Power For Your Life Podcast | Season 1 - Episode 5
Electric cooperatives provide best in class service. Listen to expert guest Anne Harvey from Touchstone Energy Cooperatives share how electric co-ops are different and why it matters to you.
Transcript – Power For Your Life – Season 1 | Episode 5
Original release date: February 1, 2020
My name is Rich and I'm a member of Ozark Electric Cooperative. The best thing about my electric cooperative is interactions with staff are always positive with friendly and prompt service. My favorite thing about being a member of an electric cooperative is they give back to the community.
Darryll (Host): Welcome to the Power For Your Life podcast, where we focus on energy efficiency, the value of electric cooperative membership and safety around electricity. I'm Darryll Lindsey, your host and today's subject: the benefits of electric cooperative membership. With me today by phone is Anne Harvey. Anne is the director of member relations and communications with Touchstone Energy Cooperatives. Touchstone Energy is a national cooperative that supports more than 700 local electric cooperatives across the country and helps them achieve best in class service and engagement with members. Anne, thanks for joining me today. Let's start today's conversation by first telling our listeners a bit about electric cooperatives and their unique history.
Anne (Guest): Thanks so much for allowing me to share this information, Darryll, about, uh, cooperatives in general, and Touchstone Energy Cooperatives particularly. I've been in the industry many years and one of the things that I found fascinating is that electric cooperatives are bringing electricity to one in eight Americans and over 19 million homes, businesses, farms and schools. And we're now in 48 states. You know, that's 56% of the land mass in the U.S. And then also co-ops themselves are providing 71,000 jobs. We’re investing billions in local economies every year and are really a driving force in helping attract and grow business and industry in rural and suburban America. Now, as to our history; it's really quite interesting because electric co-ops brought power to rural America when nobody else would. So, in the ‘30s, power companies wouldn't venture outside of their city limits 'cause there weren't profits to be made. There just weren't enough people for the investment in miles of line that you had to put in. So, as a result, nine out of ten homes were without electricity in the ’30--late to mid-1930s. So, co-ops were established to deliver affordable electricity. And as a cooperative, everyone who received that electricity was a member with a voice in business decisions, and the utility was committed for not for profit operations. And again, this principle of putting people not profits first is very powerful and something that we still have today. It's a cooperative difference that allows us to empower communities and really energize our members.
Darryll (Host): You know you mentioned in your comments, affordable electricity, which is one of those founding principles for how we were formed as co-ops. But it's also about reliability, and that's one of the things that truly sets us apart as co-ops. Investor owned utilities and electric cooperatives are different. If you would, talk a little bit about the cooperative difference.
Anne (Guest): Absolutely. So, you know, cooperative difference is sort of a philosophy that we live by. We can sort of narrow that down to three basic principles of how we treat our members, how we collaborate, and how we build our communities. So, the first one: treating our members. Members know they can trust a cooperative because the organization was created by the people it serves to provide that safe, reliable as you just touched on and that affordable electricity. Each year, Touchstone Energy--we talked to thousands and thousands of cooperative members to determine if we're meeting their needs and we work to obtain an American Customer Satisfaction Index score. Year after year, co-ops are scoring higher than IOUs and municipal electric providers. And in 2019, we were a full two points higher. Personally, I think service is built into the DNA of every co-op and that's why local electric co-ops are doing things like leveraging technology to make it easier for members…for the co-op itself to take a proactive approach to keeping the lights on, which we know is so critical. And that same use of the technology is helping us read meters so that our members--back in the ‘80s we were still having to send people outside to read that meter and report it into the co-op. Now we do those things automatically. We allow them to set up a payment plan with a phone and we provide daily electric consumption details. And what that means is for many co-op members they can go in and see ‘how well how much electricity did I use yesterday?’ Now why that's important might not automatically make sense. But you know what? You can go in and actually see wow, ‘I don't like how that's trending.’ And you have a direct way to change that bill that is going to be coming to you at the end of the month. And quite honestly, most companies don't tell you how to use less of their product, but that's one of the things that the electric co-ops are all about. We want you to keep more money in your pocket. And so, we’ll give you tips and ideas on how you can use less and then also show you what you're using so you can change that trend and you have direct control over what that bill will be.
Darryll (Host): It's interesting that you give some details there about the trends and how the business has really changed over time. But yet one of the founding items is our service. And our service as co-ops is what really sets us apart. I think our listeners can start to understand the importance of membership in an electric cooperative as well as some of those advantages. Let's take a short break and when we come back, Anne will talk about the cooperative principles and the importance of being a member…not just a customer.
Darryll (Host): Energy saving tip #3: plug electronic devices such as cable boxes, printers and TV's into power strips to turn off during vacations or long periods without use. Smart power strips make it an easy task to save money.
Darryll (Host): Back with more of the Power For Your Life podcast. Today I'm visiting by phone with Anne Harvey from Touchstone Energy Cooperatives. And before the break, Anne was sharing some of the important advantages of cooperative membership. Anne let's talk about how co-ops collaborate in their local communities.
Anne (Guest): Absolutely. You know the key to collaboration is that we are locally owned and operated. You and your listeners are surely familiar with that farm to table dining that's taken the country by storm. That's a huge trend. Well, you know we're farm to table electricity. Every member has a voice and the boards of electric co-ops come from those they serve. So, they're very responsive to the local needs. And it's that local thing that really does set us apart. Because the employees at the electric co-op are probably your neighbors or a parent at your kids’ school or someone you see at the grocery store. But even better than the collaboration that we do with our communities and that service that we have for the membership is the fact that electric cooperatives collaborate with each other on a regional and national level. So, we're sharing best practices, member service ideas and even come together with legislation efforts that are going to benefit our membership. One surprising area where we're really seeing the power of collaboration and is looking at the feasibility of offering high speed Internet to co-op members. And what I think is interesting is that the story of the Internet really is mirroring how we brought electricity to our members eighty years ago. You know, right now roughly 24 million rural Americans are lacking vital Internet access in many areas. The local co-ops--they're going to be bringing new life to rural communities, creating jobs, improving healthcare, and enhancing education, and the process of providing this to their membership. And the final difference is that we are really focused on your street, not Wall Street. So electric cooperatives work hard to achieve a better quality of life for their member owners. If you would visit any co-op website, you're likely gonna see how they're providing scholarships, community grants, volunteer opportunities, school programs, and I could go on and on and on. There are so many examples of this, but, Darryll, one of your members recently participated in Touchstone Energy’s national hashtag ‘Who Powers You’ contests where local electric cooperative members nominate those in their communities who are doing great things for others. And I'm so excited because our 2019 Grand Prize winners were Dana and Denny Heiner of Co-Mo Electric in Tipton, Mo. Their organization raises money solely to assist youth and poverty at the Lake of the Ozarks. From new clothing to giving gas cards so that students can get to school or maybe work after school. Their foundation which is called Lake of the Ozarks Idiots Club helps thousands each year. And I know when I first heard that name I went--OK, that's a very unusual and funny name. But what they're doing is so serious and so critical. Because in five years they provided more than $350,000 to youth. And to me they’re one of the things that truly exemplifies the cooperative difference.
Darryll (Host): And you're right, Anne--that is the cooperative difference. Reliable, affordable electricity and best in class service with an emphasis on safety and commitment to our communities. That's what electric co-op 's are all about. Anne Harvey from Touchstone Energy Cooperatives. I appreciate you taking time out of your busy schedule to talk about the cooperative difference.