Co-op's re-imagined event draws 1,000 attendees

Have you ever wondered why your member-owned, not-for-profit co-op holds an Annual Meeting? Technically, Flathead Electric Cooperative’s Bylaws require that a meeting and election be held each year and that a quorum, or a defined number of members, be present. However, over the last 87 years, Co-op Trustees and staff have realized that there are many reasons to hold an Annual Meeting beyond complying with the Bylaws.

Educating members about energy industry issues has become critical. Our area is growing in population and energy consumption, but is transmission-constrained, meaning that our wholesale power provider, the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), has limits on the amount of power it can deliver to the local grid. While there is enough transmission today, that may not be true in the future. In addition, reliable baseload electricity generation is being retired faster than it is being replaced, threatening grid reliability.

Members filled the auditorium of the Wachholz Center on April 18, 2024. Photo by Sharilyn Fairweather.

Helping members understand the issues that impact the reliability and affordability of their electricity, and the role of members as grid partners, has become a key focus of the Annual Meeting. As a result, the Co-op has devoted a growing amount of time during the Annual Meeting to education, such as bringing in guest speakers to discuss local, regional, and national energy issues.

Around the same time the Co-op realized the increasing importance of educating members about energy issues, it also noted that Annual Meeting attendance was declining. Change was needed. Several years of data-driven driven research commenced (what do members want from their Annual Meeting?) and in Spring 2023, the decision was made to re-imagine the event to increase attendance and to offer better educational opportunities.

About a year later, on April 18, 2024, the Co-op welcomed members to its NEW Annual Meeting & Energy Expo, an open house-style event held at Flathead Valley Community College’s Wachholz College Center. The heart of the meeting remained, with business conducted by the membership and energy industry leaders General Manager Mark Johnson and Dr. Patrick Barkey speaking. However, before and after the business meeting, educational, interactive (and fun!) booths were set up to create an Energy Expo.

Members and kids learn where our power comes from at the Hydroelectric Dam Model. Photo by Kyla Tomlin.

One booth offered information about saving energy and money via energy efficiency programs. Another showcased a hydroelectric dam model, highlighting that the Co-op’s electricity is 97% carbon-free thanks to 82% of its fuel mix being large hydro. Outside, children touched bucket trucks while they tried on rubber gloves, hot sticks, and hard hats. Dan the Magic Man taught kids of all ages as he conducted his Electric Magic Show. The Co-op’s legendary linemen offered live electric safety demonstrations that had the crowd laughing, gasping, and learning. Expert staff members and Trustees answered members’ questions throughout the event.

Guest Speaker Dr. Patrick Barkey, University of Montana’s Director of Business and Economic Research, spoke at the 2024 Annual Meeting. Photo by Sharilyn Fairweather.

Afterward, members gathered for dinner and camaraderie. Tired but smiling staff passed the word that about 1,000 people attended the meeting, almost double the number from the year before! Community Relations Manager Katie Pfennigs reflects, “We’re very pleased that so many members came out to the Annual Meeting and Energy Expo. There were a few hiccups, as with any first-time event, but overall Co-op staff and Trustees were thrilled that the occasion allowed us to re-visit our relationships with our members. Northwest Montana’s growth means it’s essential for us to work together to manage electric demand on our local grid. The new event felt like the start of something big, and we’re looking forward to creating an even better experience for our members next year.”

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Courtney Stone

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