NRECA’s member network is now another state stronger.
Effective July 5, Block Island Utility District became the first NRECA voting member in Rhode Island, expanding NRECA’s membership to 48 states.
NRECA’s board of directors approved BIUD as a voting distribution member at its June meeting. The board also approved Hood River Electric Cooperative in Oregon and Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District in Holdrege as new voting members.
NRECA CEO Jim Matheson welcomed the new additions, which bring membership to a total of 1,471 voting and non-voting members. “We’re pleased to welcome these new members and provide them with quality products and services that can help them meet their members’ expectations as a trusted resource as well as shape their future,” Matheson said.
Block Island Utility District has seven full-time employees and 1,912 consumer-members. Located 13 miles south of mainland Rhode Island and accessible only by ferry, Block Island is about 10 square miles in area, and its beaches, cliffs and grasslands attract thousands of tourists during the summer. Off-season, about 1,000 people live on the island. During the summer, its population soars to about 30,000.
“We’re a small company, but we have a huge responsibility because we are one of the biggest tourist attractions in Rhode Island,” said Jeffery Wright, BIUD president. “Our tourism economy really brings people to town.”
Block Island Utility District’s membership in NRECA is the result of a multiyear campaign that began in 2008, when the town council created the Electric Utility Task Group to buy Block Island Power Company, an investor-owned utility. The task group hired Wright to work on the campaign, and for two years they worked with the state legislature to form a utility district. Success came in 2018. After securing $6 million in financing from the National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corporation (CFC), the district was able to buy the power company’s idled diesel generating plant and substation among other assets.
A member of the New England Independent System Operator, BIUD buys its power on the wholesale market from Shell North America. Part of its fuel mix includes wind energy from the nation’s first commercial offshore wind farm that’s visible from the island.
NRECA’s board of directors approves new voting members. NRECA staff and the board’s administrative committee review whether prospective members’ operations meet certain criteria and are consistent with the association’s bylaws, objectives and the seven cooperative principles. Next, the administrative committee makes a recommendation to the full board.
Under NRECA bylaws, BIUD will elect a director to represent Rhode Island on NRECA’s board in 2020.
“When I heard that we had the opportunity to have a seat on the national board, I got goosebumps. I’m a huge proponent of the cooperative principles and have been for many years,” said Wright, who was the chief operating officer of Vermont Electric Cooperative for about 10 years before joining BIUD.
Wright said he and his small staff have been hard at work changing the look and the feel of BIUD to “act more like a cooperative.”
“We’re really focusing on improving customer service,” Wright said. “We’re identifying savings within the operation to invest in the system and we’re having our first annual meeting in August. I can’t wait for the first one. We’re going to make it feel like you own the company and really put our best foot forward.”
Victoria A. Rocha is a staff writer at NRECA.