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New Michigan Laws Clear Hurdles for Co-ops That Choose to Pursue Broadband

By |2020-03-17T14:30:21-04:00March 17th, 2020|MECA News|

Just as cooperatives electrified rural homes and businesses in the last century, they now play an essential role in bringing high-speed connectivity to rural America today.

The Michigan Legislature recently passed House Bills 4266 and 5266, which make it easier for electric co-ops to bring high-speed broadband access to their members.

Three of Michigan’s nine electric distribution co-ops (Midwest Energy & Communications, Great Lakes Energy and HomeWorks Tri-County Electric Cooperative) are currently deploying broadband, with two more co-ops (Presque Isle Electric & Gas Co-op and Thumb Electric Cooperative) actively studying its feasibility. The remaining distribution co-ops are planning or studying the use of fiber optic cable to improve electric service to member-owners and their communities.

Co-ops have used existing electric utility easements for broadband deployment in Michigan for the past five years. While there have been numerous cases in Michigan that support similar use, there have also been recent cautionary tales.

House Bill 4266 authorizes co-ops to deploy broadband infrastructure along existing electric easements, while House Bill 5266 offers consistent standards for pole attachments. Together, these bills are intended to encourage and enable electric co-ops to extend broadband access to rural areas, which will promote connectivity and create jobs.

This legislative change will ensure the uniform application of existing law, and ensure that Michigan’s electric co-ops can continue to use existing easements to extend broadband to homes and businesses in rural Michigan.

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MECA and Its Members Respond To COVID-19

By |2020-03-17T15:33:37-04:00March 17th, 2020|MECA News|

Mandatory shutdowns of schools, businesses and public gathering spaces related to the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic have had a significant impact on our personal and professional lives. But, through all the uncertainty and constantly-changing conditions, Michigan’s electric cooperatives have remained dedicated to keeping the power on.

Safety preparedness and response has always been a vital part of our energy industry, and member co-ops have taken appropriate precautionary measures to protect employees and help prevent the spread of the virus. Most MECA member co-ops have closed their lobbies, equipped employees to work from home, and canceled all non-essential business travel. Many are also asking employees to report personal travel and to impose self-quarantines for 14 days following any out-of-state travel.

Online collaboration platforms are becoming increasingly important as co-ops shift board meetings to virtual conferences and employees grapple with how to best communicate with each other remotely.

The entire member services team at Cherryland began working remotely at the beginning of this week. “It was a bit of a fire drill, but we got everyone set up on Microsoft Teams,” said Rachel Johnson, Cherryland’s member services manager. “We didn’t have time for proper training and we’re working through a learning curve, but it’s going to be a great tool for keeping the team organized and connected.”

MECA is also looking to help protect the health and safety of employees, as well as those the association serves. After careful consideration, MECA has temporarily suspended the delivery of traditional classroom safety training services, and all employees are working remotely.

This situation is fluid and changes quickly. MECA will begin hosting a weekly teleconference call with member CEOs each Friday to give member co-ops a forum to share and discuss issues related to COVID-19.


Resource Alert

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, LinkedIn Learning has made courses on working from home (including training on Microsoft Teams) available for free.

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Crews Spend Thanksgiving Battling Storm Aftermath

By |2019-12-18T10:25:16-05:00December 18th, 2019|MECA News|

No one invited winter storms Dorothy and Ezekiel to Thanksgiving, but they showed up anyway—leaving hundreds of thousands without power over the holiday.

While others were busy planning a holiday feast, MECA safety director and mutual aid coordinator, Joe McElroy, was keeping a close eye on the weather forecast. “Holidays and widespread storm outages seem to go hand-in-hand these days,” McElroy said.

Winter storm Dorothy arrived that Wednesday, bringing wet snow (nearly 24 inches in the U.P.) and 40 MPH winds. On Thanksgiving day, more than 325,000 homes and businesses in the Great Lakes region were left without power.

“The moisture content in the snow was as high as they have ever seen it,” said McElroy. “It froze to the lines and the trees.”

Mutual aid crews were assigned, and restoration was underway on Friday when winter storm Ezekiel showed up.

“We were down to just 40 restorations when the second storm hit,” said Troy Tiernan, operations manager at Alger Delta Cooperative. “It left nearly half our membership without power.”

In the U.P., winter storm Ezekiel brought another 28 inches of snow and whiteout conditions. “The roads were so bad that our crews were getting stuck, said Tiernan. “In some cases, the snow made it impossible to even get to the outage site.” Tiernan described the event as a historic storm for Alger Delta.

MECA exhausted all measures to help members bring the power back on as soon as possible. By Wednesday Dec. 4—a full week after the first storm began—power was finally restored to all members.

“It was the worst storm I’ve ever managed,” said McElroy. “It was call after call, text after text, voicemail after voicemail. The logistics were intense.”

Altogether, seven MECA Safety Partners requested help, including Alger Delta Cooperative, Cloverland Electric Cooperative, Great Lakes Energy, Marquette Board of Water & Light, Midwest Energy & Communications, Ontonagon REA, and Presque Isle Electric & Gas Co-op.

Many of the members who initially requested help were later deployed to help others once their own system was under control. Fifteen organizations sent help, including Cloverland Electric Cooperative, City of Escanaba, Great Lakes Energy, HomeWorks Tri-County Electric Cooperative, Cherryland Electric Cooperative, Wolverine Power Cooperative, Presque Isle Electric & Gas Co-op, Bay City Light & Power, Lansing Board of Water and Light, City of Niles, Mishawaka Utilities, multiple Wisconsin Cooperatives, and Dairyland Power Cooperative.

Restoring power in this type of event requires a tremendous amount of team effort. And, with the Christmas holiday right around the corner, you can bet McElroy and the mutual aid partners are monitoring the weather closely.

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Great Lakes Energy Hosts Washington Official

By |2019-11-06T15:33:56-05:00November 6th, 2019|MECA News|

Three northern Michigan electric cooperatives welcomed the Administrator of Rural Utilities Services (RUS), Chad Rupe, to Great Lakes Energy’s headquarters in Boyne City on Oct. 10.

Rupe visited the area from Washington, D.C. to meet with and learn more about the work of the three local electric cooperatives who all receive loan funding through RUS. Officials from the USDA Rural Development office and the RUS State Director from Missouri also joined in the visit.

Great Lakes Energy’s Chief Executive Officer, Bill Scott, provided information about each of the three co-ops, including Cloverland Electric Cooperative headquartered in Sault Ste. Marie and Alger Delta Electric headquartered in Gladstone.

Scott noted different challenges faced by each co-op and their leveraging of economic development loans and resources to boost local businesses and each area’s economy.

Scott Blecke, Great Lakes Energy’s Vice President of Engineering, spoke of the difficulty of growing and evolving in rural areas without an adequate communications network. He referred to Truestream, the fiber internet service Great Lakes Energy is rolling out to its members, adding that, “Seventy percent of our footprint is unserved by internet other than satellite.”

Rupe observed that co-ops are central to the community, just like a bank or post office. He noted their mission aligns with that of the RUS administration and added that current economic development initiatives co-ops are undertaking, such as delivering high-speed fiber internet services, will provide viability to the communities co-ops serve for future generations.

Pictured above: Great Lakes Energy hosts Chad Rupe, Administrator of Rural Utilities Services (RUS), at their headquarters in Boyne City. Pictured, front row – Shari Culver (Great Lakes Energy), Traci Smith (USDA), Jeff Smith (RUS), Shaun Lamp (Great Lakes Energy), Bill Scott (Great Lakes Energy), Chad Rupe (RUS Administrator), John Fettig (Great Lakes Energy), Mike Heise (Cloverland). Back row – Tom Harrell (Alger Delta), Jason Allen (USDA), Scott Blecke (Great Lakes Energy), Steve Drake  (Great Lakes Energy), Aaron Wallin (Cloverland), Pat Sarve (RUS).

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Alger Delta Earns RESAP Safety Accreditation

By |2019-08-23T11:42:59-04:00August 23rd, 2019|Uncategorized|

Alger Delta Cooperative Electric Association has completed the Rural Electric Safety Achievement Program (RESAP) sponsored by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Electric Association (NRECA) in Alexandria, Virginia.

RESAP is a national safety program in partnership with utility safety leaders and utilizes a framework for continuous improvement to improve safety performance and culture. The program is designed to recognize electric cooperatives for above-average safety performance.

Alger Delta submitted to a two-part process that took place over several months. One part consisted of an on-site evaluation by a team of trained and certified safety professionals from other utilities and the insurance industry. The observation team spent two days examining and evaluating Alger Delta’s facilities, vehicles and equipment, safety and security procedures, operational procedures, and interviewing employees regarding their knowledge and understanding of safety-related work practices.

Another part of the process involves submitting an application that examines and evaluates the documentation of our safety-related work practices, reporting procedures, safety and health policies, accident investigations, corrective measures, training, and other safety-related functions. The application portion evaluates the cooperatives’ documentation and records maintained over the past three years.

“The safety achievement program is notable because it requires teamwork from the board room to the custodian’s closet,” said Tom Harrell, Alger Delta’s CEO. “This program reviews our processes and procedures, but also the culture of safety we’re trying to foster. In this business, whether working on high voltage lines or stacking material in the warehouse, working safely must be a part of what we do, every day, all day,” Harrell added.

Harrell praised the total team effort and all the staff at Alger Delta for doing their part toward supporting the achievement process and evaluation; including Operations Manager Troy Tiernan and Technical Services Manager Shannon Priebe.

According to the NRECA, there are 547 electric cooperatives that have been recognized by the safety achievement program. Alger Delta is one of seven electric cooperatives in Michigan to complete the safety achievement program.

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Thumb Holds 82nd Annual Meeting

By |2019-06-21T15:34:38-04:00June 14th, 2019|Uncategorized|

Louis Wenzlaff, President of the Board of Directors, opened the 82nd Annual Meeting of TEC members held on June 8 at the Thumb Octagon Barn. An estimated 500 people attended the meeting, which was highlighted by the election of four Directors and numerous entertainment activities featured as a part of the TEC Member Appreciation Day and Annual Meeting.

Elected to three-year terms of District 1 were Randall Dhyse, Huron County; Kim Nunn, Sanilac County; and Louis Wenzlaff Tuscola County. Others nominated for a Director position were Steve Bombard, Sanilac County; and Meagan Anderson and Stanley Fox, Tuscola County.

Elected to a two-year term of District 2 was Donald Wolschleger, Huron County. Also nominated for a Director position was Matthew Booms, Huron County.

President Wenzlaff introduced TEC Attorney Jason Bitzer and members of the current TEC Board of Directors, including Donald Wolschleger, Beth McDonald and Randall Dhyse, Huron County; Kim Nunn, Mike Briolat and Duane Kursinsky, Sanilac County; and Jonathan Findlay and Carl Cousins, Tuscola County. General Manager Dallas Braun was also introduced.

President Wenzlaff recognized all TEC employees for their role in achieving a safe and successful year. He also acknowledged and thanked Jan Sageman who recently retired after providing 36 years of service to the cooperative and its members. A moment of silence was also observed for the recent passing of Allan Shaw, who served 35 years on the TEC Board from 1972 thru 2007.

President Wenzlaff introduced Jazmyn Warchuck and Pearl Daskam and they briefly spoke about their experiences as TEC Youth Tour representatives in Washington, D.C. in 2018.

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Alger Delta Hosts 80th Annual Meeting

By |2019-06-14T11:41:17-04:00June 11th, 2019|Uncategorized|

Alger Delta celebrated their 80th annual meeting on June 5.  Four hundred thirty-seven members attended the event at the Island Resort Casino and Convention Center in Harris.  The event included a dinner, business meeting, staff reports and prize drawings. Doors opened early to accommodate the crowd that was lined up outside.

Director Darryl Small opened the meeting with an invocation.  During the meal, Chief Financial Officer Amanda Seger discussed the co-op’s new bill print, pointing out several features of the new design.  Operations Manager Troy Tiernan also spoke, discussing several ongoing projects and work-related developments.  After dinner, Board President Paul Sederquist called the meeting to order and commenced with the seating of the elected directors. CEO Tom Harrell addressed the members and spoke about the co-op’s success over the past 81 years, with emphasis on the highs and lows of the past 15 years in particular.  Harrell also acknowledged the long tenure of President Sederquist and Director Small, having served 30 years and 14 years, respectively.  “These two are, essentially, the elder statesmen of the board” Harrell said.

All incumbents on the board were reseated.

New business included a motion to approve multiple changes to the bylaws.  Director Ray Young chaired the Policy Committee and explained the board undertook a thorough review of the bylaws with the intent of cleaning up outdated language, ensuring compliance with current law, making them clearer, and revising the structure of the document itself. Members agreed and voted to adopt the changes.

The meeting concluded with the awarding of prizes to those lucky members whose ticket was drawn.

“It’s wonderful to see such a good turnout at the annual meeting,” said Harrell.  “This is a great expression of the interest the members have in their co-op and their desire to be involved and engaged.”

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MEC Hits 10,000 High-Speed Fiber Internet Customer Milestone

By |2019-06-11T10:45:40-04:00June 11th, 2019|MECA News|

June marks a huge milestone in the southwest Michigan rural broadband revolution as Midwest Energy & Communications (MEC) installs its 10,000th high-speed fiber internet customer.

In 2015, MEC launched a five-year plan to deploy fiber internet across its southwest Michigan service territory, leveraging the investment in the two-way fiber communications infrastructure on its distribution system to make the best available high-speed option available to all electric customers. Residents in much of the country’s rural space remain unserved and underserved with true high-speed options, and MEC has established a model and approach that is now being implemented by other cooperatives across the country.

“We heard for many years from our electric customers about the need for options. Many were using satellite, DSL or even dial-up and those platforms just don’t cut it in our increasingly digital world,” said Bob Hance, president/CEO. “As a locally-owned cooperative we are committed to building relevant rural communities and ensuring that geography doesn’t limit someone’s scope of opportunity. Fiber internet is changing the landscape in rural southwest Michigan.

“We knew the interest was there, but never imagined hitting this major milestone inside of the five-year mark,” Hance added. “This speaks both to the need for the service and the quality of service that we’re delivering.”

MEC used a grassroots approach to drive the five-year construction plan. Interested customers submitted expressions of interest, and construction plans proceeded based on the areas with the greatest interest.

“Everyone wanted to be first, and had a compelling reason why they needed to be first. We were in the impossible position of having to determine a construction plan, so we placed that firmly in the hands of our customers,” Hance explained. “Someone was always going to be in Year 5, and we’re finally there.”

MEC is celebrating the 10,000th customer milestone by donating $10,000, targeting organizations in communities that fell into the fifth year of construction.

“These communities may be last, but are not least in any way, shape or form. This is one small way we can thank them for their great patience through this process,” Hance said.

Using partnership support from Wolverine Power Cooperative, MEC is making the following awards in June as part of the 10,000th customer celebration:

  • $2,500 to Autumn House in Paw Paw, which provides adult day care services for individuals with memory impairment/dementia, Alzheimer’s, stroke, Parkinson’s and other physical impairments.
  • $2,500 to Lending Hands in Portage, which is a medical equipment loan program that lends home medical equipment at no charge for up to seven months.
  • $2,000 to the Village of Constantine Parks and Recreation Department to support the purchase and installation of new merry-go-round at the local park.
  • $500 to the White Pigeon Care Network to support the White Pigeon Food Pantry.
  • $2,500 to the Hartford Public Library to support the Summer Reading Program.
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Cherryland’s Jim Carpenter Retires After 39 Years of Service

By |2019-02-22T07:42:25-05:00February 21st, 2019|MECA News|

After 39 years of service to the electric cooperative program, Cherryland Electric Cooperative announced that Jim Carpenter will retire as their line superintendent and safety director, effective April 2019.

“Jim’s passion and heart for our members will be missed,” said Tony Anderson, general manager of Cherryland. “We can’t replace the 35 plus years of experience at many different positions.”

Carpenter was hired by Cherryland in October 1979 and held a multitude of different positions, including materials clerk, tree trimmer, apprentice lineworker, and journeyman lineworker. In 1990, he was promoted to operations/maintenance supervisor and safety director. After serving as a safety instructor with the Michigan Electric Cooperative Association (MECA) from 2000 to 2003, Carpenter returned to Cherryland as line superintendent and eventually took on safety director and tree maintenance responsibilities.

During his tenure, Carpenter served as the president of the Utility Workers Union, Local 521. He currently sits on the board of directors for the National Utility Training and Safety Education Association (NUTSEA).

“I have loved my years at Cherryland,” said Carpenter. “It has provided me the ability to network with so many good, caring people. And those are the best kind; people who are focused on the members they serve.”

Carpenter is active in his community, serving at the board level for local educational institutions, credit unions, and nature conservation organizations and frequently volunteering for his church and assisted living homes. In his free time, he is an avid outdoorsman, musician, runner, and wood carver.

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MECA Releases Updated Mobile App

By |2019-02-05T10:00:23-05:00February 5th, 2019|Uncategorized|

MECA recently released an updated version of its mobile app for Apple and Android devices. The app is designed to keep Michigan’s electric co-ops connected with its searchable database of co-op directors, managers and employees, a listing of MECA sponsors, events calendar and co-op news from around the state.

“Users probably won’t notice much change in the overall look or functionality of the app” says Doug Snitgen, Executive Vice President at MECA. “But it’s a big update that really improves performance, data security and administrative back-end.”

Several co-op associations use their own state-specific version of the app, which is licensed through a partnership with the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association (TECA).

“We really focused on performance improvements in this new release,” says Trent Scott, Vice President of Corporate Strategy at TECA. “We now time-stamp each individual piece of data, so when information is updated in the portal (such as names, phone numbers and photos), the user’s device will only download these individual pieces of information instead of the entire dataset. This makes load times much faster whenever the app is launched on a device.”

The new app also uses an improved, password-based access system. However, this means every user will need to complete an automated registration process the first time they use it.

“We know that registering is a small inconvenience, especially for those who have already been using the app,” says Snitgen, “but it will keep our co-op information more secure.”

A highly-anticipated back-end feature has also been included in the new release: co-op level administrative access. This addition allows an authorized individual at each co-op the ability to log into the admin portal and update the director and employee information for their co-op in real time.

The Tennessee statewide worked with a small agency on co-op lines to develop the app, which had its benefits, but also came with some challenges. One of these challenges included illness on the development team that significantly impacted the production schedule. This put all co-op content updates on hold for a while.

“We’ll hustle to help the co-ops get their director and employee information on the app up-to-date in the coming weeks,” concluded Snitgen. “But, overall, I think the new features were worth the wait.”

Click HERE to get the MECA mobile app, or search “Michigan Electric Cooperatives” in your app store.

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