Umatilla Electric Cooperative CEO Pays Tribute to Workers, Members

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UEC General Manager and CEO Robert Echenrode speaks during Saturday's 82nd annual meeting and dinner held at the Eastern Oregon Trade & Event Center. (Photos by Michael Kane)

Umatilla Electric Cooperative celebrated its 82nd year with its annual meeting and dinner that put the focus on its employees and members.

More than 500 people – the largest number of people in the history of UEC’s annual meetings – attended the event held at the Eastern Oregon Trade & Event Center. After the dinner, the audience was treated to a performance by Hart Keene, who entertained with a combination of humor, card tricks, illusions and mind reading.

In his address to members and guests, UEC General Manager and CEO Robert Echenrode spoke of the evening’s theme, Connecting Lines, Connecting Lives.

“The first part of our theme speaks to our core mission – keeping the lights on and the power flowing,” Echenrode said. “Every day our line crews work to upgrade our system. They secure its reliability.

Echenrode said it was the crews’ expertise that maintains UEC’s 36 substations, 32,000 power poles and more than 2,200 miles of power lines spread over nearly 2,000 square miles.

“With over 20 years in the business, I’m still amazed at the skill and the dedication it takes to keep such a large and complex system ready for your immediate needs,” Echenrode said.

Hart Keene gets some help from the audience during Saturday’s UEC meeting and dinner.

UEC members show their appreciation for the line workers, as well. Echenrode said UEC had posted a photo on Facebook during the winter showing three linemen working in Meacham with snow nearly up to their chins. Within a single day, the post had 180,000 likes, comments or shares.

“It’s gratifying to see that the employees in all the departments go above and beyond each day, whether its climbing a pole at night during a storm or working at the front counter showing compassion to a member who has had trouble paying their bill,” he said.

“Some of UEC’s best moments come when we are connecting lives – the second part of our theme tonight,” he said. UEC board members and employees serve on school boards, city committees, chambers and civic groups.

“Right outside our door, they helped build the new fair and rodeo grounds,” he said. “They spend their Saturdays buying animals at the youth livestock auction, coach sports and help with fundraisers.”

Echenrode talked about UEC’s commitment to serving its members. Three new substations were finished in the past year to serve the area’s growth. Three more are in the works to meet the needs of the area’s expanding irrigation agricultural sector.

“And our plans to construct a transmission line from McNary to Hermiston to address the residential and commercial needs in the areas of Umatilla, Hermiston and Stanfield will soon be realized,” he said.

Echenrode said UEC has averaged an annual growth rate of nearly 20 percent during the past eight years and more than doubled its revenue.

“We will soon become Oregon’s largest consumer-owned electric company,” he said.

There is a cost to growth, however, said Echenrode. Today, a residential member pays about 18 cents more per day for electricity than they did eight years ago.

“Over the course of a month, that adds up to a cup of Starbucks coffee and a cookie,” he said.

The Columbia and Snake River hydro system remains under pressure by activists and courts, said Echenrode. He said the carbon tax, as proposed in the Oregon Legislature, has the potential to do great harm to our rural economy.

“But we’re working with our local legislators to minimize the economic impact on all of us,” Echenrode said.

Echenrode concluded with a final nod to the UEC membership.

“Today, with more than 80 years of company history, it’s easy to lose sight of what has made UEC so valuable to the community from the very beginning,” he said. “It was the membership then and it’s the membership now that reminds us of our central mission and shows us the way ahead.”

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