Knowlton, Barnes, Campbell Andersen Elected at 2024 Annual Meeting

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Recount upholds Campbell Andersen by one vote; meeting focused on storm-related outages

In an extraordinarily close race, a single vote separated the third- and fourth-place finishers in WEC’s Board of Directors election. Incumbent President Stephen Knowlton, recent appointee Pat Barnes, and new Director Olivia Campbell Andersen were elected. Long-serving Board member Richard Rubin and first-time candidate Ian Buchanan finished fourth and fifth. A recount, mandated by WEC policy for close votes, corroborated the results.

After the meeting, Knowlton congratulated Barnes and Campbell Andersen and thanked Rubin and Buchanan. “Rich has provided a number of years of highly informed service to the members of the Co-op, and we all appreciate it. I also thank Ian for running and volunteering to serve. The willingness to serve is the lifeblood of the cooperative model,” Knowlton said.

2024 Annual Meeting

As 208 members and guests entered the Barre Auditorium for the Annual Meeting on May 3, only 30 submitted their votes in person. Ballot Committee co-chair Nancy Fuller explained that the 767 ballots received by mail had already been counted. Mailed ballots are tracked and stored at the accounting firm Salvador and Babic in Barre, but not opened, Fuller said, until the day before the Annual Meeting. Then, the Ballot Committee alphabetizes all ballots, confirms membership for all voters, and finally begins tallying votes by hand.

It’s as time consuming as it sounds: Fuller said the committee worked from 9:00 AM until 3:00 PM on May 1, and then from 11:00 AM until 4:00 PM on May 2, finishing just before the meeting began. (The recount was completed by the ballot committee on Saturday, May 11).

The 85th Annual Meeting brought a new agenda order as well as a new venue. As members found seats and enjoyed cheese appetizers from Cabot Creamery Cooperative, presentations began: first, a Safety Minute courtesy of Safety and Environmental Compliance Specialist David Young, who gave an affectionate presentation modeling how to show care by tending to others’ safety: what he called “packing their parachutes.” These behind-the-scenes acts include salting icy steps, improving lighting, mopping slippery floors, even wiping off the backup camera on his wife’s car. The presentation from meteorologist Roger Hill followed.

Special recognition

After a break for dinner, the business meeting opened with appreciation. President Stephen Knowlton acknowledged the night’s sponsors and several special guests in attendance: Paul Lambert, vice president of Vermont Electric Co-op (VEC), also representing his day job at the Efficiency Vermont table; VEC Treasurer Charles Van Winkle, State Rep. Carl Demrow (Orange-1), Jared Duval and Cara Robechek of Energy Action Network; Doug Smith, chief power supply executive at Green Mountain Power (GMP); and Geetha Ganesan, consultant with the firm Entegre, which is supporting WEC’s implementation of a new metering system.

Knowlton continued with special thanks to WEC’s Committee on Candidates and Ballot Committee. These committees, all members, are dedicated to ensuring the integrity of WEC’s democratic election process, Knowlton said. “They deserve our gratitude for their selfless and dedicated effort,” he remarked.

Knowlton also recognized the contributions of past Directors, including Roger Fox, WEC’s long-serving Vice President, who stepped off the Board in 2023. Also present were Rick Cawley, Michael Duane, Bud Haas, Monique Hayden, and Annie Reed.

General Manager Louis Porter recognized the achievements of three staff members: Pat Smith was recognized for five years of service. Smith joined WEC as an Apprentice Lineworker and is now a First Class Lineworker. Beth Ouellette, who has held multiple positions at WEC and is now Senior Accountant, was honored for her 25 years of service.

Porter then recognized Amos Turner, Construction Foreman, with the Manager’s Award for staff excellence. Turner, Porter said, is exceptional for his dependability, somehow appearing to be in multiple places at once. “He always is where he is needed,” Porter said, “and always with good cheer.”

Officers’ remarks

President Knowlton offered a brief meditation on democratic governance. In terms of WEC, he indicated, that’s governing for equity and member well-being within the framework of a cooperative. “Equity is at the heart of what it means to be a cooperative,” he confirmed. Without offering specifics, Knowlton warned some values that may appear self-evident may not necessarily be so for other stakeholders in the state, and may lead to policies that may not address complexities in supplying electricity reliably and affordably to our members. Ratepayers, he said, need to be aware of these complexities. “My message to you tonight,” he said, “is your Board is trying to protect your rights as ratepayers within the regulatory framework within which we operate.”

Treasurer Don Douglas announced that Co-op revenue is up, in part due to 2023’s rate increase. Also, 2023’s storm costs exceeded a million dollars. “Well, even though [storms] cost over a million dollars, we still made all of our covenants,” he said proudly. Douglas reminded members that capital credits set electric co-ops apart from investor-owned utilities, and that since 1998, WEC has returned $9,697,000 to its members. He also congratulated the finance department on another clean audit.

General Manager Porter reflected that WEC began “during a turbulent time in the electrification of Vermont.” After a long period of relative stability and reliability, he said, “We’re back in a time as turbulent, if not more, so than 85 years ago.” That turbulence comes from rapid changes: in how electricity is generated and stored, in Vermont’s legislative and regulatory environment, and in our climate. Porter asked members to “recognize the incredible changes we are working through to serve you,” and to understand that while change will bring benefits, there will also be costs.

Member Q&A

Angela Manning of Orange described the hardship an extended outage caused an elderly neighbor, and inquired about WEC providing wellness checks, or prioritizing power restoration for vulnerable peoples’ homes.

Porter answered that WEC does maintain a list for wellness checks. During outages, “we contact state authorities to have them check in on individuals we know about,” he said. But the way restoration works, from substation to distribution and homes, no one individual location can be restored until power is restored upstream. “Even if you look out the window and tell us you can see the tree on the line, there may be several other places where lines that feed your line are damaged, and those need to get fixed first for power to be restored to your property,” he explained.

Ken Davis of Middlesex, responding to Roger Hill’s presentation, asked about WEC’s plan for climate change mitigation. Specifically, he asked, does WEC have a formal long term plan, and how will that affect rates?

Porter offered tangible steps the Co-op is taking toward mitigation, including moving power lines from the woods to the roadside and building out a new metering system designed to improve outage response. “And, we are going to have outages, and unfortunately, a lot will last for a long period of time,” he acknowledged. As far as formal plans and impact to rates, he told Davis, electric distribution utilities in Vermont are tightly regulated, “so we have plans on plans of plans,” most of which are publicly accessible to members on But yes, he said, implementing plans costs money, “and that comes through rates, though we’ve recently been successful with grants and FEMA reimbursement.”

Carlos Pinkham of Northfield wondered if the power generated through his net metered solar installation and put on the grid counts toward WEC’s renewable portfolio.

Technically yes, said Porter, but because WEC’s power portfolio is already 100% renewable based on investments made on behalf of all members, “what you’re doing is displacing renewable power with renewable power.”

Michael Thompson of East Montpelier asked if WEC can help its members be more resilient in the face of increasing severe weather and outages. “I resisted for two years buying a fossil fuel generator,” he pointed out, suggesting a program to help members afford battery backup could address multiple Co-op goals.

Porter noted that no, WEC does not yet have a home-based battery program, but “I think you can expect that from us in the next few years.” Such a program would be developed, he said, by adapting other utilities’ programs into a WEC program “that is cost effective, beneficial to individuals, and—this is important to me—does not benefit one member at another’s expense.”

Goddard Graves of East Calais asked about broadband progress. Knowlton noted this work is now led by Communications Union Districts (CUDs) following major federal investments into rural broadband expansion. WEC is still an involved partner in expansion, and its primary role is to make sure its poles are ready to have fiber strung on them.

Angela Manning asked a second question about affordability: how can WEC raise rates when Vermont is aging and so many members live on fixed incomes?

Knowlton pointed out that WEC generates no profit, and collects only enough funds to operate the system. Any excess funds are returned to members. “There’s a lot of concern among a lot of stakeholders about this,” Porter noted, and policymakers are having conversations about subsidizing costs. He noted that if a subsidy is created, he believes it should be implemented statewide, because forced utility-wide subsidy programs would disadvantage rural utilities like WEC.

The evening concluded with door prizes and a brief presentation from Porter on WEC’s outage response.