In many ways, the 2023 Hoosier Energy Annual Meeting picked up where the 2022 annual meeting left off.
A year ago, change was the unofficial theme of the event, which made its return after a two-year hiatus due to COVID-19.
This year, change got even more complicated but still seamlessly segued into the official theme – Complex issues. Cooperative solutions.
All 18 member cooperatives, some with less representation than usual due to dealing with the fallout of severe storms and tornadoes, were on hand at French Lick Resort on April 5 as a multitude of perspectives presented food for thought.
Once the formal business was concluded, Hoosier Energy President and CEO Donna Walker kicked things off.
“The energy sector has definitely undergone a fundamental change in the last few years, and we feel it and have been talking about it, especially just in the last year since we were together,” she said. “Economic forces and global influences along with technological, political and demographic changes are all converging to make operating our day-to-day business as well as planning into the future long-term more and more complex every day.”
Walker went on to discuss the global economy, including the impact of Russia’s war in Ukraine, the U.S. economy and its battle with inflation, supply chain issues and the resulting ebb and flow of prices on natural gas, coal and renewable energy as a result.
“Just like all of you, Hoosier Energy hasn’t been immune to rising costs, to labor and supply chain issues,” Walker said. “Production costs, which include natural gas, coal and power production purchases represented two-thirds of our annual operating costs last year. Nationally, market prices for those three commodities combined more than doubled year over year.
“In contrast, risk management strategies that we’ve been able to implement over the last several years allowed us to keep our cost increases for those commodities under 45%. Who would’ve thought that would’ve been a positive?”
Wins and losses have indeed been redefined in the utility industry and will continue to be so as the landscape continues to change.
To that end, a panel of Hoosier Energy executive staff sought to ask and answer a variety of questions. Moderated by Scott Bowers, Senior Vice President Government and Community Relations, the four-person panel was made up of Chris Blunk, Senior Vice President IT and Corporate Services; Rob Horton, Executive Vice President and COO; Jon Jackson, Senior Vice President Finance; and Shannon Thom, Senior Vice President Member Engagement.
The questions posed addressed the core issues of affordability, reliability and sustainability as well as how to balance priorities from a financial perspective in this new era for the industry. Other topics included the significant variables impacting the Hoosier Energy workforce, how to approach and implement new strategies for member engagement and key areas on the horizon for the future.
No one has all the answers to so many complex issues, but asking the right questions and applying cooperative solutions is a step in the right direction.
“How do we successfully plan for the future in the midst of extraordinary change and uncertainty?” Walker said. “We start by focusing on and understanding what’s most important to member systems and member-consumers at the end of the line.
“… Then we evaluate the opportunities in front of us under a variety of possible future outcomes to see which alternative or alternatives best meet those member needs.”