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Co-op Annual Meetings Go Virtual

By |2020-06-22T10:15:09-04:00June 22nd, 2020|MECA News|

From social distancing to face coverings, the coronavirus pandemic has forced the world to adapt to new ways of doing things. For many cooperatives, this includes creative solutions for the annual membership meeting.

Earlier this month, Cherryland Electric Cooperative and Alger Delta Cooperative Electric Assn. held virtual annual meetings online—a first for both co-ops.

Incumbent directors Tom Van Pelt and David Schweitzer were reelected at the Cherryland meeting. Eleven percent of Cherryland’s members voted in the election—70% of the votes were cast online and 30% were mail-in ballots.

The event was live-streamed with multiple camera angles on Facebook and YouTube, but only board members with a speaking role were able to attend in person. Members were encouraged to submit their questions on the social platforms, while directors in attendance stayed 6-feet apart and only removed face coverings when speaking at the podium.

“We’ve live-streamed previous annual meetings using a phone, but the upgraded technology setup we used this year will enable us to broadcast an enhanced live-stream in future years,” said Rachel Johnson, Cherryland’s member services manager.

Incumbent directors Ivy Netzel, Kirk Bruno and Ray Young were seated at the Alger Delta meeting. The event was live broadcast via Zoom webinar, with each director attending on separate devices at the co-op office in order to maintain a safe social distance. Members were invited to submit questions via the Zoom platform.

Both co-ops expressed a preference for in-person annual meetings, but lessons learned from this year’s virtual events could help make annual meetings more accessible for co-op members in the future.

“We hope to do a hybrid approach next year,” said Amanda Seger, Alger Delta’s CFO. “We want to get back to in-person, but adding a virtual option just makes sense.”

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Electric Co-ops Suspend Disconnects

By |2020-04-21T11:44:12-04:00April 17th, 2020|Uncategorized|

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Michigan electric cooperatives have temporarily suspended disconnection of delinquent electric and gas accounts. While not required, all Michigan co-ops have agreed to abide by a non-disconnect affirmation that largely mirrors a Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) order which directs investor-owned utilities to suspend disconnects and waive late fees until June 1.

However, this effort to support member-consumers in crisis is not a bill waiver. Co-ops will continue to work with delinquent members on deferred payment plans and other assistance. NRECA also believes there is a strong possibility that Congress may tie future energy relief dollars to co-ops participating in statewide moratoriums.

By signing the non-disconnect affirmation, electric cooperatives confirm that the following minimum protections are in place for vulnerable customers related to bill payment, disconnection of service, and reconnection of service:

  1. Protections for Michigan’s low-income customers and seniors – Suspend disconnections for Michigan’s most vulnerable populations, low-income and senior customers, through June 1, 2020, and waive late fees for eligible low-income customers receiving energy assistance.
  2. Protections for customers medically affected by COVID-19 – Allow for customers exposed to, quarantined, or infected by COVID-19 to be eligible for an additional 30-day medical hold to suspend a disconnection service. The criteria and eligibility provisions for this medical hold are in addition to those set forth in Mich Admin Code, R 460.130.
  3. Restoration of electric and gas service – Waive deposits and reconnection fees for low-income customers, seniors, and customers experiencing financial hardship related to COVID-19 and seeking restoration of electric or natural gas service.
  4. Offer financial and customer assistance – Extend access to and flexibility of payment plans to customers financially impacted by COVID-19 and provide customer assistance personnel with the resources necessary to connect customers to available financial assistance and social service agencies.
  5. Safeguard customers and workforce employees – Safeguard customers and utility workers by limiting face-to-face contact through the closing of office lobbies, focusing efforts to provide emergency and critical infrastructure-related activities, and adopting COVID-19 best practices as outlined by the State of Michigan and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Suspending disconnects is one of many steps that co-ops have taken to reduce stress and provide local families and businesses with certainty during an uncertain time.

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Online Safety Training Resources Now Available

By |2020-04-17T15:08:42-04:00April 17th, 2020|MECA News|

MECA has launched a new online “Safety Shorts” video series for safety program partners during the COVID-19 crisis.

“Traditional classroom-style safety training is still the most effective approach,” says MECA safety director, Joe McElroy. “But we want to provide some meaningful safety resources until we can get back to meeting face-to-face.”

The short, focused videos are designed to keep safety issues fresh in the minds of operations employees. Each safety short includes a quick 8-10 minute video and talking points for guided discussion. Key operations supervisors and safety staff at each MECA safety partner utility have been given login access to review the material and share with their teams.

“In times of crisis, research shows that employees respond to safety information better when it comes from their supervisor,” explains Tom Ulatowski, MECA safety & loss control instructor. “We designed the program to ensure supervisors play an active role.”

Safety Shorts can be found under the “Safety & Mutual Aid” tab on the MECA website. New topics will be added regularly.

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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.

ACCESS COURSES

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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