A crowd of more than 440 gathered at the Tattnall Campground Tuesday, October 10, for the 2023 Canoochee Electric Membership Corporation (CEMC) Annual Meeting of Members.
During the festivities and meeting, members and guests were treated to free popcorn and drinks by the co-op, and an electric vehicle (EV) show was offered near the front gate of the campground. As members registered, they drew for door prizes that would be awarded after the business meeting.
Before the meeting began, country musician Clayton Hackle and his band entertained the crowd under the main pavilion from shortly after noon until just before 2 p.m. before the meeting began with the Presentation of Colors by the Bryan County High School Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps (JROTC).
The National Anthem and Pledge of Allegiance followed before the Business Session was officially opened at 2 p.m., with the Call to Order by CEMC attorney B. Daniel Dubberly, Jr., and the invocation by Pastor Jeffrey Barnard.
Attorney Dubberly reviewed and approved the agenda presented for the meeting. After the agenda was motioned and seconded, he introduced the president of the Canoochee EMC board of directors, Connie Thrift.
Thrift, who represents District 3 of the Canoochee area, introduced other members of the board present; Bernard Purvis, District 1; Lavanda Lynn, District 2; Bob Floyd, vice president, District 4; Ed Bradley, Jr., District 5; LaNell Oliver, secretary, District 6; Kenneth L. Durrence, District 7; Robert Dasher, District 8; and Kim Blocker, treasurer, District 9.
“I am honored to be here today to celebrate this important milestone with our members and special guests,” said Thrift.
“Eighty-five years ago, a group of visionary leaders in our community came together with a shared goal: to provide safe, reliable, and affordable electricity to our rural residents. They knew that electricity was essential to economic development and quality of life,” she added. “And they were determined to make it available to everyone, regardless of where they lived.”
Thrift explained that there had been many challenges to the cooperative, “but we have also remained true to our mission,” by investing into infrastructure to make sure members have access to the latest technologies and services.
“We’ve also worked hard to keep our rates low and affordable,” Thrift continued. “Today, Canoochee is one of the most successful cooperatives in the country. We serve over 17,000 members in parts of ten counties, and we are proud to be a vital part of our communities.”
“It is because of you, our members, that we are able to continue to provide reliable and affordable electricity to our region,” Thrift said.
LaNell Oliver next announced the registration numbers for the meeting.
“We’re proud to announce that we do have a quorum,” she said. “We have 441 members here today, and God bless every one of you.”
Attorney Dubberly announced that 200 members present constitute a quorum, so the quota was met, and the co-op could then begin to conduct business. He noted that 17,573 members were mailed notices for the meeting in 2023.
Next at the podium was Chief Executive Officer Michael Wasson, who recently replaced Lou Ann Phillips as CEO of the cooperative.
“Fellow Canoochee EMC members, I’m honored today to stand before you as your new chief executive officer,” Wasson said. “I have attended these annual meetings for over two decades, and each year, I’m impressed by the dedication of our members. This tells me that our way of doing business will continue to flourish well into the future.
“The board of directors has extended their trust in me to build upon the strong foundation of leadership that my predecessors have built,” he said. “The groundwork that leaders like Lou Ann Phillips have left us by making sure we have skilled employees at all positions makes my job even easier.”
Wasson addressed recent challenges Canoochee EMC has faced, including Hurricane Idalia.
“Hurricane Idalia could have been a much different story for us,” he said. “But due to planning and forethought, we were able to handle this storm much better than many other utilities. This can be accounted for by our efforts to increase right-of-way clearing and improve the health of our overall system.
“Nearly all services without power from the storm were restored within 12 hours, and none lasted more than 16 hours,” he said. “This is remarkable considering Idalia entered our territory as a hurricane.”
"As for the future, growth is here to stay,” he said. “Canoochee was the fastest growing electric cooperative in the state in 2022,” adding that the growth was not just in Bryan County. “We’re seeing an explosion of housing in Liberty and Long counties as well.”
Wasson also warned of problems that renewable energy are bringing, although he says he’s certainly a proponent of that facet of the industry.
“It is becoming increasingly clear that there are many bad actors in the rooftop solar industry,” he warned. “We’re contacted frequently by members who have been taken advantage of, and we’ve spoken with our legislators on their behalf. There should be repercussions for taking advantage of people. We have a talented staff who can help you sort through a decision of this magnitude, so call us before it’s too late.”
He also said the company is looking into community solar, “meaning you will not have to invest tens of thousands of dollars.” Wasson said the company is applying for a federal New ERA grant, offered by the United States Department of Agriculture to help rural areas transition to cleaner energy.
Wasson also affirmed the utility’s commitment to education.
“Over the past year, Canoochee has provided multiple school systems in multiple ways.”
Finally, Wasson expressed his appreciation to members over their support for the recent unexpected passing of two employees, Josh Daniel Odom and Dean Wright.
“Your heartfelt comments have meant a lot to us,” he said, “as well as to their families.”
He summarized by assuring members that Canoochee is well-positioned for the future.
Treasurer Kim Blocker then took the dais to discuss the financial situation of the utility.
“Canoochee Electric Membership Cooperation is once again reporting a very strong and stable financial position,” she told the members. “All mortgage requirements have been met or exceeded this year.”
The nominating committee reported no changes in the three members of the board of directors up for vote this year, so all current members are re-elected for the ensuing three-year term.
After the meeting, Communications Specialist Joe Sikes went to the podium to announce the Touchstone Energy Senior Citizen of the Year, “Mr. Y,” from Hinesville, who was rewarded with a $500 utility credit from the company.
The utility also announced service anniversary awards after the meeting. They were, as follows:
•5 years: Jody Elliot, Coy Halter, and Miles Noggle
•10 years: Trent Hart, Trey James, and Cory Kirkland
•15 years: Kirt DeLoach, Jeanna Kennedy, Kara Sikes, and Ricky Simons
•20 years: Travis Burkhalter, Beverly Smith, and Jeremiah Taylor
•25 years: Tommy Barnard
•40 years: John Welch