Community strength front and center at OEC Summer Conference

OEC General Counsel Kurt Helfrich, right, swears in (from left) John Saxon, Gene McCluer, and Paul Berridge as secretary-treasurer, chairman, and vice chairman, respectively, of Ohio Rural Electric Cooperatives, Inc.

Mid-Ohio Energy Cooperative’s Gene McCluer, Buckeye Rural Electric Cooperative’s Paul Berridge, and Paulding Putnam Electric Cooperative’s John Saxon were sworn in as chairman, vice chairman, and secretary-treasurer, respectively, of Ohio Rural Electric Cooperatives, Inc. (OREC), during the organization’s business meeting at the OEC Summer Conference, held August 13-14 at the Hilton Polaris in Columbus.

McCluer replaces outgoing chairman Dennis Schindler of North Central Electric Cooperative. Pat O’Loughlin, president and CEO of Ohio’s Electric Cooperatives, offered his gratitude to Schindler for his service to OREC.

In his annual report, O’Loughlin affirmed OEC’s commitment to helping its member cooperatives best serve their communities.

“Now more than over, the strength of our program is tied directly to the strength of our communities,” said O’Loughlin. “And your communities count on you to serve them in a way that meets their needs. What we can do is encourage your efforts and try to find ways for you to work together effectively, which helps you preserve your independent nature.”

O’Loughlin cited OEC’s increased support of economic development grants and sponsorships as examples of how the organization is boosting support of community engagement.

Safety has also been a critical component of OEC’s support of distribution cooperatives, noted O’Loughlin. He discussed OEC’s partnership with Federated Rural Electric Insurance Exchange and NRECA on the Commitment to Zero Contacts initiative, which provides cooperative CEOs, senior leaders, and field personnel with resources to help eliminate serious injuries and fatalities caused by electrical contact.

“While we have done a lot to improve our safety programs and a lot to reduce accidents at co-ops around the country, we continue to have an unacceptably high rate of injuries and fatalities,” said O’Loughlin. “This initiative is the latest reminder of the importance of safety, and also the importance of avoiding complacency, which is the biggest enemy we have.”

O’Loughin discussed the successful management transition of Cardinal Power Plant from American Electric Power to Buckeye Power. Dubbing 2019 “our check-and-adjust year,” O’Loughlin described how Buckeye Power will move past this transition phase to seeking opportunities for enhancement at Cardinal.

“This sometimes means doing it the way AEP has done it, sometimes it means doing it the Buckeye way, and sometimes it means going to a third party. Today we’re actively employing all three of those things, but we also see things being done one way in which there’s probably a better way.”

OEC’s Summer Conference featured a variety of keynote speakers. At the opening night reception, Clint Hill, a retired Secret Service agent who served Presidents Eisenhower to Ford, shared his most profound and harrowing experiences, including aiding First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy in the immediate aftermath of her husband’s assassination in Dallas in 1963.

Phil Carson, NRECA board president, shared the national perspective with Ohio co-op leaders and outlined NRECA’s current priorities and goals. Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, gave conference attendees a preview of the hotly contested November midterm elections. Jonathon Monken from PJM Interconnection provided cyber security best practices to safeguard utilities from potential attacks on our nation’s energy infrastructure.

Holmes-Wayne Electric Cooperative’s Josh Johnson and Union Rural Electric Cooperative’s Sean Luellen joined OEC’s Dwight Miller and Kyle Hoffman on the Project Ohio panel, led by moderator Doug Miller, OEC vice president of statewide services. Johnson and Luellen recounted their experiences electrifying two remote Guatemalan villages and discussed how the journey impacted their lives back in the U.S.

“It’s had me look at my life and look at things and say, ‘Do I really need that?’ And look at what I can do to help others out instead of just myself,” said Johnson.

Miller concluded the discussion by thanking all Project Ohio participants and presented them with commemorative gifts.