Changing technology to improve processes and save members' money
When someone thinks about CHELCO, what usually comes to mind are the line crews who brave terrible conditions to make repairs or the friendly member service representatives who handle their payments and questions. But few give thoughts to the teams of people behind-the-scenes who play important roles. One of those teams is CHELCO’s Information Technology (IT) Department.
IT does more than help CHELCO employees with computer and automated solutions for administration and bookkeeping. It’s contributions give members many digital means to monitor their account, make payments and communicate with CHELCO through on-line access, kiosks, the new CHELCO Connect mobile app and even our automated telephone system. They are also responsible for cyber security that keeps members’ information shared with CHELCO protected.
IT monitors data systems, keeps up with the rapid technology changes and takes active measures to keep CHELCO systems up-to-date.
The IT department is also an integral part of implementing new automated systems on the power distribution system. These automated improvements decrease the lengths of outages and reduce hazards, which increases power reliability, safety and member satisfaction. This contributes to CHELCO being in the top 25 percent nationally among electric cooperatives in the American Consumer Satisfaction Index.
“Our IT department is committed to continuing to advance our system and follow the trends of convenient technology, while keeping our members’ assets safe,“ said Interim Information Technology Manager Shane Schiller. “It is a top priority for CHELCO to safely provide quality services and products at competitive value. We believe processes we have implemented and processes we have in the works will allow CHELCO to continue to provide that for our members.”
For more news, tips and information, click here for the full edition of this month's CHELCO News.
CHELCO conducted a ground breaking ceremony for its new Technical Center on Highway 331N in DeFuniak Springs just south of its Operations Center. Executives and trustees from CHELCO, along with representatives of Culpepper Construction and Baker Engineering attended. The new facility will house engineering, power quality, meter services, call center and the energy control center, which will be a hardened bunker to resist the impact of high winds.
Pecan trees and nuclear plants
Guest column written by PowerSouth’s President and CEO Gary Smith. PowerSouth, based in Andalusia, Alabama, is a generation and transmission (G&T) electric cooperative providing the wholesale power needs to 20 distribution members - 16 electric cooperatives(including CHELCO) and four municipal electric systems- in northwest Florida and Alabama.
Charlie Lowman was President and CEO of Alabama Electric Cooperative (the predecessor of PowerSouth Energy) from 1970 until 1988. When he retired, Charlie moved north of Andalusia and started a pecan farm. He developed his own strain of pecans. In response to questions about starting a pecan farm so late in life, Charlie responded, “You plant pecan trees for your grandchildren.” That would not be unusual for Charlie since he spent his career at AEC building power plants and transmission lines for future generations.
Electric utility assets, especially generation plants and transmission systems, are built for the long cycle. PowerSouth’s hydroelectric dams were built in the 1920’s. Our coal-fired generation units were completed in 1969, 1978 and 1979, and our natural gas plants were completed in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. They still produce electric power for our members today and do it very well. Barring environmental regulations that may close them, those units will
continue to produce power long into the future. A life assessment study of our coal-fired units a few years ago indicated they would operate indefinitely with proper care and maintenance.
However, as circumstances change through years and decades, the benefits of the different plants change. For instance, when natural gas is cheap, like today, our natural gas-fired plants produce power more cheaply than our coal-fired units. When natural gas is expensive, like in 2008-2009, our coal-fired plants produce power more cheaply.
That concept is not difficult to understand. However, finding the diversity to protect us (and your power bills) against volatile swings in costs can be difficult. Electric utility assets are very capital-intensive and may take years to construct. No utility can build assets quickly enough to react to volatility in fuel costs -- we have to be prepared before it arises by having diverse resources in place.
To further diversify PowerSouth’s generation portfolio, we decided a decade ago to add nuclear generation by investing in the expansion of the Vogtle Nuclear Plant in Waynesboro, Georgia. The decision presented risk -- considerable risk. But it also offered benefits, especially if you look over the long cycle of generation facilities.
Today, with natural gas prices at $3.00/ million British Thermal Units (MMBTU) instead of $9.00/MMBTU like they comments on the Vogtle expansion are critical. The Sierra Club commented on Vogtle Units 3 and 4: “Georgia Power’s owner has voted to push ahead
with building Plant Vogtle, a chaotic nuclear project beset with multi-year construction delays, bankruptcy, and a price tag that has ballooned to more than $25 billion.
“This leaves Southern Company and Georgia Power as the lone cheerleaders for a massive boondoggle that leaves families and businesses on the hook for expensive, risky nuclear power they don’t need.”
The Sierra Club and others are critical of the construction delays and cost overruns Georgia Power Company, Oglethorpe Power, the Municipal Authority of Georgia, Jacksonville Electric Authority and PowerSouth are experiencing in building the first nuclear generation since the late 1980’s. If we were only interested in the short-term economics of the project, we would abandon it and build natural gas generation because it is cheaper today.
Nuclear generation is not the favorite of the Sierra Club, who would only approve of solar or wind. Nor is it the cheapest generation we can build for the immediate future. However, we believe over the long cycle with natural gas costs again becoming volatile, environmental regulation becoming more restrictive and requirements to produce more low carbon or carbon-free electricity, nuclear power from the Vogtle investment will prove to be beneficial for our members.
For example, under EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan that is likely to be overturned but replaced with another low carbon restriction, we would need to build a billion dollars in solar generation to produce the same amount of carbon- free electricity we would receive from our nuclear investment.
Vogtle Units 1 and 2, which were completed in 1987 and 1988, were budgeted to cost $900 million. They were finally finished for $8 billion, almost 9 times over budget. But, today they are a great investment for their owners. We are not near cost overruns in that universe.
We look at electric generation plants like Charlie Lowman looks at pecan trees. We are building for the long cycle, for our grandchildren. At some point in the life of Vogtle Units 3 and 4, the investment will be the best investment PowerSouth has made. I am convinced it will be good for our grandchildren.
For more news, tips and information, click here for the full edition of this month's CHELCO News.
Come see us at annual meeting
Attend CHELCO’s annual meeting Saturday, April 21, for a fun day with the family! The meeting will be at Freeport High School.
Each year, your cooperative hosts the annual meeting to provide an update on the co-op, entertainment, fun for the kids and more. Eat a free breakfast while enjoying exhibits. Each membership will receive one gift. Bounce houses will be open for the kids.
During the meeting, CHELCO’s auditors will announce the results of the Board of Trustees election. Be on the lookout for your ballot packet in the mail mid-March. There will be a proposed bylaw change in your annual meeting packet. The annual meeting celebration is just another reason to be proud to be a member of an electric cooperative!
Scholarship apps due Feb. 15
The Feb. 15 deadline to apply for one of three $1,000 CHELCO scholarships is quickly approaching. Please contact Bonnie Whitfield at (850) 307-1120 for more information or download the application packet here.
Youth Tour students head to Tallahassee
CHELCO will escort 23 Youth Tour students to Tallahassee for a two- day, all-expense paid trip Feb. 7-8.
The Florida Electric Cooperative Association’s Youth Tour is an annual event inviting high school juniors to participate in the trip to the capital with a chance to compete for a weeklong trip to Washington, D.C., in the summer. CHELCO is proud to be a Youth Tour sponsoring cooperative since 1983.
CHELCO closed Presidents' Day
CHELCO offices will be closed Monday, Feb. 19, in observance of Presidents' Day.
Co-op Connections discount cards are just another benefit of being a CHELCO member. Dozens of local businesses, plus thousands nationally, offer discounts to co-op members. There are also discounts available on prescriptions at participating pharmacies.
We would like to highlight and thank the following businesses.
Bootleggers Mercantile, LLC - Freeport, (850) 835-2778, 10% off purchase every Tuesday
C&C Construction of Northwest Florida, LLC - Florida, Southern Alabama and Southwest Georgia, (850) 547-1001, $50 off any roof purchase
Emerald Coast Energy Solutions - Santa Rosa Beach, (850) 588-2870, free energy inspections; $75 off radiant barrier installation; $50 off blown-in insulation
To request a card, or, if you own a business and want to sign-up to offer CHELCO's 50,000 member accounts a discount, email email@example.com or call CHELCO's marketing department at (850) 307-1122. You can find all the local and national deals here.