emPOWER Summit 2021

The 76th Annual Meeting was held virtually, Saturday, October 9. This was Rio Grande Electric Cooperative's (RGEC’s) 2nd virtual meeting, and the member attendance was phenomenal!

Members were anxious to register as soon as registration opened October 1, at 8 am. A total of 389 memberships registered as of 9 am October 9. This compares very favorably with the last in-person annual meeting, RGEC’s largest, which was held in Uvalde in 2019. At that meeting, there were 247 memberships represented.

The memberships registered by 9 am Saturday, October 9, were eligible to win prizes. With the virtual nature of the meeting, door prizes consisted of 50 $100 Credit On Account prizes, 10 $250 Credit On Account prizes, 2 $500 Gift Cards, and the Grand Prize, a 2011 F-150 Pickup, which was retired from RGEC’s fleet. Members were required to be virtually present (logged in) at the meeting to win.

The meeting opened with a welcome by emcee Conrad Dalton, RGEC’s Chief Technical Officer. He introduced Board President William “Billy” Foster, who called the meeting to order. This was followed by a beautiful a cappella rendition of the National Anthem by RGEC Education and Training Coordinator Dana Johnson. President Foster lead the Pledge of Allegiance and Invocation. The minutes of the 2020 Annual Meeting were approved.

Board President’s Report

Billy Foster speaking at emPOWER summitMr. Foster reflected on the past year and noted the difficulties COVID had brought about, how the situation had started to improve, and then deteriorated again. This was followed by the biggest winter storm imagined -- Winter Storm Uri.

“The biggest problem for Rio Grande,” explained Mr. Foster, “was trying to manage the rolling blackouts ordered by ERCOT.” He said, “The Co-op always prepares for winter storms and the problems they bring, but no one was fully prepared for Winter Storm Uri. The biggest storm to hit the United States, and especially Texas, was one for the history books. I know some members had problems, but as a whole, Rio Grande members fared better, and most had their power restored before people living elsewhere.”

In concluding, Mr. Foster thanked the Cooperative’s employees and board for persevering through the challenges of the past year. He noted the extraordinary measures the board had taken to assure they did not expose their fellow board members to any unnecessary health risks while conducting board business.

Treasurer’s Report, Presented by CFO Shawn Stanley

Mr. Stanley provided an overview of the 2020 financial results, stating revenue was at 59.8 million, expenses were 50.9 million, and margins for the year were 8.9 million. It was a good financial year for the Co-op, and allowed the board to do some special things. Firstly, they were able to retire early $2.1 million dollars of capital credit for the year 2019. These were issued as credits on 2020 electricity bills during a time when the pandemic was hitting everyone in the pocketbook. Additionally, RGEC was able to under-recover over $1 million in power costs. Stanley explained, “Normally, we would have passed this on and billed for these power costs, but we were doing financially well, so we opted to under-recover.”

man speaking at emPOWER summitMr. Stanley explained that one of the Co-op’s strengths is its diversified revenue mix, because it is not dependent on one revenue group or consumer. He said that he has heard of some utilities which have one consumer that makes up 90% of their sales. “There’s a lot of risk in that, and I’m happy to report that the Cooperative doesn’t have that type of revenue.”

Total utility plant is everything owned by the Cooperative. “It’s substations, poles, conductors -- everything that the members own.” Mr. Stanley stated that RGEC’s total utility plant is growing an average of about $6.7 million per year. As of June 2021, Stanley said RGEC’s Total Utility Plant was right at $194.8 million.

It was explained that RGEC does a good job of holding down power costs. Mr. Stanley stated that, for the 5 years ending in 2020, the Cooperative’s power costs were 20 to 30% lower than the national average and 5 to 8% lower than the Texas average.

Some Highlights of the Treasurer’s Report

The number of meters continues to increase at just over 1% annually, or about 150 meters.

Total meters through June 2021 = 14,015 Energy Sales are strong, and projected to hit 400 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) in 2021. RGEC’s all-time high was 512 million kWh in 2019.

2021 financial results through June: Through the first half of the year, revenue was 29.2 million.

The pandemic slowed down the economy and many industrial consumers slowed down their operations. Most are still connected to the system, and are slowly regaining normal operations.

Mr. Stanley concluded that despite going through a pandemic and unprecedented winter storm, the Cooperative is in a good financial position to continue to meet the membership’s needs.

After a short intermission and a video thank you message showcasing sponsors of the event, emcee Conrad Dalton was back on the air with prize drawings!

CEO Report

Roger Andrade thanked members for virtually joining the Co-op for the 76th Annual Meeting. He stated he had been looking forward to holding the meeting in person, but, after discussion with the board, all concurred that holding it virtually was the prudent course of action.

Mr. Andrade thanked employees who contributed to the making of the meeting, and the board of directors, for their leadership through tough times.

Roger Andrade speaking at emPOWER summit“When December 31st rolled around, I think I can speak for everyone when I say, “I’m glad that’s over!” We all wanted to turn the page and close that chapter of the book, along with all the challenges and difficulties that came with it. Then along came 2021, and said, “Hold my beer!”, Andrade chuckled.

He recounted the difficult way the year started, with the January 6 insurrection and the impact Winter Storm Uri had on the Co-op, stating it was the costliest winter storm on record, and the second deadliest storm in North America. Andrade said he could easily fill the entire report with all the negative events which transpired this year, but instead, would focus on what has kept the Cooperative busy this year.

Mr. Andrade stated that efforts to perform maintenance had been redoubled, and that in doing so, the Co-op ensured contractor crews remained present performing system improvements. The importance of this, he said, was that it not only provided for the updating of aged infrastructure, it also allows RGEC to have additional resources, or “boots on the ground”, when storms hit. He said it has paid tremendous dividends in terms of responding to outages and minimizing losses due to damages to poles and downed lines, etc, and has contributed to better restoration times than the Co-op has had in prior storms.

“Although the pandemic continued to wreak havoc on all aspects of our lives here and around the world,” Andrade stated, “Rio Grande took a dedicated approach to ensure that the people, the technology, and the materials were available to continue to operate and maintain the Co-op’s infrastructure.” He stated that the materials alliance with Texas Electric Cooperatives has provided a major benefit to RGEC in this respect.

Highlights of the CEO Report Included

  • New risk insurance premium increase of only 0.30% with no changes in coverage. Noteworthy due to western wildfires and Winter Storm Uri -- some insurers would not reinsure existing policyholders.
  • Renewed employee health insurance at 0% increase with no changes in coverage. Noteworthy due to massive number of claims and medical visits associated with the pandemic.
  • Launch of newly redesigned website

Mr. Andrade concluded by reiterating the statements made by President Foster and CFO Shawn Stanley -- The Cooperative is in good financial condition. “Therefore,” he added, “we do not anticipate having to resort to any rate increases in the near future.”

Ms. Quiroz presented an overview of RGEC from an operational standpoint, including the following:

  • teresa quiroz speaking at emPOWER summit162 employees
  • 6 area locations
  • 9,990 miles of energized line
  • 14,912 services in place
  • 35,000 sq. mile service territory
  • Largest cooperative territory in contiguous US
  • Operations field crews drove over 1 million mi.
  • Worked 111,000 hrs.
  • Field Crews restored 3,415 outages
  • Connected 155 new services
  • Centered on 84 construction projects.
  • Only 3 Lost Day Injuries

She then touched on the recently board-approved 4-year Construction Work Plan, which provides an orderly plan to carry out construction and other needed improvements for the next 4 years, beginning in 2022.

Health and Safety remain at the core of RGEC’s challenges this year. She thanked Co-op employees and their families for their sacrifices and commitment.

Ms. Quiroz also presented a video showcasing the many employees behind the scenes at the Co-op. She said that every employee is working for the membership. She concluded by stating, “They never forget that they work for you. If they’re not serving you directly, they’re serving someone who is.”

If you missed it October 9th, view the recording on our emPOWER page.