OITP - a visionary project
The year just recently ended signaled a return to substantial new-member growth on the Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative system. One segment of those new members, commercial and industrial (C&I), is comparatively small in number. It also, however, represents the potential for significant increases in kilowatt-hour sales. In some cases, brand-new plants and businesses attached to the Blue Ridge grid during 2018. We also had some of our existing large-power loads to undergo expansions that resulted in greater energy consumption.
By my own calculations, the addition of new C&I members over the last 10 years has produced an extra $30 million in kWh sales. It’s now been more than 10 years since Blue Ridge last implemented an increase in our retail per-kilowatt-hour charge. During that same time period, we’ve absorbed a number of wholesale-rate increases from our power supplier. That boost in C&I revenues is largely responsible for our record of rate stability.
Support for economic development
It’s also true that the cooperative has been active in supporting economic-development projects within our service territory. I could cite a good many examples of such projects. In this report, I’m going to focus my observations on an undertaking that’s situated in Oconee County’s geographical midsection. Although it’s relatively new, the Oconee Industry and Technology Park (OITP) is making some impressive progress. Blue Ridge played an important part in getting this commerce center off the ground; and today, Baxter Industries has a new plant operating there, with phased expansions planned for the future.
Furthermore, in 2018, Tri-County Technical College opened the doors to its new Oconee campus on the OITP grounds. That educational facility will soon have a close neighbor. The School District of Oconee County has plans to construct its career center on a nearby tract. In addition, there are indications that at least two more industrial prospects are currently giving serious consideration to locating within the park.
A unique job-creating initiative
When all is said and done, Oconee County will be the proud home of a unique job-creating initiative. Students will definitely have opportunities to further their education at the OITP complex. At the same time, many of them will also be positioned to obtain some practical, hands-on experience at the adjacent industries.
As best I can determine, OITP is South Carolina’s first-of-its-kind project that seeks to blend classroom learning with onsite, on-the-job training. I tip my hat to Oconee County officials for their superb vision and effort in making this job-creating incubator a reality.