As Assistant CEO of the Week, One United MSR Discovers
How Deep Members’ Concerns Trickle
Down Through The Entire Operation
As a member service representative for the last five years here at United Cooperative Services, I have had the opportunity over the years to try and answer a variety of members’ questions and requests. Since 2020, many things have changed in the world we live in—from the pandemic, ice storms, shutdowns, inflation and now higher kilowatt-hour prices.
United and its members are directly affected by all of those events.
I was recently rewarded with the honor of being selected as United’s Assistant CEO of the Week, and while attending February’s regular monthly board of directors meeting as part of the honorary stint, I witnessed how our CEO and United’s seven board of directors tried to respond to the many new issues facing the cooperative nowadays.
Among the many deliberations that day was the cooperative’s continuing effort to protect member interests as they relate to dire effects stemming from the catastrophic Winter Storm Uri during the week of Feb. 13-17, 2021.
I am quite sure no Texan will ever forget that week. While Brazos Electric Cooperative (Brazos) is still immersed in litigation over the storm’s fallout, there are many uncertainties about how the storm’s immense financial ramifications will be fully resolved, or what they will mean for United and its members.
Our mission statement is, “United Cooperative Services will deliver exceptional service and value to its membership”— period. From my experience as Assistant CEO of the Week, I can attest United is following that mission statement and making sure that every decision is weighed against what is best and right for the membership.
In my role as a member service representative, I often speak with members directly about higher power usage due to colder weather, and about the higher power costs that come with higher usage—all of which are more apparent when wholesale power costs are rising across the electric power industry. Understandably, members often explain how increased costs are affecting their everyday life and causing them another financial hardship. United, and member service representatives like me, hear and understand our members’ anguish. Our call volume is incredibly high at all hours of the day—especially following weather swings— because our members can’t imagine how they could have used so much electricity. Even though we have 27 member service representatives taking calls Monday through Friday, 8-5 p.m., there are still many days when the call volume overpowers us. As an example, monthly incoming calls answered by United member service representative in 2020 averaged 12,000-19,000.
Fast forward to 2021 and the number grew to 20,000-21,000 calls per month.
Unfortunately, rising natural gas prices across the market have coincided with severely cold temperature extremes this year. All members’ usage increased because nighttime temperatures dropped to 40 degrees and below for more than a month.
United has tried to develop remedies by providing extra resources that are designed to help members overcome higher costs during seasonal weather extremes, whether that is through the cooperative’s free home energy audits, a variety of energy efficiency rebates, or making additional financial resources available to members through the cooperative’s association with local churches and organizations who aid United members during difficult times.
It was invaluable for me to see firsthand how wholesale power costs trickle down from Brazos to United. Brazos energy charges are directly passed through to members without markup by United. And with natural gas prices on the rise, unfortunately United has no control over the price swings in those costs, which are reflected on member bills as the Power Cost Recovery Factor. Whenever a member sees the PCRF charge go up or down, that means the cost to generate or purchase electricity has changed. If we were to look at a member’s bill from March of 2021, we would see a positive PCRF, which was a credit at that time. That is because the price to generate or purchase electricity last March was less than the energy price established at the base rate.
Another way United is trying to help members is through its community solar program. The cooperative purchases power from three solar farms in Kopperl, Stephenville and West Texas—featuring competitive fixed rates members can subscribe to as a savings hedge against rising wholesale power costs. Members who use an average of 500 kWh or more a month can qualify for one subscription. If members use more than an average of 1,000 kWh per month, they can qualify for two subscriptions, both of which have been a savings boon to participating members for years.
The life we all knew before 2020 may not come back, and we must try and move forward. One thing that won’t change, though, is United will always put the membership first.