Planning today for the future

Jamey Pankoke General Manager

Jamey Pankoke
General Manager

Every year at this time, we take a break to celebrate the holiday season and to count our blessings, as we have so much to be thankful for.  We also evaluate the activities from the past and begin to plan for the future.  It helps us to realize that the decisions made today will determine how successful we are in years to come.

While reviewing everything that the board of directors and employees accomplished this past year, it reminded me that we are in a constant state of planning.  We continually make plans to strengthen the District’s electric system so that we can maintain a reliable supply of electricity for you.  This is never clearer than it is when our crews replace and upgrade distribution lines to increase capacity and to provide backup service, such as they did this year on line projects in the areas of Grafton, Henderson and York.  These planned additions, along with the replacement of older poles, will increase the reliability of service to customers for many years.

We make plans in determining how best to provide power to new customers, like the planning that led up to our line technicians making the necessary improvements this year to a transmission line and construction of a substation to provide service to Fortigen, the new anhydrous ammonia plant outside of Geneva.  Or the planning that will be required to provide power to Flint Hills Resources for their high protein animal and fish feed ingredient expansion project.  Annually, it also takes a lot of preparation and scheduling to assure our irrigation customers that they will have their new services built and ready for use in the upcoming irrigation season.

From a financial standpoint, we prepare forecasts, budgets, and long-term financial plans.  As an example, this year your board of directors gave the go ahead to refund an outstanding bond issue, which resulted in lowering the District’s average cost of debt to 2.24 percent and raising equity to 75 percent, the highest level it has been since 2006.  This financial planning, in addition to always being cognizant of the fact that we need to use your money wisely when operating the business, is what allows us to keep the price of electricity economical.  On that front, I’m happy to report that there will be no rate increase in 2018, making it the 5th consecutive year that our retail rates have remained the same.

In the customer service area, we evaluate and plan for the implementation of innovative programs to streamline our billing process, to offer incentives to help you become more energy efficient, and to give you more options for doing business with us.  We also develop strategies for improving communications with you.  As an example, the idea of changing our print communications from a four-page newsletter to this new eight-page magazine was initiated from a recent strategic planning session that was held by the board and staff.  We certainly hope that you enjoy the magazine.

In our line of business, the most important planning that we do is the planning for the safety of our employees and the public.  I’m very proud of our employees for the ongoing safety record in which they have set.  At the writing of this report, they had worked over 1,700 days without a lost time accident, besting the previous record of 604 days by a long way.  However, as I tell our employees, it isn’t the record that is important.  It’s their focus on working safely that makes the difference.  And this involves planning.

With about seventy cents of every dollar that we collect from you being used to pay for the wholesale power that we purchase on your behalf, we develop plans of action to keep these costs as low as possible.  Of course, this includes controlling irrigation wells during peak periods to keep the charges from the District’s wholesale power supplier, Nebraska Public Power District, much lower than they would be otherwise.  We disconnect power to irrigation wells when power costs are the highest, so that we can save our irrigators money by not having to raise their electric rates.

Speaking of wholesale power supply, we are in the initial stages of planning for the purchase of energy from Bluestem Energy’s 6.9 MW wind generation facility, which will be built west of Fairmont.  This will be our first venture into a large scale renewable energy project, and we’ll need a plan for integrating it into the District’s electric system.

Our future can always be altered, and we might not always be successful at everything we do.  But our chances for success will be much greater if we continue to plan today for the future that we want tomorrow.  It reminds me of a quote that I once read, “Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now.”

We wish you and yours a safe and happy holiday!  I’m sure that you are planning on it.