Cooperative Systems Work in Close Election

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WEC’s Response to Meteorologist Roger Hill’s Predictions for More Outages

Election and recount process

Steve: In the annual election of Board members last month, Washington Electric Co-op had the closest election that anyone on the board or staff can recall. When the counting was concluded, Rich Rubin’s and Olivia Campbell Andersen’s tallies differed by a single vote with well over 700 ballots cast. This unprecedented result required us to dust off a previously-unused WEC policy that mandates conducting a recount for such close votes. The recount was performed by our stalwart Ballot Committee within the requisite 10-day period, and Olivia Campbell Andersen remained a one-vote leader, and her election was confirmed.

I would like to thank all the candidates for their willingness to serve their fellow members of WEC. WEC is looking forward to the contributions Pat [Barnes] and Olivia will make. I also want to thank Ian Buchanan for his candidacy and the interest he has shown in wishing to serve on the board. And last but not least, all of us on the Board recognize Rich Rubin’s many and varied contributions from his extended time on the Board, and commend him for a job well done. Louis, I know you have a comment to make about Rich Rubin, and his 25 years of service to WEC.

Louis: Yes, it’s one thing that occurred to me about working with Rich for the last two and half years, and knowing him longer. When you’re part of an organization for a long time, your relationships with people in the organization can dissuade you from challenging and questioning things. That’s never been true with Rich. He’s always been willing to ask the hard questions. That’s a real testament to his work as a Board member, making sure his work didn’t blunt that instinct. He was important to this Board and its operations.

Steve: There are other groups here that deserve thanks. They are the Nominations Committee that verifies the eligibility of each candidate, and the Ballot Committee that counts the votes. Both committees consist of regular members and perform their functions independently of the Board to ensure fairness. We are run by members, and not just Board members. 

To perform the recount after the Annual Meeting, a majority of the Ballot Committee got together indoors 

on the first sunny Saturday we’ve had in a long time, and spent much of the day counting ballots they’d looked at before to guarantee the election results are honest. This is an example of what it means to be a co-op.

Louis: Steve makes a good point that members run for the Board, members serve on the Board, and members oversee the ballot process. Staff help, and make sure they have lunch, but the actual election process is run by members, and that’s important and good.

Steve: This close election is also an example of why you should vote in any election that could have an impact on your life. Every vote counts, and specifically, your vote counts.

Louis: Two more things about this. One, it’s good when you go through a stress test of your system and it works well. It’s common in a recount for not only the result to change, but the total number of votes to change. For WEC’s Ballot Committee to run a recount with no substantive change in the results is a testament to the quality of their work in the first place.

The other—we’ve said it before, but it’s important—we had a contested election. It’s not always easy to get people to volunteer for organizations of various kinds. Boards of cooperative utilities are no different. We had more people interested in volunteering than spots available on the Board. That’s a wonderful thing for the Co-op and our membership.

Steve: I take comfort, and hope others do too, in knowing the Co-op is governed by sound policy and members who take their responsibilities seriously. A close election gives a little bit of excitement, but as Louis said, the job was well done the first time and the cooperative system worked. It reminds me of the number of dedicated people we have who are part of this Co-op and why it’s an honor to take my turn serving on the Board on behalf of the members of the Co-op.

Annual Meeting Acknowledgments

Steve: Dawn Johnson [Administrative Assistant] and her fellow staff members did a great job picking a new venue, organizing the meeting, and selecting really good catering.

Louis: It was a great meeting, and our suppliers, vendors, and sponsors also deserve thanks for their support.

I’ve begun a Managers Award for staff at WEC who consistently go above and beyond in their service to its members. This year I awarded it to Amos Turner [Construction Foreman]. During any outage, Amos seems to be everywhere, doing twice as much as what was asked of him. I was honored to give him the award and pleased he was able to be there to receive it.

Amos has also served WEC for many years. Lineworkers who stay at WEC for a long period of time, don’t do it for the pay or the ease of work. People who stay a long time do it for their commitment to the area and to the community. We have a lot of people who have done a lot of different jobs, and they’re knowledgeable about WEC in a very deep way. It’s a special thing. It’s important to recognize the staff who serve WEC for many years, and I’m proud we acknowledge anniversaries at the Annual Meeting. This year we recognized Pat Smith for five years, and Beth Ouellette for 25 years of service. 

Steve: People who contribute their skills and good work need to be commended. They’re contributing to our mission and to our well-being, and we’re glad to have them. 

Roger Hill presentation

Louis: One of our primary responsibilities is to make sure members know about things that are likely to impact the Co-op and ultimately impact their bills and the reliability of their power. I wanted to give members the chance to see what Washington Electric and fellow utilities learn from Roger Hill and fellow meteorologists, and the likelihood of what we will continue to see in storm intensity and damage and length of outages and restoration.

Next I wanted to give members the opportunity to ask why outages happen, and why they last as long as they do. Roger is both a member and our weather advisor, and it was great to see firsthand what he sees out there.

Steve: I couldn’t help but think his message was “a hard rain’s going to fall.” We anticipate our electric system will be increasingly challenged by weather conditions while regional policy leaders are simultaneously encouraging everyone to rely more on electricity. WEC’s key role in adjusting to what Roger thinks are going to be significantly changing conditions is investing in reliable hardware and updating its management of outages. 

But there’s no silver bullet to guarantee total reliability, and there’s likely to be a need for discussion among regular WEC members and within WEC leadership about how each of us can plan to adapt to potentially longer outages, and how to help out our neighbors during these episodes.

Resilience is not zero outages. Resilience is managing your safety and well-being during an outage and bouncing back afterward.

Stephen Knowlton

Resilience is not zero outages. Resilience is managing your safety and well-being during an outage and bouncing back afterward. WEC can and does assist emergency services to our most vulnerable members. But WEC can’t address every problem by itself: the repair crews’ main focus will always be on restoring electric service as rapidly and safely as possible. As the head of operations at our fellow co-op in Vermont remarked recently, when people live in a rural area, they need Vermont grit to get through some of these situations. Preparing yourself is the message.

I was moved by what Angela Manning said at the Annual Meeting: that WEC needs member money to fix the system, but a lot of our members are on fixed incomes, so this will be a challenge. I couldn’t agree more.

Louis: I agree with you. There are things we can do to reduce the risk, reduce the number of outages, and we’re doing those. Like any investment, it costs money. Members will have to balance their desire for reasonable electric service and the cost of providing that service in a territory like ours.

Members will have to balance their desire for reasonable electric service and the cost of providing that service in a territory like ours.

Louis Porter


Louis: We’re working through our backlog of requests for transformers to support net metering or increases in service load. For several years—the whole time I’ve been here—we’ve been triaging and prioritizing transformers for immediate needs. Our transformer supply has improved greatly in terms of supply, time to delivery, and cost. Barring any changes, we’ll see that continue.

Federal and state grants for new metering system

Louis: Senator Sanders has gone to bat for Washington Electric in congressionally directed spending and advocated for a $2.5 million grant to support Washington Electric’s new metering system. That will be coupled with a state grant we anticipate of $2.25 million. We’re still working through conditions and approvals for both of those. When both of those are taken into account, that will largely pay for Washington Electric’s upgrades to its meters, which will make a tremendous difference in our outage response, and pave the way for modernizing our grid to our members’ benefit. We’re grateful to Sen. Sanders and will work through the final steps of approvals and implementing that.

WEC’s Integrated Resource Plan 

Louis: The IRP [Integrated Resource Plan] has been submitted to regulators. This is probably the single best document for any member who wants to know Washington Electric’s current status, what we spend money on, what we plan to do over the next few years, and why. It covers a huge amount of our work and decision-making, where our power comes from, how we make decisions about various things. I can’t use the word “concise” for a document that’s 70 pages, but it’s all in that one resource. For members who want to know more, it’s a good place to look. The IRP is on our website.

Lineworker Appreciation Day

Louis: Lineworker Appreciation Day was April 18. Vermont Electric Co-op did a great job organizing an event at the Statehouse. The people who work on utility line crews have work that is very difficult, sometimes dangerous, always time-consuming, and often at off-hours. And their work is essential to keeping the power system functional. It was really nice to see legislators and Governor Scott recognize the importance of their work and thank a few members of the line crew of Washington Electric, Vermont Electric, and Green Mountain Power.