"Embracing Cooperative Values" was the theme of East River Electric Power Cooperative's 63rd annual meeting on Sept. 4 in Watertown.|
According to East River General Manager Jeff Nelson, to make cooperatives stronger and better, to compete and survive, they need to embrace their identity.
"It's very fitting then that `Embracing Cooperative Values' serves as the theme for this year's annual meeting. For East River, this is our driving force," said Nelson.
Nelson and East River Board President Jim Ryken detailed how cooperative values are present in the organization's daily operations, board functions, marketing efforts, load management program, policy formation and leadership initiatives.
East River staff members provided updates on legislative issues, the cooperative's move to an indenture form of mortgage, mobile radio replacement plans, construction projects, economic development, safety incident reporting and community involvement.
Representatives from Basin Electric, Western States Power Corporation, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, Touchstone Energy Cooperatives and Western Area Power Administration offered perspectives on issues facing electric cooperatives and the energy industry.
As members of the alliance of Touchstone Energy Cooperatives, East River and its members pledge to conduct their business with integrity, accountability, innovation and commitment to community. These four values were highlighted throughout the meeting.
Todd Copeland, East River GIS coordinator, and Bob Johnson, system support and member services manager at Codington-Clark Electric Cooperative, explained how they are using the value of innovation to find new ways to put Geographic Information Systems to use.
According to Copeland, East River and its members have found a number of ways to incorporate innovative solutions into GIS, such as electronic mapping, creating files, publishing maps for internal and field use, ways to display locations of field crews and outages and incorporating customer and staking information.
"GIS is saving us time, as well as making our staking sheets more accurate for the future," said Johnson.
According to Ryken, the board embraces the value of accountability to make the best decisions for East River and its members.
Board Vice President Vic Gross addressed the issue of Nelson's planned retirement in early 2014.
"Hiring a new general manager is one of the most critical decisions that a board makes," said Gross. "We take this responsibility as a challenge to build on East River's fine reputation and enhance its future performance for our members."
One of the ways East River has shown its commitment to community in the last year was by making significant contributions to two area educational institutions.
Dr. Barry Dunn, dean of the College of Agriculture & Biological Sciences at South Dakota State University, explained how East River is helping two SDSU agricultural programs be closer to achieving their goal of building new, state-of-the-art facilities.
East River's donation of $150,000 over a five-year period will be applied to SDSU's capital campaign to build a new $7.1 million Swine Unit Enhancement as well as a $4 million Cow/Calf Training and Research Center.
"The facilities we currently have to teach with and do research are basically irrelevant in modern agriculture," said Dunn. He added that the new facilities will allow students and researchers to work in facilities that are like those in the industry.
Greg Von Wald, president of Mitchell Technical Institute, spoke about the endowed fund East River and its members created for the MTI Foundation. With additional contributions from Rushmore Electric, the South Dakota Rural Electric Association, Basin Electric and CoBank, the endowed fund will reach $500,000 within five years.
The fund will help MTI recruit and retain topnotch faculty, provide training opportunities for instructors to stay current in their evolving fields and ensure students have access to the latest technology and equipment.
"East River and its member cooperatives made a big difference in helping us refurbish our curriculum to move our energy workers into the 21st Century," said Von Wald.
Brad Schardin, general manager for Southeastern Electric Cooperative, and Tim McCarthy, general manager/CEO of Sioux Valley Energy, reflected on the unusual April ice storm that disrupted power throughout East River's territory. They, along with East River lineman Jamie Denne, discussed how the cooperatives worked together.
"While we were seeing problems on Sioux Valley's distribution system, East River was seeing its own problems on the transmission system," said McCarthy. "Our engineering and operations groups coordinated very closely with East River, and we were able to restore power to everyone within five days. I think that speaks a lot for both organizations and the work they did together."
Ryken underscored the challenge facing the board as they undertake the task of finding a suitable replacement for Nelson.
"As East River's longest serving general manager, he has led this organization with competence and courage for over a third of its existence," said Ryken. "During his 39-year career with East River, Jeff has been a tireless advocate for protecting the cooperative's right to access federal power, a progressive visionary for developing new programs that add value and relevance to cooperative members, and a fearless leader when threats to cooperatives arise."
Nelson looked back on his own career.
"East River's legacy, which I am proud to be a part of, is that we are a cooperative business, without apology," he said. That legacy, he said, includes a strong board which has been committed to working with and for its members, a workforce of highly skilled, motivated and dedicated people who understand the importance of working with and for the members, and a willingness to embrace new ideas such as ethanol, smart grid and renewable energy.
"Celebrate the past, but spend more time focusing on the future. Always search for ways to cooperate for the greater good of the end consumer-owner," he said.