Case Studies

Sulphur Springs Valley Electric Cooperative

Member-owned Electrical Grid Services

Sulphur Springs Valley Electric Cooperative (SSVEC) has been serving the energy needs of southern Arizona since 1938. In 2013, as the cooperative celebrates 75 years in business, SSVEC is providing electricity to more than 51,000 services in the region. “We provide electricity that runs everything,” says Jack Blair, chief member services officer for SSVEC.
With a unique member-owned format, SSVEC operates along the parameters of seven basic principles: voluntary and open membership; democratic member control; member economic participation; autonomy and independence; education, training and information; cooperation among cooperatives; and concern for community.
First and foremost, the cooperative is permanently open to voluntary membership. Second, the business embraces the democratic process in keeping the organization member-controlled. By doing so, members have economic control and additionally, give and receive capital and benefits. Principle No. 4 guarantees autonomy, meaning members will never relinquish control of operations to another business or government entity.
As a cooperative, the organization recognizes and works with other cooperatives, both locally and nationally. Finally, SSVEC operates with concern for the community. The organization is working toward a number of sustainability goals, as well as economic and social benefits to the region it serves.
Joining the Club
SSVEC members have access to a number of unique programs and initiatives. The organization’s customers include homeowners, farmers, industrial and commercial business owners, as well as the military. Blair and the team realize that all of these customers have differing needs; therefore, each member can choose energy programs and sources to suit individual needs. “We are always keeping the power flowing,” says Blair. “We have a lot of business and we are always looking for ways to improve our services for our members.”
Blair goes on to note that one of the most interesting things the cooperative has recently been involved with is the smart grid. “We link everything together with fiber optics,” he continues. “In many places we can restore power remotely so instead of sending someone out and driving around randomly, we can specify the area that has damage.” The smart grid is interfaced into a remote control system, where the grid communicates issues and maintenance needs to controllers.
“Eight or nine years ago there was the Defense Department Privatization Act,” Blair adds. “We have a big Army base out here that does a lot of testing with respect to communications and electronics. We bid on and own the electrical infrastructure on the fort. We bought it and rebuilt it.”
On the horizon, SSVEC has more unique initiatives in progress. Soon, the cooperative will offer prepaid metering. “Right now, you pay your electric bill as you go,” Blair elaborates. “With this system, our members have the option to prepay for electricity. We have converted all of our meters to an automated system. We use a power line carrier, which means that the line that brings electricity reads the meter, as well.”
Taking Advantage of a Steady Market
SSVEC has faced few economic challenges throughout the recent recession. “People always need electricity,” Blair explains. Still, managing time and capital remains a priority; therefore everything is performed in-house where it makes economic sense. “We do as much as we can,” continues Blair. “What we bid out depends on the project. Usually that means things like trenching and building lines. We have a lot of projects going on at any given time. We have a set network of strategic partners, although depending on scope and budget, price is a major factor.”
With an efficient system for operation and support from a growing membership, it comes as no surprise that SSVEC has developed a strong reputation in the region for quality service and commitment to community. Like most cooperatives, SSVEC relies on the success of its customers to keep operating. The organization goes above and beyond the call of duty and the team has been recognized for performance a number of times.
“We have a good solar energy initiative,” Blair elaborates. “We are already at a 123 percent of our target goal for this year. In 2009 we earned an award from the Solar Electric Power Association, because we installed more watts per customer than any other cooperative in the country.”
While Blair mentions he does not see major changes in the market or his organization’s role in the coming years, he and the team are excited for the continued growth of SSVEC’s solar program. “Overall, I think the economy is improving,” he says. “For us, working with our members is the best part and we will continue to do it. This structure keeps people involved.” As membership grows, Sulphur Springs Valley Electric Cooperative will continue to provide innovative and responsible energy services to clients across the region.

Published on: February 25, 2014

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