It is hard to believe one year has passed since I stepped in as interim general manager here at West Oregon Electric Cooperative. The past year has been educational—from the various meetings I attended, interactions with staff and the board, reading the never-ending emails and mail, and working with different organizations.
As I reflect, I am pleased to say the membership is well served by an excellent staff. The level of work they do and the dedication they have to serving you is encouraging. I am proud to be a part of a strong and dedicated team that puts our members first.
The WOEC Board of Directors is highly dedicated to members and the cooperative.Directors take their role and fiduciary responsibility seriously. Every decision is thoroughly discussed, and its impact on the members is weighed. For the first time in WOEC history, the entire board is certified through the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s Certified Cooperative Director Training. This is extremely valuable for the cooperative. An educated and engaged board of directors is critical as we navigate through ever-changing times.
Our purpose is to provide safe and reliable service to our members, but the level of service and reliability we provide comes at a cost. Major storms have an impact on our budget. During December’s snowstorm, WOEC crews worked alongside mutual aid teams from our neighboring utilities and contractors for five days to restore service to multiple areas. The cost associated with this storm was approximately $597,000.
For WOEC to be more resilient during extreme weather events, it is necessary for us to continue to invest in our infrastructure and improve the reliability of our system. We aim to operate efficiently at the lowest cost possible to reliably service our area. Storms and outages are inevitable, but continued infrastructure improvements will help mitigate unforeseen costs and service interruptions.
America’s electric cooperatives have designated the second Monday of April as National Lineworker Appreciation Day. We proudly recognize WOEC’s hardworking linemen for the services they perform around the clock in dangerous conditions to keep power flowing and protect the public’s safety. Their service to our community is invaluable, and we appreciate their dedication to serving our membership.
Spring is near, and warmer weather is on the way. If your spring plans include remodeling, installing a fence or sprinkler system or planting a tree, remember to call 811 first.
811 is the national call-before-you-dig phone number. Before you begin a project that involves digging, call 811 to request that the approximate location of buried utilities be marked with paint or flags to avoid contact with an underground utility line.
You must give 48-hour notice for a digging project, which gives all utilities the opportunity to locate their facilities. Once all utilities have marked their buried lines, consider how close your project is to the existing utility line for safety.
Every digging job requires a call. Digging without calling can disrupt service, harm you or those around you, and potentially result in fines and repair costs. For more information, visit www.digsafelyoregon.com.
If you are getting ready to plant trees, look around to see where overhead power lines may be affected by their growth. In its lifetime, a 2-foot tall fir seedling will grow to more than 100 feet tall and about 30 to 50 feet wide. Larger trees should be planted at least 30 feet away from the lines.
Trees are a great way to add to your landscape or add natural shade to keep you home cool in the summer, but they can interfere with the liability of our system. Trees require regular attention. West Oregon Electric Cooperative has two contracted tree-trimming crews that work tirelessly year-round to keep our communities safe and reduce the chance of power outages.
Proactive tree trimming is a critical part of our fire mitigation efforts as well. As crews rotate throughout the service territory, they look for branches near power lines and branches that could fall through lines. They work on trees determined to be a possible threat—usually those planted directly below the lines. It is sometimes necessary to trim branches from trees outside rights-of-way that are too close.
If you plan to prune or trim your trees, check for overhead power lines. Safety should be your main concern. If you see lines in or near the tree you are planning to work on, call us at 503-429-3021.
Let’s work together to keep everyone safe, reduce maintenance hassles and reduce treerelated power outages.
General Manager Billi Kohler
We began the new year recovering from December’s winter snowstorm. The heavy, wet snow caused power lines to sag, limbs and branches to break, and trees to fall. WOEC crews—along with aid from our neighboring utilities, contract crews and tree crews—worked around the clock to repair damages and restore service.
Unfortunately, storm-related power outages are a challenge we will always face with the heavily forested territory we serve. We appreciate our hardworking crews and their dedication to keeping the lights on for our members. Our thoughts are with those of you who were without service for a long time. We thank you for your patience.
Due to staffing conditions, we had to rely heavily on our afterhours dispatching center to take calls during the week of the storm. When a large outage occurs, we experience abnormally high call volume, which makes it difficult for all calls to be answered. Those who answer the calls do not have specific outage information and do not know when service will be restored. During large outages, we share updates as they become available on our website and social media pages.
Depending on the severity of the storm, outages can last for a week or more. Even though WOEC has invested in system improvements, has a proactive tree-trimming program and keeps up with ongoing maintenance year-round, outages can and will happen. Being prepared can help. Please visit our website at www.westoregon.org/safety/report-an outage for information on outage preparedness and safety.
Many of our members see an increase in their electric use in the winter months. To offset the high winter bills, you may be eligible to participate in our Budget Billing program. You pay the same amount each month year-round, with a reconciliation in August. Go to www.westoregon.org/members/budget-billing for more information, or call 503-429-3021.
General Manager Billi Kohler
Happy New Year! As we move into 2022, we are focused on setting goals and preparing for another year of providing safe and reliable service to our
members, day and night. Looking back at the past few years, I want to express appreciation for our employees who have remained committed to serving our membership through personnel changes and the pandemic. We have an excellent team, and I am proud to be a part of it.
I would also like to extend thanks to those who attended the rate information meeting in December. There was great discussion among members, directors and management. We are always looking for ways to improve, and we value your input. As a cooperative, we are owned by you, our members. We work hard to manage through the unique challenges that come with servicing this territory, and cost of service is one of those challenges. This rate increase will allow us to continue to provide you with the same level of excellent member service and system reliability.
Prepare for Outages
We constantly work to maintain equipment, remove trees from rights-of-way and upgrade the cooperative’s power system. We have two contract crews that work year-round trimming trees. This allows our crews to focus on system improvements and maintenance. Not only have these efforts proven to successfully reduce power outages, a proactive treetrimming program is also necessary for wildfire mitigation. Despite our best efforts, accidents and severe weather can cause outages that can last for hours or sometimes days with crews working around the clock. In some cases, repairs can be time consuming, difficult and dangerous. There are steps you can take to be prepared for weather-related power outages. Depending on the severity of a storm, multiple areas of our service territory could be simultaneously affected. Your patience and understanding are appreciated as crews work to restore service as safely as possible. I encourage you to prepare for outages in advance.
As the temperature decreases, energy use increases, which results in high bills for many members. West Oregon Electric Cooperative offers rebates and tips to our members for installing energy-saving measures and adjusting lifestyles to make their homes more efficient. Visit our website for more information on rebates for qualifying energy-efficient upgrades. You can also visit https://homeenergysaver.lbl.gov/consumer for helpful energysaving tips.
General Manager Billi Kohler
As we wrap up 2021 and head into winter storm season, I would like to remind you 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. During a widespread outage, we will post updates to our website and Facebook page. I appreciate your patience while our crews work hard to restore service.
Rate Information Meeting
I mentioned last month that our board of directors is reviewing our budget and considering a rate adjustment in 2022. We have scheduled a rate information meeting for December 9 at 6 p.m. at the West Oregon Electric Cooperative headquarters in Vernonia. Please watch for a letter in the mail that will contain the projected rate adjustment and meeting information.
I am often asked why our rates are so high. Several factors go into setting our rates, both from a historical perspective and looking ahead. WOEC was formed in 1944 to serve a small group of people that did not have access to power. There was not enough return on the investment it would take to run the lines out to all the sparsely scattered accounts to motivate investor-owned utilities to branch out.
The cost factors were and remain significant because the areas we serve spread across parts of five counties. The long distances we travel make service work, outages, and maintenance more costly and time consuming. Our territory is heavily forested with rough terrain, creating more work and maintenance than our urban area.
I am also asked about the base charge. The fixed costs of servicing an account— regardless of how much energy is used— contains all labor, trucks, other equipment, and other operational expenses. The base charge on your power bill (currently $46) 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 a month instead of $46. This is determined through independent cost-of-service studies conducted every two years. Realistically, each account—such as telephone and gas companies require—would pay the full, actual amount of the fixed costs.
Because we do not charge the full amount of fixed costs, 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, and the development 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. As a cooperative, we are a not-for-profit utility focused on balancing our revenues and expenses. We are committed to serving our member-owners at the lowest cost possible while providing safe and reliable electric service.
Billi Kohler | General Manager
I hope you all are staying well. I am pleased to announce that I have been offered and accepted the position of General Manager for WOEC.
I have been serving as the Interim General Manager since Bob Perry retired in April. I understand the unique challenges our utility faces, and I am dedicated WOEC’s mission of providing safe and reliable electric service to our members.
During the past year, WOEC has seen a significant increase in cost of service. As many of you know, our service territory is faced with challenges that separate us from the others. We serve 3800 members spread out over 1,224 square miles of rugged terrain with millions of trees and gravel roads. We are limited to serving the residences and businesses within our territory: 93% of which are residential. A higher percentage of commercial accounts would lessen costs for residential members; however, with only 7% of WOEC’s membership falling into this category, rates for residential accounts are higher to cover the cost of service.
There are a variety of factors that come into play as cost of service rises. We are facing high inflation on a national level as well as inflation on materials and equipment. With minimal growth in our area, energy sales remain relatively flat year to year while costs increase each year. Rates must increase to cover rising costs. We are a Capital- and Labor-intensive business and it is necessary to invest in long-term assets and a specialized workforce to effectively serve our members.
We are carefully reviewing our budgeted costs and analyzing operations to ensure our rates are sufficient to cover the cost of providing reliable service. This review shows there is not much that can be trimmed and still maintain the system properly while fulfilling all other obligations.
We will hold a rate meeting in December for members to attend and discuss the anticipated rate adjustment for 2022. Watch for a notice in the mail this month with the meeting details. This information will also be posted to our website. As always, these adjustments will be considered with the goal to provide safe and reliable service to our membership.