FRENCH LICK – The Hoosier Energy Annual Meeting is a rite of passage, or at least it was up until 2019.


After a three-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, that rite was renewed on April 7, 2022, at the French Lick Resort.


But in keeping with the abnormality of the previous three years, the unofficial theme of the meeting was change, as emcee Scott Bowers, Hoosier Energy Senior Vice President Government and Community Relations, noted in the opening minute.


“As you may have noticed,” he said, “this year is a little different.”


Indeed, it was.


The guest list was pared down and the meeting itself took a more serious approach once the official business was completed with all 18 member cooperatives represented.


Hoosier Energy President and CEO Donna Walker kicked things off.


“This is such a nice change from the past few years,” she said. “I don’t think any of us were thinking when we left the 2019 annual that in just a few short months we’d be facing a global pandemic that has forever changes so many aspects of our lives.”


Those aspects were both personal and business in nature with the latter continuing to resonate, especially as world events outside of the pandemic evolve.


“We all know and feel every day how fast the pace of change is hitting us,” Walker said, noting rising inflation, gas prices and a “historically tight” labor market.


Walker then hosted a panel discussion with senior staff members of Hoosier Energy – Rob Horton, Jon Jackson, Chris Blunk and Shannon Thom.


They provided updates on the decisions surrounding Merom generating station, the pandemic, financial status, resource portfolio, demand-side management, distributing energy resources, risk management and cost management, to name a few.


At the conclusion of the discussion, attendees were treated to a tasty lunch before Brad Shields of South Central Indiana REMC was named the Door Prize winner of a Stihl Electric Blower.


The encore was guest speaker, John Bear, CEO of MISO (Midcontinent Independent System Operator). Bear provided insight on the transitioning energy market with its impact on both generation and transmission.


“Wind is volatile, solar is volatile and electrification is going to cause some pretty big changes,” Bear said.


On the heels of that 30-minute presentation came the Grid Reliability Panel, moderated by National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative (NRTC) CEO Tim Bryan. The panel consisted of Hoosier Energy Chief Technology Officer Bob Richhart, Jackson County REMC CEO Mark McKinney and South Central Indiana REMC CEO James Tanneberger.


Topics ranged from the smart grid to load control to the impact of fiber on communications and broadband as well as the funding for those programs.


“Data is king,” Richhart said, noting that a recent router change at home recognized 47 devices. “It’s knowledge of what’s going on in the home — what’s on, what’s off and as in everything, once you have some of that power, you want more.”


When the panel was complete, those wanting more would have to wait until next year as the 2022 annual meeting came to a conclusion.


Despite the changes in the program and in the industry, there was just one message left to take home.


“My hope is as we leave here today we feel optimistic about the future we’re working towards together,” Walker said.