You know that catch phrase from the cell phone commercial. It applies to a story that we saw recently. We like to pass along jobs well done in the energy industry and we think this one ought to lead our weekend edition.
The Richland Electric Cooperative in Wisconsin held its annual meeting of members recently and it was, as many annual meetings are now, anything but normal. The leader of the coop wanted to be sure he got the message out, so he climbed in a bucket truck, members parked in the parking lot, and the local radio station broadcast the meeting. (Our thanks to our friends at Richland Electric Cooperative for their help with the photos. News source – WKOW)
Many of the coop’s customers do not have broadband access, so a virtual meeting would have been a challenge. The CEO reported that the drive-in meeting attracted about the same turnout as a normal annual meeting. (Source)
Why did we like that story? This is a leader who pays attention to customers. It’s a company that wants to be sure it is accessible to its stakeholders. Also, frankly, we like the touch of showmanship and fun. It paid off. Really, don’t you look at these photos and automatically like these gents?
Let’s dig further into all this for energy consumers. Any regular reader of our blogs knows our feelings that:
- The electric industry is changing at, pardon me, light speed. New technology, new players.
- Energy leaders have a duty to communicate with stakeholders clearly and openly.
- Energy customers have a personal responsibility to keep up to date so they make good energy decisions.
Electric companies used to be mainly about getting power to homes. That has changed. New products and services are available in many utilities. New rate structures, smart meters, thermostats … and the list grows. Now, with the COVID-19 impact on people and businesses, you’ll see that many utilities are communicating even more.
How can customers stay up to date? It takes perusing a variety of sources. Learning and listening. Judging for yourself.
Electric companies provide a lot of information. Some is in your bill. Inserts in bills are highly regulated and often dense. That is really a baseline of data.
The best way to communicate is face-to-face, a tough one these days. Still, there are variations on that theme. An example: Keller Kissam, President, Electric Operations of the Southeast Energy Group for Dominion Energy, has been as close to people as possible before and during the pandemic. He said, “Communication is important, and it is work. It takes time, and it takes effort. You often run the risk of confrontation. You can’t focus simply on what your business does. You need to focus on how you inform a variety of stakeholders – primarily your customers.”
This is a measure of Kissam’s commitment: The South Carolina Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America recently recognized Keller with the 2019 Executive Excellence Award. It is given annually to a South Carolina business leader in honor of being an outstanding communications. Here’s an Orangeburg Times and Democrat story about Kissam.
Watch Dominion’s website for his name and what he is doing. He takes down communication barriers.
Some companies have started their own journalism sites. Duke Energy’s Illumination (left) is a brand journalism site. Some of the stories we saw recently:
- How to prepare for hurricane season during the pandemic
- Typical day for a lineworker? There isn’t one
- 5 ways to learn about electricity at home
There’s a lot to learn from other companies’ news sites, too. Try Alabama Power’s brand journalism work. (right) It has a broad cross-section of stories. Some are pure business stories.
- Alabama Power offers COVID-19 energy efficiency tips for restaurants, businesses, institutions
- Southern Company turns to Alabama manufacturer for face masks
- Alabama’s Southern Research intensifying vaccine, therapies study to combat COVID-19
Carolina electric cooperatives are terrific sources for information. The North Carolina Electric Cooperatives have a magazine, Carolina Country. (June issue, left) Check the recent story, Your Friendly, Neighborhood Microgrid. Good story about a technical trend that will only grow. Customers may want to understand what is coming their way because it will help them.
South Carolina Electric Cooperatives have a magazine called, South Carolina Living. (right) Check these articles for a sampling of information:
If you really want to dig into energy, check the U.S. Energy Information Administration. This government agency researches and publishes various kinds of data. There’s a lot of hardcore industry stuff at EIA. What might be especially interesting these days, though, is the resource page for teachers.
Here’s a source I really admire. The Switch Energy Alliance is based in Austin, Texas. It is nonpartisan and explains real issues well beyond your utility’s service territory. “Energy fuels the engine of the modern world and has the power to bring billions more out of abject poverty. Because energy reaches into every facet of our lives, it is highly political. Biases and emotions run deep, and facts and data are often distorted, or worse. SEA’s global video- and web-based approach engages students and general viewers in a positive conversation to work collaboratively on energy challenges.”
I had the chance to do a bit of work with the leader of this effort some years ago, helped coordinate showing the original documentary, Switch, across both Carolinas. A suggestion: Gather family and watch the documentaries. Then talk. Really worth your time; an investment in your own knowledge base about energy.
Information about energy is out there for you. We encourage energy customers to learn about their service and ask questions. The companies that serve you should have a real interest in having well-informed customers. Customers should feel confidence that the people running their electric service are sharp people who will get this important service to customers safely, reliably, environmentally-friendly, and in a cost-efficient way.