CEO’s Message

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.

Manager's Message

CEO’s Message – January 2019

New horizons

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

The beginning of a new year is always a time when we look ahead and set new goals. As the calendar resets, we have an opportunity to put a cap on our work of the last 12 months and start making plans for the year ahead.

For many people, that means making New Year’s resolutions. Maybe this year you’ve decided to start a new exercise routine to work off those extra holiday goodies, learn a new skill or spend more time traveling.

Here at Suwannee Valley Electric Cooperative, one of our resolutions for the new year is to do even more to communicate with our members. One of our core values involves ensuring that each of you knows what your cooperative is doing and why.

That’s why we’re expanding our monthly newsletter to include even more information we hope will help you better understand SVEC and our role in the community.

Our goal with the new eight-page format is to better inform you about services the cooperative offers, how you can make the most of your membership and the steps we are taking to maintain and improve your electric service.

This month, we focus on our safety efforts. As you know, working with electricity can be dangerous without the proper equipment and training. Safety is always the top priority at SVEC, no matter the job.

Our employees never forget about safety, which is why this cooperative has a safety record we can all be proud of. But that success doesn’t happen by itself. I hope you’ll take the time to read more about the hard work each SVEC employee puts into making sure they and their co-workers go home every day in the same state that they left for work.

Each month we will feature a different aspect of our cooperative and interesting stories from the community. We also will provide you with information and tips that can help you. This month we have featured a story on how to use space heaters safely and effectively. Space heaters are an easy way to add some warmth during the winter months, but it is important to use them properly.

Month to month, you will also find items such as recipes, and articles about hunting, fishing and farming. As we kick off 2019, our hope is that the new SVEC newsletter can be a resource for members as we continue to find new ways to serve you better. That’s our resolution, and we intend to keep it.

Manager's Message

CEO’s Message – December 2018

The days after

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

I’m sure many of you will agree when I say that this most recent election season felt like it lasted years rather than months. These days, we see so much news coverage about candidates across the country that it can be a relief when campaigns end, whether our preferred candidate won or lost.

With a new Congress settling into Washington, D.C., now is the time for them to start building policies that can make a real difference. That means it’s also the time to make sure our voices are heard on the issues that are most important to us.

At Suwannee Valley Electric Cooperative, we are already busy identifying initiatives that could have a major impact on our region, such as infrastructure improvements or a new farm bill. In this newsletter, you can learn more about those efforts, which we believe can garner support from both major political parties.

Some areas of our state, though, continue to face challenges that can’t be solved by the passage of a new bill alone. Our friends in the Panhandle are still recovering from the effects of Hurricane Michael, which is why SVEC sent crews to help rebuild their electric system.

I encourage you to read about the important work our employees did as well as the resilience they saw from the people in areas damaged by the hurricane. We hope our members never have to face a storm like Michael. But if we do, I’m comforted to know our cooperative family will be there to support us.

I also want to take this opportunity to wish all of our members a Merry Christmas and happy New Year from all of our employees and trustees. Our cooperative has had a fantastic year and I am excited about the bright future ahead of us. We look forward to lighting the way in 2019.

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