Electric cooperative searching for ways to get the message out
by Dennis Sharkey
If Leavenworth-Jefferson Electric Cooperative has a problem communicating with its customers it is not from a lack of trying.
During an informative discussion last month the topic of energy efficiency dominated the conversation for a majority of the time. Co-op member Paul Johnson said he is frustrated that co-operatives have been slow to understand what efficiency potential is and working with members to become more efficient.
“I don’t think we have a clue as to how many of the homes we serve in this co-op are properly insulated at this point,” Johnson said. “What’s a better deal for our co-op members than to replace inefficient air conditioners than buying unnecessary Wyoming coal.”
Johnson also said millions of dollars are being focused on building more plants rather than using resources to become more efficient.
“We’re eager to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on the Iatan power plant or with the battle that went on with Holcomb,” Johnson said. “I don’t think we have the full story on the table, ‘Here’s what the balance should be.’ I’m hoping as a co-op member we have a different mentality about this.”
Kansas Electric Cooperative Executive Vice President and lobbyist Stuart Lowry said co-ops can educate their customers but still it is a personal decision.
“It’s somewhat of a personal choice on the part of each person as to what their own conduct is,” he said. “You can take the best efficiency program anywhere, any place and anytime and you are not going to get negative usage.”
“We’re not asking,” Johnson replied. “That’s part of the problem.”
LJEC Assistant Manager Joe Heinen said he has been accused of not working for the co-op because he has pushed energy efficiency so much. He said the co-op works with people building homes but not everyone wants to spend the money or can afford it when there is a cheaper option.
“We are dealing with a lot of people that do not have any money and very limited budget,” Heinen said. “We’ll work with everybody.”
Board member Larry Meadows said the main objective of the co-op is to provide reliable energy.
“What’s the role of the co-op?” Meadows asked. “You’re just about changing the role of the co-op. Are we supposed to go that far? Our role is to supply reliable energy.”
Meadows pointed out that the co-op has hired two people to communicate and help obtain data for customers.
“We’ve put two people on staff in order to try to educate people,” Meadows said.
LJEC Manager Steve Foss said the co-op hired a person to conduct energy audits of people’s homes. He said the co-op also has energy fairs that are sparsely attended.
“I don’t know what we need to do to get people involved,” Foss said. “We’re trying to do that. It’s really hard when you’ve got 8,400 meters out there and only four people at a meeting. I’m trying to find what will work but it’s not happening.
“We give people all the different opportunities as far as efficiency and education,” Foss added. “And we get little or no response. Do you want us to continue to throw that money to the wind?”
Johnson praised the co-op for the efforts but still stressed that more could be done. He pointed to the co-op’s annual gathering as an example.
“I think it’s a great start,” Johnson said. “Instead of showcasing a good politician (Sen. Jerry Moran) maybe it would be better to spend some time laying out what people could do with energy efficiency.”
Foss said the last meeting that featured Moran was the highest attended in years whereas energy fairs attract fewer people.
A customer who attended the meeting said that articles written in the “Country Living” magazine were slanted to more consumption but has seen a little shift in what is being written today.
Jennifer Fisher, who does public relations for LJEC, said that customers are somewhat suspect when reading articles written by a power provider. She said the customer’s main concern is price and availability.
“I don’t know how many people would even care if they understood the difference,” Fisher said. “They want the service.”
Meadows said most customers are educated but don’t have time between work and taking care of their families to deal with the issues.
“Those people are not idiots,” Meadows said. “They don’t have the time to do that.”
Heinen said LJEC has not only pushed to educate with an energy auditor and fairs but has also started engaging high consumers. He said the co-op has identified those users and has begun to approach them about receiving an audit.
“We don’t shove them under the rug,” he said.
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