CEO’s Message

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.

Manager's Message

CEO’s Message — June 2019

Preparing For a Rainy Day

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

The realities of hurricane season are nothing new to most SVEC members. Many of us know exactly what to do when the forecast shows a major storm headed our way. But that familiarity can also lead to complacency and a tendency to leave preparations to the last minute.

We all know smart planning is the key to staying safe during hurricane season. So consider this your personal reminder to start preparing now, rather than waiting until the clouds have gathered.

Here at SVEC, we work throughout the year to make sure our system is ready for these moments. In recent years we have made extensive improvements that enable us to prevent outages and quickly resolve the ones that do occur.

Just in the last year, the cooperative has trimmed trees along hundreds of miles of line to ensure that when powerful winds hit, fewer power lines will be damaged by falling limbs. We have also relocated some of our power lines from heavily forested areas and replaced over 700 older poles that are most at risk of failing.

SVEC also continues to install automated switches throughout our system. These switches allow us to isolate outages when they happen and to restore power to some members within minutes. There are currently about 60 of these switches on our system, and about 20 more are scheduled to be installed by the end of the year.

Technology like our Advanced Distribution Management System even makes it possible to respond to some larger outages without dispatching a crew to restore power by hand, giving them time to work on other parts of the system.

When a crew is needed, our Advanced Meter Infrastructure helps pinpoint the cause of the outage so the crew knows exactly where to go. An automated vehicle location system lets dispatchers coordinate crews across the system, while the cooperative’s on-site fuel station means SVEC crews can respond to outage reports even when local gas stations are without power or out of fuel.

Those improvements have made our system even more resilient in the face of storms, but they can never entirely prevent outages. That’s why we also regularly review and update our Emergency Response Plan and reach out to our cooperative neighbors if there’s a chance we might need extra help.

But as important as it is for SVEC to plan how to protect our system, it’s also important for all of our members to make their own preparations to keep their families and homes safe. Our hope is that our Hurricane Preparedness Guide can serve as a helpful starting point and a reference for other useful resources as you make your own plans.

Manager's Message

CEO’s Message — May 2019

Flying to new heights

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

One of the biggest differences between electric cooperatives and other utilities is the role of our members. You are more than just customers and consumers. Each member of Suwannee Valley Electric Cooperative is also an owner with a stake in our system.

Nowhere is the important role of our members more apparent than at the cooperative’s annual meeting. Each year, our member-owners have the chance to meet with the leaders of their cooperative, learn about plans for the future and make their own opinions heard.

It’s a unique experience in the utility world, and one I look forward to every year. This year’s meeting was no exception, and I would like to thank each of you who came out to be a part of it.

If you weren’t able to attend, you can find a brief recap of the meeting in this month’s newsletter. In short, SVEC has made great strides toward improving reliability over the last year, all while maintaining a safety record we can be proud of.

You can also find an update on our exciting new program, Operation Round Up. Even though we are just a few months into raising money through Operation Round Up, SVEC and our members have already made a significant difference to children in our area.

So far, the cooperative has approved 65 grants for a total of $25,420. That money has gone to schools in every county SVEC serves for supplies like books, science lab equipment and math learning aids. Teachers have been overjoyed at the generosity of our members, and we look forward to taking that program to even greater heights in the years to come.

There are probably few people who know more about great heights than the subject of this month’s feature story. SVEC member Clark Dechant has flown across the globe for decades. Be sure to take some time to read about his amazing story and his historic biplane.

Our members in District 3 can also learn a little more about their trustee and board secretary, Sam Roberson. Mr. Roberson is a Suwannee Valley native through and through, and he has been a valuable member of the board since 2010.

Finally, I would like to remind our members that May is National Electrical Safety Month. I encourage each of you to set aside time to reinforce the importance of electrical safety with your family. If you need an update on the latest safety recommendations, you can find useful resources on our website.

By respecting the power of electricity, we can all help prevent accidents. Stay safe, and thank you for reading.

Manager's Message

CEO’s Message — April 2019

Rely on us

CEO Michael S. McWaters

As an electricity provider, Suwannee Valley Electric Cooperative understands that reliability is central to everything we do. That goes back to our earliest days when the people of this community pulled together to create an electric system as a reliable partner for growth.

Since then, we have made improvements to our system to ensure that each member can count on reliable electric service. After all, what good is electric power if we can’t depend on it to be there when we turn on the computers we need to do our jobs or the lights that push back the dark at night?

At SVEC, we’re proud to have a system our members can count on. But we also understand that the more reliable our electric service is, the more disrupting it can be on the occasions when it fails.

That’s why we never stop working on improvements aimed at making your service more reliable. In our April newsletter, we take a closer look at a few of the improvements our engineering and operations departments have made in the last few years.

Installation of automated restoration equipment across SVEC’s system represents one of the biggest changes. This technology makes it possible to restore power to large numbers of members within minutes of an outage.

While we have used automated restoration technology for more than 15 years, we’ve made a push in the last three years to expand its presence throughout more of SVEC’s service area.

You can also learn about efforts like reducing the time between tree-trimming cycles, relocating troublesome power lines and using drone technology to better identify poles that need to be replaced — all of which help us make your service more reliable.

As a cooperative, it is also part of our mission to be a reliable partner in the community. So this year, SVEC hosted its second annual Suwannee Valley Cornhole Tournament to raise funds for our local United Way and the agencies it supports.

While the cornhole tournament has become SVEC’s own largest fundraiser, we also sponsor and participate in numerous events throughout the year that benefit the residents of our counties and a large number of community-focused organizations. We’re honored to work on behalf of our members to make the quality of life a little better for many in our area.

As always, it is a privilege to be able to serve you.

Michael S. McWaters
Executive V.P./CEO

Manager's Message

CEO’s Message — March 2019

Keeping you in the know

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

People can disagree on just about anything these days, but one thing most people tend to agree on is the fact that more transparency is better. Whether it’s our local government or a company we do business with, understanding why and how decisions are being made helps us make more informed decisions ourselves.

That’s one of the many strengths of the cooperative model. Because cooperatives were born out of communities to serve those communities, we don’t answer to a far-flung group of investors. We answer to our members right here in the Suwannee Valley.

One of the seven core principles that guide all cooperatives is informing members like you so that you can understand what is happening at your cooperative and why. It’s the reason we include this newsletter with your bill each month, so members can learn how their cooperative works and about the people running it.

This month’s newsletter is a little different than usual. It doubles as Suwannee Valley Electric Cooperative’s annual report to you, the members.

Inside you’ll find the cooperative’s balance sheets, along with the minutes of last year’s annual meeting. I think these show that SVEC continues to be on a strong financial footing and is making plans that will enable us to continue providing affordable and reliable service well into the future.

The cooperative also continues its dedication to working safely and supporting our local community. You can find a summary of just a few of our employees’ safety accomplishments over the last year, as well as a list of contributions SVEC and its employees have made to community organizations.

We were also proud to continue important initiatives like the Youth Tour and college scholarships that prepare the future leaders of our communities.

All in all, 2018 was another strong year for SVEC, and I know I speak for everyone at the cooperative when I say it has been an honor to serve you. That’s why I would also like to take a moment to encourage each of you to attend our annual meeting on Saturday, April 27. In addition to giving you the opportunity to learn more about what is happening at your cooperative, the annual meeting is also an opportunity to receive a $10 bill credit and a chance to have fun with your neighbors and win prizes.

I hope all of you will make some time to join us in celebrating another wonderful year of our electric cooperative, and I can’t wait to share our plans for the year ahead. I look forward to seeing all of you there!

Manager's Message

CEO’s Message – February 2019

Showing members we care

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

There are lots of ways people can show others in their life that they care. They could choose small gestures that constantly remind people they’re thinking of them. Others might provide a reliable sounding board for a loved one’s problems or step up in moments of crisis.

At this time of year, we tend to show people we care by giving cards, flowers and chocolates. While Suwannee Valley Electric Cooperative may not have a valentine for each of our members, we think the best way to show we care is by continuing to bring you safe, affordable and reliable electric service every day.

There are others in our community who work hard to not only care for the people around them but also look out for our natural environment and the animals that inhabit it. This month, we’re spotlighting an organization that does just that, while also spreading an important message of preservation.

Mystic Jungle has been part of our community since arriving in Live Oak nearly a decade ago. It gives visitors the chance to see the kinds of exotic creatures most only know from TV. But as important as it is to have an opportunity to learn about big cats and other animals up close, the work Mystic Jungle does to protect them is just as crucial.

I hope you’ll take the time to read more about that work and the importance of preservation in our February newsletter. This month, we’re also kicking off our “Meet Your Trustee” series with a quick conversation with District 1 Trustee Mike Adams.

He has represented the people of west Hamilton County for several years, and we’re happy to give members a chance to get to know him better. If you live in his district, I hope you’ll take an opportunity to get in touch with him about any questions or suggestions you may have regarding the cooperative.

For those of you who don’t live in District 1, we’ll have similar Q&As with the rest of our trustees in the months to come.

SVEC is also excited to be a sponsor of several upcoming events, but none will be more fun than our second annual Suwannee Valley Cornhole Tournament. This competition has become a local favorite, and we expect to see some top-notch tossing this year. All proceeds from the tournament go to United Way of Suwannee Valley. Find more information on the time, location and how to sign up in this newsletter.

We at SVEC enjoy being a part of community events throughout the year and look forward to sharing those experiences with you.

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