Southwestern Electric members met the co-op’s new CEO and learned of a favorable wholesale power contract at the cooperative’s 79th Annual Meeting of Members, held Saturday, Sept. 9 at Greenville Junior High School. More than 2,000 people from Southwestern Illinois attended the meeting, which included breakfast, health screenings, activities for kids, and the co-op’s business meeting and election of directors.
Ann Schwarm, president of Southwestern Electric, prefaced the CEO’s introduction by outlining a leadership transition plan the board developed two years ago, when longtime Southwestern CEO Kerry Sloan announced his intention to retire. The plan, which was executed over several months, entailed staff reassignments and recruiting new personnel.
“We endeavored to give our new hires an opportunity to acclimate and we afforded our experienced team members time to become accomplished in their new roles,” Schwarm said.
As Southwestern’s board evaluated executive candidates, the directors developed a well-defined picture of the experience and aptitude they wanted to see in the organization’s new CEO.
“We wanted someone who understood the energy industry, from power generation to transmission to the light switch,” Schwarm said. “We wanted someone who knew the cooperative business model — who understood cooperative principles, how we operate, and why we do what we do. And very importantly, we wanted someone who understood Southwestern Electric, because among America’s cooperatives, we are unique.”
Schwarm said a single candidate met the board’s criteria. She introduced members to Bobby Williams, a Southwestern employee who had served as vice president of engineering, and more recently as the co-op’s chief operating officer.
“You’ll never meet a more talented, dedicated employee,” Schwarm told members. “Bobby knows this organization from several different vantage points. He grew up on cooperative lines in Southern Illinois, so he knows what it takes to meet the needs and expectations of co-op members.”
Williams, who has served on various industry advisory panels and trained with cooperative personnel across the country, affirmed Schwarm’s message that Southwestern was unique among America’s electric cooperatives.
“I spent about eight years working in engineering and operations, building new technology into our existing infrastructure, and working with everyone here to improve our reliability while keeping your costs down,” Williams told the members. “I worked closely with Southwestern’s board and management team in recent years, asking questions, proposing ideas, and deepening my understanding of how a thousand different pieces come together inside our building, to serve the tens of thousands of you outside it.”
Williams commended the cooperative’s employees for their dedication to the membership. He said he was grateful to the board for the opportunity to serve as Southwestern’s CEO, to the employees for their support, and most of all, to the members. “You make our work possible,” Williams said, “and we appreciate the opportunity to serve you.”
New Power Contract
Referencing a wholesale power contract the cooperative signed last year, Schwarm said Southwestern Electric’s residential rates are among the lowest of any co-op in Illinois. She said some Illinois electric co-ops can’t predict their rates because they’re subject to changes in the power market.
“We, however, have stable rates, with no requirement for a rate increase through 2025,” she said. “From 2016 through 2025, Southwestern Electric is returning $11.1 million in capital credits. We’re reducing our long-term debt by $18 million. And we’re investing $45.8 million in infrastructure to improve and ensure reliability. We’ll close out this period by carrying forward $9.7 million in margins. And most importantly, the contract we signed last year positions Southwestern to offer a decade of stable rates.”
Schwarm told members the cooperative had signed a new wholesale power contract that begins when the co-op’s current agreement ends, locking in energy prices for the years 2026 through 2030. She said the co-op’s financial representative, who works with cooperatives nationwide, noted that Southwestern had purchased power at a price two to three times lower than the rate negotiated by some other co-ops for the same period.
Schwarm said Southwestern currently was working on capacity and transmission agreements.
“When we have those pieces in place, we’ll know what your rates will look like for 2026 through 2030, and we’ll share that information with you — hopefully at next year’s annual meeting.”
During the next five years, Southwestern Electric will build three new substations—one in each of its service districts, Schwarm said.
“Next year in Fayette County, you’ll see our new Vandalia Substation take shape north of I-70 near the Vandalia exit. In 2020, we’re building a new substation in Madison County, near the interchange at I-270 and I-55/70. And in Bond County, we’re replacing our Smithboro Substation with a new, larger facility. Our new substations and the accompanying infrastructure will improve reliability and position us to meet your power demands for decades to come,” she said. “With each investment we make in infrastructure and personnel, we’re ensuring power quality, improving reliability and reducing outage times for you—all without raising your rates a penny.”
Following Schwarm’s address, members received election results. Southwestern Electric members elected one member from each of the cooperative’s three voting districts to serve on the co-op’s board of directors.
From District I, incumbent Richard Gusewelle of Edwardsville defeated challengers Scott Liniger and Paul Falbe, both of Maryville, and Thomas Schardt of Edwardsville. Gusewelle received 786 votes, Liniger received 184 votes, Falbe received 230 votes, and 95 votes were cast for Schardt.
Sandy Nevinger of Greenville, an incumbent from District II, ran unopposed and was elected by acclamation
From District III, incumbent Annette Hartlieb of Vandalia defeated challengers Larry Weger of Vandalia, Jerry Laue of Beecher City, and Stanley Kuhns and Scott Beal, both of Mason. Hartlieb received 684 votes, Weger received 153 votes, Laue received 95 votes, Kuhns received 161 votes, and 231 votes were cast for Beal.
Each director will serve a three-year term on the board.
Based in Greenville Southwestern Electric is a not-for-profit, member-owned cooperative serving close to 23,000 residential, commercial, agricultural and industrial members in 11 counties along the I-70 corridor between St. Louis, Mo., and Effingham, Ill.