The 80th annual meeting of the membership of Coastal Electric Cooperative, like everything else in 2020, has been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
For the first time in its 80-year history, Coastal Electric had to conduct the annual meeting without an in-person meeting. Instead, a virtual annual meeting was held utilizing drive-through registration and voting and a live-streamed business meeting hosted on the website.
Two days of registration and voting started on Thursday, Oct. 1 with 1,603 cooperative members registered and voted for trustees in three of the nine cooperative districts. Members elected Johnny Frank to District 3, replacing the outgoing trustee Leon Bryan. They also elected Wendell McDonald to the District 7 seat, beating incumbent trustee Danny Lyons, and re-elected Ian Padgett to District 9. Padgett ran unopposed.
Outgoing Chief Executive Officer Larry Hinz spoke during the online virtual meeting, thanking everyone who was involved in this first-ever drive through and virtual annual meeting. He also gave a report on the financial strength of the cooperative, stating that the co-op has a total of 11,732 active services. Total utility plant grew $1,073,113 (1.7%) from March 31, 2019 to March 31, 2020, increasing to $63.5 million, triple what it was 20 years ago. Capital credits totaling $201,007 were returned in December of 2019 to members under a plan that was approved by the membership at last year’s annual meeting and will return the same amount per year for a six-year period.
Incoming CEO Mark Walling reported, starting off thanking the board for giving him the opportunity to lead this organization forward. He also gave recognition and appreciation to outgoing CEO Larry Hinz for his 27 years of dedicated service to the cooperative and the community and wished him well in his retirement.
Walling also reported on reliability and rates, indicating that rates and money spent on preventing and restoring power outages are related. He shared that the balance between outage and restoration costs and rates is one of the challenges the board faces each year. He said that reliability averages have been improving. Excluding major events, such as hurricanes, tornadoes and ice storms that extend beyond a one-day outage event, outage minutes for a five-year average have declined 44% during the last 10 years. He also said that the Islandton substation mentioned during last year’s annual meeting is scheduled to be in service by the end of the year. This new substation will greatly enhance the service to the Islandton, New Hope and Toby’s Bluff communities and will serve to improve the cooperative’s reliability factor even more.
Walling then discussed rates, saying that wholesale rate projections for 2021 are flat and that there appears to be no need to raise rates in the coming year. This will be the seventh consecutive year without an increase in the energy rates. He said that the 10-year wholesale cost projections are relatively flat but there still remains much uncertainty over the future of Santee Cooper and the co-op must wait and see what the legislature decides to do next year regarding Santee Cooper.