Month: June 2021

Meredith to head safety efforts in Kentucky

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (June 29, 2021) – In his 30th year working either as an electrical lineman or supporting the safety of linemen, Randy Meredith has been named Director of Safety & Training at Kentucky Electric Cooperatives, the statewide association supporting the 26 electric co-ops in the commonwealth.

In this new role, Meredith leads a team of three Safety & Loss Prevention Instructors and is accountable for leading training programs to comply with applicable federal, state and local legislation and codes. The safety team helps cooperatives’ compliance personnel with regulatory issues including OSHA, FEMA, FMCSA, DOT, EPA, PSC, NESC and NEC. Additional responsibilities include accident investigations, RESAP administration, crew audits and mutual aid storm coordination for the cooperatives.

“My desire is that our Safety and Loss Prevention department becomes best in class,” Meredith says. “Kentucky co-ops are committed to safety, and we pledge excellence in training, preparedness and expertise. I was already proud to be a part of the statewide association’s exemplary statewide team. Charlie Lewis and Tony Dempsey are the best colleagues one could ask for and they are instrumental to the ongoing safety improvements at Kentucky co-ops.”

Meredith began his co-op career in 1992 as a lineman at Warren RECC, where he later became operations supervisor during his 16 years at the co-op. After four years in a supervisory role with the Davis H. Elliot company, Meredith returned to the cooperative family working first in safety and compliance at Nolin RECC then as superintendent of line design. In August 2019, he joined the statewide association staff.

“Randy’s entire career has demonstrated a commitment to safety and the wellbeing of co-op crews and co-op members,” says Chris Perry, president and CEO of Kentucky Electric Cooperatives. “His dedication to safety goals and innovative approach to effectively communicating safety lessons is an asset to Kentucky’s electric cooperative program.”

Meredith lives in Bee Spring with his wife, Javonica. They have three grown children.

Joe Arnold Wins 2021 LaBerge Award

The energy industry promotes an all-of-the-above strategy so that not just one fuel source provides power. It’s the same thing for communications, says Kentucky Electric Cooperatives’ Joe Arnold, winner of the 2021 LaBerge Award for Excellence in Strategic Communication, announced Wednesday during the virtual Connect conference of co-op communicators.

“You just can’t just rely upon one source. We have an amazing magazine, Kentucky Living, which effectively reaches the entire commonwealth. But you can’t stop there. Social media, website traffic, video production, email and grassroots campaigns…You need all of those things combined to effectively and meaningfully reach our consumer-members,” said Arnold, the statewide association’s vice president of strategic communications.

“If you aren’t telling your story, somebody else will,” Arnold said. “This is why Kentucky Living magazine is such a critical component for co-ops. Local co-op consumer-members are bombarded with conflicting messages from social media, mainstream media and others who do not have cooperatives’ best interests at heart. The fact that Kentucky’s electric cooperatives actually own their own trusted media outlet is a tremendous asset and its value cannot be underestimated as ‘baseload generation’ of our all-of-the-above strategy.”

The LaBerge Award recognizes a co-op communicator with demonstrated excellence, influence and impact in co-op communications, both as a practitioner and contributor across the network. It was established in 2018 in memory of Justin LaBerge, senior leadership communications manager for NRECA.

Arnold, a veteran journalist at several Louisville outlets for more than 25 years, relied on the “all-of-the-above” approach when he was hired by Kentucky Electric Cooperatives nearly six years ago with the charge to bring a strategic approach to communications. He reorganized the department to match talent with emerging public relations needs and channels, and revitalized an ethos among staff that their mission is to serve co-ops. 

The award “affirms what we’re doing as a team more than as a recognition of me personally,” said Arnold, who also credits his boss, Chris Perry, Kentucky Electric Cooperatives president and CEO, “for prioritizing communications in the first place, allowing me to invest in the talent and professionals to do their jobs and empowering me to make changes.”

During his tenure at Kentucky Electric Cooperatives, Arnold and his team rolled out several “innovations,” including a revamped “Best of Kentucky” contest in its magazine and Rural Power Kentucky, a grassroots campaign. Along the way, they leveraged several NRECA communications tools, including the Young Adult Member Engagement initiative.

A strong emphasis on collaboration was critical for success, said Arnold. “I am absolutely most proud of the service mentality of our team, the fact that we are responsive to co-op needs. And we try to emulate the way the co-ops are responsive to their members’ needs. 

LaBerge Award judges noted Arnold’s collaborative style as “a great example of the cooperative principles that guide what we do. I know the communicators he serves benefit from his expertise and leadership.”

In addition, wrote another judge, Arnold’s skill as a broadcast journalist and attention to detail helped raise the profile of Kentucky co-ops as “thought leaders and a valued source of information to their members.”

Arnold, who knew little about co-ops before Kentucky Electric Cooperatives (“I have the passion of a convert,” he said), is modest. “It’s not a matter of ‘see what I did, to serve the co-ops.’ We are blessed with talented communicators who are willing to learn and understand members’ needs.”

by Victoria A. Rocha, NRECA

Unprecedented Mail Rate Hike Could Hit Co-ops and Statewides Hard

Electric cooperatives, which serve some of the most remote and economically disadvantaged communities in the country, will have a new challenge this summer: postal rate increases well above inflation.

Effective Aug. 29, the U.S. Postal Service will increase rates for nonprofit marketing mail by an average of 7.8%. Until recently, the agency had been required by law to tie increases to inflation, which has been about 1.5% to 2% in recent years. 

But a new Postal Regulatory Commission ruling will allow the USPS to deploy a new pricing formula that is far more onerous to nonprofit groups, according to a report by the Alliance of Nonprofit Mailers (ANM).

Increases include 5.7% for first-class letters, 10.4% for flats (including magazines) and 8.6% for parcels.

The new rates will hurt the bottom lines of electric co-ops, which use the Postal Service for critical functions like billing, distributing director election materials and meeting notices, and mailing their widely read statewide magazines to members. Some state laws require mailed notices for certain communications, and a lack of adequate internet service in many co-op territories means that moving billing and other outreach to online-only is not an option.

“Rural communities that rely on the postal service will be especially hurt by these rate hikes,” said Bobby Hamill, NRECA’s government relations director on this issue. “A mailing cost increase well above inflation really puts co-ops and their low-income members in a bind.”

NRECA joined ANM in February 2020 in urging the Postal Regulatory Commission to reconsider its inflation-rate ruling and has advocated strenuously for USPS not to use its full rate authority. They argued that the Postal Service is now in a much better financial position because of a windfall of COVID-19 relief funds and that future shortfalls ought to be addressed with structural changes rather than rate hikes, Hamill said.

“USPS is at a point where it is no longer necessary to impose these postal increases, especially on not-for-profit entities,” he said.

Co-ops and statewide associations across the country are concerned about what this jump in postal costs will mean for their budgets and their members.

“We want postal rate-makers to know the importance of written communication to electric co-op members,” said Lou Green, executive vice president of the Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina, based in Cayce.

“It’s vital that communication remains affordable for millions of member-owners. In our state, South Carolina Living magazine is an irreplaceable link between members and their co-ops.”

The Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives said the increase raises its rates by about 8% in addition to the consumer price index increase by USPS in January.

“The USPS appears to be targeting rural areas with unprecedented increases well beyond anything we’ve seen in the past,” said Valerie Cheathamvice president of communications at the Springfield-based AIEC.

“We do everything we can to keep the rates of our statewide magazine affordable and it’s increases like this that negatively affect us and our readers.”

Cathy Cash is a staff writer for NRECA.