CEO’s Annual Meeting Message

Good morning and welcome!

John Bartley headshotI would like to thank you for being here today for Gulf Coast Electric Cooperative’s 74th Annual Members’ Meeting. I’m your cooperative’s CEO and general manager, John Bartley.

For 81 years, all of you—our member-owners—have trusted us to energize your homes and your way of life. Although we call this our annual meeting, it is really a celebration for you, our member-owners.

Your co-op has been serving you for 81 years this year. We encourage you to stop into our co-op anniversary celebration room to the right, have a cupcake and pick up a special gift: a cookbook full of member-submitted recipes, as well as a history of the co-op, written by 3 of our employees.

It is hard to believe 3 years have passed since we have been able to gather here in Wewahitchka for an in-person annual meeting. For the past 2 years, we have held our meetings virtually in order to comply with the recommendations of the Department of Health and CDC guidelines.

We are thankful that we are able to return to our in-person format this year and enjoy good food, good music and, most of all, good fellowship with you, our membership.

Attending the co-op’s annual meeting is truly seeing a democracy in action. Thank you for your participation in our election.

We had nearly 4,000 members, roughly 22% of our membership, take the time to mail in their ballots or to cast their votes online, and election results will be announced toward the conclusion of today’s meeting.

As you know, by casting your ballot, you were entered to win a gift card, an electric bill credit, and the grand prize: a pickup truck! We are proud to offer these prizes to our membership in appreciation of you taking the time to vote. And remember— every member who voted will receive a $5 bill credit!

We will also announce our scholarship winners. Today, we have 18 high school seniors from seven high schools joining us. These students applied to win one of 10 $1,000 awards that may be used to continue their education at a college, university or technical school. We are delighted to assist these students, and thank them and their families for joining us today.

While we are on the subject of youth, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, for the past 2 years, we have been unable to send high school students to Washington for the Rural Electric Youth Tour.

I am pleased to announce that this year, we were able to continue the more than 50-year tradition of recognizing great students. Earlier this year, local high school guidance counselors and civic organization representatives nominated high school juniors to compete for a chance to travel to Washington, D.C., this summer.

In February, all students nominated traveled to Tallahassee for our state Youth Tour. Following the Tallahassee trip, we held our Youth Tour competition, and this year’s winners are Jazmira Guzman of Bay High School and Jonah Swigart of Wewahitchka High School. We are proud to have them representing us in Washington this year.

Another event that we have been unable to hold since 2019 is our Empower Energy Education Workshop. It is exciting to announce that this summer, the workshop will resume, and 15 local educators will attend to learn more about a balanced approach to energy generation.

I want to thank the management and employees for a job well done during another challenging year. Day or night, rain or shine, calm or storm, your cooperative employees work 24 hours a day, seven days a week to keep your homes comfortable and energized. We are lucky to have such incredible people working behind the scenes to power our homes, businesses and communities. Through whatever else comes our way, your cooperative’s employees and board are here to keep the power on and serve you, our members.

And not only are these men and women keeping the lights on here at home, they are also assisting other electric cooperative member-owners.

The 2021 Atlantic hurricane season was an above-average season, and in August, we responded to an SOS from a cooperative in Louisiana, DEMCO, by sending 18 employees to assist in power restoration efforts following Hurricane Ida.

Here at home, GCEC continues to recover from Hurricane Michael. The Category 5 storm inflicted $84 million in damage to our distribution system. To cover these hurricane-related expenses, the cooperative had to acquire an emergency line of credit in the amount of $75 million from the National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corporation. The interest charges on this line of credit cost over $5 million to date.

In 2019, our board made the difficult decision to adjust rates to recover a portion of the Hurricane Michael restoration costs. Our rates had not been adjusted since 2012, but the tremendous expense associated with the storm made the rate adjustment unavoidable.

In June 2019, our members began to see the “Storm Cost Recovery” line item on their bills. The revenue collected through this rate rider is only used for storm restoration costs and will be in effect for a maximum of five years, or no later than June 2024.

In the meantime, we are continuing to negotiate with FEMA and the Florida Department of Emergency Management for reimbursement of large portions of our recovery costs and to reduce the impact of these costs being passed on to our members. These are reimbursements we need and deserve.

So far, we have secured reimbursements for 70% of our Hurricane Michael repair expenses. We will continue these negotiations so we may keep the cooperative financially sound while at the same time impacting our members’ power bills as little as possible.

We greatly appreciate Congressmen Neal Dunn and Congressman Darren Soto introducing the FEMA Loan Interest Payment Relief Act requiring FEMA to reimburse local governments and electric cooperatives for interest incurred on loans used to restore essential functions after natural disasters.

Unfortunately, the interest paid on emergency loans is a cost passed on to taxpayers and ratepayers.

This legislation will bring much-needed relief to our consumer-members continuing to rebuild from Hurricane Michael.

The bright side is we can say how much progress we have made—not only as a co-op, but as a community. We will soon complete repairs to our Southport office while accounting for future growth. Our headquarters office in Wewahitchka is also still damaged and leaking. We are working with engineers and contractors to determine the most cost-effective way to repair or rebuild our headquarters.

In 2011, GCEC’s 50-year contract to own and maintain the electric and water distribution systems at Tyndall Air Force Base commenced. We have completed several water and electric projects, including replacing aging infrastructure. This contract has given us the opportunity to hire more employees and help stimulate local economies by buying materials and expanding your cooperative.

Today, our primary duty is helping Tyndall Air Force Base fulfill its mission to recover and rebuild from the devastation of Hurricane Michael. Supporting Tyndall is not only our job; it is our great honor. Supporting the base of the future allows GCEC to directly contribute to the security of our great country and support our freedom. We are proud to be a part of Team Tyndall.

Linework is one of the most dangerous jobs in the country. Keeping our employees safe is our top priority. Our employees participate in safety training— from first aid and CPR to lineworker safety training.

GCEC is 100% compliant with Occupational Safety and Health Administration rules. We have gone to great lengths to ensure all employees receive safety training required by OSHA, and that all of our offices and equipment adhere to OSHA standards.

We are also committed to safety training for our community. Today, we have safety demonstrations using our live line demonstration trailer. We hope that you will take the time to attend one of the presentations. We are proud of this trailer, built by our employees, and enjoy taking it to local schools, festivals and training sessions to educate our members and keep them safe.

Gulf Coast Electric Cooperative is a Five-Star Co-op. That means we encourage our consumer-members to learn about federal, state and local elections, and help make sure they are registered to vote; empower consumer-members to make independent, educated decisions about voting for the future of their cooperative and community; engage with elected officials by inviting them to visit the cooperative and meet with the co-op’s consumer- members; and develop a political game plan to advance and advocate for issues on behalf of the electric cooperative.

GCEC has 100% ACRE participation on behalf of its employees and trustees. ACRE is the Action Committee for Rural Electrification—the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s federal political action committee.

ACRE supports candidates for the U.S. House and Senate—those in office now and running for office—who will speak for and protect the interests of electric cooperatives and their consumer-owners.

GCEC member-owners have the opportunity to be politically active through the ACRE Co-op Owners for Political Action program. If you are interested, I encourage you to stop by our booth in the conference room.

Our employees have a mission: to deliver safe, affordable, and reliable power. One way that we ensure reliability is through our right-of-way program. If vegetation comes into contact with power lines, it can interfere with your electric service and cause a potentially dangerous situation. It is vital this vegetation be cleared from the power lines to provide reliable electric service and prevent a hazardous condition.

We realize most property owners regard trees as an asset. However, federal law states it is GCEC’s responsibility to eliminate hazardous conditions. The co-op tries to work with each landowner to preserve landscaping when maintaining rights-of-way

If we are trimming in your area, we ask that you please mark anything buried underground that can be harmed by our trucks and heavy equipment. Please be aware that we will need access to fenced-in areas. We appreciate your patience and understanding as we work to bring you quality, reliable service.

We know how busy everyone is these days. That’s why we offer a multitude of ways to do business with the co-op. Our lobbies and drive-thrus are open, and you can reach us over the phone during regular business hours.

Don’t forget that our drop boxes, automated phone system and website are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week for payments or for reporting power outages. And, if you haven’t downloaded our new app, we encourage you to do so. It is available from the App Store for iPhone users and from Google Play for Android users. It offers a variety of convenient features, including the ability to view and pay your bill and to report an outage.

And, don’t forget that if you can’t make it to one of our office locations, that you can pay your bill at retailers such as CVS Pharmacy, Dollar General and Family Dollar. To get started, visit the GCEC Checkout page.

We recently expanded our rebate programs to include one for electric vehicles. If you drive a fully electric, battery-powered electric vehicle, you may qualify for our $100 EV rebate. Applying for your rebate is easy on our website. By registering your vehicle, you’ll help us better understand how members like you are using power. This information will guide planning for our power delivery system, as well as additional EV programs and rebates that benefit you.

In addition to services to help our members, we are also proud to offer products. A couple of the newer products that we offer are GenerLink and meter poles.

The GenerLink is a UL-listed, meter mounted portable generator transfer switch that allows the homeowner to properly connect to a portable generator without the risk of backfeeding onto our energized power lines while we have workers in the field. GenerLink is a low-cost alternative that allows the homeowner to have full access to their breaker panel during a power outage.

It delivers generator power directly to your breaker box, eliminating the hassle of running power cords through your home. GenerLink is installed in 20 minutes or less by utility personnel, does not require the member’s presence and requires no rewiring of the member’s electrical system. Call a GCEC office for more information.

We also sell both underground and overhead meter poles at competitive prices. These are for sale to everyone, not just GCEC members. If you are interested in purchasing one, please call a GCEC office.

We continually evaluate ourselves, and your feedback is sought each day. Every other year, we conduct a formal survey of our residential members to measure attitudes and perceptions toward GCEC. All information we gather will be kept confidential and only used to determine how we can better meet our members’ needs.

Randomly selected members will be mailed postcards asking them to participate in the survey online or take part in a telephone interview later. The telephone interview should take approximately 10 minutes to complete. Members will not be asked to provide any billing or account information, social security numbers, and/or birth dates. If you are selected to participate, we hope that you will provide your valuable feedback.

On behalf of all of your co-op employees and board here providing this great celebration for you, please enjoy our annual meeting, our celebration of you, our member-owners. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to serve all of you. Thank you again for your time and attention this morning.

Left to right: Young members enjoyed face painting and a bounce house. Courtney Evans is a Gulf Coast Electric Cooperative cupcake fan. Megan Whitfield and Lindsay Peak are all smiles as the first in-person annual meeting since 2019 got underway.
Left to right: Tori and Brice Gerber of Wewahitchka won the award for shortest time married at three years, and their daughter, 6-month-old Annabeth, was the youngest attendee. Vera Rozier, 98, of Wewahitchka, was the oldest attendee. Elfriede and Jim Harrell of Wewahitchka, married 75 years, won honors as the couple married the longest.
Left to right: Jay Shiver takes Jayden Cambra for a ride in a bucket truck. Gulf Coast Electric Cooperative Board Members are, from left, Rupert Brown, Robert Byrd, Dwight Van Lierop, Kinneth Daniels, Carl Goodson, Betty Moore, Eddie Jones and Jimmy Black (Doug Birmingham not pictured). Moore, Van Lierop and Daniels ran uncontested and were reelected. Mike Harrison of Wewahitchka won a toolset. Kelly Mason of Clarksville won a Nintendo Switch.