Local leaders join AZ Town Hall to talk higher education (copy)

SSVEC Chief Member Services Officer Jack Blair, right, pictured here speaking with Sierra Vista Mayor Rick Mueller, says SSVEC regularly works with customers to avoid service disconnections.

Herald/Review: The YES Fair is going on this week, held by SSVEC; over the years, have you noticed the quality of the students’ projects improving? And if so, to what do you attribute that?

Jack Blair: The quality of the projects have been improving over the past several years. This is due to the increased amount of awards as well as SSVEC paying the elementary and middle schools to conduct their own science fair and have the top projects advance to the YES Fair. And it might add that one of our grand prize winners from last night will be seeking a patent on the their project and a local company actually utilized her project to pave a local parking lot.

HR: What about participation? Have those numbers been steadily rising, and why do you think that is?

JB: The participation has declined as we have decided to focus on quality and not quantity. We pay the elementary and middle schools to hold their own science fair with only the top projects in grades 5-8 advancing to the YES Fair.

HR: How is the YES Fair funded?

JB: The YES Fair is funded by the SSVEC Foundation, which is in turn funded by unclaimed “patronage capital” payments. SSVEC is a not-for-profit cooperative owned by those who we serve power to. Our bankers, as well as the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) that regulate us, require a certain equity in order to operate. So, our revenues minus expenses are called capital credits (or profits for a for-profit business).

At the end of every year, those capital credits are allocated to our members based on the amount of power they consumed during that year. Our board then pays out those capital credits to our members when the financial and equity goals set by the banks and the ACC have been met. Since our incorporation in 1939, SSVEC has returned almost $22 million to our members and last year we returned just over $2.9 million to our members.

All capital credits prior to 1994 have been returned to our members. Since there is a lag between the allocation and the retirement, some people have left and did not leave a forwarding address. We go to great lengths to find these people, but when we can’t, we put this money into the SSVEC Foundation which funds our youth programs (Scholarships, the YES Fair and the Washington Youth Tour).

Finally, I might add that prior to SSVEC establishing the Foundation, these monies went to the state general fund for use all over the state. Now, thanks to the Foundation, these monies stay here and benefit our youth.

HR: Some residential customers have complained to us that they’ve seen their bills go up over the few months, even though they haven’t been using more electricity. What is the explanation for that?

JB: In November of 2019, the last step of our four-year phase-in to new modern rates was completed. If you are a residential member, you would have seen your basic monthly charge increase $3 per month with a corresponding decrease in the kWh charge (the amount of electricity that you use).

We do get calls from our members (stating) that they haven’t changed their lifestyle and they had a higher bill than normal. Our experience is that the biggest impact on your electric usage is the weather. If it is hotter or colder, you will consume more energy, even if your lifestyle doesn’t change.

We have several employees whose sole job it is to help our members use less power. We urge our members to take advantage of our bill analysis and/or our free energy audits by calling 520-515-3497 or sending us an email to energyaudits@ssvec.com. We also offer rebates and interest-free loans to help our members use less power. This information can be found on our website.

HR: The idea of an electric cooperative is unique to a lot of people. Explain how that works, as well as the genesis of SSVEC. And how many customers did SSVEC have when they first came about some 80 years ago?

JB: Until the 1930s, most of rural America had no electricity, as it wasn’t profitable for the electric companies to run power lines to these areas. As part of President Roosevelt’s “New Deal,” the Rural Electrification Agency (REA) was formed and not-for-profit member-owned electric cooperatives began springing up across the country.

SSVEC was incorporated in 1938 and those who wanted power paid a $5 membership fee (which was a lot of money in those days and it [the membership fee] is still $5 today). There were 600 original members. A loan from the REA for $368,000 was approved in 1939 to build 269 miles of line and an additional $120,000 to build a power plant. The first power flowed on Oct. 20, 1940. in the Sulphur Springs Valley. SSVEC brought power to the Sierra Vista area (then known as Fry) in the 1950s.

HR: People enjoy reliability with utilities. Understanding that sometimes Mother Nature does unpredictable things, what can the average residential consumer do — or where can they live — to ensure as best they can that they’ll be as protected as possible from power outages?

JB: SSVEC actually has one of the top “in power” rankings in the USA, with power being on to our members 99.98 percent of the time. This is due to our aggressive maintenance program and rebuilding and enhancing our power grid to ensure that it remains reliable. We also took advantage of the “smart grid” grant several years ago, which allowed us add newer technology to reduce the number and duration of our outages.

That being said, it doesn’t really matter where you live, in terms of outages. The vast majority of our outages are caused by Mother Nature (storms, animals, birds, and reptiles) and vehicles running into our poles.

HR: It has been proposed in the Legislature that members of the Arizona Corporation Commission be appointed by the governor’s office, rather than elected. Where does SSVEC leadership fall on this matter, and why?

JB: We will let the voters of the great state of Arizona decide this issue.

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