‘Call to Action’

Published 10:14 am Thursday, August 31, 2017

AHOSKIE – Roanoke Electric Cooperative, like the majority of service-based businesses, is always searching for innovative ways to engage its customers and offer them a better product at a lower price.

In the digital age, REC officials can leverage modern technology that improves product reliability and reduces operational costs, which means a “better bang for the buck” for its large base of customers.

At Saturday’s annual business meeting of REC, Curtis Wynn, CEO of the local electric co-op, outlined what he referenced as a “Call to Action” to better serve its member-owners.

Wynn addressed ‘pocketbook’ concerns, and stated how the co-op is moving forward in an effort to save its member-owners their hard-earned money.

“We want to provide our members with the lowest cost service while also saving on our end,” Wynn told the audience gathered in the gym of Hertford County High School where the annual meeting was conducted.

In response to meeting the growing digital-based needs of its membership, Wynn said REC offers text messaging or an email alert when a member’s electrical usage is running higher than normal.

“That way you can prevent being surprised when you receive your monthly bill and the amount due is higher than normally anticipated,” he said. “By alerting you in advance that your electrical usage is higher than normal, our members can contact the office to see what the problem is.”

Another cost-saving measure is the Roanoke Rewards Program, a service where REC members can shop online for goods and services at participating businesses and the savings on those purchases show up as a credit on their monthly electric bill.

REC members also have the opportunity to save $1 monthly on their bill by paying it online.

Roanoke Electric CEO Curtis Wynn (standing, left) visits with a member-owner seated in the audience prior to the start of Saturday’s business meeting of the local co-op. Staff Photo by Cal Bryant

The Upgrade to Save Program makes the home of a REC member-owner more energy efficient, which leads to a lower electric bill. Wynn pointed out that this program covers things such as caulking windows and doors, insulating hot water heaters, and installing energy efficient light bulbs.

“We arrange for a contractor to perform this work after an energy audit of a residence; we pay for that work up front and the member pays it back through a monthly charge on their bill,” Wynn noted. “We have performed over 200 such projects since this program began and in every case, the amount of money saved in the electricity costs is more than the monthly charge. And once all the money to perform the work is paid back, our members really see a big difference in the amount of money they save each and every month.”

Other cost saving measures are also digitally related. The Smart Energy Savings Program allows a member to have a device on their water heater that controls the heating element.

“With your help, we can control load demand at critical times,” Wynn said. “The same logic applies to our smart (HVAC) thermostat, where we can adjust that in order to prevent having to purchase additional electricity during peak hours.”

For participating in either measure, REC will reward its members a credit on their monthly bills, Wynn said. He added that member-owners can enjoy a one-time savings of a combined $650 by allowing REC to install these energy saving devices (instead of the homeowner hiring a contractor to perform that work).

However, there remains a barrier for REC officials and its member-owners to overcome in order to institute these programs – Internet connectivity.

While most take that for granted in today’s society, the sad fact is that rural areas of the United States either totally lack the Internet or have extremely slow connections.

Roanoke Electric is seeking to counteract that problem with a bold initiative.

“These cost-saving programs require high speed Internet connectivity in order to participate,” Wynn observed. “If you do not have Internet service where you live, then you are already eliminated from participating.”

Wynn said the new Roanoke Connect program – a fiber optic communications network – is the answer.

“This is our broadband Internet service you’ve been hearing about over the recent months,” Wynn said. “We’ve done a lot of work to bring high speed broadband connectivity to the areas we serve. This will make sure that our member-owners do not lose out on the cost-saving measures I mentioned earlier.”

Work on that fiber optic network is complete as far as connecting the REC substations and the central office located just west of Ahoskie. The remaining hurdle to clear is providing this Internet service to the homes of the member-owners.

Wynn said REC is currently operating a pilot program, testing the fiber optic system among residences within a few miles of the Ahoskie office. That program is expected to last until December of this year.

“We are moving into a whole new era for our co-op,” Wynn stressed. “We’re bringing in people to help us learn about these new things, these new services, so we can provide better services to our member-owners.”

That new help, he said, will get the Roanoke Connect project off the ground.

“There’s a lot of careful planning to be done to make sure this program is right for our member-owners,” Wynn stressed. “We want to make sure that the level of service you expect is at the highest level. Please be patient with us as we take these small steps towards providing you with this type of service.”

Wynn said he expects it will take until early next year before phase two of Roanoke Connect is completed and the residential Internet service is offered throughout the REC coverage area.

Those signing up for the water heater and thermostat energy saving program will be rewarded with an added bonus….free equipment and installation for Roanoke Connect. Wynn said that amounts to a $180 saving for member-owners, which includes a $5 monthly credit on the Roanoke Connect broadband Internet package for the first six months.

“We need to know in advance of the number of our member-owners who are interested in Roanoke Connect,” Wynn said.

For more information about any of the cost-saving measures or the Roanoke Connect program, REC member-owners can call, toll free, 800-433-2236 or visit the central office located on NC 561 just west of Ahoskie.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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