Year in Review
A Year in Review
A look back at 2017 instills in each of us at Blue Ridge Electric a sense of real satisfaction. The co-op made progress on numerous fronts last year; we were proud to have our part in much of that positive activity; and we’re grateful for this opportunity to cite some highlights of what was another 12 months of forward movement.
Safety & job training—as of December 31, it had been 28 months since our workforce last recorded a lost-time accident. For the second year in succession, Blue Ridge received our Statewide Association’s President’s Award for the top safety program in the large-cooperative category. Both board and management have made safe work practices our number-one priority, and our employees have embraced that strong emphasis on safety.
Financial—the co-op registered another positive financial performance in 2017. The sale of our subsidiary resulted in an improved equity position, and there was again no increase in our retail rates. No upward adjustment in the per-kilowatt-hour charge is forecast for this New Year.
Construction & maintenance—business ratcheted up last year for the cooperative’s operations department. Work proceeded on a new substation in Anderson County’s Piercetown community, with electrical load eventually added to the facility in late January of 2018. The co-op has plans to erect and energize at least three other new substations at designated electrical-load centers between now and 2021. Eighteen major construction projects were completed at strategic locations along the co-op’s 7,000-mile network of power lines in 2017. These projects, combined with a host of smaller jobs related to system improvements and ordinary replacements, served to strengthen our ability to deliver quality service to members.
Service reliability—your board of directors has long made it a practice to approve substantial funding for right-of-way maintenance in each year’s Work Plan and Budget. Rights of way are being cleared on a regular cycle. Both mechanical and hand-clearing, as well as herbicide applications, were utilized to control trees and other undergrowth. Plans were also laid in 2017 to begin a change-out of all the hydraulic reclosers on the co-op’s power grid. Once this multi-year work action gets under way in 2018, nearly 1,000 of these units will be replaced with electronic models. The end result should be a considerable strengthening of our sectionalizing system that is so crucial to the delivery of reliable electric service.
Economic development—industrial recruitment, with the accompanying creation of jobs, was another facet of our work that merited considerable attention in the previous year. In all, the cooperative saw 14 sizable commercial and industrial additions—either new starts or expansions—to its system. Announcements of subsequent large-power electrical loads in Blue Ridge territory are expected in 2018. The notable increases in kilowatt-hour sales that accompany these enterprises can be very helpful in holding down power costs for all members.
Member service—with the ongoing additions of AMI meters to the system, the co-op is positioning itself to harvest tangible savings from this undertaking. The AMI models are also enabling member-services personnel to place more-useful data at members’ disposal. “Beat the Peak”, a voluntary load-management program, was introduced to members last year. This endeavor is helping efforts to hold down kW-demand peaks and thereby lessen our wholesale-power costs. Increased member participation in the Power Saver Rewards initiative also contributed to our load-control success. A total of 1,995 member-owned electric heat pumps and water heaters were added to our load-control regime in 2017. This brought the number of heat pumps and water heaters included in peak-load shaving to 5,487.
Capital credits—Blue Ridge returned another $1,000,000 to members in 2017. A similar refund is on tap for this coming April. General refunds of patronage capital have been made in each of the last 36 years. Cumulative payments to members have now reached $26.2 million.
Community service—members utilizing the Co-op Connections Card realized $252,000 in prescription-medicine discounts last year. Since its inception in 2009, Blue Ridge members have claimed pharmacy savings totaling $3,749,000. The 20th anniversary version of our Blue Ridge Fest charity-fundraiser produced $215,000 in net proceeds, a new record. Through the years, this employee-volunteer effort has donated almost $2.5 million to charitable agencies operating within the co-op’s service territory. In early summer, the Blue Ridge community solar farm became operational. From that first day, member purchases of the blocks of power generated by the facility stood at 100 percent. To accommodate a full waiting list of additional member subscribers, the co-op is preparing to double the size of this renewable-energy array.