RIO GRANDE — Approximately 900 members and guests attended the annual meeting of Buckeye Rural Electric Cooperative on Aug. 8 at the Lyne Center at the University of Rio Grande.
Board president David Lester opened the meeting by introducing the nine members of Buckeye’s board of trustees.
“We have a great deal of experience on this board with a combined total of 211 years, and that experience serves us well in representing you, the members of Buckeye Rural Electric,” he said.
Lester also recognized Buckeye’s crew of Matt Hall, Mark Thomas and Aaron Lawhon, who recently pulled a man to safety after his vehicle floated down a creek after a torrential rain storm.
“We believe that their quick thinking and actions may have saved his life,” he said.
In her remarks, Executive Vice President and General Manager Tonda Meadows introduced three new Buckeye REC employees — Kent Eldridge, vice president of member services; John Troester, engineer; and Maggie Rucker, chief financial officer. She also recognized the cooperative’s $1,000 scholarship winners of Hunter Hall of South Point and Austin Collins of South Webster, as well as recognizing the $750 scholarship winners, Dillon McFann of Pedro and Dana Jolley of Albany. The winner of the Touchstone Energy Achievement Scholarship was Ashley Cornell of Proctorville, and the Buckeye representative on the 2015 Youth Tour to Washington, DC, was Grant Hawthorne of Proctorville, Meadows said.
Among the work performed by the cooperative last year was replacement of old copper wire and the addition of protective devices that will help linemen find problems more quickly and to help reduce the number of members affected by each outage, Meadows said. In addition, Buckeye installed equipment that would allow the cooperative to re-route electric service through other lines while performing maintenance work or during an outage, “ultimately resulting in less time that you are without electricity,” Meadows added.
Meadows said that in 2014, Buckeye managed tree and vegetation growth along 613 miles of right of way, removing trees that had the potential to interrupt service, and side-trimming 181 miles of wooded areas to provide clearance for lines.
“Maintaining the 2,600 miles of line and 18 substations on your electric distribution system for maximum reliability is a never-ending mission that we take very seriously, and we are constantly seeking more effective ways to improve our maintenance practices,” she said.
Meadows said that employees at Buckeye REC continually strive to keep operating costs low. She made a comparison of operating costs for 2007 and 2014 and found that controllable expenses increased by less than 5 percent during that period, almost half of which can be attributed to right of way clearing expenses. In addition to keeping costs down, Buckeye REC was able to return more than $1.5 million in capital credits in 2014, Meadows said.
Meadows said that the cost of wholesale power has increased by more than 50 percent since Buckeye Power, the generation and transmission cooperative jointly owned by Buckeye REC and the other distribution cooperatives across Ohio, has invested approximately $1 billion in environmental controls at Cardinal Station, its power plant, as well as an additional $300 million at the Kyger Creek and Clifty Creek plants to comply with requirements from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
“As a result, we now have one of the cleanest coal-fired generating plants in the world,” Meadows said.
Craig Grooms, vice president of market operations for Buckeye Power and for Ohio Rural Electric Cooperatives, the statewide association of electric cooperatives, also addressed the crowd, making reference to other recent actions by the EPA with potential future impact on members’ bills.
On Aug. 3, the EPA released its Clean Power Plan, containing the final rules calling for a reduction by 2030 of carbon dioxide levels by 32 percent, compared to 2005 levels. The plan is targeted at existing power plants and takes a multi-block approach by increasing the efficiency of coal plants and by increasing the amount of electricity generated by natural gas combined cycle plants and by renewable energy sources.
“As we all know, the end-use consumer of electricity will have to pay the bill for all of this,” Grooms said.
Among the many concerns BP and OREC have over the EPA’s plan is whether the EPA has the legal authority to issue a rule that attempts to regulate the entire electric industry. “Also, we’re concerned about the costs of transitioning away from power plants that have multiple decades of useful operation life left to new resources that aren’t as reliable or cost-effective,” Grooms said. After the $1 billion investment in pollution control equipment to meet other EPA regulations, “for them to force new costs on to the distribution co-op members is not fair,” he said.
“While we’re still reviewing the new rule, it’s likely that we’ll need your help to get the message out that affordable and reliable electricity is of great importance and that implementing these new rules will come with great costs and few benefits,” Grooms said.
Buckeye REC serves more than 18,600 members in parts of Athens, Gallia, Jackson, Lawrence, Meigs, Pike, Ross, Scioto and Vinton counties.