More than 200 member-owners and their guests attended North Western Electric Cooperative’s (NWEC) 87th annual meeting April 15 at Edon Northwest School. At the meeting — the first in-person gathering since 2019 — the co-op reported construction work progress, detailed an expansion to the service territory, announced election results, and outlined challenges electric cooperatives face.
Member-owners who attended from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. were invited to enjoy a sandwich, meet with trustee candidates, learn from representatives of Buckeye Power, Inc., about how NWEC’s electricity is generated, view up-close safety gear worn by linemen, and learn about the many services provided by NWEC and its subsidiary company, NW Ohio Propane, LLC (NWOP).
Board of Trustees Chairman Chris Oberlin opened the business meeting at 5 p.m., with 55 people in attendance. Oberlin reported that NWEC has some of the fastest outage response times in our area, if not the state, and continues to provide affordable electricity to members. The co-op is repairing, replacing, and upgrading its distribution system to provide reliable power while allowing room for future growth, he said.
“NWEC is looking ahead and adapting to our changing electrical needs, the challenging push for more green energy, and supply chain and transmission issues,” Oberlin said. “In doing so, we can maintain the same level of safe, reliable, and affordable power for our members for years to come.”
President and CEO Darin Thorp detailed the co-op’s progress in the deployment of new radio-frequency meters. He reported that the installation of this new technology is complete and, by eliminating the need for manual meter reads, the co-op is saving about $60,000 per year.
“The cooperative is in the second year of a 4-year work plan that includes an upgrade to the Farmer substation, several three-phase rebuilds, a single-phase to three-phase line conversion and rebuilding a stretch of transmission line,” Thorp said. “These are just a few of the projects you will see happening over the next several years.”
Following a seven-year negotiation process, NWEC has acquired additional service territory from Toledo Edison, north of the Ohio Turnpike to State Route 20, Thorp said. Included in that territory is an area on the northeast side of the turnpike exit at State Route 49 recently purchased by Pilot/Flying J. The co-op is currently working with the company as it plans to break ground later this year for construction of a new truck plaza. “Having Pilot located here will be a great boost to your co-op’s energy sales,” Thorp said.
A major concern facing the co-op is the increased cost of materials and the overall shortage of common supplies. Every component used on NWEC’s system has experienced increases in both cost and supply lead times, he said.
“In 2012, a mid-size utility truck cost the cooperative $197,000 and was delivered in eight months,” he said. “In 2023, that same truck costs $375,000, with a 20-month lead time.” Thorp reassured member-owners that the cooperative will be prudent with their money as it navigates these challenges.
NWEC’s subsidiary company, NWOP, continues to grow, Thorp said, with more than 2,100 customers currently being served at more than 2,500 locations in the tri-state area.
Craig Grooms, COO of Buckeye Power, the cooperative’s wholesale power supplier, updated member-owners on electric co-op news and projects across Ohio. Grooms reported that Ohio’s electric cooperatives performed well at keeping the lights on, and explained the industry’s growing challenges.
“I want to share with you our reality here in Ohio,” Grooms said, “As recently as 2009, Ohio had 21 coal-fired power plants capable of producing 22,000 megawatts (MW) of electricity. Later this year, we will have four remaining coal plants with less than 7,000 MW of capacity.”
Reducing the capability to produce electricity, especially during periods of severe weather, could result in rolling blackouts like others across the country have experienced, Grooms said. He asked member-owners to come together for a common cause by informing and educating their neighbors on the need for reliable power and by sharing with them that the integrity of America’s electrical grid must be a priority.
Grooms reported that Ohio’s Electric Cooperatives is committed to providing reliable, affordable, and environmentally responsible power to all the member-owners in our state and that the organization has made that known to elected officials in Washington, D.C., and in Ohio.
“The history of your electric cooperative can be our guide. It was founded when neighbors worked together to bring electricity to their rural community,” Grooms said, “Today it’s about working together to keep that reliable, affordable electricity ON all day, every day, especially when severe weather hits your community.”
The co-op also announced election results, which included 523 votes submitted online ahead of the meeting and 118 votes by paper ballot at the meeting.
Re-election to the NWEC board of trustees of Chris Oberlin, District 4 (Brady, Center, Jefferson and Pulaski townships in Williams County), and Ryan Wehri, District 5 (Farmer and Mark townships in Defiance County and Crane Township in Paulding County).
Re-election by affirmation of Jordan Ruffer, District 6 (Springfield Township in Williams County, Adams and Tiffin township in Defiance County and Ridgeville Township in Henry County). Ruffer was unopposed in the election.
Approval of one proposed change to the co-op’s code of regulations and the minutes from the 2022 annual meeting.
Following a pre-recorded video report from the cooperative auditor and a discussion of old and new business, the meeting was adjourned.