News & Events

We place a lot of importance on the fifth cooperative principle, “Education and Information.” In this issue of Country Lines alone, we recognize two employees who completed an advanced series of courses (page 16); the skills they’ve learned will help us serve you better. This issue also contains information about the annual scholarship program to support area students who seek higher education (page 13), Classroom Technology Grants to teachers who can use technology to guide their students (also page 13), and a three-day youth leadership camp in April (back cover). Even this magazine is an educational tool, with energy efficiency (page xx) and safety tips (page xx) mixed in with the recipes (page xx) and interesting feature stories (page xx). In future issues, watch for information about board of director elections, capital credits and your equity in your electric cooperative, district member meetings, and even more of the safety, energy efficiency, and recipe features. Country Lines is an inexpensive way to get information about HomeWorks products and services to every member-owner we serve. We use Facebook to post information as well, and encourage a conversation with our members. It’s said that education is the cornerstone of effective self-governance. Member-owners who stay informed are more likely to vote when board seats come open, helping guide their electric cooperative by carefully selecting the men and women who will set policies for years to come. Those member-owners are best served by elected leaders who understand the industry, and how we can move forward to meet changing demands. And by employees who train every day on safety, use of technology, and other ways to serve you better. Michael Josephson, a noted lecturer on ethics and the founder of CHARACTER COUNTS, is quoted as saying “Life never stops teaching. Be sure you never stop learning.” At your electric cooperative, learning is a way of life, every day.
One of the great things about a cooperative is that we are owned by, and operated for the benefit of, the people we serve: you and your neighbors. That means we work hard every day to make sure that your energy is safe and reliable, that the rates you pay for that energy are fair and competitive, and that the service you receive is personal, courteous, and knowledgeable. We also try to treat you like an individual, a person with a name and address, rather than as an account number. In return, we hope you think of HomeWorks as the cooperative you own, and our board of directors and employees as the people who deliver the energy your family needs for comfort and convenience. Your board of directors is listed on this page, but here are the rest of the HomeWorks family. They join me in wishing you a joyful holiday season and a happy, productive 2016! Accounting: Pat Simmer, Cheryl Blaschka, Christina Pulling, Jeralyn Marshall, Sara Urie Customer Service, Blanchard: Cathy Foster, Cheri Rauch, Erin Storey, Stacey Kirby Customer Service, Portland: Missy Robson, Mary Jane Hoppes, Becky Beard, Brandon Trierweiler, Jeff Erridge, Jessica Hinds, Joy Frazee, Karen Beard, Kevin Blundy, Lesa Barker, Luanne Goodman, Madison Lefke, Michelle Huhn, Sean Thelen, Stacey Brown Customer Service, Meter Readers: Cinnamin Piggott, David Parkhouse, Terri Larsen Billing: Angel McCliggott, Christy Manting, Rita Owen Electric Operations, Blanchard: Kevin VanDePerre, Adam Doughty, Allen Delo, Bob Verhaar, Calvin Foster, Cody Teegardin, Dan Dexter, Dan Fredricks, Jeannie Porritt, Jeremy McVeigh, Jody Birch, Jon Karcher, Rick Warchuck Electric Operations, Portland: Chris Reed, Chris Teachout, Brad Parkhouse, Chris Vallier, Jeff Campbell, Jeremey Smith, Jeremy Zbytowski, Jon Shattuck, Kyle Balderson, Mark Goodman, Rob Brennan, Ryan Smith Engineering Services & Dispatch: Chris Jensen, Brian Thompson, Debbie Rogers, Kelly Vroman, Nick Rusnell, Val Wohlscheid Information Technology: Tom Manting, Chris O’Neill, Jamie Trommater Propane Operations, Blanchard: Andy Fredricks, Lanny Withey, Randy Spayd, Trevor Wood Propane Operations, Portland: Randy Halstead, Dan Peiffer, Kevin Sandborn, Neal Swain And: Denise Weeks, Tanya Schneider, Jayne Graham
Even in today’s shifting energy climate, electricity remains a good value. Did you know that an average day’s worth of electricity for a family home costs less than $5? We don’t often question the cost of a fast food meal, which may be more than that day’s electric power. And yet, we frequently become upset if our electric bill is higher than usual, even if it’s due to our own usage habits. It makes sense; we have become increasingly reliant upon electricity. Electricity has, for many of us, gone from a luxury commodity - a choice - to a necessity and an expectation. We expect the lights to come on when we flip the switch, and we expect our power to stay on during the best and worst conditions. How else would we keep our food fresh, our homes cool in the summer or warm in the winter? Value goes beyond cost: when you flip the switch at home, the lights should come on. We work hard to ensure you have electricity every hour of every day. Even as we upgrade the distribution system to keep improving reliability, we face continual threats. Maybe an ice or wind storm. Maybe a neighbor forgets to call before he digs up his backyard. Maybe someone slides off the road and hits a utility pole. We’ve experienced a lot together. Remember the Christmas 2013 ice storm, or the wind storm in April, just a few months later? Crews worked long hours for days on end to rebuild lines and restore power to every member. But we’re also always preparing for what may come, strengthening our lines and improving our processes so we can respond quickly. With 3,600 miles of electric distribution lines, we have a lot of ground to cover, and reliability doesn’t come without its costs. If at times it doesn’t seem that electricity is affordable, remember – even as the demand for electricity grows and the cost of poles, wires, transformers, and equipment goes up – annual rate increases still remain low, especially when compared to other consumer goods such as medical care, education, gasoline and, yes, even fast food. Electricity is still a great bargain.
Most of us don’t remember life before electricity, and the many conveniences it makes possible. We don’t remember lighting candles or lanterns to extend the day beyond sunrise to sunset. We don’t remember hours of back-breaking labor to pump water, wash clothes, or do farm chores to feed the family. Did you know there are 1.2 billion people around the world who still live without the benefits of electric power? But we’re doing something about it, one village at a time. Over the past 50 years, since President John F. Kennedy signed the first USAID-NRECA agreement to use the cooperative model to electrify rural areas of developing countries, NRECA International has provided access to safe, reliable and affordable electricity to 110 million people. NRECA is the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, assisting electric co-ops in 47 states with safety, communications, and legislative/regulatory programs. For these women, men and children who have benefitted from our work, life has changed and improved in the form of better education, health, access to clean water and economic opportunity. Agricultural productivity, millions of new jobs in micro and small enterprises, and higher incomes and quality of life for rural communities in more than 42 countries around the world are NRECA International’s measurable outcomes. The work is done by volunteer lineworkers and others who take time from their co-op jobs here in the U.S. And now it’s Michigan’s turn to become involved. Two linemen from HomeWorks Tri-County will be part of a 10-man team, building a four-mile distribution line to connect the tiny mountain village of Buena Vista, Guatemala, to the electric grid. The villagers, who will become part of an electric cooperative in the region, are already clearing trees and setting poles - by hand - in the steep terrain. Over three weeks in November, the Michigan team will build a single-phase distribution circuit, hang transformers, and install simple wiring (one light bulb and one outlet) in homes. They won’t have bucket trucks or most of the modern tools that make these jobs much simpler here in the U.S. HomeWorks Tri-County has supported NRECA International with small donations over the years, and we’re excited to be part of this next step, putting boots on the ground where they’re needed so badly. Our linemen will come back knowing they’ve changed these villagers’ lives, and their own lives will be changed as well. We take electricity for granted every day. Bringing electric power to a remote mountain village in Guatemala is a way to reach back to our roots and remember what life used to be like before farmers started working together in the 1930s to form electric co-ops in rural America.
In recent weeks, you may have seen a television advertisement that indicates Michigan is in a very precarious position in the area of future power supply. For some utilities in our state, that may be true; those ads cast a very ominous cloud over Michigan and what could happen. However, I want to share with you how HomeWorks, and our power supplier, Wolverine Power Cooperative, ARE investing for the future power supply needs of our member-consumers. Furthermore, I want to provide some details on who is behind those rather gloomy television advertisements and what they hope to achieve. First, HomeWorks and Wolverine are currently investing approximately $175 million in the development and construction of the Alpine Power Plant near Gaylord. This 430-megawatt natural gas fired power plant, which will become operational next year, will meet the future electric capacity needs of HomeWorks and four of our fellow electric cooperatives well into the future. We are working hard to meet your future electric needs. Now let’s talk about those ads that you frequently see during the 6 pm news on your local stations. Those ads are the work of one of our state’s largest public relations firms in conjunction with Detroit Edison and Consumers Energy—Michigan’s two largest electric utilities. Their multi-million dollar advertising campaign has one very simple goal—to eliminate electric competition in Michigan. It is our understanding that they are spending $2-3 million on those ads, in an effort to enact changes in state law by scaring electric consumers and our elected officials in Lansing. Michigan law, enacted in 2008, allows 10% of an electric utility’s customers to choose another supplier. Michigan’s electric cooperatives believe the threat of 10% of our sales base leaving us for another supplier has made us more attentive to customer needs and competitive pressures. In fact, I am proud to point out that HomeWorks has NEVER lost a member-customer to another supplier—even though our large customers have had that option since 2000. We believe competitive rates and high quality service are the reason our large customers have chosen to stay with HomeWorks. The big utilities in our state, in conjunction with their Lansing public relations firm, are attempting to use scare tactics to change state law and eliminate competitive options for their large customers. They say they need greater assurance that their customers won’t leave for other suppliers before they can build additional generating plants. They said the same thing in 2008 when state legislators reduced their risk by capping the market at 10%.  Ironically, they have both invested hundreds of millions of dollars in emissions upgrades to many of their coal plants over the past several years. We believe that the current 90% guarantee that our state’s two largest utilities currently operate under provides more than enough assurance to invest both in Michigan and in the future electric supply needs of their customers. There are many small businesses HomeWorks serves throughout mid-Michigan that would be very happy with a 90% guarantee of their sales base! A good portion of the generation fleet of the state’s two largest utilities is old, dirty and needs to be either upgraded or totally replaced due to new federal environmental standards. This isn’t new news. I am proud to say that Michigan’s electric cooperatives aren’t investing your dollars in ominous television ads but rather in your future, with new renewable energy projects and a new, $175 million natural gas generating facility near Gaylord. In the end, we have an obligation to serve your needs and we take that obligation seriously. It’s time to get to work.
We recently completed the 2015 membership meetings, in which we delivered supper and a co-op update on the road to each of our seven districts. It was gratifying to see such a great turnout overall! Since HomeWorks is owned and controlled by you and your neighbors - the people who receive electric service from the cooperative - these meetings are one of the ways you help guide and control HomeWorks. If you didn’t make it to your meeting this year, we hope you’ll mark your calendar for next May and join us then. Why do we hold district meetings every year? We ask you to come out each year to, first, conduct the business of the cooperative; second, to elect delegates to the Annual Meeting (this year, it’s on Aug. 15); and third, to elect the district officers who run the meetings and serve as the nominating committee every three years. Then, after the business meeting, we provide a brief and, we hope, entertaining update on the cooperative’s operations.  This year, we paused to honor our veteran member-owners. As we began planning the meetings, we learned nearly half of our active members have been with HomeWorks for 25 years or more. And eight per cent have been member-owners for 50 years plus! To our long-time members, we say: Thank you for building the cooperative. Thank you for sending good leaders to the board table. And, thank you for raising generations of co-op member-owners, who have or will become co-op leaders. The thing is, people ask all the time: what makes electric cooperatives different? What makes HomeWorks Tri-County different? Remember, there’s a big difference between a cooperative and a corporation. Corporations have to answer to their stockholders with their quarterly profit statements, which creates a focus on the short term. Cooperatives are less focused on short-term profits and more focused on long-term reliability and affordability. This long-term focus creates a culture of doing the right things, always, for the members. So, the difference is simple. It’s you and your neighbors in all seven of our districts, the members who are engaged in the workings of HomeWorks Tri-County. The members who know they are member-owners and take part by voting, or making sure the board of directors know about their concerns. It’s the members who’ve been with us for 25, 30, 50, even 75 years, and those who will be with us 25, 50, or 75 years from now. You are the center of all we do.
In May, several cooperative principles are highlighted at HomeWorks Tri-County Electric. To start with, your board of directors authorized a $2.4 million capital credit refund, and nearly every active member will receive a bill credit or check with your share of this refund. Read more about capital credits, and why they’re important to cooperative owners, at http://bit.ly/1HQ8heb.(Co-op principle #3 - members’ economic participation) Next, two districts are holding board seat elections. You can read about the candidates, who happen to be the incumbent directors, at http://bit.ly/1GKvUWZ. If you are a member in District 3 (most of Clinton County) or District 6 (Clare and Isabella counties), you’ll have the opportunity to vote at your district meeting. If you can’t attend, we encourage you to use the absentee ballot request form provided, so you can take part in the election process. (Co-op principle #2 - democratic member control) And, starting May 11, HomeWorks staff and I will bring supper, and an update on the co-op’s operations, to each of our seven districts, and we invite you to join us when we’re in your neighborhood. Watch your mailbox for your invitation with all the details. We try to keep the meeting brief, but interesting and informative, so that you can stay up-to-date on HomeWorks. (Co-op principle #5 - education and information) We’re also repeating the food drive that was so successful two years ago. At each district, a local food pantry will collect your donations to help serve families in your area. (Co-op principal #7 - concern for community) We look forward to seeing you at your district membership meeting, if your schedule permits.   2015 meeting schedule: May 11 - District 5          Fulton Elementary Gym May 12 - District 1          St. Mary’s Church, Charlotte May 13 - District 7          St. Michael’s School, Remus May 14 - District 3          Eagle Park Hall (election) May 18 - District 4          Vestaburg Middle School May 19 - District 6          Beal City High School (election) May 20 - District 2          St. Edward’s, Lake Odessa
Members in Districts 3 and 6 vote on their director seat in 2015. The nominating committees in both districts set their incumbents to run unopposed. Download an absentee ballot request form here or use the one published in the May Country Lines. Here are your candidates, and their election statements, as published in the May issue of Michigan Country Lines: Luke Pohl (incumbent) District 3 - Clinton County, except for Bingham, Duplain and Greenbush townships Luke Pohl is owner of Pohl’s Travel Plaza north of Grand Ledge, and coaches boys’ varsity basketball at Pewamo-Westphalia Schools. He and his wife, Janet, have three sons, Gavin, Austin, and Landon. He has been a member of HomeWorks Tri-County Electric since 1981, and was appointed to the board in September 2014 when longtime director Carl Morton retired. He is president and co-founder of Austin’s House in Westphalia, and belongs to St. Mary’s Catholic Church, where he is an usher and previously chaired the parish finance committee. He also served as a director of Westphalia Broadband, chairing the board for 10 years, and formerly owned Pohl Oil and Propane Company. He graduated from Central Michigan University in 1980 with a bachelor’s degree in Industrial Education. “I have a lot of experience in the business world,” he points out. “I also understand the costs families face in today’s environment, and will work to keep our members’ energy affordable, with exceptional service.” Ed Oplinger (incumbent) District 6 - Clare, Isabella counties Ed Oplinger is a full-time farmer of beef cattle, hogs, and cash crops in the Weidman area. He and his wife, Sandy, have three grown children and three grandchildren. His granddaughter will be the 6th generation of the family to be involved with the farm. He has been a member of the cooperative since 1977, was elected to the board in 2009, and is currently chairman of the board of directors for both HomeWorks Tri-County Electric Cooperative and its subsidiary, Tri-Co Services, Inc. He completed board training to earn the Credentialed Cooperative Director and Board Leadership certificates through the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. He currently serves as a trustee on the Sherman Township board. A 1972 graduate of Chippewa Hills High School, he served as the state vice president of Future Farmers of America in 1972-73. He was Mecosta County Fair beef superintendent from 1993-2009, and has served as president of the Michigan High School Rodeo Competition. He has also served on the Isabella County Soil Conservation District board (1978-90); Barryton Co-op board (1989-93) and the Chippewa Hills school board (1991-95), including a term as secretary. “This board is probably the most important board I’ve been on in my life, because of the impact reliable and affordable electricity has on businesses and our communities,” he says.
As a cooperative, we are operated on a not-for-profit basis. After all expenses are paid for the year, any money left over is allocated back to you as capital credits, in proportion to the amount of energy you used. Those allocations become member equity, or your share of ownership in the cooperative. The money is used to operate and build your cooperative, and then returned to you through a refund at a later date. Here are some frequent questions and answers about the capital credit allocation. This year, the board of directors approved a general retirement of $2,416,000 in capital credits. This retirement is from two different sources. From Wolverine Power Cooperative, $1,091,000 is being retired based on the power supply portion of your energy bill covering the years 1989-1996). The remaining $1,325,000 is from HomeWorks, the distribution side of your energy bill, with $121,000 from 1987, $572,000 from 1988, $366,000 from 1989, and $266,000 from 2014. The largest portion of the retirements goes to return the oldest capital credits on file, while still making sure our newest members see the tangible evidence of their cooperative membership. The board also approved $220,000 to be set aside for estate retirements, to be paid at current net value on a first-come, first-served basis. Here are some frequent questions and answers about this capital credit retirement.
Our 2015 district membership meeting dates have been set: May 11 - District 5          Fulton Elementary Gym May 12 - District 1          St. Mary’s Church, Charlotte May 13 - District 7          St. Michael’s School, Remus May 14 - District 3          Eagle Park Hall (election) May 18 - District 4          Vestaburg Middle School May 19 - District 6          Beal City High School (election) May 20 - District 2          St. Edward’s, Lake Odessa The business meeting will start at 6 pm following a light supper. Watch your mailbox for your invitation and registration card, with all the details.

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