Annual Meeting has cars, news, Q&A

Accomplishments from the past year, and goals and opportunities of the year ahead were highlighted for co-op members as Heartland REC held its Annual Meeting of the Members on Tuesday, March 10 on the campus of Fort Scott Community College.

One new attraction this year was the opportunity for meeting attendees to test drive two Tesla electric cars, which were provided by the local Kansas City dealership.

Board President Ernie Troth welcomed co-op members to the meeting, and emphasized the duties and challenges Heartland has to provide for the needs of those it serves.Tesla car

“Our rural consumer-members are geographically spread thin. It takes a lot of poles and wire to reach everyone and provide adequate power. That’s a challenge for us as we look at maintaining our infrastructure and replacing poles and wires. Reliability is of the upmost importance,” Said Troth. “Many of our members are financially secure, but we serve plenty of others who are on a fixed income, some who are living paycheck to paycheck. So, we strive to be fair to everyone with our electric rates, and policies. Young and old. Rich and poor. Those who use a lot of electricity and those who use very little.”

Troth said the adoption of new technology offers advantages to co-op members, such as the current meter upgrades that will help Heartland locate and restore outages as quickly as possible.

“Economic development is another challenge that Heartland works hard to address,” said Troth. “While our top priority has always been to provide safe, reliable and affordable energy to all of our consumer-members, equally important to us is our mission to enrich the lives of the people who we serve.”

Troth said the meaning of “community” is central to Heartland.

“Our focus benefiting the larger community is central to the way we operate as a cooperative. We at Heartland know that electricity is a critical need for modern-day life,” said Troth. “It takes more than poles and power lines to make a community, it takes a cooperative who cares about every person in it.”

CEO Mark Scheibe talked about how Heartland adapts to the changing needs and concerns of our members.

“Our directors are locally elected and you see them out and about,” said Scheibe. “They listen to you and your questions and concerns and bring those back to the boardroom.”

Scheibe noted that 2019 brought record rainfall and thunderstorms, but employees and line crews were up to the task to respond to outages across the system. High scores in the co-op’s 2019 member satisfaction survey also reflect the co-op’s ability to meet the expectations of members when storms and lightning roll through Kansas.

Strategic planning for 2020 and the years to come will address safety, the cooperative’s aging infrastructure, and promotion of rural Kansas, said Scheibe.

Safety efforts will include demonstrations of Heartland’s high-voltage safety trailer, and other communication opportunities. Infrastructure improvements include maintenance and replacement of aging infrastructure, as well as investment in new technologies.

“We are adding new technology to help us make smart decisions,” said Scheibe.

Heartland is also adapting as more and more members install residential solar arrays.

“The job of the cooperative is to make sure we provide access to energy when you need the energy, regardless of anything else,” said Scheibe. “We are here when you need us and it’s okay if you want to produce your own energy.”

Scheibe said Heartland also sees a future with more electric vehicles.

“We need to continually adapt to our consumer-member’s needs,” he said. “This paves the way to make better ways to serve the needs here in rural Kansas. If it’s good for the members, then it’s good for the cooperative.”

Faith Warden, Director of Finance and Accounting, gave the financial report. In 2019, the cooperative had electric revenue of $25.2 million. From that, $14.2 million paid for the cost of power. Heartland’s operating costs were $9.6 million. Heartland’s margin for the year was just under $2 million.

Power sales for 2019 was down 2.5 percent compared to 2018, but power sales has been up 5.5 percent over a three year period. Warden noted that Heartland paid $797,524 in county property taxes last year.

Taylor O’Brien, a senior at St. Paul High School, also spoke at the meeting, and talked about his trip to Washington DC last summer where he represented Heartland during the National Electric Cooperative Youth Tour.

Election results were also announced at the meeting.

Incumbents Larry Stainbrook in District 1, Larry Lindberg in District 2, and Dean Davied  in District 3 were unopposed and will retain their seats on the board.

At the conclusion of the meeting, cash and prizes were awarded, and an ice cream social was held.