Close to 200 members of Beartooth Electric Co-operative were at the Anipro Event Center near Absarokee September 23. Co-op board president Dave Peterson kicked off the meeting with a personal statement about the challenges of making big decisions on behalf of the members.
Out-going president Dave Peterson
The co-op and ranching businesses are similar in some ways. But a risk I might take with my money is very different from a risk using your money. Thanks to good management and strong risk management requirements, BEC is prepared to answer any questions before decision deadlines arrive. And, thanks to our demanding bylaws and our commitment to co-op principles, you know what those decisions are while they are being evaluated.
Travis Togo, chief commercial officer at Energy Keepers, Inc. (EKI) was the keynote speaker at the event. EKI is the tribally-owned corporation of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes tasked with managing the Seliš Ksanka Qlispe hydroelectric project (formally known as Kerr Dam) on the Flathead River. Mr. Togo’s speech encompassed the history of the dam, the win-win business partnership between EKI and Beartooth and the changing landscape in the energy industry.
“Change is happening all over the west,” he said. “The energy picture is changing now and changing rapidly—and these changes are being driven by the consumer.”
Togo pointed out that many municipalities and large power users are demanding clean power sources.
“This is an exciting time,” Togo said. “Beartooth Electric is in the forefront of finding local solutions and others will follow your lead.
Three bylaw changes were submitted to members in the 2017 election. Bylaw committee member Mike Specht reported that the co-op’s bylaws were extensively amended in 2013—to give more power to the members. The commitment to full transparency and democratic member control is on-going.
Specht described the proposed changes: providing more opportunity to submit your ballot; speeding up vote counting by allowing for an early count of ballots and increased ballot security, and clarifying the member comment period and methods of comment on proposed contracts and long-term debt.
Arleen Boyd provided a reminder that risk management is a best business practice—it uses proven methods to identify goals, analyze risks and compare alternatives.
BEC is in a good position. The co-op has load-following contracts for power going out ten years with low fixed rates. Management is using the financial model and seven-year forecast data in the 2018 budgeting and planning process. The current seven-year forecast shows the co-op maintaining strong financial ratios while adhering to a 20-year capital credit rotation, replacing the obsolete meter system, and ending the forecast period without increasing long-term debt.
Next we are preparing to support rate structure analyses and examination of member generation strategies. Throughout the country co-ops are seeing growing member interest in distributed generation and net metering. Many co-ops, like BEC, are examining possible rate structure changes that may be necessary to ensure revenue is collected fairly and prudently across defined classes of customers.
This is a complicated set of calculations. It will require research, time, and input from members.
District 6 Trustee Bill Pascoe provided a quick illustration comparing Beartooth’s current position on power costs, compared to where BEC could be if we had remained a member of Southern Montana Electric—or if we had gone to another Generation and Transmission (G&T) co-op, such as Basin Electric Power.
Pascoe, a former VP at Montana Power and NorthWestern Energy, has been instrumental in researching and negotiating power contracts for the co-op. He provided a snapshot of the existing agreements.
District 2 Trustee Roxie Melton briefly reported the process of regular review of the policies that guide the business of the co-op. The policies for community generation and net-metering are currently under review.
District 4 Trustee Dick Nolan showed examples of the various channels the board is using to communicate with members: the website, email newsletters, the 4-page newsletter in Rural Montana Magazine, bill inserts, and news releases. He asked for member input on what works and what they would like to see changed. “Help us keep you informed.”
The financial condition of Beartooth Electric Cooperative is healthy—very healthy, Trustee Julie Lindgren told members. She also reported that, after lengthy consideration, the Beartooth board decided to change their annual audit from a fiscal year ending June 30th to a calendar year audit. Next year’s report will be at year end. This means that the date of the annual meeting may change from September to earlier in the year.
Brian Van Steeland of Summers McNea and Company reported that the co-op is in sound financial condition. See the full audit here.
Or read the meeting handout:
Dan Dutton, District 1 Trustee up for election in 2017, told members, “When our future was uncertain, we asked the membership to put its faith in the board. Now we urge your continued personal involvement in the growth of Beartooth Electric Cooperative.”
Co-op member Mike Specht expressed thanks to the Beartooth linemen. “Back on February 9, near Clark, I saw a line crew setting a pole when winds were clocked nearby at 109 mph. They are willing to work in those conditions to make sure we have power.”
Lots of Winners
More than 40 valuable drawing prizes were awarded to members in attendance. Thanks to our vendors who were generous with their gifts. Please support these fine businesses: Altec Industries, Anixter, Asplundh Tree Expert Co., Bobcat of Big Sky Inc., BSE Border States, HDR Engineering, Ken’s I-90, McFarland Cascade a Stella-Jones Company, National Information Solutions Cooperative (NISC), Outback Power Company, and Yellowstone Bank of Columbus.
Ronald Keener won the BEC annual meeting grand prize—a $500 energy credit.
Patrick Karnos was the winner of the Early Bird drawing for a $250 energy credit.
Members enjoyed the great food provided by Uncle Sam’s Eatery. And our thanks to Rick Young; the Anipro Event Center is a beautiful and accommodating venue.