NEW CONCORD -- February's snowstorm went down in the record book for Guernsey-Muskingum Electric Cooperative, a fact recalled by General Manager-CEO Garry Mbiad in his remarks at the 73rd annual meeting April 10 at Larry W. Miller Intermediate School in New Concord.
A crowd estimated at over 2,000, including 815 co-op members, turned out for food, fellowship, prizes and entertainment and to hear reports on the financial condition and progress of their non-profit electric cooperative.
Surviving the storm that paralyzed the area on Feb. 5 and left more than 10,000 Guernsey-Muskingum members without power -- some for up to five days -- topped Mbiad's list of memorable achievements.
"We had 906 outages in all of 2009," reported Mbiad, "but we had about that many from this single snowstorm earlier in the year."
He called it a "high-misery index storm" for the number of co-op members affected; the number of crews and amount of time needed to restore power; and the price tag of over $400,000 in repair costs -- none of which can be offset with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funds because a federal disaster declaration was not forthcoming.
"I've never seen such tired faces on our linemen," Mbiad recalled after the five-day storm cleanup was completed, "but we worked safely and had no lost-time accidents, although the conditions were very difficult."
He thanked co-op members for their "understanding and patience" and their volunteer assistance: "You provided bulldozers, tractors, all-terrain vehicles and cups of hot coffee."
Extra kilowatt-hour sales from cold temperatures in January and February should help mitigate some of the storm's out-of-pocket costs, according to Mbiad.
The snowstorm was a theme of the annual meeting, with several exhibits showing outage response work and the scope of the weather event. Co-op members also shared their photos of the winter blitz, which was the worst to strike the service area in recent memory.
Re-elected to three-year terms on the Guernsey-Muskingum Electric Cooperative Board of Directors were Jim Rex, District 3, and Jay Gray, District 5. They were unopposed in the balloting.
Board Chairman Duane Parks praised co-op employees for having no lost-time accidents in 2009. In a period of economic recession, Parks said the co-op still managed to complete $3.6 million in utility replacements and additions. He also noted that Operation Helping Others, the co-op's charitable community outreach funded by member contributions, logged another successful year, bringing the total to over $153,000 spent to help 294 recipients since the program started.
"I want to thank the Guernsey-Muskingum employees and the co-op's members. You are our assets," Parks said.
Treasurer Jim Rex noted the co-op's assets increased by $1.5 million in 2009. Total equity at year's end stood at $25.7 million (39.7 percent of assets) and the co-op recorded $1.1 million in operating margins.
Special guest speaker Pat O'Loughlin, the chief operating officer (COO) and vice president of Engineering and Power Supply for Buckeye Power, Inc., explained that wholesale rates are increasing for electricity generated to supply Ohio's electric cooperatives, but this is necessary to prepare for the future.
Regulatory challenges and the possibility of climate change legislation thrust the electric industry into an uncertain period, O'Loughlin said.
"Our ability to perform basic and necessary functions -- ensuring that power is available when you want and need it -- has never been more challenged. Permitting new facilities is nearly impossible. Government policy discriminates against the tried and true in favor of the fanciful and untested. Most electric utilities are planning to do very little, or nothing, to prepare, but Buckeye Power and your local cooperative are not taking for granted the need to supply reliable and economical electricity to meet your needs," O'Loughlin said.
Buckeye Power's cost to supply electricity has increased as a result of this planning and investment, but it is still among the lowest in the state.