UEC Looks Ahead to 'Bright Future'

Steve Eldrige
UEC General Manager Steve Eldrige told the co-op's members that energy users must look beyond the use of fossil fuels and more toward renewable sources of energy.

Umatilla Electric Cooperative looked back on its past and ahead to its future during the 76th annual meeting on Saturday, April 20, 2013, at the Hermiston Community Center.

The theme for the meeting was “Bright Past, Brilliant Future,” and UEC General Manager and CEO Steve Eldrige said the electric co-op, as well as the local economy, has fared well during difficult economic times. He said that over the past 10 years, kilowatt-hour sales to UEC members have increased by 20 percent. Statewide, Oregon as a whole is selling only 2 percent more energy than 2002, but 5 percent less than in 2008.

“So while the state’s energy use has shrunk along with the state’s economy, our local economy has grown,” he said. “In fact, during the next few years we expect UEC sales to increase each year by 20 percent, the same percentage of growth it took the previous 10 years to achieve. Over the next three years we expect UEC’s utility plant value to increase by 40 percent, or three times the rate of increase as that of the past 10 years.”

But, said Eldrige, difficult challenges lie ahead. He asked the UEC membership to remember three things as they consider this future growth:

• New generation is more expensive than legacy generation, so rates will increase at some point and UEC will do its best to level those costs

• Be prepared to use energy more effectively in an effort to control your bill

• UEC will continue to balance the competing needs of its members.

We should plan for a future beyond the use of fossil fuels, he said. And if renewables are the future source of electricity, a fundamental problem must be addressed.

“We all want and need electrical power, not just energy,” he said. “Today, every megawatt of wind turbines has to be matched with a megawatt of hydro, or gas or coal so that we, the end users, are unaffected by whether or not the wind is blowing. We have to figure out how to make renewable energy, renewable power without doubling or tripling the capital investment.”

Looking ahead, Eldrige said if the past can predict the future, the United States will continue to exploit available energy sources until they are no longer economically viable.

“My guess is that the U.S. will convert to natural gas from coal and stay with gas until it is too expensive,” he said.

How then, asked Eldrige, do we have a brilliant future?

“We’ve been through periods of transition in the past and we’re in a time of transition now,” he said. “There is no reason to believe we can’t get through this period of transition and maybe the greatest reason is we must.”

Eldrige ended his talk with a promise to the UEC membership:

“You can continue to count on us to keep the lights on and watch out for your interests.”

Also during Saturday’s meeting, Umatilla Electric members re-elected two incumbent board members.
Lee Docken of Boardman, who represents District 1, and Jeff Wenholz of Irrigon, who represents District 2, were elected to new three-year terms.

UEC President Bryan Wolfe presided over the meeting.

In his report, Wolfe noted that UEC returned about $4.2 million to its membership during 2012. In the spirit of cooperative giving, UEC also set aside a small portion of its revenue to help such deserving activities as the Sustainable Agriculture and Energy (SAGE) Center at Boardman, the upgrades at Hermiston’s Kennison Field and the planned relocation of the Umatilla County Fairgrounds.

Wolfe said Eastern Oregon is an open, caring community, and UEC tries to reflect that in its actions.

“As your cooperative contributes to groups such as Farmers Ending Hunger, we are reminded that this is just one example of members helping members and going beyond the borders of our local communities to help those less fortunate,” he said. Wolfe added the organization has deep roots within the Umatilla Electric member family, with key leaders such as Fred Ziari serving on their board.

“How pleased we were to help sponsor Honor Flights of Eastern Oregon to honor our World War II veterans,” he said. “I was fortunate to view the World War II memorial soon after it was erected and I had the honor of pushing a veteran in his wheelchair for him to view this memorial. I will never forget the look on his face and his simple ‘thank you’ for not forgetting their service.”

In keeping with the annual meeting’s theme, “Bright Past, Brilliant Future,” 7-year-old Anna Rivera of Hermiston gave the opening prayer and Chelsea Fudge of Umatilla High School followed with a medley of patriotic songs.

Country singer Lee Pritchard, who was raised near Boardman and made American Idol’s Hollywood round after competing against more than 11,000 singers in Oklahoma City, performed during dinner.