CEO’s Message – April 2024

Clay R. Fitch

Sometimes the greatest ability is availability. Or, in this industry, reliability.

For all the talk about keeping rates affordable, cost is not the No. 1 priority in most industry surveys. That distinction goes to reliability.

If you think about it, it makes sense. Cost matters. At Wells Rural Electric Company (WREC), we work hard to keep rates as affordable as we can in our cost-based model. But availability matters more. Electricity fuels our lives, connects us with loved ones, and powers most of our entertainment, not to mention keeping us warm or cool. In today’s world, electricity is a near-necessity.

While we are always looking for ways to improve, I am proud of WREC’s reliability record. We’ve upgraded our technology in recent years to better monitor and track our reliability. I’m happy to say WREC’s reliability, in terms of average outage minutes per member, exceeds both state and national averages.

But notice I didn’t say it was perfect.

As much as I wish I could say we’re working toward zero outages, that’s not realistic. Some outages are inevitable, especially in our area where maintaining reliability is a challenge. For starters, WREC exists at the edge of the Columbia River Basin and, as a result, at the end of the transmission lines that deliver power to our service territory. Whether there’s a problem between point A and point B (or, more accurately, point Z) or necessary maintenance, transmission outages are often out of our control.

Once electricity gets to us, we face a new set of challenges. Most cooperatives exist because their members were too spread out to be profitable for investor-owned utilities to serve. In WREC’s case, we maintain more than 1,000 miles of energized line spread through more than 10,000 square miles of service territory. That’s a lot of ground to cover, and, because of the terrain and sparse population, most of our members are radially fed. That means the more rural and farther from the substation you live, the more likely you are to experience an outage if there is a problem. In a radially fed system, any fault between the substation and your home could affect your service. If you live 100 miles away from the substation, any issue along the way affects your power.

Our rural members need to be prepared for occasional outages. When you live in a rural area, some outages are inevitable no matter how advanced monitoring technology or extensive preventive maintenance may be.

Thankfully, we have great crews who go to great lengths to avoid as many outages as possible. You may have noticed tree trimming trucks moving through your area the last several weeks to clear rights-of-way and remove problem foliage. We are constantly patrolling power lines looking for potential problem spots. Each year, we budget for projects to remove, replace, or repair damaged and aging equipment.

Finally, the power is most likely to go out during times of extreme weather when it’s the most inconvenient to be without. In this area, that typically means wildfire season or winter when high winds, moisture, and freezing temperatures create all kinds of problems. When your power goes out in the midst of a storm, rest assured that WREC’s team of excellent lineworkers is prepared to leave the warmth of their own homes to go out in those extreme conditions and work at all hours to make sure your access to electricity is restored as quickly as possible.

Best wishes,
Clay R. Fitch
Chief Executive Officer