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If someone asked you to tell them, in one word, why South Plains Electric Cooperative is in business, how would you answer?
I hope this would be a hard question for you to answer, not because you don’t know, but because it would be so hard to pick just one word.
Would you say electricity? Makes sense because that’s our core product.
Would you say affordability? Another good answer because we sell our electricity at cost, not for a profit, as only a cooperative business can. Sixty-seven cents of every dollar you sent to the Co-op in 2019 went straight to buying your power. We covered all of the other expenses to operate your Co-op on the remaining 33¢, even with a 51% increase in new services constructed.
South Plains Electric is locally-owned and managed, so it’s easy for the Board of Directors to make quick decisions when situations arise, like when natural gas prices went negative for a period in 2019. Even though the Co-op’s expenses were rising to cover the tremendous growth, our members paid 6% less for the power they consumed than they did in 2018.
What we call “load diversity” also factors into keeping rates consistently low while we are growing. If you look at page 11, it shows the different groups of members and how much they contribute to the Co-op. Less than 30 years ago, South Plains Electric was comprised of about a third irrigation, a third residential and a third of all the other member types. Today, our residential members represent 41% and irrigation is only 15%. Improving technologies have increased our oil load to 27% compared to 11% less than 30 years ago. Load diversity, especially the increase in residential and small commercial, helps us buy a consistent amount of power month to month, offsetting the highs of hot summers with the lows of winter.
Consistency keeps the overall cost of power down. Would you say cashback? If there is any revenue left over after paying all of our bills, it’s assigned back to every member, based on the amount of electricity they consumed, and is called capital credits. In the past 17 years, we’ve only missed sending cash back to our members one year. All total, we’ve returned over $45 million in capital credits, in cash, back to our members. South Plains Electric ended 2019 with over $6 million in operating income, and the board will decide about a capital credits refund to members in the next few months.
Would you say reliability? Right again! Even with the sometimes harsh West Texas weather causing outages, our people are quick to respond and restore power, and for the larger outages, we keep you updated on our website and Facebook.
Would you say community? If you did, you must be a member who has seen our signs at Little League fields, our ads in the school athletic programs, our tee box signs at fundraising events for other nonprofits, our employees at Relay for Life, or your kid was a Youth Tour or Operation Round Up Scholarship recipient. New communities are at the heart of our growth. The once rural school districts are now charged with keeping up with suburban migration. First a school is built, then homes pop up surrounding the school, followed by the businesses to support the new community. Large apartment complexes are also changing the suburban landscape. We love being the locally-owned, neighborhood utility facilitating this growth. It’s our honor and responsibility to support our local communities.
Would you say service? That answer really makes me smile because I’m so proud of our employee group! Over the past five years, we’ve said good-bye to many longtime employees as they departed to enjoy retirement. If I’m being honest, the thought of losing 30 or 40 years of experience with every retirement costs me some sleep. We’ve hired people who exhibited and understood our heart for service. I’m proud to report that we have an outstanding, next generation of employees who are eager to grow with the Co-op and to continue delivering outstanding member service.
If someone asked me for one word to describe the Co-op, I would have to say people. We sell electricity, but we are first and foremost in the people business. South Plains Electric Cooperative would be nothing without the people we serve—our members. Our members would not enjoy affordable rates and reliable service without the people employed at the Co-op. South Plains Electric would not be as financially sound if it were not for great leaders like the one we lost last year, Tommy Joines. Retirements at the board level are reflecting the employee retirements. We are watching vast amounts of knowledge and experience depart the boardroom, but the members are electing people who exhibit and understand our heart for service, and I’m sleeping pretty good these nights.