For the past three-and-a-half decades, the American Public Power Association and our members have celebrated Public Power Week during the first full week of October. It is a time to highlight the unique attributes and benefits of not-for-profit, community-owned electric utilities. During Public Power Week, publicly owned utilities find special ways to celebrate with their communities, including parades, barbecues, festivals, rides in bucket trucks, safety demonstrations, community service projects, and customer appreciation events. Public Power Week is focused on the customers and communities served by public power utilities across the nation. Efforts also reach local, state, and regional government officials, local news, and community influencers. The idea is to promote an understanding and appreciation of how the residents of these communities can better engage with their community-owned utility and benefit from all its offerings.
The key messages of Public Power Week are that public power utilities:
- Provide excellent and responsive customer service in their communities.
- Care about local jobs and supporting the local economy.
- Are uniquely accountable to their communities due to local governance (typically utility boards or city councils) and not distant shareholders.
- Focus on the specific needs of their communities.
An Amplified Message
In 2021, we focused the celebration around “the people behind public power” — utility employees who work tirelessly to keep their communities running 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We wanted to give attention and appreciation to the always-on, first-response nature of the work our members and the public power workforce perform. Their efforts were especially notable as utilities successfully kept the power flowing throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, balancing the safety and health of employees with the needs of customers.
Afterward, APPA President and CEO Joy Ditto lauded "the incredible level of participation in Public Power Week. You embraced this year's theme … and celebrated Public Power Week in your communities on a scale larger than we've ever seen before! … Thank you for everything you did to make this year's Public Power Week one of the best!"
The large scale of member participation was evident as utilities from across the country joined in the festivities. Participating utilities represented communities of varying sizes, from small towns such as Princeton, Minnesota, with less than 5,000 people, to small cities like Richmond, Indiana, and Lakeland, Florida, to large cities like Austin, Texas, and Los Angeles, California.
In measurable terms, the social media metrics demonstrate the breadth and depth of participation. On Twitter, 295 organizational and individual accounts engaged using the #PublicPowerWeek hashtag, including 168 different member utilities. Most of the social engagement came from public power utilities but also included posts and retweets from the U.S. Department of Energy, many mayors, state lawmakers, the governor of Missouri, and a commissioner of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
This year, the focus is energy education for the next generation of public power customers in schools and throughout the community.
Create Your Own Spin
The variety of ways that public power utilities celebrate demonstrates the myriad and highly localized preferences of each community they serve. This local focus underpins the history and inception of public power – local communities deciding to take their economic future into their own hands by providing electric service.
On any given day, Bay City Electric Light & Power [Michigan] powers countless connections. We power the charger that allows families to FaceTime, the refrigerator that keeps the kids' lunches cool, and the ‘open’ signs at local businesses. Most days we don’t see the results of our hard work as a Diamond-designated Reliable Public Power Provider. That’s why we savor the smiles and appreciation our community provides on Public Power Day! Over the years we have welcomed thousands of community members to our Service Center – taking them for rides in a bucket truck, making them wide-eyed with our safety demonstration, giving them a tour of our peaking plant, and educating them about ways to save energy. While our Public Power Day events are designed to give back to our community, in the end, we all win. Public Power Day is a great reminder of why we climb a pole when it’s zero degrees outside, why we are constantly working to trim trees near power lines, and why we answer the call for a power outage at 2 am. Our family, friends, and neighbors power us!
Marshfield Utilities [Wisconsin] has celebrated Public Power Week in a variety of ways over the years, but more recently had held a public gathering with many hands-on activities. When the COVID pandemic began, we knew we needed to come up with something different that eliminated potential exposure but still engaged the public. We decided to take part in the popular activity of painting and hiding rocks at local parks, which exploded during COVID as it is a safe, family-friendly activity. Our community has an online group for posting and sharing. We painted three rocks, hid them at local parks that had a connection to the utility, and put out clues on social media. We then invited people to post pictures of themselves with the rocks. Participants received gift certificates that could be used at any business in town, putting money into the local economy at a time when local businesses were hurting. The event was very well received.
The city of Lompoc [California] is proud to provide electricity for our community. Many of our award-winning electric division employees grew up in Lompoc and have deep ties to this area. Our electric employees take a great deal of pride and care in the work they do, and we wanted to convey this pride to the community during Public Power Week 2021. We showcased employees working in different capacities to provide power services to our city. From an office staff assistant to apprentice and veteran line workers and a conservation coordinator, we highlighted the important ways our electric employees serve the community. This outreach was accomplished through a social media campaign on our city’s Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts that drew likes, shares, and supportive comments during Public Power Week 2021. Each day, we shared a different employee’s photo and story, with quotes from the employee about their favorite part of the job. We are proud to provide public power and proud of our electric employees, and it was great to connect with the community over that shared appreciation.
JEA, in Jacksonville, Florida, developed its “YOUtility” campaign to educate customers — both residential and commercial — about all the ways that the community-owned utility serves their needs through customer programs, investments in the community, and sustainable operations. The campaign provided a personal look at the ways customers experience the JEA service offerings across five topics: economic development, community impact, customer solutions, environmental sustainability, and reliability. The multi-channel campaign told real stories from customers, employees, and partners to demonstrate real-life examples of how customers can benefit from a deeper relationship with the utility.
No Starting from Scratch
Many members avail themselves of the sample resources and templates APPA provides to co-brand and spread the word and help celebrate in their communities. Visit our Public Power Week page year-round to view these resources, which are typically updated in late summer for the upcoming Public Power Week.Materials include:
- Press release templates
- Sample op-eds
- Sample proclamations for local governments
- Coloring sheets
- Sample social media posts
- Graphics and logos
Joy Ditto also hosted a video and podcast in November 2021 featuring representatives of Okanogan County PUD in Washington state and Greenville Utilities Commission in North Carolina who discussed their Public Power Week participation and how to engage customers and communities year-round.
APPA also shares what member utilities post on our Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram accounts, providing a national platform to amplify local messages. We email monthly social media resources to our members, including safety tips, seasonal tips, holidays, public power milestones, and other content to help you engage your customers. Email [email protected] to subscribe.
Public Power All Year Long
It’s never too early or too late to celebrate public power in your community. Here are just a few ideas for campaigns throughout the year.
Anniversaries. Because public power has been around for a long time, a lot of public power utilities are hitting major anniversaries these days, including the 75-year and 100-year mark of being founded. An anniversary is a perfect time to remind customers of where and why your utility began operating, who were the people behind the founding of your utility, your progress and growth, and how you continue to benefit your community.
Holidays and Seasons. There are 11 federal holidays plus many recognized unofficial days we celebrate, including Super Bowl Sunday, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and the Day of Giving. There are the starts of Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter. In addition, there are more general seasons like spring break, summer vacation, and back to school. You get the idea. They all add up to a lot of opportunities to tell your story and relate it to what your customers are experiencing and – in the case of the holidays – celebrating.