UDWI reports 2020 achievements, plans for 2021

From the Utilities District of Western Indiana REMC:

The Utilities District of Western Indiana REMC had a productive and record-setting 2020, despite the challenges of operating through the COVID-19 pandemic. The co-op exceeded its goals for infrastructure improvements this year, and in 2021 plans to continue its focus to improve system reliability as well as efforts to reduce power supply costs.

The co-op was able to replace 32 miles of aging line in 2020, which is crucial to improving system reliability. This achievement was realized while keeping UDWI’s line crews socially-distanced and safe during the pandemic. The amount of line replaced this year is an all-time record for UDWI and is more than the co-op replaced in 2013 through 2016 combined. Moving forward, UDWI has a goal to replace an additional 30 miles of line annually and to continue its pole replacement program. The 2021 UDWI capital improvement budget includes the installation of additional smart grid technology designed to reduce the frequency and duration of service outages. 

In early December, UDWI and Smithville, Indiana’s largest privately-held telecom, announced a unique limited partnership that is expected to accelerate high-speed fiber construction in a cost-effective manner. The partnership is expected to mutually benefit customers and communities in their overlapping service areas. 

The first project will bring high-speed fiber-optic connectivity to more than 800 homes in the rural area east of Stanford in Monroe County. The two-year project will begin its initial phase in early 2021 and focus on building residential fiber connectivity to about 280 homes. Additional areas of the project are expected to start construction later in 2021, providing access to 800 homes in the project area. 

“Our board of directors is excited about the partnership and the opportunity to bring better connectivity to our members,” said UDWI Board Secretary Sophie Haywood. “It’s something they have asked for, which we could not have done economically on our own. Through this partnership, we are helping find new ways to address the needs of  our members.” 

UDWI CEO Doug Childs presented the 2021 budget to the board of directors at the November meeting, where it was approved. The budget focuses on a set of goals for the new year: capital credits, infrastructure improvements, and investments.

Highlights of the budget include planned capital credits distribution of $662,000, and a capital improvement budget totaling $6.05 million dollars with $2 million allocated to replace aging wire and make other system improvements. A significant announcement is that the budget requires no planned base rate increases for UDWI members for 2021.

“We have not seen a significant decrease in power usage due to COVID-19 so we plan to keep working on infrastructure improvements and capital credits distribution,” said Childs. “Our employees have been incredible this year under very difficult circumstances, and we have been successful due to their hard work and commitment to the members. I could not be prouder of the entire UDWI team.”

Also, at the November board meeting, Brian Stavish with the National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corporation (CFC) presented the board of directors with an update on the utility industry. Across the country, residential homeowners are using less power, as the popularity of energy-efficient products continues to grow. UDWI is seeing some of the same trends among its members, but the co-op is still in good financial standing because of expense reductions in other areas. The presentation also showed UDWI’s growth in capital credit distribution over the last five years, which has doubled.

On average, utility rates have stabilized or risen for most areas of the country, however, UDWI has been able to actually decrease its rates for its members, in recent years. UDWI has spent the last three years dramatically cutting costs across all areas of the co-op, from decreasing staff and improving operational efficiencies to switching insurance providers and providing onsite training for linemen. 

These efforts are significant given the fact that UDWI’s power supply costs have increased. Power supply costs represent over 60 percent of a member’s total monthly bill. UDWI is committed to advocating for lower power supply costs and more power supply choices for its members in 2021. 

“UDWI is doing a great job financially running the co-op and we are seeing great things in terms of comparisons to other utilities,” said Stavish. “Rates going down is not something you often see, so congratulations on making that happen.” 

In other news, Districts 5, 7, and 8 are up for election in 2021. Candidates that are interested in running for UDWI’s Board of Directors must pick up a candidate packet from the main office and turn it in completed on or before Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. More information was included in November’s newsletter and can be found on UDWI’s Facebook page.

The next UDWI Board Meeting will be held virtually Monday, Dec. 28 at 6:30 p.m. Contact the UDWI office if you wish to attend the meeting.

Featured photo courtesy UDWI REMC

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