CEO’s Message

Manager's Message

CEO’s Message — April 2020

Here to serve you

CEO Michael S. McWaters
Michael S. McWaters
Executive V.P./CEO

The last month has been difficult for people across the state and throughout our country. As the seriousness of the coronavirus threat has become more clear, I know many of our members have faced a rapid change in their day-to-day lives. Maybe you have found yourself suddenly out of work, concerned for your health or that of your family and friends, or are just learning to deal with the isolation that comes with social distancing.

We have also felt the impact of these changes here at Suwannee Valley Electric Cooperative. We have changed the format of this year’s annual meeting, and on April 25, will hold a virtual meeting that will be live streamed on our Facebook page. We have also been forced to postpone popular events like the Suwannee Valley Cornhole Tournament.

These were difficult decisions to make, but as a cooperative, SVEC has always put the needs of our consumer-members and community first. While we will miss these opportunities to gather together as a cooperative, we believe it is important to make everyone’s health and safety the top priority.

One thing that won’t change, however, is our dedication to bringing you reliable electric service. During a time when many members are spending more time at home and working remotely, that service has become even more critical. SVEC will continue to maintain our system and respond to outages while also taking steps to ensure that our employees are able to work safely.

A key part of that electric system, which many members have probably seen but might not fully understand, is the network of substations. These facilities play an important role in helping SVEC transform the electricity we get from Seminole Electric Cooperative into energy we can distribute to each of our members.

If you’ve ever been curious about how substations work or where they fit into our electric system, I encourage you to spend a few minutes reading about them in this newsletter. SVEC staff put in a great deal of time to maintain and inspect the cooperative’s substations, and I know we all appreciate their efforts.

You’ll also find a Q&A with our newest trustee, Cynthia Boyette. Before her retirement, Cynthia spent 30 years serving her neighbors while working at the Suwannee River Water Management District and the Florida Department of Transportation. I know she’ll fit right in on the board and be an excellent representative for our consumer-members in District 8.

And if you’re looking for some good news in our local community, you can also find a quick rundown of what SVEC has been able to accomplish for students through Operation Round Up® so far this year. While these are challenging times, community efforts like this give me confidence that we can work together to get through them.

Until next month, stay safe, and thank you for the privilege of serving you.

Manager's Message

CEO’s Message — March 2020

2019 was a very good year

CEO Michael S. McWaters
Michael S. McWaters Executive V.P./CEO

I sometimes think of all the ways other businesses and organizations could benefit from adopting values similar to the cooperative principles. How much better would it be if the company you bank with was dedicated to helping you understand its industry? Or if serving the local community was a core value of the place where you buy your groceries?

Perhaps no other principle would be as beneficial as the commitment to open communication that cooperatives have. As important as it is for our members to know what is going on at their cooperative, it isn’t just about transparency. It’s also about being answerable to the people we serve.

That sense of responsibility to members is one of the many reasons I’m proud to work for an electric co-op. At Suwannee Valley Electric Cooperative, we aren’t accountable to a group of shareholders living somewhere across the country — we answer to you alone.

This year, we have a lot to be proud of, not least of which is the strong financial footing our cooperative continues to maintain. In this month’s newsletter, you can find SVEC’s financial statements for 2019, along with the minutes of last year’s annual meeting. I think you’ll be able to see for yourself that our cooperative is in a healthy position to continue providing safe, affordable and reliable electric service now and into the future.

But we were also able to achieve so much more in 2019. Together, we raised more than $100,000 to support our local students and ensure they have the materials they need in the classroom. We continued to provide opportunities for high school students with our Youth Tour and scholarship programs.

We were able to give back to the United Way of Suwannee Valley through the Suwannee Valley Cornhole Tournament and the Touch-a-Truck event. And all the while, we found new ways to improve reliability on our system, achieving an average service availability of 99.97%.

2019 was another fantastic year for SVEC and, as always, we couldn’t have been successful without the backing of our trustees and support from you, our consumer-members. It’s an honor to serve you.

Manager's Message

CEO’s Message — February 2020

Rounding up to give back

CEO Michael S. McWaters
Michael S. McWaters Executive V.P./CEO

SVEC membership comes with many benefits. In addition to receiving safe, affordable and reliable power, our consumer-members share in the ownership of the cooperative, and they get a portion of their investment returned to them in the form of capital credits. They can make their voice heard by electing trustees to represent them and by talking with the people who run their cooperative at events like the annual meeting.

But as important as all of those benefits are, they would count for very little if members didn’t know their cooperative was invested in the local community. At SVEC, we are committed to making our community a better place to live, both in the service we provide and in finding new ways to give back.

Last year, we launched Operation Round Up® as the latest way for SVEC members to support our community. Each month, participating members’ bills were rounded up to the next dollar and the difference set aside for local schools. While each individual member’s monthly donation averaged just 49 cents, we raised more than $100,000.

With that money, SVEC’s Operation Round Up® Foundation approved 224 grants in the four counties we serve. Those grants helped to provide much-needed resources, such as books, lab equipment and subscriptions to online learning resources at public and accredited private and independent schools throughout the Suwannee Valley. And all of that in just the program’s first year! I am extremely impressed by and thankful for the generosity of our members.

You can read more about the ways local teachers put Operation Round Up® grants to use in this month’s newsletter, as well as the impact those new materials have already had in the classroom. It’s just one more way SVEC is proud to support our students as they grow into the future leaders of this community.

SVEC also is excited to sponsor and participate in many events that support and raise funds for local non-profit organizations which provide important services. You can read about some of the ones coming up soon on the last page of this newsletter.

We hope that if you see us at an event, you’ll take a minute or two and say hello.

These are just a couple of the ways SVEC works to give back to the community that created us. We were built by and operate for the people who call the Suwannee Valley home, so we will never take it for granted. This is our community, and it is a privilege to serve it each and every day.

Manager's Message

CEO’s Message — January 2020

New year, new plans

CEO Michael S. McWaters
Michael S. McWaters
Executive V.P./CEO

Bringing in a new year is always about beginnings and endings. On the one hand, we look ahead to a fresh start, and we think about what we want to do better than before. On the other, we look back on the successes of the year that just ended.

Those reflections are even more pronounced this year as we enter a new decade. Just think of how much has changed since 2010, and think of all the surprises that might lie ahead in the next 10 years. It’s an exciting thought.

Of course, it could also be a distressing one. As the CEO of your cooperative, I wish I knew every twist and turn in the road ahead of us. While that’s not possible, I can at least rest assured that everyone at Suwannee Valley Electric Cooperative has carefully planned and prepared for the future.

In this month’s newsletter, you can learn more about one of the most important components of how we bring new service to members: staking and mapping. This department serves as the connection between our members and our service crews when new services need to be installed. These workers also keep digital maps of our system up to date so that, when an outage does occur, we know exactly where the problem is.

The work they do may not always come to mind when you think about your electric service, but it is crucial to growing and maintaining our system. I hope you’ll take a moment to read more about it and thank them for the good work they do.

You may also notice a new page in this month’s newsletter that is all about travel. People come to Florida from across the country and even the world to enjoy the natural wonders and world-class entertainment available in our state. But too often I think we can forget all that Florida has to offer when we live so close to it.

So this year, we would like to remind you of all the adventures and beauty that can be found without ever crossing the state border. Find inspiration for your next weekend getaway, a nearby shop to explore or your new favorite local eatery.

If Christmas ended too soon, you can also find some photos of SVEC’s participation in last month’s Christmas parades, as well as the winning designs from our fifth grade Christmas card contest. We received so many great submissions this year, and we wish to thank everyone who entered.

We may not know everything the decade ahead holds, but I can say with confidence that all of us at SVEC will continue to work hard every day to bring our members the quality electric service you deserve. Happy New Year, and here’s to an exciting new decade!

Manager's Message

CEO’s Message — December 2019

The co-op community

CEO Michael S. McWaters
Michael S. McWaters
Executive V.P./CEO

One of my favorite things about Christmas, and the holiday season in general, is that it gives us an opportunity to celebrate being part of a community. Maybe your town has a favorite tradition that everyone comes together to take part in, or you look forward to celebrating with your church community. Many of us will gather with family at this time of year, which can be a community of its own.

If you’re reading this, you’re also part of our cooperative community. It’s one that was started decades ago to bring electricity to this area, and it continues to find new ways of improving our members’ lives. I know I’m proud to be part of this community, and I hope you are, too.

But some of our members may not realize that, just as you are all part of Suwan- nee Valley Electric Cooperative, SVEC also belongs to a cooperative. A cooperative of cooperatives, if you will. SVEC is a member of Seminole Electric Cooperative, a wholesale power provider that generates electricity for us and eight other cooperatives across the state.

We rely on Seminole because running a power plant ourselves wouldn’t be feasible. Instead, they generate our electricity, and SVEC distributes it to each of the homes and businesses in our service area.

As a result, how Seminole generates power and which resources they use are of the utmost importance for SVEC and our members. That’s why, in this month’s newsletter, you can learn more about how your electricity is generated and the changes in store for Seminole in the years to come.

Of course, when it comes to planning out how those generation resources will be put to use, it is crucial that Seminole have a good idea of how much energy a system like SVEC’s will consume. To make those predictions, generation cooperatives use a technique known as load forecasting. You can learn more about how load forecasting works and why it is important in this month’s newsletter.

You’ll also find an update on how SVEC continues to support our broader community by awarding scholarships to local students. Be sure to check our website in February for a scholarship application if you or someone you know will graduate from high school this spring.

I would also like to remind everyone about the upcoming 2020 census, and I encourage all of our members to participate. Making sure we get an accurate count for our area every 10 years helps our counties get more funding for crucial services like roadwork, education, health care and more.

Finally, I would like to take a moment to wish all of you a merry Christmas, as well as a happy and healthy New Year. This has been another strong year for our cooperative, from continuing to provide safe, affordable and reliable electric service to finding new ways to contribute to our community. We’ll continue to do so in 2020.

Manager's Message

CEO’s Message — November 2019

Speaking with one voice

CEO Michael S. McWaters
Michael S. McWaters
Executive V.P./CEO

There are few things in life more frustrating than not being heard. Maybe you’re a parent who doesn’t feel like your kids listen to you. Maybe it’s that friend who asks for your advice but never takes it. As Americans, we are raised to believe that a government should listen to its people, and when it doesn’t, we speak with our votes.

One of the best parts of being a member of a cooperative is that you don’t have to wonder if we’re listening. Democratic control is built right into the cooperative model. In fact, it’s one of our seven governing principles. Once a year, we even hold an annual meeting where members are encouraged to talk to their cooperative leaders about how the system is run.

But how does a cooperative make sure its voice is heard when it comes to the issues changing the electric industry? Even with so many members, SVEC is just one utility among many in Florida, not to mention across the nation.

The answer is that, just like our members worked together to bring electricity to a place investor-owned utilities wouldn’t, cooperatives can pull together to make sure their voices are heard. We do that with the help of groups like the National Rural Electric Cooperatives Association, which represents the common needs of cooperatives across the country.

Earlier this year, I traveled to Washington, D.C., with a group of other SVEC employees to take part in NRECA’s Legislative Conference. Events like this provide us the opportunity to discuss common goals and concerns with our fellow cooperative leaders, as well as to speak with lawmakers about policy.

On the state level, the Florida Electric Cooperatives Association gives a focused voice to the many electric cooperatives throughout our state. They also make sure lawmakers understand what sets cooperatives apart from other utilities.

You can learn more about the issues cooperatives are fighting for on both the state and national levels in this newsletter. I hope you will take a moment to read about just a few of them that could have major implications for cooperatives in Florida and beyond.

Speaking of traveling to our nation’s capital, it is again time for our high school juniors to apply for the Youth Tour of Tallahassee. The tour is a wonderful opportunity for young people to learn about how the cooperative model works and to get an up-close look at how our state government operates. Additionally, two of the students who go on the tour will also be selected to represent SVEC in Washington, D.C. for the National Rural Electric Youth Tour.

In this issue, you can also get to know our District 9 trustee, Bill Hart, a little better, see photos from last month’s Touch-a-Truck event and much more.

At SVEC, we never take for granted that we are owned by our consumer-members and would not exist without you. That’s why our members will always have a voice with their cooperative, and it’s just another reason we are proud to serve you

Manager's Message

CEO’s Message — October 2019

By our community, for our community

CEO Michael S. McWaters
Michael S. McWaters
Executive V.P./CEO

Many of our members probably think about October as the time when college football is in full swing. For others, it might be time to start planning elaborate costumes for Halloween. But around Suwannee Valley Electric Cooperative, October means one thing: National Co-op Month.

Regular readers of this column could be forgiven for thinking every month is Co-op Month. After all, I do like to celebrate the cooperative difference every chance I get. But October gives us a special opportunity to recognize the impact that the more than 40,000 cooperatives, including 900 electric cooperatives, make across our country.

The theme of this year’s Co-op Month is “By the community, for the community.” It’s an appropriate theme because, just like SVEC, our fellow cooperatives were born out of their local areas and founded by members who decided to serve a need in their community.

But cooperatives do more than simply provide necessary services to their neighbors. Cooperatives across the nation create nearly 2 million jobs, providing more than $74 billion in annual wages. Electric cooperatives alone account for more than one-third of the nation’s electric utility industry, powering over 19 million homes, schools, farms and businesses.

If you’re curious about the impact SVEC has in our local community, you can learn more in this newsletter. You’ll find a report that includes detailed information about how our cooperative contributes to the local economy in terms of labor income, taxes and more.

At the end of the day, though, our primary mission is to bring safe, reliable and affordable electric service to consumer-members like you. Everyone at the cooperative works hard each day to make that service possible and to ensure each interaction you have with us is a positive one. But when it comes to repairing lines and installing new service, the front line for SVEC is most certainly our Service Department.

When you’re experiencing a problem with your electric service or want a new area light installed, it’s our Service Department team who shows up to make sure the job gets done. That means they have to be ready to change gears at a moment’s notice so they can deal with pressing issues. You can learn more about the important work they do day to day in this month’s member newsletter.

You can also get to know SVEC board member Hugh Hunter. Mr. Hunter has served on the SVEC board of trustees for more than 30 years, representing our members in District 7. He is one of our longest-serving trustees for good reason: He is always there when our members need him.

That, more than anything, is what cooperatives are all about. When our community needed someone to provide electricity, its residents came together and created SVEC to fill that need. We never forget who we serve, and we will always put you first.

Manager's Message

CEO’s Message — September 2019

Taking the plunge

CEO Michael S. McWaters
Michael S. McWaters
Executive V.P./CEO

Everyone reading this has likely taken a leap of faith at some point. Maybe it was making a career change or deciding that a relationship was worth taking a chance on. Regardless of the situation, making any big decision takes courage when we don’t know how it will turn out.

The first members of Suwannee Valley Electric Cooperative had that kind of courage. They saw that rural areas were being left behind by the big power companies, so they took the leap to build an electric system themselves in hopes of creating something that would sustain their community for decades to come.

More than 80 years later, I think it’s safe to say their faith was well-founded. SVEC has grown from serving 69 members with its first line to more than 18,000 members spread across about 2,100 square miles in four counties. But we are still driven by the same mission of bringing safe, affordable and reliable electric service to our friends, family and neighbors.

Of course, we aren’t the only ones to have taken a leap of faith and been rewarded. SVEC member Cathy Lesh took a plunge of her own when she and her husband bought the Dive Outpost south of Live Oak. The jump from a steady job to running your own business can be scary, but Cathy’s hard work and warm personality made the Dive Outpost a haven for cave divers from all over.

While I can’t encourage any of our members to go diving into caves without the training and experience required to do so safely, I urge you to read more about Cathy’s story and the Dive Outpost in this month’s newsletter. After decades of diving all over the world, she has certainly had some experiences worth sharing.

You can also get to know a little more about Andy Walker, who represents members living in District 6 on our board of trustees. Mr. Walker has faithfully served on the board for almost 15 years.

You can also see some photos from a recent trip a group of SVEC employees made to a local shelter for victims of domestic violence. While there, they helped out by weeding the playground and staining a wooden wheelchair ramp. And be sure to catch up on the details of this year’s 5K Run/Walk 4 Life for the Pregnancy Care Center of Live Oak and the upcoming Touch-A-Truck event to be hosted by SVEC.

I know I’m thankful for the leap of faith our founders took decades ago. Without it, we wouldn’t have the strong electric system we are blessed with today and we at SVEC wouldn’t have the privilege of serving this great community.

Manager's Message

CEO’s Message — August 2019

Building a stronger system

CEO Michael S. McWaters
Michael S. McWaters
Executive V.P./CEO

It might be hard to believe now, but in the days before Suwannee Valley Electric Cooperative was formed, local residents had to work hard to convince their neighbors that electricity would change their lives. After Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Rural Electrification Act in 1936, proponents of electricity in the Suwannee Valley had to go door to door explaining its benefits until enough people signed up to form their own cooperative.

Back then, becoming a cooperative member cost $5, which wasn’t always easy money to come by. Today, the cost of membership is exactly the same. That’s because we believe that everyone deserves access to affordable and reliable electric service. Maintaining a high standard of reliability requires making constant repairs and updates to our system. After all, what passed for reliable service in the cooperative’s early years probably wouldn’t satisfy today’s members. As electricity has become a more important part of our everyday lives, we have also come to rely on it working when we need it.

There are many ways we work to improve reliability. We maintain rights of way around lines to reduce the likelihood of falling limbs knocking out service. We relocate key lines from heavily-wooded areas to roadsides. In some places, we have installed automated switches to isolate outages to specific areas and restore power to members within minutes.

This summer, we began a pilot project with a new technology called tree wire. This wire is tougher than traditional electric line, so it can stand up to common outage causes like falling tree limbs or curious wildlife. You can learn more about tree wire and how SVEC went about choosing the best locations for the pilot project in this month’s newsletter. While it isn’t a solution for every section of line on our system, our hope is that it can greatly improve reliability for many of our members.

In this month’s newsletter, you can also read about Sidney Lord, board representative for members living in District 5. You can even learn about a recent volunteer project SVEC employees and family members carried out for Accipiter Enterprises Educational Birds of Prey and safety presentations SVEC staff made to local community organizations.

When it comes to the technology we use to bring reliable service to members, our cooperative has changed a great deal over its more than 80-year history. But in other ways, like our dedication to serving our neighbors, not much has changed at all. And, as it has been from day one, it is still our privilege to serve you.

Manager's Message

CEO’s Message — July 2019

Getting the job done

CEO Michael S. McWaters
Michael S. McWaters
Executive V.P./CEO

Those of us who have dedicated our careers to the cooperative system know a thing or two about working hard to bring essential services to our neighbors. From the very beginning, the cooperative mission has been about members of our community coming together to do what the private power companies wouldn’t: bring electricity to rural areas.

We don’t always think about the work that goes into that process. It includes the time and effort it takes for Seminole Electric Cooperative, our wholesale power provider, to generate and transmit electricity to our system. There is also the dedication it takes for SVEC crews to diligently maintain our system and to make the necessary repairs, even on the hottest days of summer or in the pouring rain. Despite all it takes to provide safe, affordable and reliable electricity, it has become an easy thing to take for granted. When we flip on a light switch or turn on the TV, we have grown used to electric power being there instantly at our convenience. Many people today probably don’t even know where electricity comes from — save for the plug in the wall.

In that way, cooperative employees share a solidarity with farmers in our community. There is no job I can think of that requires so many hours of backbreaking work just to break even. And there are few jobs more important to the health and prosperity of our country than growing the food we eat.

Sadly, many of us are as oblivious to what goes into farming as we are to how electricity is provided. I’ve even heard people wonder why we need to farm food when we can just buy it at the grocery store.

That’s why we are spotlighting a farmer in this month’s newsletter. Richard Bennett is the third generation of his family to work his land in Hamilton County. Familyowned farming operations like his are unfortunately becoming a rarity throughout the country, so I hope you’ll take a moment to read through his story. You may even learn something new about the important work farmers like him are doing for all of us.

You can also get to know Tyler Putnal, who represents District 4 on the SVEC board of trustees. Mr. Putnal has been a valuable member of the board these last several years, and he is a strong representative for our members in western Suwannee County and northern Lafayette County.

Finally, you can learn more about the work SVEC is doing in our community, like awarding scholarships to some of our most deserving students and taking part in the Live Oak Quilt Trail. These are just a few of the things we’re proud to do in order to make the Suwannee Valley a better place for us all to live.