By John Bartley, CEO/General Manager Gulf Coast Electric Cooperative (GCEC)
It is hard to believe another unusual year is coming to a close. Here, I reflect on and evaluate 2021.
2021 Atlantic Hurricane Season
As anticipated, the season had above average tropical cyclone activity. At the time I write this, the season has produced 21 named storms, making it the third-most active Atlantic hurricane season on record.
The storms have caused more than $70 billion in damages, making this the fourth-costliest Atlantic hurricane season on record.
In August, we responded to an SOS from DEMCO in Louisiana, sending 18 employees to assist in power restoration following Hurricane Ida.
Back at home, we continue to recover from Hurricane Michael. We continue negotiating with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Florida Department of Emergency Management to reimburse 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 approximately 75% of our Hurricane Michael repair expenses. We will continue these negotiations so we are able to keep the cooperative financially sound while impacting our members’ power bills as little as possible.
We greatly appreciate Congressman Neal Dunn (Florida-02) and Congressman Darren Soto (Florida-09) introducing the FEMA Loan Interest Payment Relief Act (H.R. 8701) 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.
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.
Due to the age of the Wewahitchka office, the number of additions it has had through the years and the damages it sustained during the hurricane, we face the possibility of a complete rebuild for our headquarters office location.
Watch Florida Currents magazine and our Facebook page for updates.
73rd Annual Members’ Meeting
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions on gatherings of large groups of people, Gulf Coast Electric Cooperative’s 73rd Annual Members’ Meeting was shifted from an in-person celebration to a virtual business meeting May 1.
Members voted electronically or mailed in their ballots, and were invited to submit questions and make motions in advance.
If you want to listen to the annual meeting broadcast, visit our Annual Members Meeting page.
We plan to resume an in-person gathering for our 74th Annual Members’ Meeting, scheduled for May 7. Look for communication regarding the 2022 annual meeting early next year.
ACRE & Co-ops Vote
GCEC 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% participation on behalf of its employees and trustees in ACRE—the Action Committee for Rural Electrification. That is 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 those running for office—who 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, contact our office.
After being closed for more than a year, our office lobbies are open and ready to serve you Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., excluding holidays. Our drive-thrus follow this same schedule.
For those who prefer not to conduct business in-person, our drop boxes, automated phone system and website are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week for payments. Call anytime to report a power outage.
GCEC is 100% compliant with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) 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.
In 2021, we continued vegetation trimming as part of our rights-of-way program.
If vegetation comes into contact with power lines, it can interfere with your electric service and cause a dangerous situation. It is vital this vegetation be cleared from 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. We appreciate your patience and understanding as we work to bring you quality, reliable service.
Summer Educational Programs
During a typical summer, our local educators would be headed to the Empower Energy Education Workshop, and our Rural Electric Youth Tour winners would be headed to Washington, D.C. As you know, this year has been anything but typical. Due to concerns surrounding COVID-19, the 2020 and 2021 workshops were canceled, as was the Youth Tour trip to Washington.
The good news is we plan to resume both programs in the summer of 2022. We are currently accepting applications for the 2022 Empower Energy Education Workshop and the 2022 Rural Electric Youth Tour program. For more information on either program, contact Kristin Douglas in our marketing and communications department.
Tyndall Air Force Base
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 AFB fulfill its mission to help the base recover and rebuild from the devastation of Hurricane Michael. We are proud to be a part of Team Tyndall.
We began offering two new products this year: GenerLink, a UL-listed, metermounted portable generator transfer switch, and meter poles.
GCEC is looking to roll out more tools for your account and other programs to assist members.
We continually evaluate ourselves, and seek your feedback each day.
Co-ops are owned by the members they serve. We are a not-for-profit organization governed by our board of directors to support you, our members. Our employees live and work right where you do. Our ultimate goal is to safely provide you with a reliable source of energy services. Thank you for being a member of the cooperative.
On behalf of everyone at GCEC, I wish you a merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous 2022. I appreciate the opportunity to serve you.