For 79 years, Sam Houston Electric Cooperative has been lighting up the countryside of East Texas. For the past 30 years, Walter Plant has been lighting up the Co-op’s annual meeting of members.
It’s the family-friendly atmosphere of neighbors, fellowship and community that makes the event a favorite for the gifted musician.
“I just love to be here,” Plant said, still seated at his array of keyboards after this year’s meeting, signing autographs and saying hellos in turns. “I enjoy doing this for the Co-op. I know a lot of people that are members of the Co-op, and I enjoy seeing the people that I’ve played for for years.”
Plant spends a lot of time on the road touring, so he relishes the annual homecoming.
“It’s kind of a chance to come back home, so to speak,” he said. “I get to see a lot of people that I don’t get to see but once a year.”
It’s that sense of co-op family—and Plant’s music—as well as a duty to participate in the business of their cooperative that brought hundreds of Sam Houston EC members to the Polk County Commerce Center in Livingston on June 12. Refreshments, dozens of door prizes and the opportunity to directly address Co-op management spurred attendance, too.
“I had such a good time visiting with all of you and seeing familiar faces,” said Keith Stapleton, chief communications officer for Sam Houston EC. “It’s a treat to see so many members attending our annual meeting each year. It’s so special to us as Co-op employees.”
One of the main functions surrounding the annual meeting is the election of directors to the board, which represents members in the Co-op’s decision-making processes. It’s in keeping with Democratic Member Control—one of the Seven Cooperative Principles that guide all co-ops. Incumbents James Elmore, District 2, of San Jacinto County and Katherine Hardin, District 4, of Liberty County ran unopposed in the election and were confirmed by the members for additional five-year terms on the board.
“Members, your participation in the electing of the board members is essential to the Cooperative,” said Kyle Kuntz, CEO of Sam Houston EC. “Thank you for taking your time and being an integral part of this process.”
Another important function of the meeting is the report from management. It keeps Co-op members—who are also owners of the Co-op—informed.
In his report, Kuntz described five days of nonstop rain and flooding from Hurricane Harvey that caused fallen trees and downed power lines—a defining event for the Co-op in 2017. The restoration process cost the co-op $2.7 million, Kuntz said. He credited Sam Houston EC employees for rising to the occasion despite extremely challenging conditions.
“Crews did an amazing job of restoring power safely and timely to the 47,000 services that were affected,” Kuntz said. “Our employees are, by far, the best asset this Co-op could ever have.”
Kuntz outlined a new software system implemented at the end of 2017 that reduced operating costs and improved efficiency. The system includes a new mySamHouston online portal for members as well as a mySamHouston mobile app.
Kuntz delivered a positive report on the financial health of the Co-op, which ended 2017 with positive margins due to increased sales related to December’s cold weather. Restructured rates were approved by the board and went into effect May 1. Delivery charges were reduced per kilowatt-hour, while the base charge for electric service increased.
In August 2017, Sam Houston EC retired $2 million in capital credits. Kuntz explained that in addition to the capital credits retirement, a wholesale energy credit of $4 million was credited to members in February, and directors last month approved another $3 million in capital credits to be retired and returned to members this September.
Finally, Kuntz detailed employees’ extensive training, along with the co-op’s revamped Stop-Think-Awareness-Responsibility safety program. “Safety is a constant focus of all co-op employees,” he said.
These and other efforts likely contributed to Sam Houston EC again receiving one of the highest scores in the nation in the American Customer Satisfaction Index, 10 points above the national average.
“We thank you, our members … for placing us in the top tier of the industry,” he said. “We couldn’t exist without you, and we’re extremely proud to serve you.”
Texas Rep. Ernest Bailes, himself a member of Sam Houston EC, was present at the meeting and recognized along with Co-op retirees as special guests at the event. Notably absent was H. Elridge Striedel, the Co-op’s former CEO and general manager, who died in December. Stapleton honored him as a true friend of the Cooperative and extolled his legacy of mentorship, remembering Striedel as “a good man who gave a lot to this organization, to the Co-op industry.”
As the Co-op prepares to enter its 80th year of service, remembering its roots is important.
Stapleton was humbled by an old postcard he said he found recently at the co-op. “My power’s out,” he said the card read. “Next time you’re out this way, would you mind taking a look and seeing if you can get my lights back on?” The assembled members laughed along with Stapleton as he marveled at how much things have changed in 79 years. Sam Houston EC’s staff members are “all proud to be a part of that,” he said.
Members expressed their delight at how the Co-op continues to evolve and improve.
“It’s such a warm feeling when we’re having the worst times of our lives [during an outage] and you look out the window and see a SHECO truck going by,” said Bobbi Anderson of Montgomery County to those gathered. “It just changes everything. We really appreciate you. … We love you guys and gals.”
Beth Carey of Shepherd echoed that sentiment.
“I think that this is the most wonderful crew to repair everything immediately,” Carey said. “In 79 years, I’ve lived in a lot of places. When power goes out, they’re out there just as fast as they can get there. It’s wonderful.”