Thursday, August 01, 2013
Nancy Plagge, director of corporate communications for the Carroll Electric Cooperative Cooperation, gave a tour and thumbnail history of CECC this week and shed light on new buildings, SWEPCO’s plans and security at annual meetings.
CECC got its start in 1937, with headquarters in Berryville. In 1951 the co-op was located in the building now housing the Carroll County Eastern District Courthouse. Outgrowing that space, CECC moved into the building now across from WalMart in 1973.
The majority of CECC customers, 60 percent, are in the Benton County area, and in recent years the co-op considered moving its headquarters there. However, Plagge said, they considered that they employed more than 100 people in Berryville, making them a major employer in Carroll County.”The co-op did not like the economic impact moving would have on the county, so they decided to stay in Berryville,” she said.
According to Plagge, the 1970’s building was planned to suffice for the co-op for 30 years. Now, more than 40 years later, the structure under construction is bigger than is currently needed, but the co-op felt it was important to plan for the future.
The new structure will enclose the existing building. Plagge, who has heard some disturbing reactions to the new building, said “I promise it’s not a conspiracy.”
Plagge said CECC did not consider installing solar panels on their new building. “By contract, we have to purchase all our power from, and are members of, Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corporation [AECC].” However, CEC did install a new geothermal system and Plagge said the headquarters would qualify as an EPA Energy Star building at completion of construction.
A tour of the completed part of the expansion revealed a large warehouse that Plagge explained was windowless to help keep the temptation for theft down. She said copper theft is a big problem and the cooperative has been broken into before; the thieves “were lucky to get out alive because of live wires.” There are security cameras around the cooperative’s property which also help manage CECC’s fleet of trucks.
Also in this building is Central Dispatch. The room has GIS mapping and electronic playback of calls to be able to decipher unclear communications. Monitors in this room show images from the security cameras.
The dispatch center consists of a concrete building inside a concrete building to protect it from possible disasters such as tornados or explosions. Plagge explained that this is “critical infrastructure for people’s lives,” and needs to be kept operational. She referred to it as a “kind of a war room in the event of an emergency.”
A safety training center is also in this building. In the past, the AECC did all safety training and inspections. Another new structure on the property is a metal building providing dry storage for transformers and other equipment.
The four-story building still under construction is scheduled to open in 2015. The smaller tower will house a stairwell; the larger concrete structure is an elevator shaft including a freight elevator. This building will house an expanded Information Technology (IT) department, a new geographic information mapping system (GIS) department, expanded customer service, and the engineering department. Plagge said a much-loved community center in the 1970’s structure has been closed since 2009 to house engineering and other offices; when the new building is completed, the refurbished community center will reopen.
The intense level of security at the annual meeting in 2011 “was necessary because during the time when the herbicide issue came to head we had serious threats against our employees,and felt it was necessary at a public forum to protect our employees and members. It wasn’t just one threat it was multiple.” Plagge said threats came in phone calls and “face to face.” They were reported to the Carroll County Sheriff and, in one case, the Newton County Sheriff, although no arrests were made. “We have an obligation to protect the system and the employees, and so we are going to do that.”
At the 2011 annual meeting, she said, the sheriff’s department was part of security. Last year, outside security was hired and this year there were just a few security personnel on hand.
Herbicides were integrated into line management in early 2006, and will provide a cost savings estimated to be $50 to $70 million over 30 years. Plagge emphasized that CECC sprays according to EPA regulations, and has worked with the Department of Fish & Wildlife to know when it’s safest to spray to protect bat populations.
Plagge stressed that the coop is open daily for membership input, “Can we please everyone, no. Can we get reliable and affordable electricity, yes. That’s what we’re here for.”
She said the AECC is an intervener in the Arkansas Public Service Commission’s docket on SWEPCO’s planned high voltage power lines. “AECC is saying in order to serve Northwest Arkansas and Central Arkansas, we will need the SWEPCO lines to get reliable and adequate power to our members… if they can buy power from SWEPCO cheaper, then they will do it.”
Those who oppose SWEPCO’s plan claim that SWEPCO’s data is based on old statistics. Carroll Electric’s statistics show that growth has slowed significantly in recent years. Between 2003 – 2007 the number of meters served by CECC grew by18.25 percent; and during 2007 – 2011, meters increased by only 3.2 percent. The increase from 2011 to 2012 was only 1.13 percent.
In kilowatt hours sold, the increase from 2003 – 2007 was 21.35 percent; between 2007 and 2011, the increase was only 9.48 percent; and between 2012 and 2011 there was a decrease of 2.02 percent.
In planning future need, CECC also looks at each year’s peak demand in kilowatts. From 2003 – 2007, peak demand grew by 23.07 percent; from 2007 – 2011 the demand was up by only 12.97 percent, and decreased from 2011 – 2012 by 4.02 percent.
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