Members lauded for dedication to co-op at Annual Meeting
About 1,100 registered members — nearly 2,300 total, counting families and guests — attended Lorain-Medina Rural Electric Cooperative’s annual Family Fun Day and business meeting at the Lorain County Fairgrounds.
While the cooperative’s youngest members enjoyed bounce houses, Jungle Bob’s wild creatures, face painting, balloon art, and “live-line” safety demonstrations by LMRE’s linemen during the Family Fun Day, the business meeting focused on appreciation for members’ participation in the programs of their cooperative.
Board President John Eaton thanked members for answering the board’s call over the past year to tell the Environmental Protection Agency that members cannot afford a $40-$50 monthly increase on their electric bills. LMRE and electric co-ops across the country are calling for the EPA to withdraw its proposals for carbon dioxide regulations at power plants, which come at a high cost with little environmental benefit, and come back with a common-sense approach that considers the wallets of consumers at the end of the line.
“We asked, and you responded in no uncertain terms,” Eaton said. “Ohio sent 120,000 messages,” he continued. “LMRE submitted about 4,250 messages. Of the 24 Ohio cooperatives, LMRE is the sixth-largest in terms of members. Only the largest cooperative in the state sent more messages to Washington than LMRE, and that cooperative has 116,000 members. We have 16,000.
“We’re in a little lull right now, waiting to see whether the EPA changes their proposal. It’s good to know we can call on our members and they will respond. Thank you.”
General Manager Markus Bryant joined Eaton in thanking members for their support, noting that keeping electric rates affordable and competitive is even more challenging with such proposals for unreasonable, ineffective regulations. But the cooperative continues to work hard toward that goal.
“Our ongoing challenge to keeping rates as affordable as possible is maintaining LMRE’s electric lines, especially with little or no growth in new members,” Bryant said, noting that 60 percent of the major power lines have been replaced since 2000.
Even with little growth — LMRE finished 2014 with just four additional meters compared to an average of 300 a year before 2008 — the cooperative has contained costs by refinancing loans and through its federation with North Central Electric Cooperative in Attica.
“Our shared management and services arrangement with our sister cooperative saves us over $1 million per year,” Bryant said.
Thanks to sound financial decisions, the cooperative was able to refund $1.28 million in patronage capital credits in 2014, and LMRE Treasurer Keith Lowe said the board expects to approve $1 million in refunds in 2015, assuming the cooperative remains in a strong financial condition. Cooperatives return excess revenue, called “margins,” back to members as finances allow. Since 1983, the cooperative has refunded $20.2 million in patronage capital credits.
“Our rates are competitive, and yet we still refund margins to our members. That’s part of the value of being a cooperative member.”
Bryant explained another value of being an LMRE member — the value of operating at-cost — during his question-and-answer session, when a member asked how the cooperative will accommodate and pay for private wind and solar power installations at members’ homes and whether they will negatively impact the cooperative.
“Between the two cooperatives I manage, we have the most wind and solar projects interconnected, but we have designed it so they pay their fair share.
He explained IOU customers subsidize the distribution service costs of customers with renewable energy connections because the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio requires they must receive the value of the distribution service and the wholesale portion of the IOUs electric rates.
Yet another cooperative value is concern for community. LMRE’s People Fund has awarded 512 grants since its inception in 1999 and, in 2015, will surpass $1.25 million given back to the community, reported People Fund board Chairman Kathy Fox. Operation Round Up is a voluntary program that rounds up electric bills to the next whole dollar, and those contributions are deposited into People Fund. Grants are awarded to local individuals and organizations in need. More than 90 percent of the cooperative’s residential member are contributing.
In other cooperative business, incumbent trustees James R. McConnell, of Pittsfield Township in Lorain County, Judy A. Pickworth, LaGrange Township in Lorain County and Keith E. Lowe, Homer Township in Medina County were returned to their seats on the LMRE board. All three ran unopposed for the three-year terms.
Lorain-Medina Rural Electric Cooperative is a not-for-profit, member-owned electric utility serving about 16,100 consumers in Lorain, Medina, Ashland, Huron and Wayne counties. For additional information, contact Terry Mazzone, director of communications, member and community relations. To learn more about the cooperative and its programs and services, please visit www.lmre.org.