Are You Ready to Serve?
In one of the most notable inaugural speeches given, John F. Kennedy spoke his famous words, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” His inspiring words urged Americans to take actions that benefited the greater good. In essence, Kennedy was saying our country thrives when we all contribute our talents to the common good.
On a smaller scale, I think the same can be said about our co-op, specifically with regard to our board members. WOEC’s board members are community-minded individuals with a variety of skill sets. We rely on their many talents to help us make informed decisions on long-term priorities and investments. Our directors live right here in the co-op’s service area, and we consider them the eyes and ears of the community because they provide their perspective on important community issues.
WOEC’s board elections will be held in August. We begin the election process by mailing nomination meeting notices to members who reside in the districts that will open for re-election. The board positions that are up for election this year are District 3 (Vernonia, Buxton, and Timber) and District 7 (Manning, Hagg Lake, Yamhill County). These positions are currently held by Jim Buxton and Mark Ludeman, both will be running for re-election and are unopposed.
Serving on WOEC’s board means making a difference locally, using individual talents and perspective to guide big decisions about the co-op that in turn benefit the larger community. While day-to-day decisions are made by co-op staff, major decisions are made by the board, who strives to look out for the vitality of the co-op and the community it serves. On a granular level, WOEC’s board members typically provide input and guidance on:
- co-op goals and direction
- co-op’s community/charitable contributions
- capital investments and upgrades in equipment and technology
- renewable investments and energy mix
- co-op’s role and involvement in economic development
While you don’t need to be an expert in electricity or business to run for a seat on the Board, you do need to have a passion for the community and a willingness to actively serve and learn. Our board meets on a regular basis, and we offer specialized training opportunities to help board members make informed decisions. Board members gain a deeper understanding of the electric utility industry, the cooperative business model and local economic development efforts.
Ultimately, our board is the community pulse for the co-op and helps keep us on the right track. We love our community and want to help it thrive. If you share the same commitment and want to contribute to the greater good in a tangible way, I hope you’ll consider running for a board position in the future.
To learn more about WOEC’s director election process and 2023 details, please visit www.westoregon.org.
Prioritize Safety Year-Round
At West Oregon Electric Cooperative, we recognize Electrical Safety Month every May, but we also know the importance of practicing safety year-round. From our co-op crews to you, the consumer-members we serve, we recognize that everyone has a part to play in prioritizing safety.
According to the Electrical Safety Foundation International, thousands of people in the U.S. are critically injured or electrocuted as a result of electrical fires and accidents in their own homes. Many of these accidents are preventable. Electricity is a necessity, and it powers our daily lives. But we know first-hand how dangerous electricity can be because we work with it 365 days a year.
Electricity is an integral part of modern life. Given the prevalence of electrical devices, tools and appliances, I’d like to pass along a few practical electrical safety tips.
Frayed wires pose a serious safety hazard. Power cords can become damaged or frayed from age, heavy use or excessive current flow through the wiring. If cords become frayed or cut, replace them, as they could cause a shock when handled.
Avoid overloading circuits. Circuits can only cope with a limited amount of electricity. Overload happens when you draw more electricity than a circuit can safely handle––by having too many devices running on one circuit.
Label circuit breakers to understand the circuits in your home. Contact a qualified electrician if your home is more than 40 years old and you need to install multiple large appliances that consume large amounts of electricity.
Use extension cords properly. Never plug an extension cord into another extension cord. If you “daisy chain” them together, it could lead to overheating, creating a potential fire hazard. Don’t exceed the wattage of the cord. Doing so also creates a risk of overloading the cord and creating a fire hazard. Extension cords should not be used as permanent solutions. If you need additional outlets, contact a licensed electrician to help.
I encourage you to talk with your kids about playing it safe and smart around electricity. Help them be aware of overhead power lines near where they play outdoors.
Our top priority is providing an uninterrupted energy supply 24/7, 365 days per year. But equally important is keeping our crews and community safe.
Explaining Our Rates
Now that we’ve wrapped up 2022 and head into winter storm season, I want to remind everyone to prepare for possible outages affecting your electric service. When storm related outages hit, our crews work as quickly as safety allows to restore service. During major storms, this effort could take a few days. We always post updates to our website and Facebook page during a widespread outage. Your patience while our crews work hard to restore service is greatly appreciated. I am proud of our hardworking and dedicated staff who are quick to answer the calls and respond to service interruptions.
Last month, our budget committee set the budget for 2023. After careful thought and consideration, it was determined a rate adjustment is necessary to keep up with the
increasing cost of service. We have scheduled a rate information meeting at 5:30 p.m. January 24 at the WOEC headquarters in Vernonia. A notice in the mail will contain the projected rate adjustment and meeting information.
I am often asked why our rates are so high. This is a fair question. There are several key factors that determine our rates from a historical perspective and looking ahead. WOEC was formed more than 75 years ago to serve a small group of people with no access to power. There was not enough return on the investment it would take to run the lines out to all the scattered accounts to motivate investor-owned utilities to branch out. The cost factors were and are very significant.
The areas we service cover parts of five counties, and the long distances we travel make service work, outages and maintenance costly and time consuming. Our service territory is heavily forested with rough terrain, creating more work and maintenance than urban areas.
I am also asked about the base charge. The fixed costs of servicing an account— regardless of how much energy is used—contains the labor, trucks, other equipment and operational expenses. The base charge on your power bill, which is $52 for residential members, covers only a small part of the cost of servicing and maintaining our system. If we were to charge the actual cost to maintain each account, the base charge would need to be about $100 per month instead of $52. This is determined through independent cost of service studies conducted every two years. Realistically, each account—like telephone and gas companies require—would pay the full amount of fixed costs. Because we do not charge the full amount, the kilowatt hour charge is higher. Our neighboring utilities have a more condensed service area with a larger number of consumer accounts, have a better balance of commercial and industrial loads compared to residential, and have more customers per mile. WOEC has more trees per mile that need to be maintained to protect our system. Our service territory sees minimal growth; the little growth we do see is primarily residential. This causes our rising costs to exceed our revenues.
Despite these challenges, we are your member-owned and -operated cooperative. We provide good service, are responsive to our members, manage costs the best we can and work to keep the lights on under any conditions. We are a not-for-profit utility that is focused on balancing our revenues and expenses. WOEC is committed to serving our member-owners at the lowest cost possible while providing safe and reliable electric service.
The Power Behind Your Power
You likely have noticed West Oregon Electric Cooperative’s crews out and about, working on power lines and other electrical equipment in our community. It’s no secret a lineworker’s job is tough—but it’s a job that’s essential and must be done, often in challenging conditions.
I want to share some interesting facts about electric lineworkers with you.The work can be heavy, in more ways than one. Did you know the equipment and tools a lineworker carries while climbing a utility pole can weigh up to 50 pounds? That’s the same as carrying 6 gallons of water.
Speaking of utility poles, lineworkers are required to climb poles ranging from 30 to 120 feet tall. Needless to say, if you have a fear of heights, this likely isn’t the career path for you.
Lineworkers must be committed to their career because it’s not just a job, it’s a lifestyle. The long hours and ever-present danger can take a toll. In fact, being a lineworker is among the most dangerous jobs in the United States.
Lineworkers often work nontraditional hours outdoors in difficult conditions. The job requires technical skills, years of training and hands-on learning. Did you know that
becoming a journeyman lineworker can take more than 7,000 hours of training, or about four years? That’s because working with high-voltage equipment requires specialized skills, experience and an ongoing mental toughness. Shortcuts are not an option, and there is no room for error in this line of work.
Despite the many challenges, WOEC’s lineworkers are committed to powering our local community. During severe weather events that bring major power outages,
lineworkers are among the first ones called. They must be ready to leave the comfort of their homes and families unexpectedly, and they don’t return until the job is done, often days later. That’s why the lineworker’s family is also dedicated to service. They understand
the importance of the job to the community.
Nationwide, there are approximately 120,000 electric lineworkers. WOEC has 10 journeyman lineworkers and two apprentice lineworkers who are responsible for keeping power flowing 24/7, 365 days a year. To do this, they maintain 700 miles of power lines across five counties and 1,200 square miles of rugged terrain with gravel roads and millions of trees.
In addition to the highly visible tasks lineworkers perform, their jobs go far beyond climbing utility poles to repair a wire. Today’s lineworkers are information experts who
can pinpoint power outages from miles away. Line crews now use laptops, tablets, drones and other technologies to map outages, survey damage and troubleshoot problems.
Our lineworkers are absolutely essential to the life of our community. Without their dedication and commitment, we would not have the reliable electricity we need for
So, the next time you see lineworkers, please thank them for the work they do to keep power flowing, regardless of the time of day or weather conditions. After all, lineworkers are the power behind your power.
Common Sense on Dams
While it’s hard to dispute our political process has its challenges, sometimes a bit of common sense emerges and gives us hope.
In late 2021, Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee and U.S. Sen. Patty Murray announced a process to examine if there are reasonable means for replacing the benefits provided by the lower Snake River dams.
Because these dams are a critical source of energy for Oregon electric co-ops, we actively participated in this process.
Several studies were commissioned from outside experts to assist Inslee and Murray in their decision-making. These experts confirmed what electric co-ops have been saying for years: If the low-cost, carbon-free lower Snake River dams were breached, customers would experience severe rate shock, regional climate goals would be obliterated and there would be a high likelihood of blackouts because rapid replacement of these resources is technically infeasible.
After extensive review, Inslee and Murray recently released what we consider to be commonsense recommendations. They concluded that while is it technically possible to breach the dams, it is “not a feasible option in the near term.” Furthermore, they were adamant that even before pursuing any breaching option, “the replacement and mitigation of the benefits must be pursued.”
In other words, the U.S. Congress would need to authorize and expend approximately $31 billion to conduct a herculean infrastructure program to replace the benefits of the lower Snake River dams. This staggering expenditure of scarce taxpayer dollars would go a long way toward other pressing needs: repairing roads and bridges, ensuring Americans have access to broadband and delivering clean water to American families.
The debate about the lower Snake River dams is certainly not over. West Oregon Electric Cooperative will continue to engage in any process that affects our members and the reliability of the electric grid. But whether the dams could be replaced is not the right question anymore. Perhaps the better question is, “Knowing what we know, why would we?”
Together, as co-op members, we need to ensure our voices are heard on energy policies that affect not only our ability to deliver affordable, reliable power, but also the communities we call home. Join ORECA-Action’s Voices for Cooperative Power and become part of a growing team of electric cooperative member-advocates in Oregon and across the country who are working together. Sign up today by visiting voicesforcooperativepower.com/Oregon.
General Manager Billi Kohler
Know the Signs of a Scam
It’s no secret that consumers with a water, gas or electricity connection have long been targets for utility scams, but fraudsters have changed
their tactics since the COVID-19 pandemic began. As consumers became more reliant on technology for work, school and commerce, scammers noted these shifts and adapted their tactics to this changed environment.
Imposter scams are the No. 1 type of fraud reported to the Federal Trade Commission. While scam artists may come to your door posing as a utility worker, in today’s more connected world, attempts are more likely to come through an electronic device, via email, phone or text.
Common Types of Scams
A scammer may claim you are overdue on your electric bill and threaten to disconnect your service if you don’t pay immediately. The scammers want to scare you into immediate payment, so you don’t have time to think clearly.
If this happens over the phone, hang up. If you’re concerned about your bill, call us at 503-429-3021. Our phone number can also be found on your monthly bill and at www.westoregon.org. If the scam is by email or text, delete it before taking any action. If you’re unsure, use the SmartHub app to check the status of your account. West Oregon Electric Cooperative will never demand immediate payment after just one notice.
Some scammers may falsely claim you have been overcharged on your bill and say they want to give a refund. It sounds easy. All you have to do is click or press a button to initiate the process. If you proceed, you will be prompted to provide banking or other personal information. Instead of money going into your bank account, the scammers can drain your account and use personal information such as a Social
Security number for identity theft.
If this “refund” scam happens over the phone, hang up and block the phone number to prevent future robocalls. If this scam attempt occurs via email (known as a phishing attempt) or by text (smishing), do not click any links. Instead, delete it and, if possible, block the sender. If you do overpay on your energy bill, WOEC will automatically apply the credit to your next billing cycle. When in doubt, contact us.
Defend Yourself Against Scams
Be wary of calls or texts from unknown numbers. Be suspicious of an unknown person claiming to be a utility worker who requests banking or other personal information.
We want to help protect our community against utility scams, and you can help create the first line of defense. Please report any potential scams to us so we can spread the word to prevent others in the
community from falling victim.
WOEC partners with outside contractors. When these contractors perform work on a member’s property or come into your home, they are professionals and will always identify themselves.
Starting this month, Davey Resources Group will conduct a field inventory assessment. They will physically visit each pole, meter and pad-mounted device WOEC owns. They will work Monday
through Friday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on weekends when necessary. Please contact us if you would like more information.
General Manager Billi Kohler
This year, we celebrate 78 years as West Oregon Electric Cooperative. Our annual meeting is Saturday, August 20, at 11 a.m. at Vernonia High School. Registration begins at 10 a.m. We are pleased to hold this year’s annual meeting in person after two years in a virtual setting.
The past two years have been challenging. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, WOEC successfully provided the same quality service members expect. I want to thank all WOEC employees who performed with admirable strength and resilience during this time.
As we look ahead, WOEC remains focused on improving system reliability through capital projects and vegetation management. Like most businesses, we are facing extreme cost increases in fuel, materials, supplies and labor. From a historical perspective, when these costs rise, the cost of power tends to rise as well. We are working creatively and efficiently to navigate through these pressures and will manage mindfully.
As we consider inflationary costs affecting our operations, another topic comes to mind. Consumer-owned utilities across the region are prioritizing preservation of our renewable and carbon-free source of energy from the Federal Columbia River Hydro System. Political discussions continue about removal of the lower Snake River dams. Removing the dams would affect the cost and availability of power regionally and would have a negative impact on WOEC. We are part of a collaborative effort across the region to engage in these discussions. It would not be wise to remove the lower Snake River dams without a reliable and affordable alternative.
In 2021, WOEC enhanced its long-term financial well-being by selling its ownership interest in LS Networks. The cooperative’s share of the proceeds was approximately
$12 million. WOEC’s board of directors is considering how these funds will best benefit the cooperative and its members.
For the first time in 22 years, WOEC will distribute capital credits. WOEC’s board of directors authorized retirement for 1969 to 1979. In the coming months, we will notify those who were members of the cooperative during that time.
We are committed to providing safe and reliable service to our members. We work hard every day to power our communities.
I look forward to seeing you at the annual meeting Saturday, August 20.
As you may recall, the West Oregon Electric Cooperative Board of Directors approved a two-step plan to increase rates in 2022, with a partial increase in January and the remainder in July. There will be a $3.50 increase to the base charge and a half cent increase to the kilowatt-hour charge for your July use. The new rate will be reflected on your August bill.
I often am asked why our rates are so high. Several key factors go into setting our rates both from a historical perspective and looking ahead. WOEC was formed more than 75 years ago to serve a small group of people who did not have access to power. There was not enough return on the investment needed to motivate investor-owned utiltites to run the lines out to all of the sparsely scattered accounts in our territory.
The cost factors were—and remain—significant because the areas we serve cover parts of five heavily forested counties. Our service areas are so spread apart that the long distances we travel make service work, outages and maintenance extremely costly and time consuming.
Another question I am asked is, “Why not sell or merge with another utility since rates are forecasted to rise?” This is a fair question, and one I would like to address.
In 2018, our board directed management to explore the possibility of WOEC selling the system to another utility. Any such arrangement would have to satisfy the board’s fundamental principles: WOEC members’ rates would be substantially reduced by the sale to another utility; and WOEC members would be treated the same as the acquiring utility’s existing customers both in terms of service and rates. Under Oregon law and WOEC’s bylaws, any sale of the system would have to be approved by two-thirds of WOEC’s members.
One utility expressed interest in buying our system. WOEC and the potential purchaser began a long and thorough analysis of the economics, logistics and legal requirements for a sale proposal. Unfortunately, after four years of thorough examination, the realities of WOEC’s service territory—along with current cost drivers—made it clear the sale would not result in meaningful rate reductions, if any. Given that information, the board decided to terminate the discussions.
We are a not-for-profit cooperative with a strong internal focus on controlling costs and operating efficiently. We understand the economic challenges our members face. We will continue to work hard to contain costs while providing safe and reliable service to our communities!
-General Manager, Billi Kohler