Planning for the Upcoming Year

During the fourth quarter of 2023, my staff and I devoted a good bit of time to the cooperative's 2024 Work Plan and Budget. This document is our roadmap for continuing the high level of service we are known for. Relying on engineering studies, recent growth trends, and many other business-related factors, we arrived at some solid financial estimates for the coming year.

The budgeting process was considerably more challenging this time around. Like practically all other businesses and families alike, Blue Ridge has been facing considerable increases in what we pay for materials and services. That reality has put upward pressure on the cooperative's retail electricity rates. We've always made it our practice to hold the line as best we can on what we charge for electrical service, and for years we have absorbed more of these cost increases that we have passed on. The time is approaching for us to implement changes in how our rates are structured. You can be certain that as we study our rate design, changes will be made at the lowest level possible for maintaining a sound financial footing.

Once the budgetary forecasts were established for 2024, a narrative was prepared to provide some commentary to accompany those forecasts. That exercise produced more than a few positive reactions in my own mind. For one thing, it reminded me of some of the effective work practices that have been in place at Blue Ridge for many years.

As an example, it was 25 years ago that we established the co-op's in-house member service center. That facility is manned by knowledgeable employees, ready to respond to members' inquiries. Month to month, these folks answer anywhere from 10,000 to 13,000 telephone calls. They also process numerous emails and texts. This service center represents a major point of contact for many of our members. My conversations with members often reveal the sincere appreciation they have for the ability to talk to a live person, rather than having to negotiate a telephone menu.

Another service initiated several decades ago is round-the-clock dispatching. We have employees in our dispatch center 24/7/365. They are there to answer after-hours telephone calls and other contacts and, when necessary, to dispatch crews to address power outages and other emergency situations. Once again, I've been told by members on any number of occasions how grateful they are for that direct, convenient access to out overnight dispatchers.

If you've driven many places in our service area, it's obvious that Blue Ridge is experiencing impressive growth. In 2023, the co-op added 1,499 net new members to our system - a new record! Furthermore, we ended the year with 72, 316 total member account receiving service. Our response to the growth is to strive ahead of it. That scenario can produce any number of favorable outcomes - one of which is an ever-improving level of service reliability.

Finally, I'd mention our Upcountry Fiber initiative. In fewer than three years' time, Upcountry Fiber has extended quality, high-speed internet service to about 17,000 customers. Remarkable!

Those are a few of the accomplishments that make me proud of the service we offer you, our members. It's on that note that I'll end this report, but not before I issue you a cordial invitation to join us on April 10 or 11 for Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative's 83rd Annual Meeting of Members. I hope to see you there.

Jim Lovinggood

President CEO