CEO’s Message

Manager's Message

CEO’s Message — October 2021

Celebrating National Cooperative Month

Headshot of Clay FitchWhen Benjamin Franklin signed the Declaration of Independence, he reportedly said, “We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

That recognition of the need to work together may be why Franklin, in 1752, founded the first successful cooperative in the United States: the Philadelphia Contributionship for the Insurance of Houses from Loss by Fire, which still operates today.

The principles behind the Declaration of Independence that form the basis of American democracy also form the basis of cooperatives. A cooperative is owned and democratically controlled by the people who use its services. Each member has one vote, regardless of his or her stake; that is, members cannot buy more control than anyone else. This stands in stark contrast to investor-owned utilities where only shareholders have a vote in how the business is run and, even among shareholders, some have more votes than others depending on their shares of stock.

The distinction of the cooperative business model is important to all of us because Wells Rural Electric Co. (WREC) is owned by the people we serve. All of WREC’s efforts are aimed at providing safe, reliable, affordable, carbon-free electricity that enables members to enjoy the convenience of today’s technology and supports local businesses in providing products, services, and jobs that strengthen our communities.

In October, WREC is joining 30,000 other cooperatives nationwide to celebrate National Cooperative Month, which recognizes the many ways cooperatives help build stronger communities and a stronger economy. Nationwide, cooperatives create 2.1 million jobs, serve more than 130 million consumers and generate more than $650 billion in revenue.

WREC is not the only cooperative serving our communities. Our local hardware stores rely on supplier cooperatives, such as Ace Hardware and Hardware Wholesalers Inc. Some of our grocery stores belong to Associated Foods, which is a wholesale grocery cooperative. Shelves are stocked with products from grower cooperatives, such as Land O’Lakes, Welch’s, Tillamook, Sunkist, Ocean Spray, Blue Diamond, and many more. Credit unions also play an important role in local finance.

Being part of a cooperative is something special, unique, and strong. Cooperatives bring a variety of resources and services to their members, connecting rural families to resources that otherwise might not be available. These strategic partnerships keep communities thriving, even during difficult times like those we are experiencing now.

Your electric cooperative works hard to provide solutions that work for our members including:

  • Nest thermostats and other energy-efficient products, services, and rebates.
  • Budget billing to help you manage your payments.
  • Member advocates who connect you with other agencies and programs to help meet the needs of low-income families, seniors, and members enduring financial hardships.
  • SmartHub for secure and convenient account management.

For information about other products and services, and ways WREC is involved in our schools and communities, visit our website or contact your local office.

Clay R. Fitch
Chief Executive Officer

Manager's Message

CEO’s Message — September 2021

Now Is the Time to Seek Help on Past-Due Bills

Headshot of Clay Fitch

Are you behind on your power bill? Have the struggles of the past 18 months left you worried you may never catch up?

Many people are finding themselves on unfamiliar ground. Asking for help after a long struggle and isolation may be difficult.

Wells Rural Electric Co. (WREC)—owned by and here to serve members—stands ready to help. Please do not hesitate to reach out. Neighbors helping neighbors is the cooperative way. It is our way. But we need to hear from you.

As your local electricity provider and neighbor, we often can help with unpaid bills in a variety of ways. We can work with you to craft a payment plan, connect you with programs that help with late bills and budgeting, create conservation and energy efficiency strategies and even offer direct financial support.

Even if you have not qualified for assistance in the past, please check your eligibility. The income qualifications and benefit levels for numerous assistance programs recently changed. If you have qualified in previous years, please reapply as soon as you are eligible. Most government agencies and social service organizations are experiencing high demand, and approval may take longer than usual.

The first step is the most important. If you are unable to pay your bills or want to take control of your account, we need you to contact us right away so we can work alongside you for the best possible outcome.

In the spirit of helping our members, here are several free and low-cost tips to save energy and manage your monthly expenses:

  • Close blinds and drapes during the day to keep heat out.
  • Skip your dishwasher’s drying cycle; air-dry dishes instead.
  • Turn off lights, ceiling fans, computers, and TVs when you leave a room.
  • Replace disposable air filters—or clean permanent ones—once a month to maximize efficiency.
  • Set your thermostat a few degrees warmer to reduce the energy needed for air conditioning. Better yet, schedule an appointment with one of WREC’s licensed electricians to install a programmable thermostat to help you manage your cooling costs now and your heating costs this winter. If you have an electric forced-air furnace, visit our website and click “Save Energy” to explore products and services to help you save money, including a free Nest thermostat.
  • Sign up for budget billing, which averages your monthly electricity bill so you pay a set amount each month.
  • Use the new bill format—introduced last month—as an easier way to analyze and compare your energy use patterns.
  • Download the SmartHub app to see how and when you use electricity. SmartHub also allows you to manage your account and make payments at your convenience.
  • For a limited time, members who enroll in an electronic payment program will receive a $5 bill credit. All members who pay their bills electronically will be entered into a monthly drawing for one of 4 $25 bill credits. At the end of the year, all members who pay electronically will be entered into a drawing for an 8-piece Ring home security package valued at $1,099.

For assistance with any of these programs or promotions, please contact the member advocates at your local office.

Clay R. Fitch
Chief Executive Officer

Manager's Message

CEO’s Message — August 2021

Planning and Preparing for Wildfire Season

Headshot of Clay Fitch

More than 5 million acres burned in California, Oregon, Washington, and Nevada last year, making 2020 the most active fire year on record for the West Coast. Extreme windstorms instigated catastrophic wildfires that burned millions of acres, taking human life and destroying thousands of homes. Forecasters predict another hot, dry summer with drought conditions throughout the region, leading to yet another active fire season.

In Nevada and neighboring states, investor-owned utilities came under intense public scrutiny and legislative oversight for their alleged roles in some fires. As a result, several states enacted legislation requiring electric utilities to prepare wildfire mitigation plans. Rural electric cooperatives, municipalities, and public utility districts in Nevada are not yet subject to such a mandate. Still, Wells Rural Electric Co. (WREC) believes developing a thorough plan—whether required or not—is prudent, responsible, and in the best interests of our members.

WREC has always taken safety and fire prevention seriously. Crews have been hardening the system, testing poles, and managing vegetation for decades. More recently, we have been planting cleared rights-of-way with fire-resistant vegetation such as crested wheatgrass. WREC vehicles are equipped with fire suppression equipment during fire season, and WREC owns two fire trucks that can be deployed to protect our power lines from wildfires.

These preventive measures—and an analysis of the risks—are being incorporated into a comprehensive plan. Through our Nevada Rural Electric Association membership, we collaborate with utilities across the state to share data, study best practices, and develop plans to protect our power lines, members, and property. In a similar effort, a plan was created last year for the territory WREC serves in Utah. That plan is available for review and comment on our website.

While WREC has been improving its safety and wildfire protocols, we also encourage our members to take steps to reduce wildfire risks for their homes or businesses. The National Fire Protection Association recommends choosing fire-resistant building materials and limiting flammable vegetation in the three home ignition zones. The three zones are immediate (0 to 5 feet around the house), intermediate (5 to 30 feet), and extended (30 to 100 feet). NFPA recommendations include a list of things you can do around your home to make it safer from embers and radiant heat. The list includes:

  • Clean leaves, pine needles, and other debris from roofs, rain gutters, and exterior attic vents.
  • Move any flammable material away from exterior walls: mulch, plants, leaves, pine needles, firewood—anything that can burn.
  • Remove items stored under decks or porches.
  • Replace or repair loose or missing shingles or roof tiles.
  • Install 1/8-inch metal mesh screening on vents in eaves.
  • Repair or replace damaged or loose window screens and broken windows.

Many more resources are available to help you prepare. We encourage you to visit the Firewise page or the National Fire Protection Association website to learn what you can do in all three zones to help mitigate risks.

At WREC, we will continue making system improvements, managing vegetation, conducting inspections, and implementing testing programs to help mitigate risks. These efforts ensure your access to safe, reliable, affordable, carbon-free electricity. We hope you will join us in preparing and mitigating the risks to the beautiful communities we call home.

Clay R. Fitch
Chief Executive Officer

Manager's Message

CEO’s Message — July 2021

Empowering Our Members

Headshot of Clay FitchFrom the perspective of most businesses, some of Wells Rural Electric Company’s (WREC’s) decisions might not make sense. For example, our energy-efficiency and conservation programs try to help you use less of the main product we sell. But since WREC is a not-for-profit cooperative, helping our members get the most out of their energy dollars does make sense.

Your board and employees are always looking for ways to help you use electricity more efficiently and provide you with information that empowers you to maximize the value of your membership. In July, we will introduce a new bill format that is designed to do both.

The phrase “knowledge is power” is especially true in managing your electricity use. Your new bill will provide more information about how you use electricity. The bill will present this information in an easy-to-understand graphic format that will show your energy use and demand readings more prominently.

Demand has been shown on your bill for several years, but unless you have irrigation or commercial accounts where demand is billed as a separate component, you may not have noticed. An insert further explaining the new features will be included with your first bill.

Other sections of the bill will display messages from your cooperative. In addition to our monthly Ruralite magazine and social media messages, your bill provides another reliable opportunity for WREC to communicate with you, our members.

In one sense, your bill is a history of how you used electricity the past month, with comparisons to how you used electricity during the previous 12 months. If you really want to manage your energy use and the total bill that results, I highly recommend the SmartHub app, which provides day-by-day detail to help you analyze patterns in your energy use. SmartHub also allows WREC to communicate with you during outages using text notifications.

Online payments are another convenient feature of SmartHub. Through the end of the year, any member who installs the SmartHub app and makes a payment through the app will receive a $5 credit on their next bill. All members who make payments through our online systems—including members already using SmartHub—will be entered into a monthly drawing for one of three $25 power credits. In December, we will draw for the grand prize: a $955 Ring home security starter pack, which includes a second-generation eight-piece monitoring kit, a Ring doorbell, and an Echo Show 5, among other great products.

While SmartHub empowers you to manage your account daily, our dedicated employees are always available to answer your questions. Nothing pleases us more than helping you connect with our highly qualified electricians to install products that increase your energy efficiency or improve your quality of life.

Contact your local office with any questions or to connect with our programs through our member advocates.

Clay R. Fitch
Chief Executive Officer

Manager's Message

CEO’s Message — June 2021

Director Nominations

Headshot of Clay FitchNominations for three seats on Wells Rural Electric Company’s (WREC) Board of Directors open Monday, June 14, 2021. Director seats subject to election are currently held by incumbents Orlin Kidner, Ouida Madison, and Bob Wilcox.

Nominations must only be made on the 2021 Board of Directors Election Nomination Form available at all WREC offices and on our website. All mandatory questions must be answered in order for the nomination to be valid. Completed nomination forms must be received by Lauren Landa, General Counsel, by 5 pm Pacific Time Zone on Monday, June 28, 2021. Mail the completed form to Lauren Landa, 530 Idaho Street, Elko, Nevada 89801 or PO Box 1358, Elko, Nevada 89803; email to email Lauren; or fax to (775) 738-4220. It is the responsibility of the candidate to ensure receipt of the nomination. Late nominations will not be placed on the ballot.

Any member in good standing for a minimum of one year as of June 28, 2021, may nominate another eligible member, himself or herself, (“the nominee”) for Director using the approved form. The nomination form must be signed and dated by both the nominee and the person making the nomination, if other than the nominee. Nominees must verify their membership by providing their name and contact information.

To be eligible for election to the Board of Directors, non-incumbent nominees must attend a mandatory informational workshop held electronically and/or telephonically on Wednesday, June 30, 2021, at 1 pm Pacific Time Zone.

Nominees must not have any felony convictions within seven years prior to June 14, 2021.

The nominee must be of legal voting age prior to June 14, 2021.

The nominee must be a member or spouse of a member, or a local officer, director, partner, official, or manager of an entity that is a member. An entity is a partnership, corporation, limited liability company, firm, association, business trust, personal trust, body politic or subdivision thereof, or other multiple ownership-type business structure. No more than one person may serve on the Board based upon any one membership.

The nominee, or his/her entity, must not have an unpaid account with WREC that is outstanding for more than 90 days.

The nominee, or his/her entity, must not have an account written-off as a bad debt by WREC within seven years prior to June 14, 2021.

The nominee must not be a current employee of WREC or a former employee of WREC within five years prior to June 28, 2021.

The nominee, or his/her entity, must not have been the subject of a Ruralite Feature Story article since February 25, 2021.

Additional voluntary information, including years of WREC membership, occupation, and years on the WREC Board may be included. Education and training credentials—not more than 300 characters and spaces— may also be included. WREC reserves the right to edit.

The nomination should be accompanied by a photograph of the nominee suitable for use in preparing the ballot package.

General Counsel shall determine the eligibility of each nominee. Acceptable and approved documentation to confirm qualification will be required by 5 pm Pacific Time Zone on Monday, June 28, 2021. Specific questions related thereto shall be directed to General Counsel at emailing Lauren or at (775) 738-8091.

Clay R. Fitch
Chief Executive Officer

Manager's Message

CEO’s Message — May 2021

Texas is a Mess
Headshot of Clay Fitch

Safety around electricity is always a good idea, but when spring comes—and we finally get to spend more time outside—it’s essential to revisit some of the dos and don’ts. It only takes one careless moment for tragedy to strike.

Electricity constantly seeks a path to ground. A tall piece of machinery, a metal ladder, a long-reach pruner, a tree, or—worst of all—a human body that touches both an energized wire and the ground will complete the circuit with devastating results. It is crucial that you look before you lift and call before you dig.

Your board and employees make safety our top priority. We have specific policies and practices in place to ensure every employee works safely every day. We also conduct training and job briefings to ensure all aspects of safety are addressed. We participate in national programs such as Commitment to Zero to incorporate best practices.

Your safety is equally important. To prevent yourself or a loved one from becoming a victim of an electrical accident, follow these safety tips:

  • Never go near a downed power line, whether you think it is energized or not.
  • If a power line falls on your vehicle, your safest option is to remain inside the vehicle unless there is a fire. The vehicle acts as a path for the electrical current to reach ground. You are safe inside the vehicle, but you could get electrocuted if you attempt to get out. Call 911 so our highly trained line crews and emergency responders can help you remain safe.
  • If a power line falls on your vehicle—and there is a fire—jump out of the vehicle with both feet together, making sure no part of your body or clothing touches the ground and the vehicle at the same time. Try to land with both feet together. In small, shuffling steps, move a safe distance from the vehicle and the damaged power lines. Call 911.
  • Always call 811 before you dig. At no cost to you, utilities will mark the location of their underground lines to help you avoid contact with power, gas, telephone, water, or sewer lines. One wrong move could result in injury or death from an electrical shock or explosion.
  • Don’t plant tall-growing trees under power lines. If a tree has power lines running through it, don’t climb it or build anything in it.
  • Never fly drones, model airplanes or rockets, mylar balloons, or kites near power lines. If something gets caught in the power line, do not try to remove it yourself. Call our dispatch center at (800) 566-6696.

Wells Rural Electric Cooperative (WREC) has contracted with a professional tree-trimming service, and their crews could be working in your area. In addition to their logo, their trucks will have a sign with WREC’s logo clearly identifying them as a contractor.

Under our contract, they are limited to trimming trees that pose a safety hazard. This is not an endorsement, but if you have additional work you want done, please call them for a quote rather than entering the work zone where falling branches could strike you. Remember, their quote is from an independent contractor. WREC does not set their rates and will not bill you or pay for any services you choose.

Please see additional information about the benefits of tree trimming by visiting our Preventative Maintenance Program post.

Best wishes for a safe spring!

Clay R. Fitch
Chief Executive Officer

Manager's Message

CEO’s Message — April 2021

Texas is a Mess
Headshot of Clay Fitch

“Don’t Mess with Texas” makes a great bumper sticker, but at the moment, Texas is just a mess. Sadly, this mess was predicted, but the only people who listened live in Nevada.

During the battle over ballot Question 3 in 2018, proponents held Texas up as a model of the future of electricity for Nevada. Those of us who opposed Question 3 believed Texas was a time bomb. To be fair, an open energy market like Texas can, and did, deliver competitive prices. Open markets also can, and did, deliver incredible price spikes and rolling blackouts. We didn’t know exactly when it would happen, but the bomb exploded in February when three severe winter storms swept across the Lone Star State.

Temperatures in Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio fell below temperatures in Anchorage, Alaska, triggering a series of compounding problems. First, to keep people warm, heating systems ran much longer than usual and activated emergency electric resistance heating coils. Some homes and businesses generally heated with natural gas also switched to electricity when natural gas supplies stopped flowing. Total electricity demand for the state was forecast at 58,000 megawatts (MW). Actual demand soared to 70,000 MW. I know MW doesn’t mean much to members who don’t deal with wholesale electricity daily. To put that spike in perspective, Wells Rural Electric Company’s (WREC’s) entire system— from Emigrant Pass west of Carlin to the middle of the Salt Flats east of Wendover—demands about 95 MW in the winter.

To make matters worse, not only did demand go through the roof, but supply fell through the floor when freezing temperatures locked up wind turbines and cloud cover limited solar generation. Shortages of natural gas also sidelined backup generation. Grid operators were left with no choice but to implement rolling blackouts to prevent the entire statewide grid from collapsing.

The law of supply and demand is as unforgiving as the laws of physics. For decades, WREC has purchased its wholesale power supply from the Bonneville Power Administration under long-term contracts. Those contracts typically increase a few percent in October of odd-numbered years but prevent dramatic price hikes. The current wholesale price under our BPA contracts is $35 per MW. Prices in Texas spiked to the legal limit of $9,000 per MW for certain hours across about 10 days.

Damage caused by the extreme cold weather quickly became a financial disaster. One consumer in Chambers County has filed a class-action lawsuit against his electricity provider because his average monthly bill of about $200 skyrocketed to $9,000.

Several electric utilities have declared bankruptcy, and more are likely to follow. Insurance companies are likely to take a big hit as well. One estimate pegs total damage at $195 billion. If that is accurate, these storms and their financial aftermath will be the most expensive disaster ever to hit Texas, surpassing the $125 billion in damage caused by Hurricane Harvey.

I have tremendous sympathy for consumers in Texas. They relied on the open market to provide affordable electricity. Unfortunately, there was no way for utilities to overcome decades of energy policy that hampered long-term investment in critical baseload generation.

Thankfully, voters in Nevada listened to utility experts, and our allies, and wisely voted no on Question 3.

Clay R. Fitch
Chief Executive Officer

Manager's Message

CEO’s Message — March 2021

Promises Kept
Headshot of Clay Fitch

When your board of directors and I announced plans to build a new operations center, we made three promises: The building would be finished on time, on budget, and would not drive a rate increase. It turned out to be a greater challenge than we expected, but we kept our promises.

COVID-19 struck in the middle of construction. Progress could have come to a screeching halt, but we had selected a dedicated and trustworthy general contractor who implemented COVID-19 safety protocols and guided the project through to completion. Cooperative Building Solutions kept its promise to finish the building, which enabled Wells Rural Electric Co. (WREC) to keep its promises to you.

Building new operations centerOur financial plan proved to be solid. Due to funds that had been diligently saved, savings from debt restructuring and budget reductions, and new financing at affordable rates, we were able to hold rates at 2017 levels. Despite an increase in wholesale power costs from the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) in October 2019, WREC was able to keep its promise not to raise rates to pay for the new building.

That was no small feat. Wholesale power supply costs make up 72% of WREC’s total costs. Even a small increase in wholesale power supply rates has a dramatic impact on costs.

Because wholesale power supply makes up such a significant part of our costs, we devote a great deal of time working with other not-forprofit electric utilities and industry organizations to control those costs. We are grateful officials at BPA have listened to our concerns and worked to limit the 2019 increase.

Pie chart showing highest cost is from BPA power supplyBPA is working through its rate case for fiscal years 2022 and 2023. We continue to plead with BPA to hold rates steady, especially in light of current economic difficulties many of our members face.

We will not know until this summer what BPA’s rates will be, but we feel obligated to let you know we expect an increase. Given the enormous influence of wholesale power supply rates on costs, it seems unlikely WREC will be able to avoid a rate increase. If necessary, new rates will go into effect in October 2021.

We will provide additional information as it becomes available, including estimates for how increases in BPA’s rates will affect the rates you pay. As always, we are working to minimize the impact of any rate increase and ensure any increase is as fair as possible.

Clay R. Fitch
Chief Executive Officer

Manager's Message

CEO’s Message — February 2021

Committed to a Co-op Culture for All
Headshot of Clay Fitch

I’ve written many times about why and how Wells Rural Electric Co. (WREC) is different—because we’re a not-for-profit member-owned cooperative. Our business model sets us apart from other utilities because we adhere to seven guiding principles that reflect core values of democratic control, honesty, transparency, equity, inclusiveness, and service for the betterment of the community.

Electric cooperatives, including WREC, have a unique and storied place in our country’s history. We democratized the American dream by bringing electricity to rural areas when for-profit electric companies thought there wouldn’t be a big enough return on their investment.

Back then, cities were electrified, but rural areas were not, which created the original rural-urban divide. Newly established electric lines helped power economic opportunities in rural areas. Today, that spirit of equity and inclusion is a vital part of your cooperative’s DNA.

When our electric cooperative was founded, each member contributed an equal share to gain access to electricity that benefited individual families and the larger local community. Each member had an equal vote in cooperative matters. That sense of equity and inclusion is still how we operate today.

WREC was built by and belongs to the diverse communities and members we serve. Membership is open to everyone in our service territory regardless of race, religion, age, disability, gender or sexual identity, language, political perspective, or socioeconomic status. WREC is a stronger cooperative because we serve such distinct and vibrant communities.

By paying your electric bill each month, you’re a member of the cooperative—and every member has an equal voice and vote when it comes to cooperative governance. This ties back to our guiding principles of equitable economic participation and democratic control.

We encourage all members to vote in WREC’s director elections every year, and we invite all members to weigh in on discussions that set cooperative policies and priorities. We know our community members have different needs and perspectives. We welcome diverse views on all issues under consideration by your cooperative. The more viewpoints we hear, the better we can reflect the needs of all members of our community.

While our top priority is providing safe, reliable, clean, and affordable energy, we also want to be a catalyst for good in our community. We invest in our diverse communities through scholarship programs, charitable giving, educational programs, and more. We strive to make long-term decisions that improve and enrich the communities we serve.

While today’s world is radically different from when WREC was formed, our cooperative values have stood the test of time.

We recognize that today’s cooperative members expect more. My pledge to you—the members we proudly serve—is to promote a cooperative culture of member-focused inclusion, diversity, and equity for all.

Clay R. Fitch
Chief Executive Officer

Manager's Message

CEO’s Message — January 2021

Hope for the New Year
Headshot of Clay Fitch

As we welcomed the New Year, my thoughts were drawn back to this same time one year ago. There was hope and excitement for the opportunities ahead, yet we all know 2020 was not the year any of us expected. Who knew on March 13—Friday the 13th, to be exact—so many changes would happen in our communities? Life as we knew it began to look a lot different. Offices and schools closed, community meetings and activities were canceled, and we adapted to celebrating things like graduation in very different ways.

While many of these changes were difficult, there was still positivity around us. I witnessed the flexibility of our members and the dedication of your employees. Throughout the year, we adjusted where and how your employees served you. We had to complete work from a distance and had to adapt many of our service processes to maintain social distancing. Members had to adjust by communicating with their cooperative electronically.

We eagerly await the day when we can be together again for the events that make our communities such wonderful places to live. Serving our community is what makes us smile. Thank you to everyone for your understanding and flexibility.

We also got to witness our community step up in creative ways to support one another. When we learned of widespread layoffs, we immediately ramped up our efforts to help members receive financial assistance to stay warm and safe. Our member advocates worked miracles to help struggling members access existing assistance programs and new funding made available through the CARES Act. It reinforced my appreciation for our communities when members called and anonymously volunteered to help fellow members pay their bills. One of our financial partners, CoBank, also stepped up to help our members by providing a $10,000 matching grant.

I’m also grateful to the local service organizations and churches that participate in WREC’s Commitment to Community voucher program. Our combined efforts helped many members avoid disconnection and overwhelming account balances.

I’m optimistic that 2021 will be a brighter year, but I remain concerned about our friends and neighbors affected by the pandemic itself or by its financial aftermath. If you or another member you know are struggling with electricity bills that are usually higher in the winter, please contact your local office. We are eager to not only help you manage your account during these trying times, but we also have energy-efficiency and conservation programs that can help you reduce your energy consumption while enhancing the comfort of your home or business.

Best wishes for a safe and warm new year!

Clay R. Fitch
Chief Executive Officer