Pointe Coupee Electric officials look back on a tumultuous 2016

Staff Writer
Plaquemine Post South
Pointe Coupee Electric General Manager presented annual 4-H endowment grants to representative from the Iberville, Pointe Coupee and West Baton Rouge Parish 4-H offices.

In his first Annual Meeting report to members, Pointe Coupee Electric General Manager Myron Lambert said he was ready to leave 2016 behind and look ahead to the future.

Lambert, who took over as general manager six months ago, said both the cooperative and the community faced many challenges in 2016 but emerged stronger and more prepared to achieve success in the months and years ahead.

“We had a 1,000-year flood, a drought, an industry going through a transitional period and a tumultuous political and regulatory environment,” Lambert said. “But through it all, we minimized outages, restored power in record time and made improvements to our system.”

Lambert said the cooperative’s continued success is due to the managers and employees that have come before to establish the tradition of service that is carried out by today’s board, management and employees.

“We stand on the shoulders of those who have set the standard of excellence and who have contributed to the success of this organization over the past 78 years. We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to these folks,” said Lambert, who is just the third general manager the co-op has had in nearly eight decades.

PCEMC’s 78th Annual Meeting held at the Scott Civic Center on Jan. 25, was attended by an official count of 396 registered members, which was enough for Board Secretary/Treasurer Ralph Chustz to declare a quorum.

During the business session, CPA John Morrison announced the results of the first board election for the cooperative in the past 25 years. The independently certified results indicated that incumbent District 3 Director George LaCour defeated challenger Albert “Dewey” Dukes and was returned to the Board.

Lambert congratulated LaCour on his re-election and also congratulated Dukes for making the effort to participate in the democratic process that governs the member-owned electric cooperative.

Incumbent Director Peter Rumfola also ran unopposed in District 5.

The difficulties of 2016 were also mentioned by West Baton Rouge County Agent Steve Borel, who noted that 90 inches of rain fell in Baton Rouge during the year. The historic flood event in August was followed by a record drought in October, he said.

“This made it a very interesting year for the farming industry. Things were up and down. Some crops came out okay, some didn’t. For the sugar cane farmers, the drought ended up working to their advantage. But, overall, it could have been a lot worse than it was, with this unpredictable weather,” he said.

Chustz returned to the podium later to deliver the co-op’s financial report. Chustz said the organization ended the year with a negative margin of $250,000, which he said was not unusual for a non-profit electric cooperative.

He said that power sales declined while fixed costs stayed the same. 

“It has been the weather, the economy, the more energy efficient appliances people use, just a combination of all of these things,” he said.

Chustz said the cooperative has appealed to the Louisiana Public Service Commission (LPSC) for what is known as a Formula Rate Plan. This allows the cooperative to adjust its rates higher or lower depending on its financial position without having to put together costly and inefficient rate cases to submit to the LPSC for approval.

“This allows us to make enough money to meet our obligations. If we have a year where we don’t cover our expenses, we can automatically adjust our rates upward. If we end with a positive margin, we would adjust our rates downward. Our finances would continue to be audited independently each year to make sure we’re doing what we should be doing and maintaining the trust of the members we are here to serve,” Chustz said.

Scott Angelle, District 2 representative on the LPSC and chairman of the state regulatory body, confirmed that Pointe Coupee Electric is one of the best-run electric cooperatives in the state.

“I know your employees work hard and your board works hard to watch every penny and provides outstanding leadership. There are never any scandals or anything of that nature at your cooperative,” Angelle said. “I just want to take this opportunity to thank all the men and women at the co-op who serve their members with tremendous pride and professionalism day in and day out.”

Angelle said that while many people take affordable, reliable electricity for granted, it requires a competent organization from the top to the bottom to keep the lights on for cooperative members.

Addressing the co-op’s financial shortfall for the previous year, Board President Jimmy Ewing said Lambert and co-op staff have been tasked with identifying new industrial and commercial customers that would increase the economies of scale through the power distribution system and help to stabilize rates. 

“We have a new bridge that has expanded our infrastructure and we feel like there are opportunities to grow our system along with the community,” Ewing said. “Overall, your cooperative is in good shape, and that’s thanks to the management and employees who do all the heavy lifting and your board members who are keeping on top of things happening in the industry and in the political arena.”

Lambert introduced New Roads Mayor Robert Myer by noting that he and Myer have worked together during emergency restoration projects and economic development programs and initiatives. He said Myer has been personally committed to helping the co-op respond to major power outages during emergencies while improving economic opportunities for local citizens.

Myer told members the city government has an outstanding working relationship with the co-op through its franchise agreement and also maintains a positive partnership with the city’s wholesale power supplier, Louisiana Generating.

“We have a new hotel and new businesses along our main boulevard. We’re committed to continuing growth and sustainability,” Myer said.

In other matters, Lambert recognized co-op employees who reached significant milestones in 2016 and also honored two Employees of the Year for 2016, Johnny Plauche and Tracy McLin.

Lambert presented a safety award to Safety Coordinator Joe Langlois on behalf of the PCEMC employees. Lambert said PCEMC workers have accumulated 888,058 accident-free work hours from August of 2006 to December of 2016.

A random drawing was held for three $1,000 scholarships. Winners were Sydney Neal of Iberville Parish; Alexandra Jarreau of Pointe Coupee Parish; and Gabrielle Mitchell of West Baton Rouge Parish.