BARC Electric Cooperative held its annual meeting July 20 at Millboro Elementary School in Millboro, Va.

Bill Buchanan

Keith Swisher, president of the BARC board of directors, told all assembled that in March, BARC was named the No. 7 Most Innovative Company in North America by Fast Company Magazine and that it is the first and only electric cooperative to ever make that list.

Swisher also said that BARC is continuing development work on two utility-scale solar projects, a 5-megawatt array near Millboro and a 2.5-MW array in Rockbridge Baths, that will allow the cooperative to expand its community solar program.

“We continue to expand the fiber optic broadband infrastructure and to date we have approximately 1,198 miles installed, serving over 4,000 customers,” he said.

John Quantz, BARC secretary/treasurer, told the audience that in 2021, the cooperative’s revenue increased by nearly 11% from membership and broadband customers, bringing BARC’s balance sheet to just over $141 million in total assets at the end of 2021.

“Our broadband subsidiary, BARC Connects, hit a major milestone in July 2021 by finally reaching net positive margins,” he said. “BARC Connects brought in almost $5 million in operating revenue and contributed $1.75 million through its leasing of the cooperative-owned fiber plant.”

New CEO Bill Buchanan told attendees that although broadband subscriber numbers were increasing, the cooperative has discontinued its cable TV service.

“Must-carry requirements and programming fees have been huge burdens on small cable TV providers like BARC,” he said. “With today’s variety of streaming options, BARC, like the majority of rural providers, decided its membership would be better served with options that fit their viewing habits better and at a lower cost.”

Buchanan comes to BARC from Northwestern REC in Cambridge Springs, Pa., and is no stranger to cooperatives, bringing over 30 years of leadership experience to the role, focused on strategic and financial planning and operations.

He is a graduate of Western Illinois University, the University of Missouri’s Graduate Institute for Cooperative Leadership and Stanford University’s professional certification in Energy Innovation.

“I believe innovation has become a part of the culture here at BARC and I look forward to adding my own touch to this unique rural cooperative,” he added. “One of the big differences that BARC has apart from many of its sister cooperatives across the state and the country is the type of terrain we serve. When I was at Northwestern in Pennsylvania, all our line was accessible via our bucket trucks and track machines. Here in western Virginia, our lines cross mountains and valleys and are often un-reachable by anything other than foot, making restoration efforts during outages more physically demanding and time consuming.”

Buchanan then addressed growth and safety, saying the future promised copious amounts of both.

“We have over 1,000 miles of broadband expansion in the construction pipeline over the next 3 years. Within the next year, we will pass 13,000 locations — surpassing our total number of electric meters – an astounding accomplishment in just four years of being in business,” he said.

“And safety remains our top priority,” he added. “Last year we created a new safety and loss prevention coordinator position to emphasize our commitment to a safe work environment and to expand our overall safety program. The commitment to safety starts at the very top, and I assure you that this board and management will continually strive to provide the best when it comes to a safe working environment for our employees.”

—Report by Gregg MacDonald, Senior Writer/Editor, VMD Association