Overcoming challenges and changes is what co-ops do

“We had a simple mission and still do – ­provide reliable electric service to our ­cooperative members at an affordable price.”

I have enjoyed my 36 years with Wabash Valley Power Association and rural electrification with the last 10 years as its CEO and I confess I’m also looking forward to enjoying my family more now that I’ve retired.

I was 26 years old when I came to work for Wabash Valley. I was the youngest employee at the time. It was only my second job out of ­college. I was three years out of college and previously employed by Arthur Andersen and Company, a nationally recognized accounting firm at the time.

I am considered a dinosaur today when few people stay with a single company for such a long time. I have enjoyed both the people and the challenges inherent in such a capital-intensive industry. Electric ­utilities are one of most capital intensive ­businesses in the world. The decisions you make literally last a lifetime.

When I first started in 1979, we had no assets, but the dream of ­building a nuclear power plant with PSI Energy (now called Duke Energy). I was the seventh employee and we rented a small office. We now have over 1,000 megawatts of ­generation ownership, and cooperative members in three states.

Wind, solar and other forms of renewable energy were not part of the picture in the late 1970s. We had a simple mission and still do – ­provide reliable electric service to our ­cooperative members at an affordable price. We may all have a different view of what is affordable, but that simple mission provided great guidance to me as I made decisions that impacted each member’s electric bill over the years. I did not have a conflict between shareholders and ratepayers. At a cooperative the owners are the ratepayers.

Some worry about the future with all the changes we are going through, but I think the future looks bright for rural electric cooperatives.

We have continued to grow the business over the years. The product we produce (electricity) has ­continued to grow and is needed more than ever today. We now use electricity for things that did not exist in 1979. Look around your home at all the devices hooked up to your electrical outlets and I think you’ll be surprised. Many outlets today have a strip plugged in to hold more devices.

The demand for greater reliability of electric service has also grown. None of us likes to come home and see the electric clock blinking. We have a committed workforce and board members who care about the price and quality of electric service.

We have diversified our electric generation resources to include wind, solar, landfill gas, coal, petroleum coke and natural gas. Diversification of energy sources has been a founding principle for our cooperative over the years. That philosophy has served us well. Just as you will want to diversify your retirement plan assets, we want to diversify our fuel mix. The new EPA regulations will limit the type of fuel utilized to produce electricity in the future. Natural gas and renewable energy will lead the way for new electric energy production.

Yes, there are challenges ahead. There have always been challenges for rural electrification and there always will be. I look back and we had a ­natural gas shortage in the 1970s, Y2K, Enron, $5,000 per ­megawatt-hour power in 1998, clean air ­regulations, etc. We worked through them and will continue to do so.

Rick Coons retired in October as President/CEO of Wabash Valley Power Association, the wholesale electricity provider for 23 electric distribution ­cooperatives.

Rick Coons retired in October as President/CEO of Wabash Valley Power Association, the wholesale electricity provider for 23 electric distribution ­cooperatives.

I leave behind a great staff I am very proud of, and they are prepared for whatever lies ahead. I am smart enough to know that one person cannot do it all. I will not miss the travel, the daily commute to and from the office…the daily grind. But I will miss the people in the ­cooperative ­family. That includes the employees of Wabash Valley Power, the CEO’s of our ­member ­cooperatives, the ­directors of the member ­systems and my colleagues throughout the ­industry. Cooperation among ­cooperatives is one of our strengths and all of you have ­supported me. For that I am eternally grateful.

Life is a journey and not a ­destination and it is time for me to move on. It is time for me to be ­second in command at our home, a new grandparent and a lifelong ­partner. I can do that with a lot of confidence in the staff and new leader­ship that will navigate Wabash Valley Power in the future. I wish all of you the best as you wander through your own journey in life.

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