Manager’s Message

Hi, I’m Debi Wilson, General Manager of Lane Electric Cooperative. Every month, I will report on some of the issues facing Lane Electric and share important news and updates with you, our members.

Sometimes, I may write about poles, lines and wires, our power supply, service interruptions, emergency preparedness, or rate changes. Other times, it might be about member meetings and community service. And sometimes, it’s simply to keep you informed about what goes on at Lane Electric, your cooperative.

Be sure to check out “Recent Stories from Ruralite” (to the left) for other information you might be interested in, too.

Manager's Message

Manager’s Message — October 2020

Beacon of Light

Dear Co-op Community Members:

Debi WilsonAt Lane Electric, our hearts are heavy. This year has presented many challenges, beginning with COVID-19 in March, that brought significant change to our daily lives. As we wrapped up a beautiful Labor Day weekend, devastating wildfires spread through our small and beautiful McKenzie River communities.

Our hearts are with you during this significant loss to your homes, businesses, and the true beauty of this area.

While the damage is great and healing will take time, we have a beacon of light. Lane Electric has begun repairs in areas where it is safe to do so.

There was significant damage to our electrical system and the Bonneville Power Administration’s transmission system. BPA has transmission lines out of service due to wind and wildfire. Lane Electric’s system sustained damage from the powerful windstorm that swept through the area. Other parts of the system continue to sustain damage from the Holiday Farm Fire.

At the east end of the McKenzie River electrical system, we were able to replace nearly 40 poles and provide repairs up to McKenzie School. Lane Electric brought in a 2-megawatt generator to power up the substation and return light to those homes.

While we are excited and thankful to restore service to this area, there is a lot of work ahead to rebuild our electrical system.

We have just begun to repair the damage. Service to all will take time and careful planning. At the time of this letter, damage continues to our system as the fire still smolders. When we know it is safe to return to those areas, we will assess the damage and create a plan to rebuild the electrical system.

We know Lane Electric is a small part of rebuilding these beautiful communities. The McKenzie River communities are strong, and we look forward to rebuilding with you. We are excited to again visit your restaurants and businesses, and provide service to your homes.

I have profound sorrow for your losses, and my heart—as well as those of all Lane Electric employees and the board of directors—are with you.

Sincerely,

Debi Wilson
General Manager

Manager's Message

Manager’s Message — September 2020

Be Heard, Join ACRE

Debi WilsonSummers here at the co-op are some of our busiest times. The dry weather allows us to prepare for storms by performing system maintenance, trimming rights-of-way, and inspecting lines that are otherwise problematic to reach.

There actually are a few storms brewing that we could use your help to prepare for.

We are all experiencing difficulties and a certain degree of loss during these trying times of the COVID-19 pandemic. There also are pressing legislative issues that need our collective attention.

As Congress continues to struggle with relief packages and charting a course back to prosperity, there is an opportunity for us to advocate for our co-op and our communities.

We need to urge policymakers to minimize COVID-19 impacts and provide a safety net by:

  • Promoting investment to expand broadband access in areas of rural America that lack internet access, like much of our service territory.
  • Providing federal funds to address potential operational shortfalls for electric co-ops whose members are disproportionally affected by the economic downturn and not able to pay their bills.
  • Directing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to swiftly provide promised funding to co-ops that have restored their electric systems devastated by past disasters, such as last year’s snowstorm.

Here is how you can do all that and more, in less than 5 minutes.

Cooperatives across Oregon are encouraging their members to promote commonsense solutions by way of a grassroots program called Oregon Rural Electric Cooperative Association Action, or ORECA-Action.

Upon visiting the Oreca-Action website, click the “Take Action” button, which will provide you with information about things you can do right now to help us better weather the storms ahead. Please visit the site today and help us help you.

Cooperatives have a storied past of political engagement. They understand the power that comes from banding together with those around us to advocate for things important to us.

After all, it was a group of concerned neighbors up the McKenzie River that got together in the late 1930s to make their voices heard, which spurred the creation of what is now Lane Electric Cooperative.

More recently, it took a group of concerned co-op members to reach out to their elected officials to advocate for support of the RURAL Act, which corrected unintended changes to the IRS code that would have cost us our tax-exempt status.

It will take just such a group of concerned citizens to continue supporting the preferred alternative of the Environmental Impact Study regarding the four lower Snake River dams to keep our power clean, reliable, and economical.

It’s more important than ever to work cooperatively and advocate for solutions to the problems facing our co-op, our community, and our country.

We need to do our part and add our voices to the many others around us. Members of Congress work for us, and they need to hear our stories.

Debi Wilson
General Manager

Manager's Message

Manager’s Message — August 2020

Virtual Annual Meeting Follow-Up

Debi WilsonIncluded in this edition of Ruralite are follow-up reports that were promised during our first-ever virtual annual meeting. I hope you take some time to look them over. They are helpful in understanding some of the behind-the-scenes efforts we undertake at the cooperative.

As indicated in those reports, safety and financial stability are important to all of us here at Lane Electric. We also value your ability to work and thrive in the communities we serve. That is why we usually hold district meetings each year throughout our service territory—a practice that is not typical for most other co-ops.

We heard from many of you that providing broadband internet was something you would like us to explore.

Last year, I told you Lane Electric was working with the National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative to conduct a broadband feasibility study. After an extensive study and assessing multiple paths to feasibility, the results of the study are now here. Unfortunately, the results were inconclusive, meaning it would only be feasible under what I would consider to be overly ambitious conditions.

The biggest factor identified in the feasibility study is the lack of poles on which to attach the fiber.

Lane Electric strives to improve the quality of rural life for our members. The resiliency improvements we have made converting our overhead power lines to underground means there are not enough poles on which to attach the fiber. About 53% of our power lines are underground and safe from severe weather.

I am proud of the progress we have made to protect our electric system. At the same time, I am disappointed at the outcome of the feasibility study.

Feasibility is essential to developing a financially sound business plan. This is what you have come to expect of Lane Electric, as do our lenders.

While there currently is no sustainable path forward, we will continue to explore opportunities to support expansion of broadband services in Lane County.

A bright spot is that this news comes as Lane Electric is developing a strategic plan that will guide our actions the next few years. This insightful experience helps us confidently navigate how best to serve and support our rural communities.

I look forward to sharing more on our strategic plans as things take shape, and am excited by the discussions we are having about the future of Lane Electric.

Debi Wilson
General Manager

Manager's Message

Manager’s Message — July 2020

A Different Kind of Annual Meeting

Debi WilsonBy the time this message reaches you, we will have conducted our first digital annual meeting. While certainly not our ideal channel of communications, the fact that during this pandemic we can still hold this meeting and conduct the business of the co-op is exciting.

Many of the reports that would typically be shared at our annual meeting will be included in future editions of this magazine. Please take a moment to look at that information when it arrives. We would, of course, still appreciate hearing your questions, comments, and concerns.

Speaking of concerns, there have been many during this time of pandemic and pandemonium in the world. Your cooperative, however, has been running smoothly and efficiently.

We have taken great care to keep our members and employees safe as we follow the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and state guidelines for doing so. Our ability to keep the power on is truly a life-or-death situation in some cases, and we take this pandemic seriously. We have had zero cases of the virus thus far and plan to keep it that way.

We are relieved to have recently been granted the expanded ability to perform preventive maintenance and storm hardening measures on our system. The summer months are when we perform many of the tasks that increase system reliability during the fall and winter.

System reliability is important, but so is the ability to fund that extremely important work. In these trying times, we are aware of the financial difficulties of many of our members. Our office staff has done its best to stay current on all the options available to those finding themselves in need. Please call us sooner rather than later if you think you need assistance or payment extension.

Financially speaking, Lane Electric is in great shape. That is not necessarily the case for other power companies in the state. Our revenue largely comes from residential energy use, which has seen far less interruption than business or industrial energy use. This often is a double-edged sword, but currently it is working in our favor.

Also working in our favor are the recent new hires we have welcomed to our team. We reported in the annual meeting packet that we have hired 10 new staff members this past year. These are not additions to our overall numbers, but rather replacements for retirements and people who have moved on to other opportunities. Three of those new hires are management staff who were hired after national searches. I couldn’t be happier with the team we have assembled and the work of our staff.

Most importantly, these hires have increased our capacity to offer exceptional customer service and ensure sustainable energy sources for our members.

We are proud to serve you and proud to be owned by those we serve!

Debi Wilson
General Manager

Manager's Message

Manager’s Message — June 2020

Coping With COVID-19

Debi WilsonAs you know, safety is a priority here at Lane Electric. When we think of safety, we tend to think of high-voltage lines, working at the top of a pole, or slips, trips, and falls. With COVID-19, safety has taken on a different look.

We now work 6 feet apart. We view documents together by sharing a computer screen via video rather than looking over someone’s shoulder. Co-workers are seen by video rather than by passing in the hallway. We sanitize the surfaces we touch, wash our hands more often, and use hand sanitizer. When we can’t be 6 feet apart, we wear face masks.

We will be making revisions to the office to add protection for members and employees. Until then, the lobby is closed to the public until further notice.

With new Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidance, linemen will be back to work maintaining and improving the system. Rest assured; we are here to serve you!

We all look forward to the day when we are able again to see you face to face. I hope it’s soon.

Annual Meeting

You will soon receive an annual meeting packet in the mail. It will contain information about voting and how to access the annual meeting Monday, June 22, at 4 p.m.

Due to Gov. Kate Brown’s restrictions on public gatherings, we will hold the business meeting via an online webinar this year. You may participate by video or telephone. Please visit our website for more information.

District Meetings

We hope to hold district meetings in some fashion later this fall. We value the time spent at those meetings sharing information and gathering feedback from you all, so stay tuned.

Thank You

I would like to thank our incredible staff for everything they are doing under these unusual circumstances. I also want to thank all of you for your understanding and support. We know it hasn’t been easy, but together we can get through it. That spirit is what makes us a co-op. We are truly more powerful together. Our future remains bright.

Debi Wilson
General Manager

Manager's Message

Manager’s Message — May 2020

We Continue to Adapt Through COVID-19

Debi WilsonDear Co-op Community Members:

This past month has definitely been a time of change and adaptations. At Lane Electric, our staff continues to balance the executive orders from Gov. Kate Brown while also ensuring our members have electricity to work, learn and continue daily life from home.

Our main office will remain closed through May 15, due to updated orders from Gov. Brown. Please continue to contact us via phone or email, Monday through Thursday, 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

If you experience an outage, we are here to answer your call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We continue to respond to outages and ask that if you see our linemen working, please do not approach them. If they need to talk with you, they will maintain a safe 6-foot distance away from you. They are restricted on the work they can do, but we appreciate their efforts to keep our members’ lights on.

Meter Reading

Our communication to our meters is not always perfect, and accurate bills are important. If we are unable get a read, we may contact you to help us. If you are unable to help with a meter read, we will estimate your bill and adjust it when we can obtain a good read. Thank you, Lane Electric members, for your help!

Payments

We pride ourselves on being able to do what is best for all members. Lane Electric does not have a one-size-fits-all approach to our service. If you are faced with serious illness or job loss, we help our members when they call. Please contact us so we can work with you!

Annual Meeting

Each year, we look forward to the opportunity to get out and visit members throughout our district. Sadly, this year needs to look a little different.

Our annual meeting is Monday, June 22, but our district meetings will be postponed. The details of this meeting are still in the planning stages, due to restrictions that may still be in effect on our scheduled date. We will keep members up to date on the logistics of this meeting. We may be required to video the meeting this year. We hope to get out and see you all this fall, when we will schedule our district meetings.

Please continue to stay safe and check our website for any updates. We look forward to seeing you in person soon!

Sincerely,

Debi Wilson
General Manager

Manager's Message

Manager’s Message — April 2020

Lane Electric Cares During Uncharted Times

Debi WilsonDear Co-op Community Members:

These are definitely uncharted times for our community and nation. News of COVID-19 has been extremely dynamic. Suggestions, as well as mandates, are changing daily. At Lane Electric, we care about our members and employees’ health and safety. To continue providing service you can count on, it was imperative we adjust our daily procedures.

Main Office

Our main office is closed to the public. We plan to keep the office closed through Tuesday, April 28. This date could be extended or shortened as information changes. We will continue to be available by phone or email during normal business hours.

Phone/Email Hours:

Monday-Thursday 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Outage Calls: 24/7

Phone: 541-484-1151

Email: comment.question@laneelectric.com

Although our offices are closed, we are still available to provide service and our expertise. If you need assistance with billing, engineering or energy conservation, we are here to help!

Payments

As a member-owned utility, we pride ourselves on doing what is best for all members. Lane Electric does not have a one-size-fits-all approach to our service. Since we aren’t able to visit with you in person, we have provided several options to make payments. We are also available to make necessary arrangements. With the changes and uncertainty around the country, our flexible service remains unchanged.

If you are faced with serious illness or job loss, we help our members when they call. Our team can help avoid disconnect for nonpayment, make arrangements that fit your budget or find resources to help you pay your bill.

Spirit of Giving

During challenging times, there are many members who want to know how they can help. Contributions to our Member Assistance Program help less fortunate members pay their utility bills. Members can round up their monthly bill or make a one-time contribution to this fund.

As we focus on our community’s health and safety, we may need to make other temporary adjustments to our business practices. We will continue to keep you updated and informed during this challenging time. Please check our webpage and/or social media sites for updates. We appreciate your patience and understanding. Stay healthy and safe. We look forward to seeing our members in person soon!

Sincerely,

Debi Wilson
General Manager

Manager's Message

Manager’s Message — March 2020

2020 Rate Changes

Debi WilsonDear Co-op Community Members:

Rate changes are always a difficult discussion. Last fall, your board of directors faced the tough decision to raise rates. The rate change was effective January 1, 2020. In your January statements, we notified you of the changes to your bill, but I want to follow up with you, our members, on how we came to this decision.

Increasing Fixed Costs

Lane Electric has fixed costs that continually increase and do not vary with energy use. Examples include utility equipment, maintenance, outage restoration, tree trimming and general administration. Another factor impacting our budget was the 2019 February snowstorm. This storm was costly.

While we are able to have 75% of our costs reimbursed by Federal Emergency Management Agency, the remainder is funded by members.

For Lane Electric to be more resilient during extreme weather events, it is necessary that we also continue to invest in our infrastructure to improve the reliability of our system.

Average kWh Consumption Declining

Our annual kilowatt-hour consumption is trending downward. About 78% of our total kWh sales come from residential members.

Our co-op needs a more dependable source of revenue to cover operating costs. This is why you see increases in the basic charge. The basic charge is our most predictable revenue source, but currently makes up only 21% of our electric revenue.

Declining kWh sales could be offset by increasing the number of members we serve. Unfortunately, growth in new accounts has been flat for many years.

The good news is through the years, energy efficiency is more a part of our daily lives. We are surrounded by new homes, appliances, and lightbulbs that help keep our energy consumption low. Lane Electric is proud of the energy conservation programs we offer, and will continue to offer, to our members.

Rate discussions are difficult because we know increases are a burden to our members. We believe predictability—for the co-op and for you—is important and is best achieved through the basic charge.

Winter temperatures vary from year to year. An increase to only the kWh charge in a colder winter could result in the unintended consequence of a windfall of revenue not needed by the co-op and high electric bills for our members.

Lane Electric is owned by you, our members. We are a not-for-profit organization that does not collect money for shareholders. Meeting operational needs with affordable rate structures has been, and continues to be, a focus of the board of directors. The board and all Lane Electric employees are committed to operating efficiently to provide you with reliable electric service.

Sincerely,

Debi Wilson
General Manager

Manager's Message

Manager’s Message — February 2020

Disaster Avoided!

Debi WilsonAs we are now in midst of winter, and weather forecasts have been predicting snow, many of us are remembering the debilitating 2019 February snowstorm, the power outages and the damage that came with it. It was a costly disaster, and tax changes by the Internal Revenue Service threatened to make it even more costly to Lane Electric and our members.

The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act presented unintended consequences to Oregon electric cooperatives, including Lane Electric. The tax law changes made government aid and grants taxable, whereas previously they were tax-exempt.

For Lane Electric specifically, it meant the Federal Emergency Management Agency grants we will receive for the 2019 snowstorm to offset 75% of storm damage repair costs could have been taxable. The money we will receive would have caused us to exceed the percentage of revenue we are allowed to maintain our tax-exempt status. In other words, under the 2017 tax law, we would have to pay taxes.

Lane Electric directors and staff, along with electric cooperatives across the country, emailed and visited with our elected officials in Washington, D.C., asking them to support the Revitalizing Underdeveloped Rural Areas and Lands Act, which would correct the 2017 tax law. In August, we also did a call to action to you, our members, encouraging you to contact your elected officials and visit our grassroots webpage urging Congress to support the RURAL Act.

This act needed Democrats and Republicans alike to support our rural constituents and work together. As it turns out, there was excellent bipartisan support (see page 28), but not enough to ensure it would be included in the 2020 spending bill. For the RURAL Act to pass, it was essential to have the backing of Sen. Ron Wyden, who sits on an influential committee. Lane Electric, along with our fellow electric cooperatives, is thankful this disaster was avoided.

We are grateful our elected officials set aside their differences, were nonpartisan, and came together to support electric cooperatives across the country. This change would not have happened without Sen. Wyden supporting electric cooperatives and taking it across the finish line. Lane Electric expresses our deepest thanks and appreciation to Sen. Wyden for his support of the RURAL Act and rural Oregon.

Thank you, too, to all of our members who contacted our elected officials. You made a difference!

Debi Wilson
General Manager

Manager's Message

Manager’s Message — January 2020

A New Year, A New Decade

Dear Co-op Community Members:

Debi WilsonAs we rang in 2020, we also rang in a new decade of opportunity. Welcome to the 2020s. A new year brings opportunity for reflection on our past and optimism for our future. As we close out 2019, I want to reflect on some highlights from this past year.

February brought us a storm for the decades. When we thought the ice storm of 2016 was the worst we had seen, Mother Nature had to close out the 2010s with a bang. The February storm caused widespread damage to 77% of our electric system. It impacted 10,120 members and our small line crew of 16 increased to a crew of 111 linemen. As a utility, we learned the importance of preparedness and shared the message with you all year long.

In April, I was honored to be hired as your general manager. After serving Lane Electric members in various roles for nearly two decades, I was thrilled to be chosen to lead your cooperative. Being in this new role has been a highlight of the year and a true honor.

In May, I visited with you at our five district meetings. We updated members on the broadband feasibility study, Bonneville Power Administration rates, our financial and legal reports, and our distribution system report. We look forward to seeing you at our 2020 meetings.

I visited Washington, D.C., on behalf of our members and cooperatives to advocate for the RURAL Act, which will help us maintain reasonable rates by protecting our tax-exempt status.

During the summer, line crews and tree trimmers worked to improve reliability. We also changed out reclosers to do our part to reduce fire risk to our beautiful community.

I am proud we continued supporting our local youth. In 2019, we distributed scholarships totaling approximately $20,000 to seven deserving students. We also offer a scholarship for a trip for one high school junior to visit our nation’s capital. Lastly, we continued our support of FFA and 4-H.

Lane Electric supported local communities through local events, celebrations, and parades. We also donated to local schools and grad parties. And very dear to our cooperative, we provided lunch to our veterans.

Lane Electric celebrated 80 years of service. We went from serving 650 members in 1939 to the nearly 13,000 we proudly serve today.

As we ring in 2020, we are proud to serve you, our members. We hope you enjoyed a wonderful holiday season with family and friends.

From our families to yours, Happy New Year!

Sincerely,
Debi Wilson