The Year in Review: 2016
The Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative workforce stepped forward in 2016 to deliver another very successful 12 months of operation. Those efforts took place during a year in which the work activity definitely shifted into a higher gear. As directors, we watched with genuine satisfaction as our employees again demonstrated their tireless professionalism in every area of the cooperative's business. It's now our pleasure to share a summary of those accomplishments.
Safety & training — Blue Ridge finished the year with zero lost-time accidents. In the last eight years, only three such accidents have been recorded. Weekly employee safety meetings in each of our division offices regularly cover topics related to safe work practices, wellness, and occupational training. These emphases help to create an environment in which on-the-job injuries and illnesses have become the exception to the rule.
Financial — the year just ended exceeded budget projections and produced solid margins. Controllable expenses in 2016 were maintained at reduced levels. Timely refinancing of debt resulted in cash-flow savings of more than $17 million that will be realized over the next 13 years. The co-op's equity position also saw further improvement.
Construction & maintenance — our Landrum substation was brought on line last summer, and grading was completed for the new Piercetown substation that will soon replace a heavily loaded metering point. In addition to a considerable number of smaller Work Plan jobs, operations crews finished an impressive 22 major construction projects. These work actions have built additional strength and capacity into our system of power lines, which should translate into even better service quality for many members.
Service reliability — the co-op's vital and regular cycle of right-of-way maintenance continued unabated in 2016. Also, further sectionalizing work went forward on the system, with a goal of minimizing both the range and effect of power outages. All field personnel, as part of their work routines, are trained to conduct visual inspections of Blue Ridge power lines. Last year, these inspections produced reports of a number of potential system trouble spots that were then corrected before they could create service problems.
Economic development — Blue Ridge support for job-creating projects helped some industrial developments to get underway within the Anderson- Oconee-Pickens region. Each of these counties welcomed multiple announcements of new or expanding industries. The importance of connecting new or growing industrial loads to the Blue Ridge system can't be overstated. Higher-volume kilowatt-hour sales to these plants and the addition of more quality jobs will produce benefits for all our members.
Member service — members continued to have ready access to the co-op. All four Blue Ridge offices offered both walk-in and drive-through options for conducting business, as well as night depositories. Members could call and talk directly to any one of the employees in our service center or utilize a variety of online options to contact the center. Facebook and Twitter were also used with greater regularity to communicate relevant information to members. Dispatchers were on the job after normal office hours and on weekends to answer telephone calls and to keep track of the distribution system's operation. Rapid dispatching of emergency crews into the field at the first signs of trouble also contributed to an enhanced level of service.
Capital credits — in 2016, Blue Ridge refunded another $1,000,000 in capital credits to members. The 2017 patronage-capital checks, also in the amount of $1,000,000, are scheduled for mailing next month. During each of the last 35 consecutive years, the co-op has made these general refunds. To date, members have received $25,200,000 in capital-credit returns.
Community service — another $238,000 in pharmacy savings was captured last year by members using the Co-op Connections Card. From 2009 through 2016, the cumulative CCC discounts had reached $3,497,000. In its 19th year of existence, our annual charity fund-raiser, Blue Ridge Fest, set a new record with $201,000 in net proceeds. Since 1998, this employee-volunteer event has disbursed $2,270,000 to support many human-assistance organizations operating within our service area. The co-op also began work last year on a community solar farm that should be up and running by the second quarter of 2017. A good number of Blue Ridge members have already subscribed to receive portions of this sun-generated electricity as part of their power portfolio.
It's always a privilege and a pleasure for us, as directors, to bring this annual summary of the co-op's operation to your attention. At Blue Ridge, there always seems to be plenty of positive news to impart. Without question, we understand that our number-one obligation is to you, the member. That compels the entire co-op team—board members and employees—to work hard at meeting and exceeding your expectations.