A decade of stable rates, significant infrastructure investment, and millions of dollars in capital credit returns were the marquee messages at Southwestern Electric Cooperative’s 78th Annual Meeting of Members, held Saturday, Sept. 10, at Greenville Junior High School.
About 2,700 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.
“For the next 10 years, you’re going to have no rate increases,” Southwestern CEO Kerry Sloan told members. “We’re going to pay back $11 million in capital credits. We’re going to pay down long-term debt by $18 million. We’re going to put almost $46 million into the electric system. And we’re going to carry close to $10 million into 2026 to cover us in case there’s a big storm or so forth.”
Sloan reflected on his 20 years as CEO of the cooperative, noting changes in the national economy and the rising costs of everyday items during that time. He said the national average price of electricity had gone up 40 percent since he joined the co-op in 1997. By contrast, Southwestern Electric’s rates had increased about 13 percent since 1997 and are projected to remain stable through 2025.
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What I had here was special. It was special because Southwestern is an independent co-op, which means you control your own destiny — not somebody sitting in Decatur or Indiana. You do.
Kerry Sloan, Southwestern Electric Cooperative CEO
He praised the membership and board, characterizing Southwestern’s directors as people of character and integrity.
“They do what you would do. You elected these people; they’re nothing less than a reflection of you,” he said.
Sloan concluded his report by announcing his retirement.
“What I had here was special,” he said. “It was special because Southwestern is an independent co-op, which means you control your own destiny — not somebody sitting in Decatur or Indiana. You do. It’s been an honor and a privilege working for you. I wish you nothing but success.”
Alan Libbra, president of Southwestern Electric, recalled interviewing Sloan in 1997.
“He had some pretty strong opinions on what cooperatives did well, and he had stronger opinions about what they didn’t do so well and needed to change,” Libbra said. (Full disclosure: Alan Libbra is the father of News Leader managing editor Curt Libbra.)
Libbra said Sloan understood every aspect of the cooperative business, ranging from large scale power generation and transmission to electric distribution to the needs and expectations of the membership.
0 Number of rate increases Southwestern members will experience in the next 10 years
$11 million Capital credits the co-op will pay back in the next 10 years
$18 million Long-term debt the co-op will pay off in the next 10 years
$46 million Amount the co-op will invest in its electric system in the next 10 years
$10 million Amount the co-op will carry into 2026 to cover as insurance against a big storm or other unforeseen event
Libbra said Sloan’s single-minded member focus convinced the board to offer him the job.
“Everything was about the member. ‘How does this action improve the lives of my members and the well-being of their communities?’ Every decision, every policy proposed, was looked at through that simple prism,” Libbra said. “Except for that one constant, as far as he was concerned, everything was open to question, and that suited us just fine.”
When the board hired Sloan, Southwestern had recently broken ties with Soyland Power Cooperative, its wholesale power provider. Libbra said nine distribution co-ops left Soyland about that time.
“You know how many are independent now? One. Us,” Libbra said.
Libbra attributed Southwestern’s ability to navigate the wholesale power market to Sloan’s acumen and experience, saying other former Soyland co-ops lacked the management, will, and expertise to run an independent co-op to the benefit of their members.
“In my 40 years of business experience, he’s the best problem solver I’ve ever seen,” Libbra said. “I would put him up against any manager in the country. Because of his ability, this co-op is millions and millions of dollars better off.”
Libbra went on to describe Southwestern’s future as vibrant and vital. “Regarding our rates, our financing, our infrastructure and what we’re putting into it the next few years, this cooperative is in the best condition it’s ever been,” he said.
He addressed member questions and comments regarding election procedures and options, board per diems and employee compensation, member rates, wholesale power contracts, and the merits of belonging to a co-op compared to an investor-owned utility. Libbra guided the crowd through an in-depth examination of the co-op’s power purchasing history, using charts and graphs to illustrate what member rates would look like if Southwestern had pursued different options when the co-op’s wholesale power contract ended in 2007.
He noted that of the options available at the time, the course charted by the board and management delivered the best outcome, in the form of the lowest rates, for the membership. He also pointed out that Southwestern rates rank among the lowest of any co-op in Illinois.
Following Libbra’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.
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 parts of Bond, Clay, Clinton, Fayette, Effingham, Macoupin, Madison, Marion, Montgomery, Shelby and St. Clair counties.
Board of Directors Election Results
District I: Incumbent Sandy Grapperhaus of Collinsville defeated challenger Thomas Schardt of Edwardsville. Grapperhaus received 885 votes, while 287 votes were cast for Schardt.
District II:Ted Willman of Greenville, the incumbent, defeated challenger Jeff Tompkins of Smithboro. Willman received 756 votes, while 413 members cast votes for Tompkins.
District III:Incumbent Ann Schwarm of Loogootee defeated challengers Jerry Laue and Tony Schlanser, both of Beecher City. Schwarm received 768 votes, Laue received 207 votes and 176 members voted for Schlanser.
Each director will serve a three-year term on the board.