Bartholomew County REMC will have two listening meetings for its members as the electric cooperative prepares to increase its rates for the first time since 2011.
The cooperative, which serves the Bartholomew County area outside the Columbus city limits and Geneva Township in Jennings County, is planning an 8.8 percent increase that will go into effect April 1 and be reflected in May electric bills, said Jim Turner, general manager and CEO of REMC. The cooperative also has a few customers in Decatur and Jackson counties.
The rate change includes an increase of $4.66 in the cooperative’s monthly service fee, which is used to fund the cost and maintenance of infrastructure including poles, transformers and wire, said Marty Lasure, the cooperative’s vice president of communications and member services.
The bill increase for an average residential member user in the cooperative will go from $151.38 at the current rate to $164.77 on April 1, Lasure said.
Members will have a chance to learn more about the rate change during public listening meetings at 2 and 6 p.m. Thursday, and 2 and 6 p.m. April 3 at the REMC office, 1697 W. Deaver Road.
The change also will be reviewed at 7 p.m. April 17 during the cooperative’s annual meeting in the auditorium at Columbus North High School, 1400 25th St.
Turner said the cooperative has been considering a rate increase for the past few years, but held off as the cooperative’s supplier, Hoosier Energy, delayed making its own rate adjustments to wholesale rates.
The cooperative has been pursuing cost-saving measures through a variety of means to avoid a rate increase, but a need for adequate cash flow to keep the utility in a solid financial position has led to the rate-increase plan, Turner said.
An outside independent consultant was hired to study the cooperative’s rate structure and recommended the rate change was needed for financial stability to meet cash flow, loan obligations, rising costs and continued maintenance of the electrical system, Turner said.
The new rates were approved by the cooperative’s board of directors last week, and will coincide with changes that Hoosier Energy has planned for its wholesale rate structure in the future, he said. Because the cooperative is a nonprofit and owned by its members, REMC is not required to go through the state regulatory process.
Other factors that have contributed to the need for a rate change include maintaining a larger, improved electrical delivery system that has been upgraded during the past five years, Turner said. The cooperative had 284 miles of electrical line in its service in 1938, when its first lines were energized, but now have 1,223 miles of lines to maintain, he said. The members per mile have gone from 2.34 in 1938 to 8.3 in 2018.
In terms of customer numbers, the cooperative has gone from 10,562 meters in service in 2004 to 11,614 in 2017 and is averaging about 1 percent growth in new customers each year, Turner said.
During the past five years, the cooperative has invested an average of more than $3.4 million annually in capital improvements to wires and poles, and also embarked on an aggressive vegetation-management program to remove trees and reclaim right-of-way clearances to keep trees off lines, which cause power outages, Turner said.
The vegetation-management program is now on a four- to five-year cycle to make sure the right-of-way is clear, Lasure said. REMC employees are also talking with property owners if they identify a rotted or dead tree near, but outside, the right-of-way, to obtain permission to remove it if the tree could potentially land on power lines.
As a result of that investment, members have had a reduced outage time, from an average of 161 minutes in 2014 to 92 minutes in 2017, Turner said. Linemen are responding to outages in an average of eight minutes, which also reduces the amount of time customers are without power, he said.
Total outage time per member per year has improved from 237 minutes in 2014 to 174 minutes in 2017, Turner said.
The cooperative has also introduced a new customer portal and bill format that allows customers to track their electrical usage online, pay bills online and to request an energy audit. REMC has representatives who are available to help customers learn how to lower their usage and provide tips and advice, Lasure said.
REMC has also resumed its Capital Credits program that returns money to its members, who actually own the cooperative. The cooperative returned $4.2 million in a catch-up check in 2011 and returned $6.4 million from 2011 to 2017.
Additional cost-saving measures have included restructuring the cooperative’s debt by refinancing, which has saved $250,000 a year, limiting additional staffing, and reducing overtime by improving the outage numbers and the need for additional lineman hours, Turner said. The overtime reductions have saved the cooperative $130,000 a year on labor costs, he said.
As a nonprofit, the cooperative does not set its rates to make more than it needs, Turner said.
“We raise rates simply to cover the cost of doing business, and then only when absolutely necessary,” Turner said in a message to members in January.
Bartholomew County REMC customers are invited to public listening meetings at the REMC office at 1697 W. Deaver Road, Columbus.
The sessions are 2 and 6 p.m. Thursday, and 2 and 6 p.m. April 3.
For more information, call 812-372-2546.
Bartholomew County Rural Electric Membership Corporation (REMC), headquartered in Columbus, is a member-owned electric cooperative that has supplied electric power to member-owners in Bartholomew County since its incorporation on May 19, 1937. Bartholomew County REMC also serves portions of Jennings, Jackson and Decatur counties.
The cooperative is wholly owned by the members it serves and is governed by a board of directors elected by member-owners in each of the seven voting districts. There is a staff of 31 employees to serve the many residential and industrial accounts.
Number of meters: 11,613
Miles of line energized: 1,223
Members per mile of line: 8.3
For more information: bcremc.com/news
The Bartholomew County REMC Board of Directors, who are elected by the membership, include:
District 1: Larry Hoeltke
District 2: John D. Harker (vice president, director)
District 3: Dan Fleming
District 4: Brett Glick
District 5: Ron Arnholt (director)
District 6: Curt Burbrink (president)
District 7: Janet Anthony (secretary)