HREC’s annual meeting celebrates success

By Drew Myron

From pies to prizes to profit, the news was good at Hood River Electric Cooperative’s 72nd annual meeting March 15. The yearly gathering is a family- friendly event that provides members with a state-of- the-cooperative report and an opportunity to elect directors to the board.

HREC Manager John Gerstenberger chats with a co-op member after the annual meeting’s financial report.
HREC Manager John Gerstenberger chats with a co-op member after the annual meeting’s financial report.

Addressing a crowd of more than 125 people in the community room at the Hood River County Fairgrounds, Auditor Nate Reagan delivered an encouraging financial report.

“This is the biggest margin ever for Hood River Electric Co-op,” he said, noting a net margin of $1.1 million.

An unusual year of severe winter storms followed by a dry, hot summer created demand for power in 2017.

“It was a unique year,” Reagan explained. “There was more power consumed, which means more to the co-op. Your financials indicate strong growth. Most importantly, this cooperative is continuing to build equity. Everything looks great at the co-op from a financial perspective.”

HREC Manager John Gerstenberger agreed.

“The year-end margin is exceptional in its size,” he said. “Unusually persistent cold temperatures early in 2017—plus impact of the retail rate increase—combined to generate a $1.1 million margin. As a result, more than $900,000 of past margins were retired and returned to members who purchased energy in 2004, 2005 and 2006.”

This is good news for members, who are entitled to a share of the cooperative’s margins, defined as income in excess of expenses. The margins are allocated to each member based on their electric energy purchases for the year.

While profits are up, growth is slow.

“Not as much materialized as we expected,” Gerstenberger said, noting that new electrical load requests are on the horizon, though not at the magnitude anticipated.

Member of Parkdale Grange standing in front of 50 Pies
Members of the Parkdale Grange baked 50 pies to feed the crowd.

However, the Communications Access Cooperative Holding Enterprise and LS Networks, “continue their tradition of success,” he noted.

CACHE, a not-for-profit service providing enhanced internet and connectivity, has 2,089 subscribers, an increase of 149 from the previous year.

“It’s steady but modest growth, and that’s a good thing,” Gerstenberger said.

The hour-long business meeting was peppered with breaks for drawings and prizes. More than 25 prizes were awarded, including cookbooks, gift cards and $100 bills.

Three incumbent board members were uncontested in their bid for another term. Gary Bloom, Roger Nelson and Dick Sohler were re-elected. Bloom has already served 15 years, Nelson 17 years and Sohler three years.

Gerstenberger took a moment to recognize Butch Gehrig, Patrick Moore and Bernie Wells for each serving on the board of directors for 20 years, and Bloom for 15 years. He also noted Office Manager Brenda Lewis has worked at HREC for 32 years. Lineman Doug Balzer has worked at HREC for 15 years.

The gathering was Gerstenberger’s final annual meeting presentation. After 32 years, he is scheduled to retire this summer.

“It was a tough decision,” he said. “This is an awesome place to be.”

Gerstenberger joined HREC in 1986, working as an engineer before moving into the role of manager. He noted many changes in his long career.

“When I came to the co-op in early 1986, the first in-house billing computer system had just been installed,” he recalled. “It was a multi-user system with a single CPU, several ‘dumb’ terminals and a massive printer. There were no PCs on-site at that time.”

An early adopter, Gerstenberger brought his own PC.

There was no internet or email, and everything was paper. Now, he said, a smartphone that fits in the palm of a hand has more computing power than HREC’s first monster-sized computer.

Marla Magana with daughter Yocelyn
Marla Magana, with daughter Yocelyn, won a crisp $100 bill in the drawing that took place during the business meeting.

In contrast, aside from meter reading, the co-op’s distribution system has seen little change.

“Much technology has been developed to create automated operation and visibility but is more applicable to much larger systems,” Gerstenberger said

HREC serves 2,798 members, all easily accessed within 30 minutes.

“Though faces have changed, the dedication and commitment of your board and employees has not diminished,” Gerstenberger said. “They understand the trust being extended by the membership. They know the services provided are essential and must be available at all times. They understand they are stewards of valuable infrastructure that must endure harsh conditions at times. It has been my goal that these responsibilities are pursued in a quiet and competent manner.”

Gerstenberger’s words were met with a standing ovation.

Following the presentation, members of the Parkdale Grange plated up 300 slices of pie. A team of eight bakers prepared 50 pies in a range of flavors. The grange has provided pies for decades.

“This is the social event of Odell,” Jim Hammermeister said of the evening that brought together all ages, from toddlers to retirees, in a spirit of community and cooperation. “And everyone likes the pie.”