MEETING RECAP: NWEC announces highest member satisfaction score in co-op history
Nearly 800 members and guests attended North Western Electric Cooperative’s (NWEC) annual meeting at Edon Northwest School, where the co-op announced construction work plan progress, upcoming text alert capabilities for outage communications and the highest member satisfaction score in the state of Ohio.
Kim Shoup, District 3 (Bridgewater, Madison and Superior townships in Williams County), and Richard (Dick) Polter, District 7 (Delaware, Noble and Washington townships in Defiance County), were re-elected to the NWEC Board of Trustees by affirmation after the co-op received no nominating petitions for new candidates and no additional nominations were called for from the floor during the meeting.
Members voted on proposed Code of Regulations changes, two of which passed, giving the co-op the ability to hold its annual meeting in March or April, as well as adding the option of electronic notification for the annual meeting.
After enjoying a hot meal and dessert, members heard reports on the state of their cooperative from NWEC officials. They also honored the six co-op scholarship recipients — awards totaling $6,000 — and the participants for the Washington, D.C., Youth Tour, an annual leadership trip for two students in NWEC’s service territory.
- Youth Tour trip: Chase Goebel, Edon Northwest School, and Audrey Schroeder, Edgerton High School
- Children of Members Scholarship:
- Boys division: First-place $1,500 winner – Hayden Haas, North Central High School; second-place $750 winner – Kevin Macsay, Fairview High School
- Girls division: First-place $1,500 winner – Rachel Webb, Bryan High School (also won an additional $1,250 scholarship from Ohio’s Electric Cooperatives); second-place $750 winner – Angela Betz, Hicksville High School
- $1,000 Touchstone Energy Achievement Scholarship: Naomi Hickman, Edon Northwest School
- $500 Gertrude Studer Memorial Scholarship, awarded by the Edgerton Area Foundation: Leeanna Pelz, Edgerton High School
Board Chairman Andrew Farnham reported that NWEC was able to refund more than $1,000,000 of patronage capital credits to members the past year, signaling that North Western Electric Cooperative is in strong financial shape.
“A total of all retirements for the life of the co-op is now over $18 million dollars,” Farnham said. “We continue to rank in the top two percent of cooperatives nationwide who give back the most money in the form of capital credits to our members.”
NWEC President and CEO Darin Thorp detailed the co-op’s progress in the second year of the four-year construction work plan, reporting the new radio-frequency meter deployment is on track with Seneca Substation receiving new meters last fall. By 2020 and 2021, NWEC’s entire system will be receiving the new meters, eliminating manual readings by linemen and saving the co-op $50,000 dollars a year. NWEC is also in the construction phase of a new transmission line from its Farmer to Milford substations, using ductile iron poles to accommodate the increasing loads at both ends of the system.
With 77 miles of transmission line, NWEC’s 10-year plan aims to start replacing aging infrastructure. The cost to replace a single mile of transmission line is $300,000.
Other projects Thorp reported for 2019 include:
- Line conversions in the Center, Pulaski and Washington townships
- New breakers in the Montpelier, Ney and Center substations
- Replacing OCR equipment around the Milford, Edon and Center substations
NWEC’s communications efforts have also proved fruitful, according to Thorp. The co-op recently added an outage map to its website for members to access real-time outage statistics, and plans are in the works to launch a texting and email notification system through the co-op’s online account management software, SmartHub, in the next few months.
“We are investigating ways to text and email outage information to our members when it’s affecting them,” Thorp said. “Please stay tuned and sign up for this SmartHub feature once it becomes available.”
From 2013 to 2018, NWEC saw a 40% decline in the number of members paying bills via mail; today, the majority choose a form of electronic payment over the phone, online or automatically through SmartHub. Last year, Thorp noted the co-op added American Express to its list of approved credit cards members can use to pay bills.
“Our co-op continues to anticipate its direction from a communication, financial and operations standpoint with the ultimate goal being to satisfy our members,” Thorp said.
Member satisfaction remained NWEC’s top priority in 2018, as the co-op received an 89 on its American Customer Satisfaction Index score, which allows businesses to compare their customers’ satisfaction with other businesses.
“This is an increase of five points over last year,” Thorp said, “and it represents the highest score in our co-op’s history.”
Thorp also pointed out that there will be no residential rate increase in 2019, signaling a four-year streak of rate stability for NWEC members. The co-op has continued its right-of-way management to reduce outage times and improve service reliability.
According to Thorp, more than 600 customers are enjoying service from NWEC’s subsidiary business, NW Ohio Propane, LLC.
“About 75% of those propane customers are NWEC co-op members and are taking advantage of the savings,” Thorp said. “If you have not switched providers, please give us a call to see why so many others have changed.”
Also in attendance were legislative leaders including Representative Bob Latta, who spoke on electric grid security, Ohio jobs and power reliability overall. Representing 600,000 manufacturing jobs and the largest farm-producing district in Ohio, Latta said this means “we need a lot of power.”
“We’re hearing about how few outages you have. When companies look at areas, they look at the power supply. That’s a big influence to bring people into our area,” Latta said.
Members were given an update on electric co-op news and projects across Ohio from Craig Grooms, vice president of engineering and operations at Ohio’s Electric Cooperatives, NWEC’s statewide services organization and wholesale power supplier. Grooms highlighted Ohio electric co-ops’ economic development grant programs, expanded lineworker training program and OEC’s new operating responsibilities taken on for the Cardinal, Mone and Greenville power plants, formerly run through a partnership with American Electric Power.
“As of April 2019, I’m happy to report to you that the full transition of operational control and dispatch from AEP is complete and has been successful overall,” Grooms said. “Looking forward, we think there are improvements and savings that will come from having a smaller, more focused organization in charge.”
The meeting concluded with several door prizes, including a $500 grand prize bill credit.