Nearly 600 Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative members and guests filled the Sons of Hermann Hall in Giddings Tuesday, May 9, for the co-op’s Annual Meeting.
Members and guests enjoyed music from Bert Rivera and the Ramblers, with special guest Wyatt Aleman, a 12-year-old fiddling prodigy from Harwood, Texas. More than 40 door prizes were handed out, including two Cub Cadet riding mowers.
The meeting began with a video that included a safety briefing, milestones that Bluebonnet achieved last year, and each director introducing themselves and their spouses. Board Secretary-Treasurer Roderick Emanuel then led the members and guests in the invocation, pledges of allegiance to the United States and Texas flags, and in singing the national anthem.
Important business was also on the agenda.
Board Chairman Ben Flencher opened the business portion of the meeting by thanking members for their continued support following a challenging and change-filled, but highly successful 2016.
“Last year was a great year, but we had a few changes and some tough challenges,” Flencher said. “We handled them superbly and professionally, largely because of the support we got from our members.
“I hope our members are as proud of their co-op and its employees as we are of our members. Everything we do – each Director and every employee – we do with our members’ best interests in mind. That’s what sets Bluebonnet apart from other utilities and service providers,” Flencher said.
Two important changes at Bluebonnet last year were the addition of Debbi Goertz to Bluebonnet’s Board of Directors and the promotion of Matt Bentke to become Bluebonnet’s fifth general manager. Bluebonnet’s Directors chose Goertz from several highly qualified candidates to replace Director Kathleen Handy, from Bastrop County, who suddenly and unexpectedly died just a few weeks after last year’s Annual Meeting. The Board chose Matt Bentke to become general manager after the retirement of Mark Rose in June.
“Promoting Matt Bentke to become Bluebonnet’s fifth general manager was an easy and unanimous decision for the Board of Directors,” Flencher said. “Matt is just one example of the incredible employees that make Bluebonnet second to none.”
Bentke, who served as deputy general manager for several years before becoming general manager last year, echoed Flencher’s comments about Bluebonnet’s members and employees.
“It was great to see hundreds of familiar faces and friends, and also so many first-time attendees and new faces at this year’s Annual Meeting,” Bentke said. “Our members’ participation in our Annual Meeting shows how supportive and engaged they are in their co-op. They’re the reason our employees are so committed to providing the best possible service, and looking for ways to continuously improve. Our goal is to be the standard by which our members measure all other service providers in our area.”
Using results from Bluebonnet’s annual member survey, which was taken in March, Bentke showed the co-op is on track to meet that goal: 94 percent of members said they have a positive impression of the co-op, and 95 percent rated their electric service as good or excellent.
“Though we never take things for granted, we consistently see these numbers in the low- to mid-90s,” Bentke said. “But this year we saw a seven-point increase from good to excellent. That confirms what we thought and what our members know –that we are providing outstanding service.”
Bentke pointed to two other survey questions related to Bluebonnet’s service. First, 96 percent of members who experienced an outage during the past three years have a positive impression of the co-op, and 94 percent who spoke to a member service representative said their issue was resolved to their satisfaction.
“Those numbers blew me away,” Bentke said. “They’re very significant because we had some major outages last year, during which some members were without power for two or three days,” Bentke said. “And many, probably most of the conversations with our member service representatives are about tough issues. We are very proud of the service we are able to provide our members.”
Flencher and Bentke reported other important achievements last year. Bluebonnet members began receiving bills this month that include their share of $3.14 million in capital credits, which are excess revenue similar to the dividends that for-profit companies pay to investors. In the past 10 years, Bluebonnet has returned $38.8 million in capital credits. Bluebonnet receives 86.5 percent of its wholesale power from the Lower Colorado River Authority; 10 percent from Calpine, a Houston-based power generator; and 3.5 percent from American Electric Power in renewable wind generation. The ranks of Bluebonnet members adding solar energy systems on their homes, businesses or property has grown.
“We currently have 263 members with solar systems and 18 members with wind turbines on our electric grid, accounting for 3.5 megawatts of renewable power,” Bentke said. “We are proud to be able to work so well with our members who want to install renewable energy on their property. We also work very hard to add renewable energy to our generation portfolio as long as it makes sound financial sense and benefits every member.”
In other business, four of Bluebonnet’s directors who were up for election this year were unopposed and re-elected by general consent. Directors Roderick Emanuel, District 3, Bastrop County; Russell Jurk, District 4, Lee, Milam and Williamson counties; Byron Balke, District 6, Austin, Colorado and Fayette counties; and Robert Mikeska, District 7, Washington County retained their board seats in accordance with Bluebonnet’s bylaws. More than 6,000 members participated in this year’s Annual Meeting by proxy.