The Year in Review
The Year in Review
Most of us were likely glad to see 2020 come to an end. Those 12 months, dominated by the COVID pandemic, truly left plenty of bad memories in their wake. On the bright side, however, Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative experienced another year of progress. As members of your cooperative’s board of directors, it’s our privilege to cover some concrete examples that contributed to that progress.
Safety & job training – the Blue Ridge workforce finished 2020 without a single lost-time accident. As a matter of fact, shortly after the arrival of 2021, our employee team had chalked up 2,000 consecutive accident-free days—a remarkable record! At the co-op, safety is our number-one concern. Directors, management, and rank-and-file employees have all embraced the ideal of safe work practices.
Financial – despite the two major storm emergencies in 2020 that inflicted almost unheard-of damage on the Blue Ridge system, our retail electric rates remained stable. It’s been more than 12 years since the last change in our per-kilowatt-hour charge.
Construction & maintenance – operations crews stayed busy all year long on impressively large construction jobs that served to build added strength into the cooperative’s network of power lines. These improvements have a twofold purpose—to bring better service reliability to existing members and to position Blue Ridge to meet the demands of added growth on our electric grid. In addition to these distribution-system projects, the co-op will energize a new substation in the Cross Roads community of Pickens County during the first quarter of 2021. Over the next three years or so, more substations will come on line, and extensive additions will be made to the transmission facilities that supply bulk power to a good number of our substations. From the standpoint of dependable service, all these proposed changes represent good news for Blue Ridge members.
Service reliability – the cooperative’s vegetation-control program ended the year with 1,546 miles of power-line right-of-way maintenance having been addressed. In making this impressive showing, crews employed both herbicide treatments and mechanical methods. At this rate of progress, Blue Ridge could clear its entire system of more than 7,100 miles of distribution lines in fewer than five years—an excellent outcome. Keeping right-of-way strips free of undergrowth is foundational to our efforts to deliver quality service to our members.
Economic development – we recognize the positive impact large commercial and industrial accounts locating on our system can have on all our co-op members and their retail electric rates. Consequently, both board and management continued to place strong emphasis on economic development in 2020. Through these efforts, Blue Ridge was able to welcome some new industries to the co-op family. Furthermore, a number of existing C&I members, with co-op assistance, undertook sizable expansions in their operations that created additional electrical load. Our industry recruitment program remains near the top of our priority list.
Member service – our member services personnel are doing an outstanding job of adapting to the restrictions occasioned by the coronavirus. Although we had to close our lobbies to walk-in traffic, we’ve tried to supply as many options as possible for members to transact business. The drive-through windows, the recently installed kiosks, the after-hours depositories, and the online and over-the-telephone contacts are just some of the avenues members are utilizing. Speaking of drive-through, Blue Ridge was a trailblazer in employing this method for registering members at our 2020 Annual Meeting. We received overwhelmingly positive responses from members for offering this means of registration, which served to minimize greatly any possibility of spreading the virus. Subsequently, a good number of our state’s other electric co-ops adopted the drive-through method for their own annual meetings.
Capital credits – for the 39th straight year, your board of directors approved the payment of capital credits in 2020. Those checks, totaling $1,000,000, were mailed to many of our members last spring. Another $1,000,000 in refunds are scheduled for distribution this coming April. This next disbursement of patronage capital will bring the total returned to members though the years to more than $29,200,000. Board members are unanimous in their support for regular rotations of capital credits.
Broadband service – some member surveys and other analyses conducted by the cooperative within the last two years opened our eyes to a particular community need. It became readily apparent that wide expanses of the Blue Ridge service territory were either unserved or underserved with regard to high-speed internet. The disruption of school classes, along with other problems associated with the COVID pandemic, brought into sharper focus just how big this problem was. After further investigations and deliberations, our cooperative joined in a partnership with West Carolina Telephone Co-op of Abbeville to address this shortcoming. Our ultimate goal is to take fiber-to-the-home broadband service to everyone within our five-county service area who wants it. This will be a major undertaking. As such, it will likely be several years before broadband becomes a reality in some of the region’s remotest parts. Sooner or later, however, we’re intent upon ensuring that first-class high-speed internet service is within the reach of every Blue Ridge member. That would include each home, business, industry, school, church, and farm found within proximity to the cooperative’s network of power lines. Our initial pilot program was rolled out last January, and we’re now taking further steps to make this service a reality for additional cooperative members. As materials and financial resources become available, we’ll keep pressing on toward that afore-mentioned ultimate goal.
As directors, we’re keenly aware of the obligation we have to the 68,000-plus members who receive service from Blue Ridge. You expect your cooperative to operate like a member-owned utility should. Our experience tells us that the board, the management, and the entire employee team are all intent on being true to that mission. We’re constantly striving to get even better at what we do, and we welcome your feedback. Our business is service.