General Manager Libby Calnon highlights the co-op’s accomplishments

By Drew Myron

A lineman working on a maintenance project at night
The Hood River Electric Cooperative crew works through the night on a maintenance project at the Parkdale Substation.

The lights stay on.

In every hour of every day, through fire and storm and even amid a global health crisis, Hood River Electric Cooperative keeps its members energized.

It’s a fact HREC General Manager Libby Calnon believes in now more than ever.

“Our team works hard every day,” she says, “and in this unprecedented time, we’re pulling together to make sure we continue to provide every member the dependable service they’ve come to expect.”

Due to the worldwide coronavirus pandemic, HREC’s annual meeting scheduled for March was canceled. The jovial event typically offers a state-of-operations report from HREC leaders, along with prizes, pies and a chance to socialize. The meeting will be rescheduled after the health risk passes.

“We had a great year in 2019,” Libby says. “I want our members to know how much we appreciate having the opportunity to serve them.”

Libby is eager to keep members informed and to share accomplishments, she says, most notably stable rates, the HREC/Communications Access Cooperative Holding Enterprise merger, planning for a new substation, the use of carbon-free energy and recognition of longtime employees.

Affordable Rates

“We kept electric and internet service rates stable and affordable,” Libby says. “We had no rate increases in 2018 or 2019 and do not expect to raise rates this year.

“Our residential members pay electricity rates that are about 24% below the state average and about 35% below the national average. I challenge you to find another internet provider that has charged the same rates, for faster and faster services, for the past 15 years.”

Merger

The largest change—primarily an organizational change that few noticed— was the merger of HREC and CACHE into one nonprofit cooperative organization.

HREC now provides both electric and internet service, and all CACHE members are HREC members, too. The accounting processes and patronage capital allocations for the two businesses remain separate.

In the past year, HREC conducted a fiber-to-the-home feasibility study and is confirming the results with a pilot project in the Trout Creek Ridge area of Parkdale. The goal of the pilot program is to help the co-op understand costs and timelines of a potential full build-out.

“We know fiber-to-the-home service is something many of our members want,” Libby says. “Providing this service more broadly would have the dual effect of allowing us to offer faster speeds for members on fiber connections, as well as freeing up bandwidth for our wireless members to use, resulting in a better experience for them as well.”

New Transmission Line

HREC is making progress on a key electric reliability project with a new transmission line and substation in the Pine Grove area.

“We have identified a location for the substation and mapped out the best route for the transmission line,” Libby says. The design process began in March.

Crews will begin construction as soon as the county permit application is approved.

Carbon-Free Energy

HREC is proud to offer members energy that is 97% carbon free, thanks in large part to the federal Columbia River hydropower system, Libby says.

“While other parts of the country rely on coal or natural gas for the majority of their electricity generation, we are blessed to have this clean, renewable, reliable resource right at our front door,” Libby says. “The federal hydropower system has been generating energy for our members since 1945. We’re working with other community-owned utilities around the region to ensure we will be able to bring you the value of this resource for years to come.”

Capital Credits

HREC saw net margins of $614,880 in 2019 for the electric business and $481,919 for CACHE internet service. Libby says this represents another solid financial performance for both organizations.

Capital credits represent member ownership in the cooperative. Each year, co-op members are allocated a share of the previous year’s net margins. The co-op uses those funds for building and maintenance of services, and then returns the money to members through capital credit retirements in later years.

HREC retired $514,778 in capital credits to electric service members, returning the remainder of the 2007 capital credit allocations and half of the 2008 allocation.

“We are pleased that our operations in 2019 allowed us to make another significant capital credit distribution,” Libby says.

Acknowledgments

Lineman working at night on a maintenance projectHREC would not thrive without its members and dedicated staff, Libby says, noting several long-term employees: David Adams, journeyman lineman, 20 years of service; Janette Elizondo, member service representative, 10 years of service; Brandi Kelly, senior member service representative, 10 years of service; and Simeon Story, senior network technician, 10 years of service.

“I would like to extend my thanks to the entire board and staff of HREC for their support and teamwork,” Libby says. “It’s been a great help to me to have such a knowledgeable, dedicated and cohesive team in place. We work hard, we have fun and we are dedicated to serving our members.”