Innovation for Vermont’s Clean Energy Future

For 83 years and counting, Vermont Electric Cooperative has provided members with safe, affordable and reliable energy services. Keeping this longtime record of success on track would prove trying in 2021 while co-op leaders grappled with a myriad of business challenges related to the pandemic.

Their top concerns included: How to maintain low rates amid upward pressures on energy costs? How to keep employees safe as many worked remotely for the first time due to COVID-19 restrictions? And, how to help members in financial need get their past-due bills addressed without turning out the lights?

CEO Rebecca Towne is proud of the way VEC, the state’s largest locally owned electric distribution utility, rose above the adversity and performed as a true energy leader for the 32,000 members and 75 communities it serves in the northern part of the Green Mountain State.

Clarence Mahovlich, VP, CoBank; Rebecca Towne, CEO, Vermont Electric Cooperative; Mike Bursell, CFO, Vermont Electric Cooperative

“Those three key words in our mission statement—safe, affordable and reliable—we take them very seriously. They represent the longtime promise we’ve made to our members,” Towne said. “It’s so great to see that, despite all the uncertainty of this past year, we’re delivering on that promise. Our safety program is robust across the organization, we’ve worked really hard to keep our rates flat, and our service reliability is the best we’ve seen in many years.”

While VEC focuses on meeting the energy needs of its members today, the co-op is also earning national recognition for taking an innovative approach to Vermont’s clean energy future. VEC has pledged to be carbon-free by 2023 and achieve a 100% renewable power supply by 2030. To that end, it recently commissioned two brownfield solar projects with Vermont firm Encore Renewable Energy, over a former landfill and in a gravel pit, making a total of five utility-scale solar array projects in the state.

“As Vermonters shift toward electricity for things like transportation and heating their homes and businesses, having clean sources of energy in place is key to achieving our climate goals,” Towne said.

VEC has partnered with CoBank for its financing needs, including a lease line of credit, since 2002. Seven years later, to further improve its infrastructure and service reliability, VEC embarked upon a 10-year, $100 million venture capital plan with the help of CoBank. Despite that high level of spending, VEC managed to improve its Standard & Poor’s financial rating from Triple B minus to A plus with a stable outlook.

“CoBank has been a great financing partner for us,” said Michael Bursell, CFO for VEC. “We really like their approach, which hasn’t changed over these many years. And that is, when we set out to achieve something ambitious, CoBank is right there saying, ‘we’re going to help make it happen for you.’”

This story was originally published in the CoBank 2021 Annual Report.