I think it is safe to say that 2020 was a year that none of us will ever forget. Gone were the days of simply focusing on the complex business of our electric cooperative as epidemiology took center stage of our everyday lives. Government shutdowns, mask orders, social distancing and extra hand washing became just an ordinary part of our everyday lives.
Early on in the pandemic, it reminded me of a major storm, but this time we couldn’t see what was happening or gauge the full impacts of this new kind of storm. I am pleased to report that your cooperative weathered this “new storm” very well and, hopefully, from your perspective, you did not see a change in the great service that you’ve grown accustomed to us providing to you. I am so proud of everything our employees accomplished during this past year despite the increased difficulties created by the pandemic.
Fast forward to today, with the pandemic being well over a year old and the increasing availability of vaccines, I believe it is safe to say that we are all longing for a return to normalcy.
Annual meeting changes and member participation
Southern Indiana Power’s annual meeting has always been a place for old/new friends to converse and a look into the future of the cooperative. The main purpose of the annual meeting is to hold elections for the board of directors, share financial information and listen to cooperative updates.
After careful consideration, several changes were planned for the 2020 annual meeting. It was decided to change the annual meeting format to a business style meeting and move it back to Tell City High School. One major change was a new registration/voting option for members beginning in 2020. The major objective behind these changes was to open up access to encourage member participation. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 and 2021 annual meetings had to be conducted virtually with only board members present.
I’m pleased to report that we had 1,154 members register for the 2020 annual meeting and 2,223 members register for the 2021 annual meeting. We are for sure meeting the objective of increased member participation as stated above. We are hopeful that the 2022 annual meeting can return to an in-person business meeting and continue with the mail-in voting option as originally planned.
I am pleased to report that the cooperative did not experience a serious accident or injury in 2020. Since 2008, the cooperative has been recognized for attaining the NRECA National Standard of “Safety Achievement.” I would like to congratulate all employees for this accomplishment and their continued dedication to safety.
As a cooperative, we operate “at cost” so any profit generated at the end of the year is assigned back to you in the form of capital credits. Over time, these capital credits are paid back to members. In 2020, we paid back nearly $600,000 in capital credits to members who received electric service in 1995. This year your board of directors voted to pay back approximately $225,000 in capital credits for the year 1996. All members who had service in 1996 will receive their capital credit distribution in November. Since 2012, the co-op has paid back over $6.5 million dollars in capital credits to our member-owners.
I want to remind you we also began paying out estates in 2018. If you are interested in estate retirements, please contact the office for further details.
Work plan and reliability
One of the main goals of the cooperative is to provide reliable power to all members. We completed year two of our $10 million 2019–22 work plan investing nearly $2 million in system improvements. The four-year work plan includes over 15 miles of 3-phase line extensions, 400 pole changes, approximately 40 miles of single-phase line rebuilds, and an automated metering upgrade. This upgrade will minimize our truck rolls, increase our outage detection capabilities, and increase our engineering analytics across our entire system.
Also, our aggressive right-of-way maintenance program continues all across our service territory in order to minimize service interruptions. The Chrisney and a majority of the Rose Hill substations in Spencer County were completed last year.
Electric rates and cost control
Here at Southern Indiana Power, we strive to keep your electric rates as low as possible. In 2020, we were able to control costs, battle through the Covid-19 pandemic, execute our work plan, and retire capital credits with only a slight increase to members’ electric bills. The slight increase of 75 cents per 1,000 kWh went into effect last April as part of our wholesale power cost tracker.
Resource planning efforts and rate forecasts from Hoosier Energy are showing rate stability over the next several years. The forecast from Hoosier Energy is critical since 77 cents of every dollar you paid in 2020 was passed on for power supply.
Our most recent audit pointed out, that from 2010–20 the average member bill has increased only 20 cents per month. I could not be more proud of that statistic, and I would like to thank employees and the board of directors for their continued efforts to control costs.
Operation Round Up
The Operation Round Up board of trustees awarded grants totaling over $30,000 to help fund much needed community projects and scholarships. By members simply agreeing to round up their electric bills to the next dollar, the Operation Round Up program has been able to fund projects totaling over $440,000 since its inception in 2006. Thanks to all members who participate and make this program a huge success. I would like to give a special thank you to our ORU board of trustees. They are Paul Malone, Michelle Lynch, Randy Kleaving, Amy Ramsey, Roger Hurm, Ed Denning and Gary Waninger.
Southern-PSC fiber partnership update
Southern Indiana Power and Perry Spencer Rural Telephone (PSC) formed a partnership in 2019 to bring fiber optic high-speed internet to all members. Approximately 4,000 members lack access to a quality high-speed internet connection which is nearly 50% of our entire electric service territory. Southern will own the fiber plant, and PSC will provide service to the end consumer.
Engineering estimates of building fiber optics to these areas is approximately $23.7 million. This project will require significant private investment from Southern and PSC. Southern and PSC were fortunate to receive approximately $6.5 million in grant funding from the state of Indiana, and the Spencer County government has committed an additional $2.75 thousand in matching funds toward areas in Spencer County. Combined, this level of funding will greatly assist Southern and PSC in providing Southern members fiber broadband services throughout Perry and Spencer counties.
Currently, mainline fiber is being constructed in both Perry and Spencer counties. The drops to homes and activations are also ongoing in the grant funded areas. The grant funded areas must be completed within a two-year time frame in order to take advantage of the Indiana Next Level state grant program and we hope to complete the majority of the grant funded areas by the end of 2021. Once the grant funded areas are complete, we will shift our focus to the non-grant funded areas. We hope to complete this entire project in a five-year timeframe.
As fiber construction nears your area, Southern and PSC will be in contact with you to bring everyone up to speed on the project, answer any and all questions you may have, and offer sign-up opportunities. Be sure to look for these mailings and announcements in the near future. It is important for all members to know we will not stop constructing fiber broadband until all Southern members have access to high-speed fiber broadband in their area. Until then, we thank you in advance for your patience.
A high-speed fiber connection is definitely in your future. We are delighted our two cooperatives are working together on these important projects. Working together we will get the job done!