A Review of Your Co-op In 2022

Posted: January 1, 2023
Mark Hayden, GM

Manager’s Message

It is with enthusiasm that I welcome 2023 and wish you, our valued members, a Happy New Year. As we enter the new year, it is important to look back and celebrate the accomplishments of the year gone by.

Let me begin with the continued growth we have seen in and around our service area. In 2022, the pace of new construction requests for homes, businesses and subdivisions remained strong. In total, the Operations Department installed 306 new services, and closed 4,874 service orders and 543 work orders between January and October 2022 (November and December numbers were not reportable at the time of publication).

I am also proud to recognize the many accomplishments of our team. Last year, MEC saw zero lost-time accidents, which is a significant nod to our team’s dedication to safety, as well as our Safety Program manager, Sean Eskridge. The Safety Program also received an award from NWPPA for MEC’s dedication to a safe working environment. Another National award was presented to our Communications Department by NRECA. Their Spotlight on Excellence Awards Program “recognizes outstanding work produced by electric cooperative communication and marketing professionals across the network”. In 2022, our Manager of Communications and PR, Kelsey Lodge, was awarded with a Silver Award for MEC’s latest ad campaign, “Taking Electricity to New Heights”. Two additional awards I would ask that you help us celebrate are the Montana Electric Cooperatives’ Association Life Saving Award, presented to Greg Flesch, and the Cooperative Spirit Award, presented to Scott Randles. These two outstanding individuals positively impact our members and community each day, and truly represent the Cooperative values.

In 2022, the Co-op announced that there would be no rate increase, marking six years without one. However, a 2021 Cost of Service study revealed that opportunities existed that would ensure members were being charged more equitably. To give members additional control of their electric bills, and more closely mirror the way our wholesale power provider, Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), bills the Co-op, we implemented a revenue-neutral rate design. This rate restructure reduced the kWh energy charge while establishing a peak charge, similar to BPA’s rate structure. With the new rate design, members can take advantage of shifting household chores, like running a washer and dryer, to off-peak times, to reduce their electric bills.

Another noteworthy success from 2022 was the ribbon cutting ceremony for MEC’s first public electric vehicle (EV) charging station located in Seeley Lake. This is not only the first public rapid EV charger in the Seeley Lake community, but also in our service territory. The charging station features a direct-current, fast charger, and a single-head level-two charger. The fast charger can provide 200 miles of range, per hour spent charging, while the level two charger, can provide 25 miles of range. The installation expands accessibility to a new category of travelers making Seeley Lake a possibility when EV travelers are planning a road trip.

When reminiscing about events from 2022, I want to be sure to mention the Electrify the Big Sky Conference, which was held at the University of Montana in mid-September. Along with MECA, MEC hosted over 330 individuals from across the state as both local and national guest presenters addressed the topics of beneficial electrification, EVs and the future of electricity. Attendees also participated in an outdoor EV and Technology Trade Show, featuring the latest in electric vehicles and recreational equipment.

Last year, work continued on MEC’s Wildfire Mitigation Plan (WMP). As wildfire occurrences continue to rise in the Northwest, the Cooperative’s policies, procedures and programs must help manage or reduce the risk of system-caused wildfires. The Cooperative’s approach to wildfire prevention relies heavily on the WMP, which outlines the Co-op’s ongoing efforts to mitigate wildfire ignitions by employing various operational and maintenance strategies. In other words, it helps the Co-op analyze and address potential risk factors of wildfires. In 2022, MEC’s Right-of-Way crew received the support of two Asplundh contract crews, which allowed us to be timelier and more effective with the inspection and clearing of high priority areas. Aside from the annual tasks outlined in our WMP, our crews stepped up maintenance efforts by performing service reliability. This involved adding cover-up to exposed parts, changing old connectors and replacing worn or outdated equipment. Last year, we had a contract crew dedicated to service reliability in the Double Arrow and an MEC crew working on the Lolo and Florence areas. The Co-op will continue to allocate resources to address wildfire mitigation throughout our system in the years ahead.

Over the past year, our team was able to get out of the office to support our community. Twice a year, we gather team members from several departments to clean our adopted stretch of Highway 12 in Lolo. This is a great reason for our employees to spend time together in the great outdoors. Additionally, we rallied the team and raised funds to donate 6,642 lbs of turkey to the Guerilla Turkey Drive, which feeds families in need across Western Montana. To say I am proud to lead this group is the understatement of the (new) year!

Wishing you and your loved ones a blessed 2023.