Looking back on the year

CEO shares annual meeting remarks

Posted on Aug 05 2021 in Miami-Cass REMC
Rob Schwartz

Each year, as Miami-Cass REMC’s CEO, I am given the privilege of addressing you, our members, at our Member Appreciation Day/Annual Meeting. Here are a few highlights from my address to those in attendance at the meeting:

It truly has been a strange year and a half as we find ourselves at another virtual meeting. Unfortunately, due to the unknowns of the pandemic and for the safety of our members and employees, we made the decision to hold the meeting virtually. We are planning to have the event in person next year. 

Our elections were not contested this year, and Jim Savage, Don Willson and Scott Marschand all confirmed they would remain as directors for at least three more years in their respective districts. 

As for the co-op, we have had a pretty normal year. The storms still came, and we did our best to keep the lights on. Our outage time went down from the previous year, averaging about an hour and half per member. In 2019, members saw an average closer two hours. We did see a little uptick in growth, adding close to 60 new meters.  

Financially, the co-op remains strong. We saw positive margins for 2020 and have started 2021 strong as well. This means that we don’t foresee a rate increase for at least two more years. 2021 is the eighth straight year without an increase.

One of the major projects we completed was the refurbishing of our Bunker Hill substation. We are also working with Wabash Valley Power Alliance, our power supplier, to add a transmission and distribution tie line between our Bunker Hill and McGrawsville substations. Our current plant worth now exceeds $40 million. 

With the new political administration, we are in uncertain times when it comes to energy. Energy rates have remained stagnant for the last five years; however, if the push to increase renewables and the war on fossil fuels and nuclear remains, the cost of electricity will skyrocket. The demand for electricity isn’t going down, and with the influx of electric vehicles, it will only increase and renewables simply cannot keep up with the demand. There has also been talk and actions taken to slow down natural gas production. Natural gas is the go-to fuel for peaking plants. These types of plants are usually offline waiting for electric use to spike and can be fired up very quickly. 

If you recall from last year’s meeting, I spoke about the purchase of Broadway Broadband and our intention to build out fiber and high-speed internet throughout our service territory and beyond. Quite a bit has happened since then. We have been working with the commissioners of Miami and Cass counties to offer low-cost or free internet to county students who cannot afford it or are in an area where service is poor or simply does not exist. All the schools in each county supplied us with a list of students they identified as being in need.

Broadway Broadband also entered the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF). It provides funding over a 10-year period to companies that can supply fiber and internet to areas not being served at 25-3 MB speed (25 down and 3 up). We were awarded funds for close to 550 miles at close to 50% of the cost to build. Broadway Broadband has six years to build these miles and to serve them.

Your cooperative also applied for a USDA grant and should know the outcome in September. There are more opportunities for grants coming with the stimulus packages that we will pursue to help fund and speed up our fiber deployment. Currently we have fiber deployed at Eagles Point and to our office and surrounding businesses. There is also fiber from our office to our Twelve Mile substation which is currently being spliced and was ready for individual installations in July. 

As you can imagine, with the push to get fiber out by us and many other entities, the demand for fiber material is through the roof. The current lead time to get fiber is approximately 42 weeks along with other hardware. We have a good amount of fiber right now but are still waiting for pieces and parts. 

If you have been by the office, you may have noticed a new addition to our property. We recently built a building to house our fiber company and employees. We currently have 11 full-time fiber employees along with current REMC employees who assist in various applications. We will likely need to expand our employee base by a couple more installers and/or splicers to service our customer base, which is now close to 1,500.

I also want to take time to thank all our directors and employees for a great and productive year. Miami-Cass REMC will also be saying goodbye to a long-time employee. Kim Burton has announced his retirement at the beginning of 2022.  Kim started as our member service representative and moved to office manager in 2014, along with his member service responsibilities. Thank you, Kim, for your time with us.

 I hope to see everyone in person next year as we get back to normal.