This month's edition of Ranch and Rural Living magazine provides you, our consumer-members, an insight into the inner workings of the Cooperative, through a year in review of all departments that comprise the Co-op. When the year 2020 kicked off, never in my wildest dreams would I have thought it would signify a complete change in our everyday lives. Two-thousand twenty was filled with hope and celebration, as we poised ourselves to recognize our Cooperative's 75th Anniversary! For an organization celebrating three-quarters of a century in existence, I envisioned taking a step back and reminiscing on all the major milestones the Cooperative has achieved throughout its history. Instead, the year turned into a 12-month long endurance test of our resolve and resiliency as an organization. I am proud to say, the Cooperative passed such test with flying colors. Electric cooperatives have a long-time history of weathering adversity. In fact, they were born our to challenging times.
This resilience helped Rio Grande Electric Cooperative (RGEC) and our consumer-members overcome and weather the hardships resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic that affected our area last year and continues through this year.
Twenty-twenty became a synonym for the bizarre, unexpected, and was most usually coupled with trials and tribulations of magnitudes never to have been seen before. Twenty-twenty also became a year of firsts for many of us. First of “social distance” interactions, firsts of conducting business remotely, and the virtual workplace became a way of life. As a Cooperative, we held our first all-virtual board meetings and member advisory committee meetings. Even our famous Annual Meeting of the membership had its limelight through cyberspace, as we celebrated in an all-virtual environment through the Zoom application. All these adopted changes were solely in the interest of the health and safety of our employees, members, and the general public.
Throughout this annual report, you will learn how the various aspects of the Cooperative were affected as a result of the challenges faced throughout 2020. Since “you”, our member-owners, will have a full report on those activities, I would like to take a portion of this report and focus on some of the successes the Cooperative was able to accomplish.
In order to get a full sense of how important these success stories are, let me share with you some very important statistics about your cooperative. Rio Grande Electric Cooperative is the largest cooperative in the contiguous United States in terms of service territory, covering roughly 35,000 square miles mostly in Texas and parts of New Mexico. RGEC has a meter density of roughly 1.40 meters per mile, this particular statistic is noteworthy, as the average meter density of an average Texas Cooperative is 6.32, while investor-owned utilities average 30 plus meters per mile, and municipalities serve approximately 50 plus meters per mile. This means that Rio Grande has a much larger geographic area to cover and serve, and very few consumers from which to recover such costs. At the height of the pandemic, the Cooperative recorded a decrease in kilowatt-hour (kWh) sales of roughly 25%, with a significant amount of that load attributed to the loss of oil and gas loads, which had seen a year-to-year increase over the prior 4 years. With the uncertainty of a strongly contested presidential election on the horizon, the overall effects of the economic recession were unknown.
The most important statistic I will share from the entire report is the following: only 15% of our entire workforce, to date, has contracted the novel coronavirus since being declared a pandemic, and 100% of those employees have made a full recovery and are reincorporated into the workforce. The next statistics are also in the success column for 2020’s activities. The Cooperative, through the leadership of the board of directors, approved an early retirement of the 2019 allocated capital credits, of over $2 Million dollars to aid members during the pandemic. RGEC connected 351 new services during the year, which represented a 230% increase from 2019. New construction added approximately 26 miles of energized line to the Cooperative’s distribution system. During the Annual Meeting, I was happy to report that the extreme summer months experienced during 2020 did not impact the Co-op’s cost of power, as Rio Grande had contracted enough wholesale power to minimize the exposure of the markets.
The year was absolutely extraordinary. I mean really, who would ever have imagined the most noteworthy things about the year would be a global pandemic and a toilet paper shortage? In all sincerity, our collective hearts go out to all those who were affected by the pandemic, either medically, or financially, or whose families, friends, and neighbors were affected. It’s true that human resilience is the capacity to respond constructively to – to be strengthened and improved by – adversity. The Co-op demonstrated its grit time and time again, as well as its commitment to the ideals put forth in the Cooperative Principles, such as Concern for Community. Rio Grande’s employees, board, and member-consumers managed to learn and utilize new and different ways necessitated by conditions. In the final analysis, during one of the worst years on record, your electric co-op not only survived – it grew, and, from a business perspective, that’s a successful year in anyone’s book.