Executive Message — 2019 Annual Report

Posted: July 1, 2019
Brad Hicks
Bradley Hicks

Thank you for the privilege to serve you. As this year’s theme, “Working Together to Power the Future,” implies, it takes a partnership to make progress. Habersham EMC (HEMC) is a prime example of this mindset.

As a cooperative, we are built upon cooperation. Cooperation among the founding members to create HEMC. Cooperation among the Board of Directors to set the course for HEMC. Cooperation among employees to ensure our members receive reliable service reflecting the values of HEMC.

In 2018, HEMC undertook several initiatives to improve service to our members. One initiative was vegetation management using “ground-to-sky” practices. As approximately 300 miles of HEMC’s easement were cleared in the first year of this five-year cycle, the benefit of this approach became evident. Circuits where “ground-to-sky” had been implemented before Hurricane Michael did not experience outages while all of the outages elsewhere on our system were caused by vegetation. Not only does this initiative improve reliability and reduce the duration of outages, but it also provides a safer work environment for HEMC employees.

Two other steps taken toward this same effort were power-line inspections and the development of a reliability and resiliency plan. Contractors, using both visual and infrared cameras, will inspect 550 miles of line within our service area. HEMC management has also developed a plan to further increase reliable service and faster restoration in the event of an outage.

Jeff Ferguson
Jeff Ferguson

As a cooperative, HEMC is owned by those we serve. You are the shareholders of the company, and it is our duty to be responsible stewards of the money you entrust us with. We are committed to controlling costs while meeting member expectations. This approach is evident in several ways at HEMC, including the workforce. The electric utility industry expects approximately 20 percent of the existing workforce to reach retirement eligibility over the next five years.

In 2018, 15 HEMC employees, with an average career of 31 years and 472 cumulative years of service, chose to retire. We must determine how to best align our workforce to provide reliable service at a reasonable cost. We are strategically filling these positions by first evaluating the overall needs of the cooperative and the skill sets that will provide the most value to our members without sacrificing service.

Another way to control costs involved PowerGuard Security. Following an in-depth review of the division, it was determined that it was not in the best financial interest of our members. A partnership was established with EMC Security, and all PowerGuard Security accounts were assumed by EMC Security with no interruption in service. All five employees filled vacancies within HEMC.

In November and December 2018, HEMC members received credits on their bills because of a reduction in the wholesale power cost adjustment. The average credit was $28 for each 1,000 kWh of energy used—approximately $2.5 million in savings for our members!

A Trailwave business plan has been developed and approved by the Board of Directors. Through this endeavor and the clarity provided by Senate Bill 2, HEMC has a clear direction for the future of Trailwave. In 2018, the fiber-optic service experienced 77 percent growth, adding 1,938 subscribers. HEMC is also pursuing a federal ReConnect grant/loan in order to further extend Trailwave to residents and businesses in underserved areas of our service territory.

In the fall of 2018, the Board of Directors approved HEMC’s first strategic plan, a major milestone in building a firm foundation for the future. Through cooperation, the employees and directors have created and implemented this plan, which keeps the focus where it belongs–on our members.

As part of that focus, many steps have been taken to improve communication with our members. The very definition of communication is “the exchange of information.” Our door is open to our members, and we welcome opportunities for discussions.

Over the past year, HEMC employees have participated in several informal meetings with members, including homeowner groups and one-on-one conversations as well as presentations to civic groups and community organizations. We have also sought to improve transparency through providing more information to our members through a variety of channels.

In an effort to promote openness and transparency, in late 2018, we chose to unbundle the electric charge on the bill so members could actually see what was included. Although the Facilities Charge has been a part of the rate structures since 2016, many members were not aware of it. This further illustrates the importance of improving transparency and communication with members. Although we have made strides to do so, there is still room for improvement, and we seek to continue to do just that.

As a cooperative, we must work together—and communicate—in order to power a bright future for Habersham EMC and the communities we serve. It takes all of us: members, directors and employees to do so.

Thank you again for the opportunity to serve you.

Bradley Hicks

Jeff Ferguson