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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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Rave Reviews for Great Lakes Energy Fiber-to-the-Home Internet Service

By |2019-01-18T10:10:20-05:00January 17th, 2019|MECA News|

Fifty lucky subscribers were the first to be connected to Trustream before the end of 2018, and the new fiber-to-the-home internet service from Great Lakes Energy is already receiving rave reviews. Earlier this month,  Bear Creek Organic Farm shared a Facebook post explaining the dramatic impact Trustream has had on their business and in their daily lives:

“IT FINALLY HAPPENED! ON January 10, 2019 we joined the 21st century with high-speed fiber internet from Great Lakes Energy & Truestream.

These internet speed tests are from 6AM today. Until we had Truestream, we used two internet providers because both were inconsistent. We have paid $3000/year for the worst internet of anyone we know for the last 5 years. Now we will pay $800 for some of the fastest internet in the USA.

The numbers don’t lie. Truestream is 40x faster than our HughesNet and 400x faster than our rural Verizon service. And for 75% LESS money with NO contract and unlimited everything.

We could write a book about the ways this internet boondoggle has hampered our business, our daily life, and our essential infrastructure. But we won’t. Rather, this is a story about customer service, surveys, and customer value.

On August 2, 2016, our electric cooperative Great Lakes Energy sent out a ‘quick online survey’ to learn more about their customers’ access to high-speed internet. They were exploring the idea that a power company connecting rural communities to the electric grid might also be able to play a role in connecting these same customers to the high-speed internet the rest of the nation enjoys.

And in a testament to the power of customer surveys (hopefully you answered ours!) the response was staggering. The forgotten rural communities in our great state and nation were lacking access to this basic service. And we had something to say about it!

Fast forward two years. This summer GLE could be seen installing fiber cables on their power lines all around Emmet County. All summer we would wave & thumbs up at the installation crews on roadsides everywhere. And all summer we felt like our prayers had been answered. Somebody listened to their customers. Somebody chose to take on a massive infrastructure challenge head-on. We don’t know how many power companies are also internet providers, but in an era of waning government investment in critical infrastructure- Great Lakes Energy answered the need.

On Wednesday, Cindy from Truestream called our phone. She said “Hi Brian, this is Cindy from Truestream”. Brian replied “Cindy! Why does it sound like I can hear you smiling???” Cindy said “Well Brian, I’ve been excited to make this call to you for a long time.” Brian said “Oh CINDY! This sounds like GOOD NEWS!” And the rest is history.

We know many of our friends are still waiting for Truestream. And Great Lakes Energy knows it too. The road to fast internet has been slow, but GLE has answered the call! If you haven’t signed up for service – do it. Your neighbors are depending on you. Areas with higher interest will receive service sooner. And it will be worth it.

For the first time since Griffin was born, we were able to successfully FaceTime with his grandparents in Florida. No static, no lag, no blurry faces. Just family connecting across time and space the way the internet age originally intended! Now that’s a dream come true!”

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MECA Expands Outreach With MPSC

By |2018-11-16T14:36:08-05:00November 16th, 2018|MECA News|

MECA and its member co-ops have always valued a positive working relationship with the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC). However, since all of the co-ops have transitioned to member regulation in recent years, interaction between the co-ops and the agency has become much less frequent.

While the MPSC no longer regulates rates for co-ops, they do regulate several important issues that impact co-ops, including: energy waste reduction programs (Energy Optimization), the low-income energy assistance fund, capacity demonstration, service territories and code of conduct.

The MECA board recently identified open communication with the MPSC as a strategic priority and approved the hiring of Dan Blair (former MPSC Electric Division Director) to lead this effort in a consultant role. Under the direction of Mr. Blair, MECA and its member co-ops recently held two important outreach events with the MPSC:

Electric Cooperative Foundations
On Oct. 23, MECA hosted an “Electric Cooperative Foundations” session for approximately 50-60 new MPSC staff members at the agency’s offices in Lansing. The two-hour session was facilitated by Doug Snitgen, Executive VP at MECA, and included a significant amount of questions and dialogue from MPSC staff.

“We were really impressed by the level of engagement from the MPSC staff and the quality of questions they asked,” said Craig Borr, MECA President and CEO. “Even though the Commission no longer regulates our co-op rates, they’re clearly aware of what’s going on in the co-op world.”

Broadband Field Excursion
On Nov. 5, MECA hosted a rural broadband field day for MPSC leadership to learn more about electric co-op efforts to bring quality, fiber-speed internet service to rural communities in Michigan. The event, held at the HomeWorks office in Portland, was attended by approximately 20 senior members of both the MPSC and the Michigan Agency for Energy (MAE).

The event kicked off with presentations on co-op broadband deployment efforts by HomeWorks (Mark Kappler, general manager), Great Lakes Energy (Scott Blecke, VP engineering and Steve Drake, CFO), and Midwest Energy and Communications (Bob Hance, CEO).

In the afternoon, attendees visited a HomeWorks broadband connected home. The homeowner, a General Motors engineer, explained how the service allows him to live in the rural community that he loves, and continue to work remotely for his employer, which is headquartered in the Detroit area. He no longer has to rent office space to access a quality internet connection (a $10,000 annual savings!) and said the quality of service he now receives at his home is superior to what he even had available at the office.

Chris O’Neil, Fiber Operations Manager at HomeWorks, concluded the event with several demonstrations to explain how the fiberoptic broadband system works.

View Photos
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Mackinac Bridge Closure Complicates Mutual Aid Efforts

By |2018-09-27T10:13:17-04:00September 26th, 2018|MECA News|

Northern Michigan endured winds in excess of 50 miles-per-hour on Friday, Sept. 21. These powerful gusts took down trees and left thousands of co-op members without power. They also forced the Mackinac Bridge to partially close, which complicated restoration efforts.

Alger Delta Cooperative was hit hard. At the height of the event, about one-quarter of their system was without power (2,500 outages). The co-op reached out to Joe McElroy, safety director and mutual aid coordinator at MECA, for mutual aid assistance on Friday afternoon.

However, this mutual aid request couldn’t be handled the typical way.

Due to strong winds, the Mackinac Bridge was closed to all vehicles except for small passenger cars. As a rule, when winds reach 55 miles per hour, the bridge closes to high-profile vehicles such as trucks and trailers. Mutual aid crews were unable to cross to the upper peninsula with their equipment.

Help would have to come a different way.

Unsure of how long the bridge would be closed, McElroy put in a call to Wisconsin’s Restoration of Power in an Emergency (ROPE) program. Within a few hours, Wisconsin co-op crews were confirmed and headed out. Co-ops that provided assistance to Alger Delta include Pieper Power, Oakdale Electric Cooperative, Eau Claire Electric Cooperative, Bayfield Electric Cooperative, Oconto Electric Cooperative and Ontonagon Electric Cooperative.

Except for Ontonagon, the rest of the support came in from Wisconsin, underscoring the value of being part of the out-of-state mutual aid program.

Co-ops in the lower peninsula also provided aid to each other.

Co-op Outages Mutual Aid
Cherryland  2,500 Wolverine
Great Lakes Energy  17,000 Wolverine, GLE south
PIE&G  16,000 Wolverine, HomeWorks, Bay City, Thumb
Cloverland  12,000 Cherryland

As the weekend wrapped up, so did the outages.

“Thanks to all involved, including Midwest Energy and all of the municipals that stood ready to help if called upon,” said McElroy. “It’s the dedication of all involved that makes our mutual aid program work.”

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Thumb Completes RESAP Audit and Pole Top Rescue Training

By |2018-09-06T10:59:37-04:00September 6th, 2018|MECA News|

The last week of August included a very clear safety focus for Thumb Electric Cooperative (TEC). The co-op completed a Rural Electric Safety Achievement Program (RESAP) audit and provided life-saving Pole Top and Bucket Rescue Training for its operations employees.

“I’m proud of how they’re living up to the RESAP goal of continuous improvement,” said MECA Safety Director, Joe McElroy, commending TEC leadership and staff for their efforts.

Dallas Braun, General Manager at TEC, has positive things to say about the co-op’s involvement with the RESAP program, too. “RESAP is a great program that provides an ‘outside-looking-in’ perspective of the operation of our electric system,” he said. “The process results in a framework to prioritize and plan for continuous safety improvements.”

“There is no doubt this program has had a direct impact on positive safety improvements made at TEC over the past three years,” says Braun. “I expect the same results going forward. We are very fortunate to have MECA providing this program in Michigan.”

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Michigan Crews Spend Holiday Weekend Battling Storm Aftermath

By |2018-09-19T13:29:19-04:00September 6th, 2018|MECA News|

“If there’s going to be a big storm that causes widespread outages, you can bet it will probably happen over a holiday,” claims Joe McElroy, safety director and mutual aid coordinator at MECA.

Turns out he may be onto something.

That was certainly the case last week as a large-scale outage event took place over the Labor Day holiday. Storms raced through Michigan on Tuesday night, Aug. 28, leaving a wake of destruction behind them. The National Weather Service confirmed five tornados touched down, with winds up to 100 miles per hour.

The storms caused outages for all MECA member co-ops in the lower peninsula, but Great Lakes Energy was the hardest hit. The co-op restored power to more than 46,800 members affected by tornados, wind and rain. Thankfully, they didn’t have to face the task alone. Great Lakes Energy received mutual aid support from multiple co-ops (Alger Delta, Cherryland, HomeWorks and Wolverine) and municipalities (Bay City, Chelsea, Escanaba, Hart and Traverse City).

All together, Great Lakes Energy received help from 34 additional electric crews and 45 tree crews. The teams worked tirelessly all week long and through the holiday to restore power for all members. Restorations were completed by Tuesday, Sept. 4, which means some members were out of power for up to a week.

The damage was extensive,” said McElroy. “Several contractors said it was the worst they had ever seen.” Great Lakes Energy alone had over 364 broken poles, a new record the co-op doesn’t want to revisit.

Many other departments worked long days and nights, too, including dispatchers, member service reps, purchasing staff, vegetation management, IT, engineering and bird-dogs from many departments. Members were able to stay informed during the extended outage through the co-op’s website and Facebook page. GLE added over 800 new Facebook followers and fielded over 200 private messages through the social media platform during the course of the event.

Restoring power in this type of event requires a tremendous amount of team effort. As the next holiday rolls around, you can bet McElroy and the mutual aid partners will continue to monitor the weather closely, always prepared to spring into action.


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