BRMEMC Annual Meeting 2011 - Manager's Speech

Good Morning. Welcome to the 72nd Annual Meeting of the Blue Ridge Mountain Electric Membership Corporation. My name is Matthew Akins and I am the General Manager. I would like to begin this morning by introducing your Board of Directors:

  • Mr. Terry Taylor representing Towns County, GA., Mr. Taylor is also the President of the Board
  • Mr. Lenny Parks representing Union County, GA. Mr. Parks is also the Vice-President of the Board
  • Mr. Ronnie Burch representing Clay County, NC. Mr. Burch is also the Treasurer of the Board
  • Mrs. Elois Anderson representing Clay County, NC. Mrs. Anderson is also the Secretary of the Board.
  • Mr. Bill Prather representing Fannin County, GA. Mr. Prather is also Assistant Secretary of the Board.
  • Mr. Bob Ensley representing Union County, GA.
  • Mr. Jack Lance representing Union County, GA.
  • Mr. Jerry Nichols representing Towns County, GA.
  • Mr. Kenneth Lance representing Cherokee County, NC.
  • Mr. Larry Sorgen, legal counsel for BRMEMC.

Let’s give these men and lady a round of applause for their dedication and service on the Board. Also joining us this morning from TVA is Mr. Odell Frye. Also from TVA, Mr. Les Hartman. And from the Georgia Magazine, Mr. Jim Jess. We also have a former Blue Ridge Mountain EMC board member, Mr. George Daves with us this morning. Now, let me provide you with some information about Blue Ridge Mountain EMC and provide an update on some of the projects we have been involved with this past year.

Statistics and Value Added Services

Blue Ridge Mountain EMC now has over 43,000 members with more than 49,000 electric meters. During the last fiscal year we sold more than 639 million kWh which generated approximately $81 million dollars in revenue. Your Co-op now owns and maintains over 5,800 miles of electric distribution lines, more than 32 miles of transmission lines and 10 substations. Our net electric plant value exceeds $131 Million dollars with Total Assets of over $165 Million Dollars. We also offer several other value-added services: Over 2,500 members are enrolled in our water heater maintenance program, 1,500 members are participating in our surge protection program, 400 members in our security monitoring program and over 3,800 members are now subscribed to our broadband services. Blue Ridge Mountain EMC is also continuing to partner with Fidelity Solutions, Inc. to allow them to lease our fiber network to provide telephone services to our members and we have partnered with America’s Center, Inc. to utilize our fiber network to provide high definition TV. We also continue to use the fiber network to communicate with our substations and other power system equipment in order to provide more reliable electric service.

New Headquarters Project

Almost six years ago we began discussions and planning for building a new headquarters facility. There are several reasons why we realized the need for a new headquarters facility back in 2006 and these same reasons are still valid today.

First, we have outgrown the facilities we occupy today. Our main administration building was originally constructed in 1955 when we had 7,800 members and 32 employees. Today we have more than 43,000 members and 195 employees. We also have over 120 operations and engineering employees doing their best to efficiently work out of an old sewing plant building that was originally constructed in the 1930’s. Our office employees are doubling up in offices and cubicles designed for a single employee, and we have exceeded our capacity to securely store equipment, inventory, and customer files. Our current location also lacks adequate parking facilities for employees.

Second, we also recognized that fact that building a new headquarters facility would provide job opportunities for local members during the construction phase. Contractors would be purchasing materials and supplies locally and construction personnel would be eating and shopping locally. In an effort to promote local participation we also made the decision to divide the project into three separate smaller contracts. Language was included in the contracts to encourage the bidders to use local sub-contractors, laborers and suppliers. We also required the bidders to provide a list of local sub-contractors and suppliers they intended to contract with. All of this was done in an attempt to make sure that our members were given an opportunity to benefit from and be a part of this project in these tough economic times.

Third, we recognized that this project, in the long-term, would result in savings to our members as interest rates on long-term loans are lower than they have ever been. This is important because the new headquarters project will be financed primarily through a $20 million dollar 30 year, low interest loan from the Rural Utilities Service, a division of the United States Department of Agriculture. This will allow us to spread the cost of the project out over the next 30 years and minimize the impact on today’s rate payers.

Many of you may not know that we had originally planned on trying to construct new buildings at our current location. Due to limited acreage we would have had to build a 3 story building and a two level parking deck. A multi story building would have increased the cost of the project and the parking deck alone was estimated to cost over $1 Million dollars. We would also have had to relocate Brasstown Creek Road which was projected to cost well over 1 million dollars. Facing these factors that were going to inflate the cost of the project as well as the fact that we would still be congested without additional acreage, we decided to search for property and relocate. I guess you could say the rest is history…We purchased the property in 2008 and in August 2009, the Phase 1 general contractor, Panattoni Construction, began working on the grading and installation of underground utilities. This work is now almost complete and the Phase II building contractor, Evergreen Construction, began construction on the buildings in September 2010. A lot of progress has been made and they are working hard to get the buildings “dried in” before cold weather and are projecting a completion date of April 2012.

North Georgia Network

We have also been busy this year with our involvement in the North Georgia Network project. Two years ago, Blue Ridge Mountain EMC partnered with Habersham EMC, North Georgia College and State University, as well as the development authorities of Dawson, Lumpkin, White and Union Counties to form a new nonprofit cooperative called the North Georgia Network Cooperative or NGN. In December 2009, NGN was awarded a $33 million dollar federal stimulus grant through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The grant funds will be used to build a new regional high-speed fiber optic network throughout northeast Georgia. This network will provide additional fiber optic connections to homes and businesses, and will create the speed and redundancy required by clean, high-tech companies interested in starting or relocating a business in our area. BRMEMC personnel have been working hard this year to engineer and construct the portion of the fiber optic network that is inside our service territory. We have constructed over 130 miles in just a few short months.

TVA Generation Partners Program

This past year we have also been very busy working with members who are participating in TVA’s Generation Partners program. Through this program, TVA supports local businesses and homeowners that install small scale renewable generation sources such as solar arrays, wind turbines, biomass, and low impact hydro. For each installed system, TVA pays a $1,000 up front incentive and agrees to purchase 100% of the energy generated at the retail rate plus a premium of $0.12 for solar and $0.03 for wind, biomass, or hydro generation. Due to the amount paid by TVA for the energy generation as well as federal and state tax incentives, interest in this program has skyrocketed this year. There are currently 42 solar arrays and 3 wind turbines in operation on our system today resulting in a total renewable generation capacity of over 11,000 kilowatts. We also have an additional 25 approved projects in various stages of construction that will result in an additional 5,000 kilowatts of renewable generation. When all of these projects are completed they will be capable of generating more than 20 million kWh hours annually, enough to supply approximately 1,600 homes.

Smart Meters

During the past year, we have continued to replace our electric meters with new smart meters. We have now replaced over 35,000 meters and plan to have the remaining 14,000 replaced early next year. The new smart meters communicate over the power lines back to our substations and then the meter readings are sent from there back to our office over fiber optic lines. This results in substantial savings by eliminating the expense of sending meter readers out each month to collect meter readings. The new smart meters will also allow us to provide new services to our members, such as a prepayment option, remote connect and disconnect, daily usage information, and time of use rate options.

Changes in Electric Rates

We also try to give you an update each year on electric rates. This year I have some good news and some bad news regarding electric rates. The good news is that BRMEMC is not planning to implement a rate increase this year. The bad news is that TVA will be implementing a 2% wholesale base rate increase effective October 1. This would result in an increase of approximately $1.60 for a 1,000 kwh residential electric bill… But I do have a little more good news. The fuel cost adjustment that TVA adjusts up or down each month to account for fluctuations in generating fuel costs will be negative in October and will more than offset the base rate increase resulting in an overall lower rate in October.

In closing, let me say that our commitment to your Cooperative remains the same – to provide safe, reliable, affordable electricity as efficiently as possible. As we look to the challenges of the future, we will not lose sight of this goal. I want to thank the Board of Directors for giving me the opportunity to serve as your General Manager and for their dedication and commitment. I also want to thank the Employees of Blue Ridge Mountain EMC. It has been an honor and a privilege to work with such an outstanding group of men and women. And finally, I want to thank each of you, the members, for supporting your Cooperative.