As we start a new year and move forward into 2022, I wanted to take the opportunity to share with you, our members, a brief review of the work and progress West Florida Electric Cooperative (WFEC) has made during 2021.
Most of you remember the utter devastation caused by Hurricane Michael and the impact it had on our electric distribution system. The damage was nearly catastrophic to our cooperative and we continue recovering from this Category 5 storm over 3 years later.
Temporary to permanent repair work from the storm continues today. These temporary repairs were made to “get the lights back on” for everyone as quickly and safely was we could possibly do so, however, every single repair has to be converted to a permanent repair. This has taken quite some time as WFEC maintains a distribution system that covers four-counties and over 4,800 miles of power lines. We maintain this system with fewer than 40 lineworkers but I am happy to report that we are making very good progress on these repairs. I would like to thank each of you for your patience and understanding during our recovery process.
My staff and I continue to work diligently with FEMA to ensure the cooperative receives every dollar it is entitled in reimbursement for Hurricane Michael. These funds have been released to the State of Florida and we expect to receive the remainder due to WFEC during 2022. Your Board of Trustees continues to monitor and evaluate the hurricane recovery fee closely. It is my sincere hope that we can move forward and have closure on Hurricane Michael in 2022.
WFEC continues its aggressive right-of-way management program to help improve system reliability and reduce the number of power outages caused by vegetation. Right-of-way contractors cut and maintained approximately 750 miles of line across all four counties served by the cooperative during 2021. We will continue the trimming cycle throughout 2022.
Our four-county service area continues to see growth with new homes and businesses being added to our lines every day. WFEC built approximately 740 new service connections during 2021. I expect to see this trend continue into the near future.
During the past year and a half, your cooperative has faced many hurdles including the COVID-19 pandemic. we took precautions to limit our employees’ exposure and mitigate its impacts on our workforce and we have been successful in preventing the spread of COVID-19 among the cooperative’s employees. Over the past two years we have begun to see our workforce change with an influx of retirements. While longtime employees with a vast wealth of knowledge have begun retiring, it has created an opportunity to hire new employees with impressive and varied skill sets.
I am proud of our employees and the quality of work they do. You won’t find another more dedicated and skilled set of employees. They are truly the backbone of what we do here at WFEC and I am proud to work with them.
In last month’s Current Light Flashes publication, we wrote an article about electricity remaining a good value despite the rising costs of most consumer goods and services, including gasoline. I am proud to say that as a member of West Florida Electric, you have only seen about a one-cent increase in the cost of your electricity per kilowatt hour since 2010 and that WFEC’s rates have remained comparable to other electric utilities in our area. Electricity operates under the law of supply and demand like most consumer goods and services. WFEC has been able to maintain this rate structure and mitigate impacts due to a variety of strategies including managing peak demand periods and a reliance on cheap natural gas to generate the majority of the electricity we purchase from PowerSouth Energy Cooperative.
We’ve been through some very difficult and challenging times during the past three years but your cooperative is ready to move into the new year and face any trials that may occur – whether that is a global pandemic or an active storm season. No matter the challenge, please remember that each decision made by the cooperative’s leadership team and the Board of Trustees (who you elect to represent you and be your voice) are considered carefully and with the members’ best interest at heart.