wilderness with snowy mountains in background

Reflecting on 2020

Posted: January 1, 2021
Mark Hayden, GM

Happy New Year to you, our valued members!

With the passing of each year, we are reinvigorated by feelings of optimism, excitement and hope – hope that the year ahead is even more rewarding and memorable than the last. As we close the door on 2020, a year that tested us with unprecedented challenges, those feelings are amplified. Although January 1, 2021, was just “the next day on the calendar,” it had a different meaning this year. It meant that the COVID-19 vaccine was being mass produced, that masks might be a thing of the past, and that gatherings, handshakes, water cooler conversations and “business as usual,” may soon resume.

During the pandemic, power companies were deemed an “essential service.” As such, we were met with many challenges in the way we operate our business. However, we powered through, largely thanks to our Board and our employees.

First and foremost, our team was adaptable and ready for change at a moment’s notice. Secondly, our employees were respectful of their peers and our members. Employees were required to wear masks and commit to workplace sanitation and hygiene standards recommended by the CDC. Additionally, a majority of our team was divided into small pods, to safeguard our ability to deliver reliable power if a quarantine was required. Another portion of our staff was sent home and asked to work remotely for the foreseeable future. Weeks turned into months, and Zoom meetings replaced hallway banter, conferences and in-person trainings and meetings.

Our members also deserve recognition. You remained supportive, patient and flexible, as we adapted to the everchanging healthcare and state mandates. For the first time in 84 years, we made the decision to cancel our Annual Meeting, which was scheduled for March 21st, mere days before the Stay-in-Place order was issued in Montana. We closed our lobby, postponed member events and delayed or cancelled a handful of programs and projects. Although Coronavirus is still an active threat to the health and safety of our community members, the past year showcased the resilience and dedication our members and employees have to their Cooperative.

Similarly, MEC is committed to our members. As a member-owned utility, MEC strives to uphold a commitment of service excellence, while delivering safe, affordable, and reliable electricity. It is because of this commitment, that projects like the El Mar Estates Upgrade Project, are identified on an annual basis. In August, our team excitedly launched this two-year project, which will replace failing underground power lines, installed nearly 40 years ago, with modern, reliable lines. Community members can expect improved reliability in the near future. For a comprehensive project overview, construction updates and FAQ’s, please visit elmarpowerupgrade.com.

In 2020, Tree Trimming Crews focused on the goals outlined in our System Maintenance and Reliability (SMART) Program. This aggressive vegetation management plan sets targets for inspection and trimming of our rights-of-way to maintain the safety and reliability of our overhead distribution system.

I’m proud to report that in 2020, our crews inspected and trimmed 50% of our service area, which is not an easy feat, considering MEC’s 2,000+ miles of line. We strive to match these efforts in 2021. While the SMART Program was created to reduce nuisance blinks and outages, it will also greatly reduce the risk of powerline-sparked wildfires

The Northwest has experienced some of the most devastating wildfires in the nation’s history. In 2017, a record 1.4 million acres burned across Montana, alone. Last summer, MEC developed an actionable five-year Wildfire Mitigation Plan (WMP) to prepare for, and respond to, future wildfire events.

Wildfire mitigation plays an essential role in MEC’s operational practices. Our existing policies, procedures and programs directly, or indirectly, work to manage or reduce this risk and minimize the probability that our assets are the point of origin, or a contributing factor, in the ignition of a wildfire. Additional programs, technologies, practices and trainings will continue to be adopted to further mitigate the potential for ignitions, and more effectively prepare for, and respond to, wildfires.

The past year presented all of us with challenges, but it also presented us with opportunities for growth, incited significant accomplishments and left us with a deeper appreciation for the normalcy found in “every day” operations and interactions.

With 2020 behind us, we welcome the new year with a positive mindset, operational priorities and strategic goals that will help us continue providing affordable, safe and reliable energy to our members, for years to come.