have seen over the past four years, and providing an update on the continuation of our ROW program.
After a year of planning and discussion, the Stearns Electric Board of Directors asked members to approve proposed amendments to the Cooperative’s Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws. Cooperative members voted 2,480 to 253 to approve the proposed amendments, which addressed and adjusted Cooperative practices related to general membership requirements, member-owned distributed energy resources, director positions and tenure, the director nomination process, Capital Credit retirement, director vacancies, arbitration and more.
As the process for presenting amendments to the membership is cumbersome and costly, Bylaw and Article amendment recommendations are saved for a time when a vote is most needed, there are enough changes to warrant the expense, and the timing makes sense for the Cooperative. This was the case in 2020. Thank you to everyone who participated in the election process.
Back in 2019, for the first time ever, our wholesale power provider, Great River Energy (GRE) retired Generation and Transmission (G & T) Capital Credits to its 28 members, including Stearns Electric. Our board elected to hold off on paying those G & T Capital Credits out until 2020 in order for Stearns Electric to put an organized plan in place to retire G & T Capital Credits appropriately to our members. A lot of work has been accomplished behind the scenes this year in order to retire both Cooperative and G & T Capital Credits in 2020.
FUTURE POWER SUPPLY COSTS
GRE introduced a bold initiative called Project Phoenix, which aims to stabilize our wholesale power costs, directly benefiting Stearns Electric members in the future. Project Phoenix will phase out remaining coal resources, add significant renewable energy to its energy portfolio and develop grid-scale storage over the next few years.
The wholesale power that we purchase from GRE to distribute to our members represents nearly 65% of Stearns Electric’s $60 million annual budget. This GRE announcement is very exciting for us as we plan our wholesale power purchases in the coming years.
All of these achievements, and more, were accomplished during the unexpected COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the impact of the pandemic on all departments of the Cooperative, Stearns Electric continues to do everything in our power to provide you with reliable and safe electrical service. As always, thank you for your support
of Stearns Electric, our directors and employees.
Robin C. Doege
November 30, 2020
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