For the past two years, our world — and more specifically northeast Indiana — has been turned upside down due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Throughout this period, people hunkered down and stayed at home for the most part, as life as we knew it changed. The way we worked, shopped, educated our children, and even visited our friends and family were radically altered to include virtual realities as opposed to face-to-face interactions. In some respects, it seemed as if the world stopped or at least considerably slowed down to a point where it was easy to feel like time and opportunity were lost.
However, I would contend that 2020 and 2021, while difficult, were not totally lost, particularly as they pertain to your cooperative. We were able to use this slow down to recommit ourselves to our past and rejuvenate our efforts to providing electric service to you, our members, in a manner to improve your quality of life.
In addition to our office being open and staffed every day, your cooperative added two new substations to our system this past year to help service new loads and increase both capacity and reliability to the northwest and southern portions of our service territory.
Our continuity of service last year remained well above the national norm, despite some power supply issues and spring storms. In fact, our overall outage numbers were about half of what we experienced 2020 giving us an availability rating of 99.92%.
Some of this is certainly related to the severity of the storms, but it also has a lot to do with our maintenance programs and the dedication and diligence our employees exhibit in outage restoration. They are truly second to none.
Looking at the statistics, you can see how busy and productive 2021 was for your cooperative, with a 6.7% increase in sales and 116 new services added, which in turn helped to reduce our average retail price per kWh to 11.12 cents. Operating margins were also strong, finishing the year with about $550,000 prior to adding patronage from Wabash Valley Power and federal funding we received through the Cares Act as part of the Paycheck Protection Program.
Last year, my report spent a great deal of time talking about broadband internet service and how we were planning to take the lead in bringing fast, reliable internet to northeast Indiana. Since then, we have been working extremely hard on many of the necessary, behind the scenes steps to make this a reality. For starters, we acquired nearly 200 miles of dark fiber from the Steuben County Community Foundation in January 2021. This network will be utilized as a bridge to our fiber to the home network (FTTH) we are building to our members.
In addition, we upgraded our billing software and Geographical Information System (GIS) data in order to complete the engineering design phase. We have also acquired IP addresses and Internet service connections needed to bring this new service to life.
Currently, we are working on our make-ready assessments in Phases I and II, which include the western portion of our service territory and the lakes region north of Angola. Along the way, we are making the necessary improvements to poles and facilities needed to handle the added load from the new fiber cable. Following closely behind this process is the actual installation of the primary fiber cable and the lighting up of both the dark fiber network and the new fiber-to-the-home additions.
In July, we will begin installing the service drops and hooking up members to one of three options — 100 Mbps, 500 Mbps and 1 GB packages priced at $64.95, $79.95 and $99.95 per month respectively.
We encourage interested members to pre-register now to avoid potential construction costs should we need to circle back once our crews have left an area. Online pre-registrations can take place at our website, www.remcsteuben.com, or through your SmartHub application. We intend to complete Phase I and move directly in to Phase II later this year. Deployment into Phase III, which included the eastern portion of our service territory will begin in 2023 and finally reach our members in the southern portion of our territory in 2024.
The past two years have certainly been difficult, but I would like to leave you with a thought from Dr. Robert Schuller that keeps things in perspective, “Tough times never last, but tough people do.” I believe our members have demonstrated this virtue throughout our history. Back in the 1930s, the people of northeast Indiana created Steuben County REMC to bring electricity and an easier way of life to our region. Along the way, we have faced countless challenges from economic down turns, wars, and even pandemics. Out of all those trials, our members have persevered by working collectively though Steuben County REMC. With your continued help and strength, we plan to keep you connected and successful in to the future.