The State of the Cooperative

Annual meeting brings members together, once again

Story and photos by Drew Myron

Wasco Electric Cooperative members and staff gathered at The Dalles Civic Auditorium for the utility’s annual meeting.

After 2 years of virtual meetings, Wasco Electric Cooperative’s staff, board of directors and members met in person for the co-op’s 83rd annual meeting in December at The Dalles Civic Auditorium. The last in-person annual meeting was in 2019.

“It has been a couple of years since the last in-person annual meeting, and one of the many changes you might have noticed is, well, me,” said General Manager Ned Ratterman, who took the reins in September 2021. He replaced Jeff Davis, who retired after 40 years of service.

The annual meeting is held to elect board directors and offer members an overview of the cooperative. WEC provides power to more than 4,600 meters over 5,000 square miles in five counties— Wasco, Sherman, Jefferson, Gilliam and Wheeler—with 1,612 miles of power lines and 10 substations.

In a departure from its traditional catered lunch and entertainment format, this year’s annual meeting offered pie and presentations from board members, consultants and staff. About 30 members attended the afternoon meeting, a notable decrease from previous years.

Though attendance was slight, the low numbers may indicate new outreach efforts are working. Last summer, WEC hosted a member appreciation picnic in Tygh Valley and hopes to do more.

Piper Wilson was among the youngsters representing the future of Wasco Electric.

“We felt it was important to create incentives to bring in members we hadn’t been seeing at our annual meetings, and establishing a family-oriented picnic was our solution,” Ratterman said. “We have modified our annual meeting. Moving forward, we will meet more often and in different settings.”

Meeting members is vital, he said, as a way to share WEC’s not-for-profit philosophy and provide education about how power is provided, the importance of hydroelectric power and other issues that affect consumers.

A key issue facing the cooperative is Public Safety Power Shutoffs. Due to climate changes that have led to a substantial increase in wildfires in the western United States, utility companies are required to implement wildfire mitigation plans. These plans call for deenergizing power systems during severe weather and risks of ignition.

“This is a difficult thing to talk about,” Ratterman said. “This is completely the opposite of what we work for, as 99.98% of the time, the power is on for Wasco Electric members. A potential threat to our members is if Bonneville Power Administration decides to cut the power to us. If, for any reason, BPA does enact a PSPS, we can only wait for them to reenergize the lines to have you all back on. That is extremely frustrating, but a new reality we must prepare for.”

Wasco Electric’s legal counsel, Ray Kindley, agreed.

“Things are getting more and more difficult for electric utilities [in which power companies can be held responsible for forest fires]. You get a red flag warning, and the utility has to take it seriously. It’s a litigious environment, and it’s going to get worse. Prevention takes hard work. This board, this staff, work hard on it.”

Line Supervisor Brewster Whitmire, left, and Serviceman Guy Andersen served pie to meeting attendees.

Ratterman noted WEC has an ambitious construction work plan, which includes improvements to service in Antelope, Cherry Heights, Kah-Nee-Ta and the Grass Valley vicinity. These upgrades will take place during the next several years.

Another key issue is the growing popularity of electric vehicles. In 2022, WEC partnered with the city of Maupin and Bonneville Environmental Foundation to install the first commercial vehicle charging station in Maupin.

With the increase in electric use, WEC will need to address the capacity of transformers and substations.

Three directors were elected at the meeting:

  • Lissa Biehn was elected to represent District 1. She and her husband, Steve, live in Mosier. She is employed by Farm Service Agency, where she has served 21 years as executive director.
  • Jim McNamee was reelected to District 2. He is a fourth-generation rancher and has served on the board since 2006. He and his wife, Maria, live on their family ranch near Antelope.
  • Jerry Duling was reelected to represent District 3. He was born and raised on a dryland wheat farm near Maupin, where he and his wife, Tonya, farm today. He has served on the WEC board since 2016.

After 28 years of commitment to the Wasco Electric board and serving as past president of the Oregon Rural Electric Cooperative Association, Bob Durham has retired. He and his wife, Kathy, have lived in Wasco County for more than 40 years and operate a hay and cattle ranch west of Dufur.

In a parting speech, Durham urged attendees to consider two words: “What if?”

“These 2 words have helped me do a lot of things and have helped me look at a lot of things differently,” he said. “My challenge to you today is this: What if you could do something in your community? What if you can make a difference?”