ST. MARYS — Members of Midwest Electric Inc. gathered Saturday morning for breakfast and the 79th annual meeting of the cooperative at St. Marys Memorial High School. They were updated on the company’s future along with welcoming a new member to the board of trustees.
“I’d like to acknowledge your 80 years in business,” said Doug Miller, vice president of statewide services for Buckeye Power/Ohio Rural Electric Cooperatives. “You are a vital part of the community. Midwest Electric is a vital part of all your lives.”
Midwest Electric’s management team, said Miller, has made the local company a leader in Ohio. The company has embraced the seven cooperative principles to make a better life for the residents it serves.
Miller said cooperative linemen throughout the state go through the Central Ohio Lineworker Training (COLT) program to ensure they have the knowledge to work safely in the field.
There’s also safety training for all employees, said Miller. Trustee training is also provided.
“We have an emergency plan in place,” said Miller.
If an outage is larger than the local co-op can handle, they can recruit help from around Ohio and the country to help restore power, said Miller. Ohio workers are also sent out-of-state if the need arises.
“The Country Living” magazine, said Miller, is one way the cooperatives can keep informed on what’s going on in the state.
“We also have advocates at the Ohio Statehouse and in Washington, D.C.,” said Miller. “We want to deliver clean, reliable power supply to our customers. We deliver power to the substations and we want to keep our costs in check so we remain vital.”
Miller also discussed the August 2015 ruling made by the EPA in regards to the Clean Power Plan.
“We have filed a lawsuit to have the ruling thrown out,” said Miller. “We sought a stay to halt all work until the lawsuits have been settled.”
The lower courts, he said, denied the stay. However, in February the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the stay until the lawsuits are settled.
“Your 1.2 million comments filed with the EPA were heard,” said Miller. “All the visits to Capitol Hill were important. ACRE has made an impact.”
Miller said the power supply provided by the cooperatives is “cleaner than ever.”
Coal, natural gas and wind are used to create energy. A new solar program is being added to the mix to create energy, said Miller.
“We relay on coal as our No. 1 power provider,” said Miller. “Our pledge to you is to keep the lights on economically.
“This November we all have a tough choice to make. You can influence the outcome,” said Miller. “You have to make your voices heard.”
Miller said there has been an 18 percent drop in the rural voter turnout in the past several years.
“Ohio had a record turnout in the primary,” said Miller. “We have to continue that into November.”
Midwest Electric Board President Larry Vandemark updated the members of what had happened in 2015 and what will happen in 2016.
Vandmark said there were uplifting parts and sad parts to the year 2015.
He said in September 2015, the cooperative lost one of its trustees when George Brake passed away.
“It felt good to work along side George,” said Vandemark. “He will be sorely missed.”
On the positive side, he said, 2010 was the last distribution rate increase for the cooperative.
“I don’t anticipate any increase in 2016,” said Vandemark. “We will keep the electric rates as low as possible.”
Vandemark said 2015 was the best year for the cooperative since 2008. There were 115 new services connected. They were able to reduce the kilowatt hours sold. The cooperative’s assets increased to $63.7 million.
There were eight more miles of lines added in 2015, he said. The cooperative has 1,605 miles of distribution lines. There were 535 miles of tree trimming completed last year. A total of 2,368 poles were tested with 1.9 percent rejected and replaced with new comes.
“We saw $1.7 million in capital returned to the cooperative members,” said Vandemark.
Manager/CEO Rick Gerdeman reported there are nearly 11,000 homes, farms, companies and businesses served by Midwest Electric. He related the history of how electricity was brought to rural Ohio.
In the mid-1930s, the majority of people who had electricity were “city dwellers,” said Gerdeman. Only a few farmers had electricity. In 1936, a meeting was held in Lima for the formation of a rural electrification plan and the Western Farm Bureau was formed. In 1938, it was renamed Midwest Electric and it served seven counties.
“When the lights came on for rural Ohio, it was a joyous occasion,” said Gerdeman.
Cooperatives in Ohio are now helping turn the lights on in other countries, he said. Project Ohio is helping small villages around the world have electricity run to their homes. Two Midwest Electric Employees Chad Klaus and Andrew Roettger, recently went to Guatemala to hook up electricity to a small village.
Gerdeman stressed the importance of political advocacy among Midwest Electric members.
“The current administration has declared war on coal,” said Gerdeman. “If they are successful, this could mean an increase of $40-50 a month on your bills.”
Matt Berry, manager, customer and community relations, discussed the community connection fund and the revolving loan fund.
Since 1998, when the community connection fund was established, Midwest Electric has donated $920,333 to 747 area projects. In 2015, $50,123 was given to 50 local charities.
The economic development revolving loan fund started in 2005 when the USDA Rural Development gave the cooperative a $300,000 grant. Those funds were loaned to the village of St. Henry for development of its business park. In 2013, another $300,000 grant was received and those monies were used by Ferguson Distribution Plant in Mercer County to construct distribution lines to the warehouse.
Nine loans, worth $1,8 million and created 133 jobs, have been given. The fund continues to grow as the loans are paid back said Berry.
“We have received notification that we’ve received another grant, which will be used by Chickasaw for their new water treatment plant,” said Berry.
Incumbents Jim Wiechart, Spencerville, for Mercer/Darke counties, and Steve Bauer, Wapakoneta, for Auglaize/Shelby counties, were re-elected as trustees. They ran unopposed.
Kathy Brake, Ohio, City, was elected trustee for Van Wert County. She was opposed by Donald Katalenas, Venodocia, and James Warnecke, Spencerville.
Wiechart, Bauer and Brake will serve three year terms on the board.
Midwest Electric provides electrical service in Allen, Auglaize, Mercer, Van Wert, Shelby, Putnam and Darke counties.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4822; follow her on Twitter @MelSpeicherSDN. Follow the SDN on Facebook, www.facebook.com/SidneyDailyNews.