Annual Meeting Recap
Governor praises Verendrye members for being engaged in their cooperative
News of low outage times, a record $1.4 million in capital credits and stable rates was sweeter than the ice cream served at Verendrye Electric Cooperative’s 79th Annual Meeting. To top it off, Gov. Doug Burgum attended the meeting, telling the audience that he was pleased to see they were engaged in their cooperative.
“North Dakota is a great place because we have citizens who are engaged and they understand and care about their communities,” Burgum said. “There are places in the United States where people flip a switch on the wall and turn on their electricity and they have no idea where it comes from, and here we are at the 79th Annual Meeting of this co-op with this many people coming to the meeting and caring about their infrastructure, caring about leadership and caring about their communities. “
Around 3,000 were fed at the meeting, which included the traditional meal of meatballs and mashed potatoes, ice cold milk and ice cream.
Burgum is from Arthur North Dakota. His grandfather started a grain elevator in 1906 and there was no power there until 1915 so he started a small utility business providing power for the area. The business was later acquired by Cass County Electric Co-op.
Burgum was CEO of Great Plains Software in Fargo that was sold to Microsoft. He said when the facility was built they put it where they knew it would be served by a cooperative, rather than an investor-owned utility.
“We knew we could get better service and have a better partnership with Cass County Electric Cooperative,” Burgum said.
He said the United States can be “energy dominant,” rather than energy independent, if federal policies allow for energy development. He said with the right policies, the U.S. would have lower cost energy, which would bring more manufacturing back to the country.
Low outage time
Verendrye Chairman Blaine Bruner praised cooperative employees for working together to serve the members. This year’s theme was “Power You Can Depend On.” The theme was chosen because the cooperative had its lowest average outage time – 42 minutes per meter – in its 79-year history.
“Verendrye employees have always dedicated themselves to providing service excellence to the membership,” Bruner said. “Service excellence starts by keeping the power on at your home or business.”
Verendrye spends around $4 to $5 million spent each year on operations and maintenance of the system and has built technology and automation over the years that allows workers to more quickly find outages and respond to them.
Another bright point of the cooperative was there has not been a rate increase since October 2016. Manager Randy Hauck said despite a low operating margin of $143,000, Verendrye was able to hold rates steady and meet all of its financial ratios because of a revenue deferral account allowed by the Rural Utility Service. The account grew by $1.6 million in 2016 and can be used later to keep rates stable.
Verendrye was able to return a record $1.4 million of capital credits to its members because it had a generous capital credit retirement from Basin Electric Cooperative and Central Power Electric Cooperative for a combined $649,000. Basin generates power for Verendrye and Central owns the transmission lines that deliver the power to Verendrye’s distribution system.
Hauck told members he is pleased the EPA’s Clean Power Plan has been put on hold and that it was good news that programs like Low Income Heating Assistance Plan (LIHEAP) and USDA Rural Development plans continue to be funded by the presidential administration. The administration also dropped a proposal to sell hydropower assets owned by the Western Area Power Administration (WAPA), which would likely increase rates.
On the state level, Verendrye continues to monitor legislation to ensure property tax rates are fair among cooperatives and investor-owned utilities (IOUs) and that the Territorial Integrity Act (TIA), which sets boundaries between Co-ops and IOUs, stays intact.