Blue Ridge Mountain EMC customers express concerns

  • Blue Ridge Mountain EMC held its annual meeting last week.
    Blue Ridge Mountain EMC held its annual meeting last week.
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    Young Harris, Ga. – Changing the meeting day may have kept some members away from the 2019 annual meeting of Blue Ridge Mountain Electric Membership Cooperative.
    For decades, the meeting has been held on a September Saturday, but the 2019 meeting was held at 3 p.m. Thursday at company headquarters on U.S. 76. According to some members, attendance numbers were low because of the weekday meeting.
    Despite this, a quorum allowed three incumbents to be re-elected to the board of directors without opposition. Gene Mason from Union County, Cory Payne from Clay County and Ray Cook from Cherokee County were all re-elected to another term.
    Member Tom Martin voiced his concerns. “This is not a good venue, and there are only about 70 people here,” he said. “Could you share what was saved?”
    The Blue Ridge Mountain EMC Board of Directors voted earlier this year to change the meeting to a weekday to potentially save the company from paying Saturday overtime to employees. General Manager Jeremy Nelms told Martin the total savings would have to be calculated after meeting expenses were paid.
    During his manager’s report, Nelms said he expects the customer service charge to be part of the public commentary.
    “I think it’s in everyone’s best interest to address it and move on,” he said. “As a not for profit, we believe it should be spread fairly among all members. Be assured, each member is paying their fair share, which will amount to 76 cents a day for the average EMC user’s customer charge.
    “After six years of rate increases from TVA, our members and your EMC welcome this much-deserved relief. I believe it’s worth noting to our members that your EMC has not had an increase for its own benefit for the past six years,” Nelms added.
    “In addition, the TVA has recently introduced a long-term partnership amendment to its power contract. However, because it requires a rolling 20-year commitment, it is important to ensure your EMC does its due diligence to provide the best energy solutions for its members, both now and for the long term.”
    Despite low attendance, several members also took time to express concerns about the customer charge increase effective Oct. 1. Randy Mazie addressed the group on behalf of FAIR –Families Against Inequitable Rates.
    “I have a petition signed by more than 120 people in less than one month,” Mazie said, reading from the petition. “Blue Ridge Mountain EMC’s new pricing structure is unfair. Coop members who use less than approximately 970 kilowatt hours each month will face higher electric bills.
    “If you are on fixed income, use solar power, monitor your electric usage to keep your bills low, can’t afford to buy new energy efficient equipment, pay your monthly customer charge, even though you don’t use your home for an extended period of time, you may be facing an increased bill, and you will be subsidizing high-energy users whose bills will decrease.”    Mazie said Blue Ridge Mountain EMC is not being transparent.
    “This policy is discriminatory and causes disparate treatment of members in the same member class. Furthermore, the TVA has not increased their rates,” he added.
    Mazie gave the group’s website as www.FAIR-BRMEMC.org. He suggested applying a credit to the electric side of the bill to offset the increase in the customer charge.
    “Why not institute it or come up with a better plan,” he said. “Blue Ridge Mountain needs to be equitable. It needs to be fair. It needs to include the business member classes, which have not gotten an increase in their customer charges in years.”
    Martin also asked why the company is not releasing the customer service charge analysis by Chris Mitchell. Another member spoke asking why the customer charge increased 27 percent from 2014-19 when the cost of living has only gone up about 8 percent.
    Member Terri Marshall thanked the company for working hard and keeping the power from going off like it used to. Marshall also read a letter by Lois Pyle asking for more transparency and saying excess revenues should be returned to the members.
    “Bylaws says surplus revenues may be distributed to the members,” the letter says. “You say TVA says excess revenue cannot be returned to its members. We would like to see a copy of this contract and the section you cannot. Make it public. I am stating very clearly, there is a conflict.”
    Pyle also asked why business members have not had an increase in several years, and why there is not more transparency about profit being made by the fiber-optics division.
    Frank Wilson, who identified himself as a retired Episcopal priest, proposed some policy changes to Blue Ridge Mountain EMC. Waive the customer service charge for anyone at or below poverty level, waive the reconnect fee one time and send a liaison from the board of directors to organizations such as Hope House in Union County.
    Nelms replied to the member comments.
    “I’ve had many hours worth of conversations with Mr. Mazie,” he said. “It pains me to think people say we’re not doing the right thing. This is not an attack on a particular socioeconomic group who can’t afford energy saving upgrades.”
    Nelms also said he has asked for an executive summary of the cost analysis study to release to members. The entire study could not be released because it contains proprietary information owned by the contractor who performed the analysis. That will be shared with members when available.