Tag Archives: WOEC

WOEC Current: Board Approves New Rate Structure

At the regular September Board Meeting, the WOEC Board of Directors discussed and approved restructuring the rate schedule and approved a rate increase effective October 1, 2013. We have heard and considered differing views and respect the right of each member to express their preference in an appropriate manner. We are not doing this because we like high rates, we are doing this as it is our considered position that an increase is required to meet our lender requirements, provide reasonable service and reduce future revenue requirements (less borrowing, lower interest on what we have to borrow based on our financial condition).  We understand the hardships and frustrations that our members face, but we must make responsible financial decisions for the overall wellbeing of the Co-op.

The purposes of the rate restructuring were to: cover the increased costs from BPA to the wholesale power rates of 9% and transmission rates of 11%, cover the cost of debt service to the loans from the four storm events and resulting projects, increase the tree trimming to reduce outages and resulting overtime expense, rebuild the depleted reserve account for future storm events, pay for increased costs of goods and services to the co-op, and to increase debt payments in order to reduce debt load. Reducing the debt load will help bring the equity ratio back up to 35%, allow us to restore borrowing ability for future projects and/or maintenance, and stabilize or even potentially reduce rates in the future.  Read More

The Sounding Board: Why Power of One?

I’ve been asked by my friends with Power of One to talk to you, our fellow members of West Oregon Electric Cooperative.

First I should let you know why we settled on that particular name for our efforts. Think about who we are and how helpless we feel for a second. Alone, we are only one and powerless to exact change, but if our “ones” band together the “ones” gain the power needed to get answers, find solutions and hopefully fix the problems we have before us. And so “Power of One” was born.

The past year we have spent educating ourselves, learning about co-ops in general and our co-op in particular. The final analysis is that no entity-federal, state, county, or city has any jurisdiction over co-ops. Period. We the members have the power and duty to see that our co-op is run efficiently. Yes, we elect a board to represent us, but without some oversight, do we really know that our best interests are being served? I know the board members are all honest and mean well, but it’s these and others like them that have gotten the co-op into such debt. When more than 60% of the total worth of the co-op is debt…well, you decide. Read More

WOEC Board Passes Rate Hike

The Board of Directors for West Oregon Electric Cooperative (WOEC) has approved a 14% rate hike that includes a $2.00 increase to the base rate charge that takes effect on October 1, 2013.

The increase was voted on by the Board following a public meeting to consider the proposed rate increase on Tuesday September 17, 2013..  The public meeting was held in the WOEC Boardroom, which was filled to capacity and spilled over into the lobby of the new WOEC headquarters building.

Co-op members were very vocal in their disapproval of the rate hike and spoke for over ninety minutes, asking the Board and WOEC Management to avoid raising rates.  Board President Robert Van Natta wondered through the crowd, taking comments from everyone who wished to speak. Read More

Farmer Resigns From WOEC

Has been offered the General Manager position at Clatskanie PUD

Marc Farmer, the General Manager of  the West Oregon Electric Cooperative (WOEC),  has resigned   after being offered the full time General Manager position of Clatskanie PUD starting in January.

“I have notified my board that I will be resigning effective the end of December and the search for my replacement has already begun with the application deadline of November 1, 2013,” said Farmer in a written response when asked about rumors that he was leaving WOEC.   “I will continue serving here through the remainder of this year.”

Farmer declined to comment when asked if he had accepted the position at Clatskanie PUD.

Farmer took the position as General Manager at WOEC in July of 2005.

Report from WOEC Monthly Meeting

I attended the WOEC board meeting Tuesday, August 20, 2013. Several items are, in my opinion, noteworthy.

You may have heard that the newest director, Robert France unexpectedly did not show up to the annual meeting. The reason is that he had died suddenly on the Thursday before  the annual meeting of complications from diabetes. The other candidate for the position, Larry Averitt of Cason Road near Banks was appointed as the new District 7 director at the Tuesday board meeting.

Leigh Taylor of CoBank, a cooperative bank, gave a presentation to the board. WOEC already has a line of credit with another cooperative bank, the National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corporation (CFC), but CoBank has some additional advantages.  It appeared that it might be beneficial to WOEC to be members of both cooperatives. The board voted to join CoBank and agreed to pay the $1,000 membership fee. Now, it might seem like a bad idea for financially strapped WOEC to spend $1,000 to join another co-op, but consider:

• Several programs exist to help financially strapped people to pay utility bills. WOEC contributes $5,000 each to Oregon Heat and Care to Share. In addition, WOEC employees and members also donate to these organizations. CoBank will match WOEC’s $5,000 donation to one of those organizations. What makes this all worthwhile is that WOEC is forced to write off at least $4,000 per month in bad debt. So every little bit helps. Read More

WOEC Current: 2013 Annual Meeting Report

The sixty-ninth annual meeting of the West Oregon Electric Cooperative Members was held Saturday, August 17th at the Scout Cabin in Vernonia.  There were 88 members and guests in attendance.

The meeting was called to order at 11:00 AM by Board President Robert VanNatta.  General Manager Marc Farmer introduced the Board of Directors in attendance; Robert VanNatta, Dist #2 Mist, Apiary, Birkenfeld; Marty Van Dyken, Dist #3 Vernonia, Keasey; Dan Murphy, Dist #4 Vernonia; Bob Paleck, Dist #5 Timber, Buxton; Dixie London, Dist #6 Chapman, North Plains. Director Brian Baker, Dist #1 Elsie, Jewell, Hamlet, had a family emergency and was unable to attend.  After nineteen years of dedicated service, Director David Hess from Dist #7, Yamhill County, Manning, Hagg Lake, had resigned at the July board meeting due to selling his home and moving outside of WOEC territory. Robert France had been appointed by the board to fill the District #7 vacancy at the July board meeting, but we are sorry to have to report that Mr. France passed away on August 15th.  Please keep the France family in your thoughts and prayers.

General Manager Marc Farmer introduced the employees and special guests. Farmer recognized Darlene McLeod who had retired this spring after 29 years of dedicated service to WOEC.  He also announced that Steve Scott, Engineering and Operations Manager and Gunny Cox, System Maintenance Coordinator would both be retiring at the beginning of 2014. All together we will be losing over 100 years of utility experience within a year’s time.  They will all be missed.

The minutes from the 2012 annual meeting were approved and the recent new members to be voted in were also approved.  Our co-op attorney, Chuck Fadeley, was appointed parliamentarian by President VanNatta, and Mr. Fadeley presided over the director election portion of the meeting. Chuck opened the floor for nominations and Heather Johansen was nominated as a candidate for Dist #5 director position. The other candidates who had been previously nominated at the district nomination meetings were; Robert VanNatta for Dist #2 and R.H. “Bob” Paleck for Dist #5.  The candidates were given the floor to address the membership. Our guest speaker, Richelle Beck, from NW River Partners gave an informative and interactive presentation about our clean, renewable hydropower and the importance of the dams in the river system. Management reports were given, and the official annual report can be found in the August 2013 edition of our Ruralite magazine. (Please make sure to read pages 4, 5, 8, 25, and the back page of the Ruralite each month, as it is our official newsletter for our members and you will find helpful information there.)  President VanNatta reported that we did not make our bank tests (TIER) for 2012 due to the January snow storm costs, and we must make TIER this year.  Luckily we had a mild winter to start 2013 and we hope that the weather will hold through December. He also reported that we would have a rate increase this fall due to a rate increase from BPA and that we need to build up a reserve account to cover storm costs when necessary.  David Western, Manager of Finance & Administration, gave the financial report.  He provided a handout of WOEC’s current financials through June 2013 (credit hunter).  Western reminded the members that even though the 2012 January snow storm was declared a FEMA event and we received some money to help with those expenses, it was only declared in one of the five counties we serve.  The amount we received in costs reimbursement was a small percentage of the overall costs of the storm. Western explained that WOEC continues to watch spending and staying on a tight budget. We also received a clean audit report for 2012, and have so for at least the last 10 years.

Steve Scott, Engineering and Operations Manager, gave the operations report.  He explained that this year has one of the lowest number of outage hours due to the mild weather, and increased tree trimming and maintenance.  The new Vernonia Substation that serves Vernonia and the surrounding area has been working well since it was energized in late 2012.  Scott also reported that WOEC had to lay off our Groundman due to budget cuts and changes in the Lineman Apprenticeship program.

General Manager Marc Farmer gave his Manager’s report.  He explained that WOEC has been through 4 FEMA storm events in the last 5 ½ years and no other Oregon Co-op has experienced more than 1 in the last 10 years. Even with the 75% reimbursement of storm costs in disaster declared counties, we have still paid over $1.5 million in WOEC members’ money for the storm costs.  WOEC has spent $13 million on the 3 largest projects in WOEC history: the Timber Elsie Transmission line rebuild/underground, building a new headquarters building out of the flood plain, and building the new Vernonia Substation out of the flood plain.

Farmer used Clatskanie PUD (CPUD) as an example of the reasons that WOEC has high rates and CPUD has low rates.  CPUD has a service territory of 257 square miles of mostly town and paved roads, WOEC has 1224 square miles of mountains, trees, gravel roads, and areas that you have to hike into and can’t even get a utility truck close to.  CPUD has around 4600 meters and WOEC has around 4300 meters, but CPUD has an annual revenue of 42 million where as WOEC only has revenue of 9 million.  The difference is one very large industrial customer that CPUD has that keeps rates low for the residential customers.

Farmer answered a member question about a rumor they had heard that WOEC was going to double the base charge and rates.  He explained that we would be having a rate increase, but it would be an overall increase of somewhere between 10 – 15% and the staff was still working on the scenarios to present to the board.  The increase would be a combination of the base charge and kWh charge.

There will be a member meeting on September 17th at 6:00 PM at the WOEC board room regarding the rate change.

The election results were read by Chuck Fadeley; Robert VanNatta, Dist #2 and Bob Paleck, Dist #5 were both re-elected.

Door prizes were given out and everyone enjoyed a nice BBQ lunch.

WOEC Current: Capital Credit Allocations

Unclaimed Capital Credit Allocations Explained

Recently West Oregon Electric Cooperative published a list of former WOEC members who have unclaimed capital credit allocation checks on our books.  These capital credits were earned by members between the years of 1944 to 1969, and the WOEC board of directors had authorized the payment of them and had checks issued in 1999 and 2000.  The unclaimed checks are ones that were either returned to WOEC due to incorrect mailing addresses or were just never cashed by the member. Other members during that time period who had updated their current mailing address with WOEC, or were current members in 1999 & 2000 received their checks and have already been paid the capital credits from 1944 to 1969.

The Unclaimed Capital Credit list may be found on our website, www.westoregon.org, just click on the box with the notice in the lower left hand corner of the home page.  For some of our newer members and a refresher for long time members, we have put together this question and answer sheet to explain WOEC capital credits:

What are capital credits? Read More

Voices From the Crowd: What I’ve Learned in Six Years as a WOEC Director

This article is a personal effort by me alone to truthfully clarify and inform you about what I think may not be understood or appreciated by many WOEC members.  No other member of the Board, staff or any employee is responsible for its content. The other Board members approved my request to write before I started it.  This courtesy was granted since I’m one of the Board whose term expires in August and there are innuendoes and rumors circulating that need to be cleared up.

Normally the Board of Directors depend on our General Manager, Marc Farmer, or a senior member of the staff responsible for a portion of the co-op’s activities to act as WOEC spokesperson for all information provided to the public in general and our membership in particular.  Why?  Because they are the professional, contracted and paid individuals employed to execute democratically decided and agreed upon plans, policies, rules, regulations and bylaws.

We, the Board, are the members’ representatives and the staff works for all of us.  We are a cooperative.  The fundamental precept is to cooperate.  In part that means that the Board recognizes that the professionals do their job best when we don’t duplicate their efforts.  We don’t work for you, they do.  We are your elected representatives; you don’t employ us.  We accept the challenge and, to the best of our collective abilities, act on your behalf.  We ask for information, examine the facts and make decisions based on the combined desires, opinions, needs and requirements – not of any one individual, faction, district or even our individual selves – but the entire 4,000 plus membership.

If you attend a monthly business meeting of the co-op (one other than the August Annual meeting), you will observe that even though the actions taken by the Board are most times a consequence of unanimous agreement, often they are arrived at only after pro and con discussion and deliberation.  Even when agreement is not unanimous, the results are uniformly represented and enforced – we are a group with no appreciation much less tolerance for dissension once an agenda item is decided.  As circumstances change and the business of the co-op is conducted over monthly, annual, triennial and other cycles, subjects are reviewed and the resulting actions taken may be continued if warranted or modified or reversed as circumstances and specifics of our current situation dictate a change.  Cooperation is the foundation to our existence, but consideration of member resources and how to sustain the efficient, reliable delivery of electric power at the lowest cost drives our decisions.  WOEC is a registered Not-For-Profit, membership owned entity.  The Board and employees never forget that we are spending other peoples’ money.

I think that the last topic is a fundamental reason why we, the Board, have for some time and seemingly continue to be at odds with a small but vocal number of our membership (largely in the Vernonia environs) that has published their intention to (my words here) ‘take over and fix’ WOEC even if it takes three years to do so by electing new Board members as the terms of the present incumbents expire.  When the same questions are asked or explanations are requested and then answers are provided, over and over and over and over – yes, at least four times – it seems to me that the questioners either are not listening or aren’t really looking for answers and information.  Instead it appears that the whole exercise is an effort to instigate and then perpetuate an argument.  This was especially true when the questioners resorted to name calling after about the third time that the answers were provided; as in characterizing the Board members as being either lazy, stupid or dishonest as documented in a letter to the Oregon Attorney General requesting that WOEC be investigated for possible, “… either malfeasance or malpractice.”  I think you will agree that this sort of provocation is not a constructive way of cooperatively identifying and fixing problems.  The answers to many questions may not please anyone but never the less are true when they are factual.  What purpose does an argument serve other than to distract efforts from solving all of the problems at hand?

Paying your bill doesn’t only pay for the power you consumed in the last billing interval.  It pays for the operation, maintenance, repairs, necessary improvements and everything that entails.  That includes the loans that provided the funding for those expenses up to and including thirty years ago.  Cooperatives for Rural Electrification are financed by credit, not by taking funds out of a savings account – we don’t have one.  This way those members who belong to and use the facilities today are paying for the service, not only those who were members when the work was done.  But, the federal financial system that provides the low interest rate loans that make this possible have very strict requirements not only to qualify for and establish the loans, but also to prevent defaulting on repayment.  Parameters that measure and report everything from minutes of outages per member per month to the defaults on WOEC’s accounts (numbers and dollars) by past members who vanish without settling their outstanding bills are monitored as indications of our solvency and trustworthiness.  Too many negatively trending parameters and management control by local Board and hired staff is removed.  Then the federal experts take over with their primary goal of preventing losses.  If that occurs, membership rates and satisfaction become a secondary, at best, consideration.  My reason for including this is to remind you that it isn’t only the decisions made in the last few years that drive the Cost of Service.  Significant contributions that make up your bill are the result of what was and wasn’t initiated or done a generation or more ago.

So, with more expressions of unsatisfied members than those stopping to thank me on the street and the continuing anxiety of all the excruciating details that constitute the responsibility of a Board member that I’ve found out about in the past six years – why have I accepted nomination for a third term?  That is also something I started six years ago and continue to learn about – the people who I work with and those that work for all of us.  It seems that we all notice their service during outages that are fortunately fewer this year.  What I get to experience and grow constantly in appreciation of is how such a small number of people do a phenomenal job.

The Operations, Engineering, Financial and Front Counter employees are my heroes.  I’ve paid attention and noted that membership appreciation is highest when we’ve experienced calamities and ebbs when the power is most reliable.  What I have seen is a team who put membership needs ahead of private concerns during emergencies.  During normal days they’re collaborating in the field, on the phones and in meetings to promote important lessons and striving to find, correct and benefit from any past mistakes.  Safety, efficiency, avoiding waste and protecting membership investment – all the time with a limited, fixed budget – I cannot understand why they have not been recognized as Vernonia’s Citizens of the year.

Management Staff get little credit.  Four dedicated and extremely professional individuals who with twenty employees serve all our needs with diligent leadership, patient and exacting research of requirements and all possible solutions, and never shirk fulfilling the complex requirements to satisfy the federal, state and local industry demands for ever increasing information and reports.  Sustainability isn’t just a motto on the wall.  It is the result of Marc Farmer, Steve Scott, David Western and Sarah Rossi attending to the details now and for the welfare of our future membership long after we are all replaced.

The other six members of our Board of Directors provide a range of individual, professional and life experience and a true practical appreciation for the concerns, preferences and financial constraints of all members.  Sharing insights and observations throughout the month electronically between regular meetings, serving on committees as the needs arise for budget, labor and building issues; always diligently collaborating with the goal being the most effective return when your money is spent.

Last of all, please do ask questions, attend our meetings, study issues and most importantly vote.  Don’t wait for anyone to tell you who to vote for or why to not vote for someone.  Make your own decision based on whatever criteria you have for yourself.  I know some members are still unhappy about the new co-op buildings and the extra $3.00 that is a result in your monthly bills.  Not all Board members were in favor of moving and building new after the 2007 flood.  We studied and examined all the possibilities but initially agreed to only clean up and rebuild the old until two things happened.  First we were ordered to move and build new at the risk of not getting FEMA assistance in the future when flooding occurred again; we could have taken a gamble and at least waited until the economy improved.  But second, a minority of members who voted overwhelmingly did so in favor to move and build new when the Board asked for specific choices by the survey we sent every member.  We ask, listen, learn and act based on membership expressed desires and input in every case when it isn’t destructive.  For the system to work, you need to do your part.  Voting and accepting the consequences is your job.

 

Bob Paleck is a Representative of the West Oregon Electric Cooperative (WOEC) Board of Directors for District 5 (Timber – Buxton – W. Vernonia) and has been nominated for re-election in August.

WOEC Current: McLeod Retires

West Oregon Electric Cooperative would like to announce the retirement of Darlene McLeod after 29 years of dedicated service.  Darlene has held different positions over those years, including Billing Manager, Bookkeeper, and Manager of Finance & Administration.  She served under five different WOEC General Managers, and has seen a lot of changes in office equipment and our office building.

The West Oregon Electric Employees and Board of Directors would like to invite our members to share in a special celebration to honor Darlene’s retirement.  It will be held Friday, May 3rd in the WOEC boardroom from 3:00-5:00 PM.  Please stop by and wish Darlene well in this exciting new chapter of her life. Read More

The Sounding Board: Uproar Happens

In my last article concerning WOEC, I made a factual mistake.  When discussing the WOEC annual audit. I stated that Robert VanNatta’s daughter worked for Kenneth Kuhns & Company which was incorrect.  She works for AKT, another accounting audit firm that was being considered.  It was my error. An apology is certainly in order.  I regret the mistake.  There was no intent to lie. AKT was being considered. Robert’s daughter works for AKT.  What I misunderstood was who worked where.  My objection was to the remarks actually made.

Nonetheless, there is actual good that has resulted.  Mr. VanNatta and I have opened an email dialogue.  He accepted my apology.  We have concurred on several constructive points: audits and their review are not easy; running a utility is complicated; outside criticism makes it more so. “Maybe”, as Robert has said “the concept of building bridges isn’t all bad.”  And I agree.   Read More