A reflection on 2020
By: Marshal Albright, Cass County Electric Cooperative, president & CEO
The COVID-19 pandemic took center stage in 2020 as the most significant challenge our world has seen this century. The impacts COVID-19 has on our members and local businesses are disheartening. Cass County Electric Cooperative has adapted our business operations to provide reliable electric service while protecting our employees and members.
With vaccines now available and more treatments for those infected, we see promise in our future for life to return to normal. Until society is more comfortable to attend events, eat out, and travel, we need to do whatever we can to support our local businesses to help them through these difficult times.
I want to thank our employees for their commitment to serve our members during the pandemic. I would also like to recognize and thank area health care workers for their dedication to caring for and treating those impacted by the pandemic.
Despite our challenges with COVID-19, 2020 was a stable year for the cooperative. We continued to see above-normal housing growth spurred by strong demand and low-interest rates. Commercial account growth continues to be stable. With Amazon’s announcement to build a 1.3 million-square-foot fulfillment center and other businesses expanding, the cooperative will continue to see moderate load growth into the future.
Reliability continues to be a primary focus for the cooperative. In 2019, Cass County Electric was named number one in the country for providing reliable power compared to cooperatives similar in size. On average, members were without power for 57 minutes, compared to 211 minutes for similar-sized cooperatives. Providing reliable service does not happen by chance; it requires investments in maintenance, technology, and committed employees. We use specialized equipment and supervisory control and data acquisition technology (SCADA) — or, in simpler terms, remote operation and monitoring— in all our substations to restore outages safer and faster. To identify problems before an outage occurs, we use drones to get a bird’s-eye view of our overhead devices and a program called predictive outage analytics, using millisecond data and analysis of waveform abnormalities to identify outages before they happen.
Affordability is always a focus for the cooperative and even more important this past year, with many businesses and members struggling financially. As a member-owned cooperative, we strive to keep our costs low and rates stable. In 2020, the cooperative paid out more than $2 million in capital credits and reduced the December electric bills, saving our members more than $1.5 million. In 2019, the cost to operate the cooperative (excluding wholesale power) was 2.23 cents per kWh. Cooperatives of similar size were at 3.51 cents per kWh. By operating the business more efficiently and carefully managing the finances, cooperative members saved more than $16,478,000 in 2019 compared to similar-size cooperatives. We expect similar results for 2020. Wholesale power costs remained stable and represented about 75% of your electric bill.
As we look forward to 2021, we anticipate a path to normalcy with several COVID-19 vaccines now available and better treatments to care for those infected. The day will soon come when we can safely go to events, socialize, and visit family and friends.
The cooperative will continue to grow and focus on serving our members with reliable and affordable electricity. Be safe and stay healthy!