Message from the CEO
“Today I close the door to the past, open the door to the future, and step on through, starting a new chapter in my life.”
After 7 years serving you as the CEO of East-Central Iowa Rural Electric Cooperative—and more than 39 years of employment with Buchanan County REC and ECI REC—I will be retiring in August. Many changes have occurred during my time here that have strengthened ECI REC so we can provide safe, reliable, affordable, and environmentally responsible electricity. I have been privileged to be part of the journey and to be a catalyst for changes that make ECI REC what it is today. I look forward to serving in my capacity until your Board of Directors ascertains a replacement. By the time this newsletter arrives at your door, a search will have commenced through the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. This article will touch upon some of the successes you, the member-consumer, have realized during my tenure as CEO.
ECI REC has turned opportunities into successes. The saying, “That which weakens us can only make us stronger,” holds true for the services provided by ECI REC. Floods, ice storms, tornadoes, cyber-security concerns, and other natural or man-made disasters have motivated us to strengthen an outdated infrastructure to continue our mission and become stronger today than we were yesterday. Our theme for the June 2020 Annual Meeting—Powering Tomorrow with Today’s Innovations—is not new to your Cooperative. It has been an underlying force through the years as I, along with the employees of ECI REC, have utilized innovative and forward-thinking opportunities to achieve the best interests of you, our member-consumers. Today I take this opportunity to update you on some of the advancements ECI REC has attained over the past several years. It has been exciting for me to capitalize on my background and experiences, education, and training to enhance your Cooperative in numerous ways, in cooperation with our committed employees and with support from your Board of Directors.
Over the past seven years, ECI REC experienced considerable utility plant growth while operational costs remained consistent. Your utility plants’ worth expanded from approximately $55 million to $78 million, in large part due the replacement of aging lines with new, stronger lines. We achieved significant cost savings annually through duty realignment and staff downsizing, partly due to the use of available technology. Self-generating reporting software in billing, accounting, and operational services promoted an evaluation of needed workforce resources, which led to cost savings. This combined with other factors allowed for growth with decreased expense.
We also achieved cost-saving benefits through strategic plan development and execution that targeted enhancing current and new systems. To favor our member-consumers, we pursued an evaluation of financial means and the capability of technology to decrease power outage occurrences and time. In 2014, modification of the member-consumer billing format allowed us to institute an energy, facility, and service charge. A more equitable rate restructure of facility and energy charges was completed in 2015. In 2016, 100% borrowing through the National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corporation (CFC)—a member-owned nonprofit cooperative providing financial products to America’s rural electric cooperative network—allowed borrowing from the government-owned Rural Utilities Services with much red tape to cease. The outcome was a low average blended interest rate for ECI REC, saving the Cooperative—and subsequently our members—millions of dollars.
Installation of Automated Meter Infrastructure (AMI) with smart meter technology was completed in late summer 2018. This technology, the utilization new technologies to enhance data access through SmartHub, customized outage maps for member-consumers, and mapping software that allows lineman to see nearly real-time maps allowed numerous cost and outage time savings. Additionally, we completed hundreds of miles of line upgrades and replacements to keep the lights on. Through these improvements, ECI REC achieved its lowest outage times on record in 2017, 2018, and 2019, all while maintaining some of the lowest energy rates compared to other utilities in Iowa.
And we didn’t stop there. Powering our member-consumers by providing safe, reliable, affordable, and environmentally responsible electricity was realized in different ways. Urbana Solar Acres—a system capable of powering 1,300 homes—was installed on the Urbana Headquarters site in 2016 in cooperation with CIPCO, ECI REC’s distribution supplier. The new Independence Operations Center was completed in 2017; it harbors a backup computer server site, allowing quick restoration of business operations should a disaster damage the Urbana Headquarters. And we are still not done. Prior to my departure, oversight of an Urbana Headquarters renovation will be complete. Extra space will be used to increase safety and security for employees, along with enhanced office space use to better employ current resources.
I would be amiss not to mention the importance of relationship building. We built relationships with member-consumers, the Board of Directors, employees, legislators, community leaders, business partners, and other resources that keep your Cooperative running on a day-to-day basis. Maintaining an open-door policy to listen and respond to member-consumers’ concerns allowed us to mitigate current and future issues, which was an aspect of my position I kept at the forefront. It was vital to build and maintain trust and apprise the Board of Directors in and outside of regularly scheduled meetings to enable informed decision-making. This policy produced outcomes including amendments to the Articles of Incorporation on joint membership definition changes, downsizing the number of Directors, and dispute resolution provisions—all necessary to keeping ECI REC up to date in business practice.
It was essential to me to encourage and support ongoing employee development through certifications and trainings, to create a high-level culture of safety throughout the organization, and to support a positive work culture evidenced by employee satisfaction surveys. Allowing for a high percentage of employee retention was also essential. Fostering relationships with legislators to preserve ECI REC’s best interests in legislative decisions enabled bills to pass that benefited our member-consumers and employees alike. We built relationships within our communities, including retail participation in the Co-Op Connections® program. We also maintained a positive and professional organizational image within our communities and state, allowing ECI REC to be viewed as leaders within our industry. This ensured ECI REC was kept in the loop and on the forefront of innovative advancements and that we were equipped with necessary resources in times of disaster.
ECI REC and our member-consumers are benefiting from many of these advancements as we ride the storm of the COVID-19 pandemic. With the safety of our employees and member-consumers in mind, we are utilizing plans, technology, and innovative thinking to contribute to the battle against the spread of this disease while providing power to those we serve. We wish to thank all of you for your understanding and compliance with our policies and practices, and we encourage you to continue to watch for updates on Facebook and our website during this time of the unknown.
My goals were lofty and would not have been attainable without support from the Board of Directors and our hard-working, forward-thinking employees, for which I say thank you. As I move forward into retirement—and as a member-consumer of our Cooperative—I look forward to seeing these benefits and the continued forward thinking of ECI REC. Additionally, I am hopeful my golf game will improve, that I will see more countryside, and that hiking trails will lead me to parts never seen before. Thank you for the opportunity to serve you. It has been a journey I will not forget.