BEC plans take flight at annual meeting

Eleanor Guerrero
CCN Senior Reporter
Thursday, May 9, 2019
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Photo by Kevin Owens
(Left and Right): Dr. Marco Restani, a wildlife biologist and professor, was the keynote speaker at the BEC Annual Meeting at Anipro Event Center in Absarokee, here with Gus Behrent, BEC Sub-Foreman.

Beartooth Electric Cooperative, Inc. (BEC), held its 81st Annual Meeting on Saturday, May 4, at Anipro Event Center in Absarokee. About 141 attended. It was a breath of fresh air as the board and staff optimistically predicted a bright future for the cooperative. 

When discussing finances, General Manager Kevin Owens said regarding the state of BEC for 2019, “We’re rock solid! We’re doing fantastic! We’ve got a lot of great projects.”

The upgraded meter change is one third completed and should be finished by year’s end. “We have a plan!” said Owens. “The challenge is to stay on the task. We know where we’re going financially.” 

BEC has cleared many major hurdles to date and is on stable ground after years of upheaval when it was part of Southern Montana Electric Generation and Transmission Cooperative, Inc. (Southern) and facing almost half a billion in potentially  severable debt. The board has put those days firmly behind. 

Revenue for 2018 was down a little to $8,577 million from $8,702 million; patronage capital up to $8,463 from $7,136 million. 

For 2019, the budget is up to $8,631,900 from 2018’s $8,393,700 with an operating margin of over half a million dollars. Budget forecasts for the next three years are 2020: $8,685,824, 2021: $8,740,085 and 2022: $8,794,684, respectively. Year’s end cash is expected to be $699,443. Long term debt projects a decrease from $11,372,531 for 2018 to $10,561,702 for 2019. 

There were some lighthearted moments. It wasn’t entirely coincidental that the keynote speaker was wildlife biologist and professor, Dr. Marco Restani, of Red Lodge, who spoke about ospreys. The audience donned little osprey masks when he came to the podium courtesy of BEC. (The masks will be donated to the Boys and Girls Club of Carbon County.)   

“It was a nice segue,” said BEC General Manager, Kevin Owens. “My guys work with him. If an osprey comes to a (power) pole and nests, we put up an adjacent pole with a platform and take down the nest.” All sticks must be completely taken away. Then, “they rebuild it on the new pole-every time!” 

Restani noted ospreys prefer the open areas like around telephone poles, because their one enemy, the Great Horned Owl, prefers the cottonwoods. Owens agreed, “You won’t see them there.” BEC has lots of paraphernalia to discourage the birds. Live wires are not a safe place to raise a family. 

Pending improvements noted by Owens include a new cost study that will look at the rate designs that “will mesh with the new meters and put more information on hand for our customers. It’s really great for a little utility to be able to do that! It’s a huge leap forward in technology and providing information and more value to members.” Always, transparency is the goal.

BEC has sold out all 80 of its solar panels for its Shares du Soleil Phase II program and is hoping for grant news from the Department of Agriculture to purchase more. Owens was thrilled to report that a couple businesses have jumped on a suggestion he made for businesses to contribute not only some money but some of their energy to those having trouble making their bills. “It is out of Operation Round-up (members round up their bills and the excess payment goes to an account to help those struggling to pay their electric bills). 

“Several businesses bought 8 to 9 panels and will donate the output to Operation Roundup! This is not only funds for the board but also an energy bank for people having trouble paying their bills. It’s truly innovative. I haven’t seen it done anywhere nationally!” said Owens. 

He gives kudos to BEC President Julie Lindgren for approaching Yellowstone Bank’s Joe Griffin with the idea. “He purchased 8 panels and he’s not even in the district.” But his customers are a lot of BEC members. “One individual just donated $25,” he added. 

All current trustees running were reelected: Roxi Melton and Arleen Boyd. Said Boyd, “Ralph Lewis was elected to finish David Peterson¹s term as the bylaws require. The Board appointed him and he serves until the next annual meeting (Saturday) when he is elected (or not) to complete the term of the person he was elected to replace. Ralph is from Reed Point."

Boyd gave an update as Chair of the By-law committee. She said the 2012 by-laws are getting a major reworking. 

She noted, “Being completely transparent has never hurt us despite warnings that it might be dangerous to share so much detail about what we are doing.”

Boyd stressed, “This co-op is different from other co-ops in many very positive ways.  Our transparency is close to unique. Our insistence on analysis before decision-making is extreme and it has enabled some very successful breakthrough actions like deciding to purchase power without taking on a 50-year contract with a generation and transmission cooperative as most co-ops do. 

We perform analyses of what-if scenarios regularly – an unusual process for rural co-ops. We abstain from bundled resolutions with state and national organizations because we have members with divided opinions on some important issues.  We have term limits for trustees.  I have learned that the electricity business is complicated, but as with any business: if you dig in there are extraordinary people and materials to help you step up."  Boyd serves as Co-Chair with Bill Pascoe on the Risk Management Committee.  They stress due diligence. 

She warned that committee members must do their homework. “Hunkering down for serious due diligence and risk management analyses pays off   -- jumping to conclusions is dangerous.”

She noted, “I have learned that we have members with invaluable skills and perspectives to contribute – when they step up the co-op wins.”

Regarding  Risk Management Committee members Boyd noted, “The  benefits for Beartooth Electric from the committee have been enormous  with contributed time from experienced financial managers, bankers, business people and just plain smart members who care about analysis to support good decision making."

For 2019, Risk Management projects include: creating a financial forecast Model; COSA support (intelligent energy thermostat); rate design analysis; equity management research and seeking energy conservation opportunities. 

Owens noted that people came up to him at the meeting to thank him. He was very appreciative. “We have a small number of employees. They work very, very hard. Trust is something you have to earn.”