Active Membership Is a Family Tradition
Story and photos by Craig Reed
Chris Seubert was introduced to Lane Electric Cooperative at an early age.
Fred and Mary Lou Seubert moved their family into Lane’s service area when Chris was 7. The Seubert family attended many of the co-op’s annual meetings, seeing the board in action.
“My dad was fascinated with the co-op model,” Chris says.
Chris is carrying on the family tradition of being a Lane co-op member. The meetings of his youth have grown into board meetings that he helps lead. Chris has served the district on local, state and national boards.
Now 65 years old, Chris, his wife, Stephanie, and their teenage children are residents of the co-op’s Central District. Chris has represented that district as a member of the Lane Electric Board of Directors since 2004.
Chris was a long-time employee of Pacific Northwest Bell and had experience in several operations and network positions for that company. He retired in 2011 after 35 years. He brings his telecom experience to the Lane Electric board and enjoys every second.
“I use the word fun,” Chris says. “People might mistake that as not working hard, but I’ve immersed myself 100% into the co-op. I look forward to the monthly meetings, the conferences, the workshops. It’s been 16 years of learning, of education and staying current with what is going on in the co-op and power industries.”
Chris is certified as a Credentialed Cooperative Director through the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. He is a past president of Lane Electric’s board. His continuing interest led him to serve as a board member and president of the Oregon Rural Electric Cooperative Association, an organization that represents and promotes the interests of electric cooperatives and their members. He was chairman of ORECA’s Technology Committee for five years.
The ORECA experience sparked Chris’ interest in the National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative. Encouraged to run because of his telecom background and interest in high-speed internet, he campaigned and was elected to a three-year term on that co-op’s board in 2018. He represents co-ops in Alaska, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington.
As a member of local, state and national boards, Chris says it is difficult at times to speak out about issues, “but I’m not afraid to challenge the status quo.”
Debi Wilson, Lane Electric’s general manager, says it is important for a board member to speak up.
“The best boards are diverse in their points of view,” she says. “If everyone thinks alike too much, the board is bound to miss something important. Chris challenges us to consider the alternatives. He is very passionate about the co-op and doing what is best for our members.”
Chris says electricity rates continue to be the most important concern for members. As a co-op member, he’s all for lower rates, but as a co-op district director, he understands the rate must cover labor and maintenance of the co-op’s infrastructure.
“There is a cost to getting power to your house,” he says. “The reality is you have to spread the cost across the system. You have to create a rate structure that is fair for everyone. There is a fixed cost to running a co-op. Our job as a board is to figure what is the best way to handle those costs. It is something we’re always looking at as we go forward.”
Lane Electric has approximately 10,000 members and 13,000 meters. Chris says that because of more energy-efficient products such as appliances, windows and doors, power use has slowly dropped in each of the past six years in Lane Electric’s service territory that consists mostly of residential meters.
“While usage drops, Lane Electric still has expenses,” Chris says.
Other issues facing the co-op, according to Chris, are continual preparation for the forecasted Cascadia earthquake or any other natural disaster and the possibility of getting high-speed internet to its members. NRTC is in the midst of an internet feasibility study for Lane Electric.
“We know getting high-speed internet out to the rural areas is a problem,” Chris says. “We just don’t know yet how it’s going to get solved. If our members can’t get legitimate high-speed internet, we’re not going to attract new younger people to move into our area. Somehow, co-ops have to be part of that grassroots effort, to help facilitate or be part of that process. We know we have a responsibility to be at the table, to assist in the process.”
Natural disaster preparedness and readiness for subsequent power outages is a topic of discussion at Lane Electric’s district meetings, and the focus of articles in Ruralite magazine. Chris says that planning in advance can help limit the effects of surprise events.
Chris says he continues to find these co-op issues intriguing and interesting.
When his positions on both the Lane Electric and NRTC boards come up for election, he plans to run for reelection.