Southern Illinois Electric Cooperative (SIEC) members gathered at Shawnee Community College on Aug. 8 for the 80th annual meeting of members.
Prior to the business meeting, the father/daughter duo Jani and Craig Massey entertained those attending. During the business meeting, members were given updates on the condition of their cooperative by Board President David Martin and Executive Vice President/General Manager David Johnston.
Martin welcomed the crowd and reminisced about how the industry had changed since electric service came to the co-op 81 years ago.
In the beginning, the co-op's two-day annual meeting took on a "carnival" atmosphere under large open-air tents, where the latest electrical appliances could be perused, business could be conducted and neighbors could visit.
Through the years, there have been many changes in the equipment that has been used, how bills have been sent out and collected and how communications occurred.
Today, in the course of a short evening, the annual meeting is held at Shawnee Community College in air-conditioning, trucks and other equipment are safer and allow for faster outage restoration and bills can be paid online. Times have certainly changed.
"But be not mistaken," said Martin, "We have not forgotten our core mission to responsibly and safely provide services to empower our members and communities. Adhering to that mission allows us to provide power for generations, past, present and far into the future."
Johnston reported it was a good year financially for the cooperative, compared to 2017. The co-op sold 198 million kilowatt hours (kwh) of power in 2018, an increase of 20 million kwh from the prior year.
The increased energy sales also boosted revenue. The co-op saw $29.5 million in total revenue, up $3.5 million from 2017, and operating margins were $1.38 million, $1.6 million higher than in 2017.
Johnston said there will be no rate increase for 2019, and capital credits totaling $350,000 will be returned to members in October.
Capital credits are funds remaining after a co-op's expenses have been paid, returned to the members after a period of years and are unique to the cooperative business model.
Johnston discussed the co-op's commitment to safety. In addition to providing employees with many hours of safety training and protective equipment and clothing, the board of directors adopted a resolution for a commitment to zero electrical contacts, which has 100 percent employee commitment.
"Our employees want to work, provide for their families and get home in one piece. They look to senior management and our board of directors to provide a safe environment that allows them to go home just as they arrived. The co-op established the Employee Safety and Engagement Committee this year, which is tasked with, among other things, improving our safety culture by showing leadership, innovation and consistency," explained Johnston, adding, "It is already yielding good things. Our employees have now obtained 45,929 hours without a lost-time injury."
There are many technology advances that are transforming the energy industry, which may be happening faster now than any time in the co-op's history.
"Technologies of the utility sector are unlike any we've seen before, and big corporations are taking notice," stated Johnston. "For example, as a financial leader recently stated, Shell Oil wants to be the biggest power company in the world by the early 2030s by providing consumers just like you with a total package of energy products and services," said Johnston.
Another force of concern involves the environment. The co-op is weighing environmental stewardship with power supply and cost. Illinois co-ops have been proactive in working to conserve the environment. They currently generate 10.8 percent of their power from renewable sources, versus 7 percent from investor-owned utilities. A portion of SIEC members' power is generated from renewable sources such as wind farms, hydropower and solar panels.
But embracing renewable energy is occurring, and decarbonization bills have been introduced that would require Illinois to have 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2030.
"Right now, if we were to eliminate every fossil fuel plant in the state of Illinois, we would have to purchase power from neighboring states," said Johnston.
He added while the co-op's power supplier, Southern Illinois Power Cooperative, is financially healthy, it faces many uncertainties with government policy and the future cost and reliability of renewable sources. These issues could negatively affect electric rates.
He urged meeting attendees to become educated on these issues by contacting their elected officials, promoting local democratic control of the cooperative and getting involved.
In closing, Johnston reminded the audience that SIEC's founders faced bigger challenges in 1938 when nobody wanted to bring power to rural areas "The founders of this cooperative turned a disruption in their lives into an opportunity," he said. "Let's do the same. Let's leave this cooperative better than we found it."
During the meeting, members demonstrated the cooperative principle of democratic member control by electing three board members to new three-year terms. They include Lamar Houston Jr., Alexander County; Bob McIntosh, Pulaski County; and Scott Ury, Union County.
Following the meeting, all eligible senior students participated in a drawing for two $500 scholarships. The Richard Moss Memorial Scholarship and the Southern Illinois Electric Cooperative Scholarship will be issued to winners once enrolled at a higher learning institution.
Southern Illinois Electric Cooperative is a member of Touchstone Energy -- an alliance of 730 local, consumer-owned electric utilities around the country. SIEC is committed to providing superior service based on four core principles: integrity, accountability, innovation and commitment to community. The co-op serves more than 11,231 meters over 2,101 miles of line in parts of Alexander, Johnson, Massac, Pope, Pulaski and Union counties.
For more information visit www.siec.coop.