Montana members welcomed by membership

All power deliveries from Basin Electric are set to begin Jan. 1, 2017.

The votes on bylaws at Basin Electric’s 2016 Annual Meeting were the culmination of a long haul for the cooperative’s newest members in Montana, and a change in membership in Wyoming.

The Basin Electric membership voted to amend the cooperative’s bylaws to incorporate Members 1st Power Cooperative as a Class A member, and Powder River Energy Corporation (PRECorp), Fergus Electric Cooperative and Tongue River Electric Cooperative as Class C members within District 10; and Mid-Yellowstone Electric Cooperative as a Class C member within District 8. Members 1st is headquartered in Sundance, WY, as is PRECorp. Fergus Electric is headquartered in Lewistown, MT; Tongue River Electric is headquartered in Ashland, MT; and Mid-Yellowstone Electric is headquartered in Hysham, MT.

All power deliveries from Basin Electric are set to begin Jan. 1, 2017.

Montana member map

Members 1st Power was formally created Sept. 23. The cooperative board consists of three representatives from PRECorp, and one each from Fergus and Tongue River Electric.

Members 1st Power’s interim CEO, Mike Easley, is also the CEO and general manager of PRECorp.

PRECorp’s member load has been stabilizing or falling over time due to a variety of factors including the declining activity at coal mines following impending Environmental Protection Agency regulations, while other members in Basin Electric are gaining load. “This is a great opportunity for PRECorp. (The bylaw amendment) helps solidify our board representation at Basin Electric,” Easley says. “Having a very close tie with Basin is extremely important, especially as we’re dealing with the coal mine, gas and oil customers, and the rural economy in Wyoming. Having the closest relationship we can with Basin Electric is helpful for all of us.”

Philip Habeck, PRECorp director, echoes the point. “I think we met pretty much quarterly for a couple years (to coordinate the formation of Members 1st),” he says. “Overall, what’s good for Basin Electric is good for all of us, ultimately.”

Fergus Electric comes to Members 1st and Basin Electric after a time as part of another generation and transmission cooperative, as does Tongue River.

Robert Evans, Fergus Electric board president, says coming back to Basin Electric is better for members, especially because of the stability Basin Electric brings. “We’re excited to take advantage of the expertise Basin Electric has, to benefit our members,” he says. “And by us joining, we help Basin grow just a little bit.”

Evans says the benefits come not only in stable, low-cost power, but also ancillary services. “We’ve had our ups and downs at Fergus Electric, and we’ve learned a lot through it. Now we are excited to become part of the Basin Electric family,” Evans says. “Basin offers so much. Not just the power supply, but advertising, member relations. The list is long, but they have a tremendous amount of expertise they can offer us.”

Pulling together as a family means the best possible service for the member at the end of the line. “Working together to take care of the guy at the end of the line … that’s why we’re here,” Evans says. “Service involves more than just electricity. The little things you have to do to help your members make their lives easier. That’s why we’re here.”

Jason Brothen, Mid-Yellowstone Electric Cooperative’s general manager (Brothen also serves as general manager for Lower Yellowstone Rural Electric Cooperative headquartered in Sidney, MT), says becoming a part of Upper Missouri Power Cooperative, a Basin Electric Class A member, is a huge step. “Mid-Yellowstone is one of the smaller co-ops in Montana, and to have a firm solid power supplier is worth its weight in gold to the membership,” he says.

Claire Vigessa, Upper Missouri Power general manager, says the process has gone well. “It has been very gratifying to witness Mid-Yellowstone’s cooperative spirit and immediate member engagement at the Upper Missouri board of trustees table,” he says. “We have certainly enjoyed being part of the process in bringing a new member aboard, and to the Basin family.”

Jim DeCock is coming up on his 40th anniversary of serving as a director on the Mid-Yellowstone Electric board. Four decades in, and things are looking up. “It has been quite a ride through the years,” DeCock says.

Mid-Yellowstone, like Fergus Electric and Tongue River, used to be a member of Basin Electric.

DeCock says he voted against the decision to leave back then, and is today the only director left on the board who served during those tough times.

“I’ll tell you what, our board is really elated, and they’re really grateful to Basin and Upper Missouri for giving us the opportunity to move into something a lot better,” DeCock says. “So the spirits at our board meetings now are pretty high. It’s been quite a change. … We’re really happy to be here.”

The membership also voted to delete bylaw language that allowed PRECorp, a distribution cooperative, to become a Class A member, and have a Basin Electric board seat, as long as the distribution cooperative purchased more than 10 percent of the annual energy sales to all Class A members during any two of three consecutive calendar years.