By Ken Schlimgen, General Manager
There is no doubting the fact that COVID-19 has impacted the way we do almost everything each day. Last month, I summarized all the steps your cooperative has been taking in an attempt to protect our employees and to protect you from the spread of this virus.
As you know, we have closed our office to the general public, but our employees continue to work to serve you and to keep the lights on. Earlier this month, the Governor of South Dakota relaxed her recommendations for businesses, and soon after, the Mayor of Mitchell followed.
The senior staff members are discussing our plan for returning Central Electric to a more normal mode of operations, but we are going to proceed with caution. We are monitoring the number of active COVID-19 cases both statewide and locally in our decision making. Our first steps will be to have those working from home begin working at the office again. We can then consider when it is safe to open our building to the general public. Until then, please continue to contact our office by phone or email.
The service department and the line department are busy working on outside projects. We have a lot of work to get completed this year, and in addition to that work, we are seeing an increase in requests for new services, which is a pleasant surprise. The spring weather has been kind to us so far, so work is progressing nicely.
About half of our office staff is working from home, but they continue to answer calls, handle payment arrangements, keep our bills paid and complete all the necessary accounting and IT duties.
In the February issue of this magazine, I reviewed the information that was shared at the January District Meetings. Part of the information was regarding electric rates. The cost of the electricity that Central Electric purchases on behalf of our members in 2020 increased from 2019; however, our electric rates to the membership did not. We continue to look for and take advantage of ways to reduce costs and have eliminated some services in an effort to get through 2020 without changing rates.
Through the end of March, our margins are ahead of budget despite our kWh sales being below budget levels. Lower than expected fuel costs and low interest rates have helped our bottom line, but we will continue to monitor our financial position closely. The pandemic has changed our operations and any non-essential spending has been delayed or eliminated. Know that we are doing all that we can to avoid the need for adjusting electric rates, and at the same time, we are looking into ways we can help our membership through this critical time.
As I stated earlier, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we do almost everything, but I think it has also increased our appreciation for others.
I am seeing more and more positive comments on social media and the news outlets for healthcare workers, first responders, teachers, retail workers and farmers. We are also spending more quality time with immediate family members, and major corporations are generously supporting non-profits to help those in need.
As we continue this journey together, I want to thank you for supporting your cooperative as we navigate our way through this pandemic. I would also ask you to say a prayer for the decision makers who are doing their very best to get us through this.
In closing, I encourage you to heed your mother’s advice: “The simple act of washing your hands can be the difference between staying well and being sick.”
Until next month, take care and be safe!