Electrical Cooperatives Find Customer-Centric Partner in HomeServe

Electrical Cooperatives Find Customer-Centric Partner in HomeServe

Southwestern Electrical Cooperative, which has served as a rural community partner for more than 80 years in Illinois, provides power to more than 24,000 members through nearly 3,500 miles of power lines.

As part of providing exceptional service and value to their members, Southwestern is part of the Touchstone Energy alliance, compromised of more than 750 cooperatives maintaining more than 2.5 million miles of power lines, in largely rural areas, in 46 states. Through their cooperation, these co-operatives provide services that would ordinarily require the resources of a large corporation spanning the nation.

Touchstone Energy also connects cooperatives with third-party providers like HomeServe, a proud Touchstone Energy corporate service provider and leading home repair company. HomeServe partners with more than 1,100 utilities and municipalities throughout North America to educate homeowners about their service line responsibilities. HomeServe also provides optional plans that allow homeowners to proactively address needed repairs, including to their exterior electrical service connection and interior electrical systems.

“We wanted to supply our members with a good option for coverage of the exterior electric lines not owned and maintained by Southwestern Electric Cooperative,” said Julie Lowe, Energy Manager. “In the past, when we were called out and determined that the problem or outage was due to problems on the member’s side, all we could do was inform them of the problem and let them know that they would have to hire an electrician.”

These proactive programs allow your members to actively address issues that can impact health, safety and energy efficiency, without putting off repairs because they are unable to afford them or uncertain how to navigate finding a reliable, qualified electrician.

“A lot of the repair issues that come about are after hours or weekends, and the members aren’t always able to reach an electrician right away,” Lowe said. “A plus side for us is that we require our members to purchase our meter loops, so, if that is the problem, we can get them back in power quickly and they can submit the claim after the work has been completed.”

HomeServe works with its partners to help educate homeowners about their responsibilities for the repair of utility service lines. Many homeowners are unaware they are responsible for the portion of the service line between the utility’s transmission lines and their home.

“This (program) has helped our members understand what parts of their service they are responsible for and what parts are covered by us as their utility,” Lowe said.

Southwestern staff knew that working with a company that had been approved and vetted by Touchstone Energy was a safe bet, but they also wanted a partner that shared their values in prioritizing member satisfaction.

“Although we have not had a lot of claims processed, the (members) who have (had claims), were taken care of in a timely manner and to the satisfaction of our members,” Lowe said. “We have also had a member benefit from the HomeServe Cares program, and he was extremely grateful for the help.”

The HomeServe Cares program offers pro bono repairs to qualifying homeowners who have an emergency repair that impacts safety, health, sanitation or quality of life.

There is no cost to an electrical cooperative to participate in HomeServe’s programs – HomeServe funds the administration and all promotional materials. Southwestern Electrical Cooperative can provide members with a program that costs the cooperative nothing and all member Service Representatives need relay to the members is a phone number. A benefit to this program is having a program without having to manage a program, and as part of HomeServe’s partnership with co-operatives throughout the country, HomeServe had paid more than $100,000 to cover the Touchstone Energy dues of partner co-ops.

HomeServe serves more than 4.8 million customers and has partnerships with more than 1,100 municipalities, utilities and associations, providing electric, water, sewer and HVAC service through local contractors.

“It’s a valuable program for many of our members,” Lowe said. “It provides them with peace of mind.”

To learn more about how you can partner with HomeServe to bring peace of mind to your members, contact us.

Extreme Weather, Aging Infrastructure Result in Power Outages

Extreme Weather, Aging Infrastructure Result in Power Outages

Climate change has increased average temperatures, increased the occurrence and length of heat waves, increased drought conditions and increased extreme one-day precipitation events, and those conditions have stressed an already aging electrical grid, causing power outages.

In a review of global climate studies, 70 percent showed events were made more likely or severe by climate change. Of those events, 43 percent were heatwaves, 17 percent were extreme precipitation or rain and 16 percent were droughts. Extreme weather events are the leading cause of power outages, according to the Department of Energy, and a Climate Central analysis found there was a 67 percent increase in weather-related power outages, with 59 percent caused by heavy rains and thunderstorms, 20 percent by ice storms and cold weather and 2 percent by extreme heat and wildfires.

Extreme heat and heatwaves cause problems with both supply and demand – customers crank up air conditioners and powerlines sag – in Portland during the late June/early July heat wave, the power cables for the streetcars melted. Power plants become less effective – a Portland power company had to install cooling systems to prevent overheating – less energy can be transmitted across the lines and make transformer failures more likely. Heat waves are occurring three times more often, lasting longer, becoming more intense, and the heat wave season lasts an average of 47 days longer.

Extreme single-day precipitation events have risen substantially since the 1980s, and nine of the top ten events have occurred since 1996. Wind and rain can send branches or entire trees crashing into transmission lines and flash flooding can impact facilities in low-lying or coastal areas.

Extreme cold brings a different challenge – ice can build up on transmission lines, and, if it gets cold enough, even gas lines can freeze, as we saw in the polar vortex over Texas in February. The southern states aren’t outfitted for extreme cold, and, while climate change has actually reduced the number of colder days each year, it has created more extreme winter weather events and in regions that previously didn’t experience extremely cold weather.

While producers in traditionally cold regions, like the Mid-west and Central Plains are outfitted to withstand up to 22 degrees Fahrenheit below zero, polar vortexes brought the temperature down to 44 below this February in the Dakotas and Minnesota. In a National Geographic survey, 40 percent of power outages during the winter are caused by trees falling on the lines and 20 percent from animals taking refuge from the cold.

The industry has taken steps to harden the grid and make it more resilient. Spending to improve electric infrastructure reliability, security and resilience increased from $15.9 billion in 2012 to $21.9 billion in 2017 and spending on distribution systems increased by 54 percent over the past 20 years, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Smart grids allow the almost immediate routing of power around problematic areas, avoiding more extensive problems, and collect data on how well the grid is functioning and supply and demand. Hardening the grid and making it more flexible and redundant through microgrids and storage will allow sections of the grid to operate independently during power outages in other sections.

However, the ASCE noted that the grid is aging and gave our energy infrastructure a “C- grade,” noting that much of it has passed the half-century mark that is its usable lifespan and parts of it are even older.

Although the industry has worked to harden the grid by replacing poles and wires, creating ground to sky clearance around transmission lines, moving or elevating equipment in low lying or coastal areas, and upgrading facilities with stronger, more resilient and modern materials, the grid was never built to endure the weather events that are becoming more frequent.

However, there has been push back from regulators who see these necessary fixes as costing members too much, and from property owners, who, among other things, are often against trimming trees back to the extent needed to prevent line damage.

Although trees have many benefits to a homeowner, they also can be dangerous and expensive if not maintained properly – the University of Connecticut Eversource Energy Center has found that 90 percent of power outages were caused by tree failure during storms in the forested Northeast.

The average cost of a small tree trimming job is $85, but for more complicated or larger jobs, the average cost runs $475. DIY tree trimming is only recommended for small trees – nothing requiring a ladder. In fact, DIYers may only make the problem worse and accidently kill the tree, making it a greater hazard. Additionally, while homeowner’s insurance may cover repairs and tree removal following a windstorm, the costs associated with a fallen tree rest on the homeowner, if the tree hasn’t been maintained.

When members lose power because of an errant tree limb, not only are they without lights, they may be without heating or refrigeration or a surge related to extreme weather may damage or destroy an expensive piece of electronics. Low-income members also face having to replace an entire refrigerator’s worth of food, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that food for a family of four costs between $146 to $289 a week. If a homeowner needs to relocated to a hotel, it will cost an average of $186 per night. Being without heating, in particular, is dangerous for seniors and other at-risk members – there was an estimated 700 deaths because of hypothermia in the Texas polar vortex. Most of all, there are a percentage of members who depend on reliable electric to run life-saving devices that provide oxygen or dialysis – more than 1.5 million adults are on supplementary oxygen and thousands on home hemodialysis.

When a power outage occurs, causing members unexpected expenses and potentially putting them at risk, they will first turn to their co-op and expect a quick reconnection. The problem may not be on utility distribution lines, but the member’s connection to the grid. In that case, when they are already dissatisfied, the utility has to educate them about their responsibilities, and some will be unhappy to learn this information in the wake of a power outage. Additionally, they will be without service until they are able to have the connection repaired.

A partnership with HomeServe can provide protection for members – our emergency home repair plans can shield low- and middle-income customers, seniors and other at-risk customers from the financial shock of an unexpected repair and some of the ancillary costs associated with a lack of power, such as food spoilage reimbursement or hotel stays. To learn more about how HomeServe can help co-ops protect their members, contact us.


Improve Satisfaction by Offering Recommendations from a Trusted Advisor

Improve Satisfaction by Offering Recommendations from a Trusted Advisor

Energy providers must look beyond simply supplying a commodity in an industry that is undergoing rapid and unprecedented change. A growing percentage of decision makers, including millennials, are budget conscious, environmentally and socially aware, utilize social media extensively, and are interested in gaining access to innovative companies providing new services and technologies.

The industry is transforming from the bottom up, and consumers expect personalized recommendations that echo their experiences with companies such as Netflix and Amazon, including recommendations based on current and past behaviors. Consumers, especially Millennials, expect the type of energy they want, delivered the way they want it. As the relationship between energy providers and consumers evolves, utilities can leverage their position as trusted advisors to provide the personalized recommendations that consumers have come to expect as part of their consumer service satisfaction model.

Many utilities are choosing affinity partnerships that allow utilities to offer both choices and personalized recommendations as trusted advisors without having to invest man-hours, money and resources into establishing new, separate programs or departments. Home solutions that are fast, convenient and tech friendly are attractive to many utility consumers.

When a resident has an electricity or heating malfunction, they often look to their provider for guidance, and not being able to offer them a personalized recommendation as a trusted advisor is a missed opportunity. Best-in-class energy providers realize the benefits of bringing home repair programs to their residents – and the positive impact it has on customer service satisfaction.

HomeServe offers a full suite of home repair plans that cover electrical service lines, gas service lines, in-home electrical and plumbing, HVAC and water heaters. In the pursuit of excellent customer service, HomeServe uses leading-edge technologies to provide an outstanding experience. Learn about how we use state-of-the-art speech analytics, real-time feedback and field service management solutions to provide customer service satisfaction.


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