Powering Strong Communities
Community Engagement

Customer Academies Offer Public Power Utilities Unique Way to Connect with Communities

A growing number of public power utilities are giving their customers a ground level view of their operations through Customer Academies, which give customers a unique opportunity to deepen their understanding of how their local utility works.

In Missouri, Carthage Water & Electric Plant in April wrapped up its first-ever Customer Academy.

Throughout the month of April, 30 CWEP customers volunteered for the unique opportunity to participate in weekly sessions with CWEP professionals. The sessions were led by Chuck Bryant, General Manager of CWEP, with the assistance of various CWEP employees representing their individual departments.

“We knew we wanted to keep the attendance small to facilitate question and answer sessions, so we did not heavily advertise the academy beyond social media posts,” he said.

Prior to the CWEP Customer Academy’s launch, the utility set up a dedicated webpage where customers could learn more about the academy and apply to be a participant.

The focus of the first session was on CWEP’s Tech department, both internal IT operations as well as the internet services the utility provides to its community -- and the background of how it ended up providing those services.

The second week tackled water/wastewater treatment, distribution, and collections.

The electric session was the third session and discussed CWEPS’ distribution system and power plant, “our generation mix, and a discussion about SPP and how the market impacts our local decision-making,” Bryant said.

The academy offered attendees a “behind-the-scenes” look at their local utility, “answering their questions and deepening their understanding of the utility world. Hopefully, we gain some ambassadors through the process who can help spread the word about the work that goes on at CWEP,” Bryant said.

The Customer Academy sessions concluded on April 24 with tours of CWEP’s historic Power and Water Treatment plants. At the Power Plant, staff powered up one of CWEP’s nine generating engines, showing customers how the energy is synced to the grid.

Customers were also offered a live look at CWEP’s dispatch station to see how CWEP uses technology to quickly respond to and restore electric outages.

“We have thoroughly enjoyed our time over the past month with this first round of Customer Academy participants and we appreciate the overwhelming support from all who attended,” said Bryant. “The participants asked great questions and staff enjoyed getting to share their knowledge and experience with the group. We look forward to hosting more Customer Academies in the future.”

Turlock Irrigation District

In California, Turlock Irrigation District launched the inaugural TID Customer Academy in October 2022 and hosted the second cohort in the spring of 2023, Lisa McMullen, Communications Specialist for the utility, told Public Power Current in late 2023.

TID promotes the TID Customer Academy program on its website, through bill inserts “and we utilize our social media platforms during the open application period,” McMullen said.

TID’s Customer Academy hosted its third cohort in spring 2024 and utilized its social media channels to post photos of the graduating class.

“Congratulations to the 2024 Class of TID’s Customer Academy! This group of community members got a special look at TID’s operations during the five-week program – including educational presentations from TID employees and a tour of TID facilities,” the utility said in an April 25 post on X.

“TID is proud to offer an inside look into our operations through the Customer Academy program. Customers hear from our talented team and learn about the value of their community-owned utility,” said Michelle Reimers, General Manager, Turlock Irrigation District.

TID Customers Detail Benefits of Customer Academy

“I was honored to be a part of a group of customers who got an ‘inside look’ into the internal operations of TID. Being a farmer in the district for over 30 years, it was fascinating to dive into the different departments within TID and meet the people who manage and run those departments,” said Scott Severson, a farmer and 2022 Customer Academy participant.

“I left with a great appreciation of TID and the staff. I have a huge sense of pride to be part of this district,” said Chris Fisher, Municipal Services Director, 2023 Customer Academy participant.

“I became much more aware of the hard work TID does in providing the best rate for rate payers while balancing both economic and environmental concerns.  I have already used my newfound knowledge of TID’s efforts in my own work,” said Robin Kloepfer, Management Analyst and 2024 Customer Academy Participant.

“I am totally impressed with the complexity of delivering water and power to the community, and how well TID accomplishes this. It is amazing that the first irrigation district in the state has grown to be an important utility in our region, and has connections beyond. I sincerely appreciate the opportunity to engage with TID, and to learn about all aspects of their operation,” said Alison McNally, Professor and 2024 Customer Academy Participant.  

New Braunfels Utilities

Texas public power utility New Braunfels Utilities’ NBU University program offers a series of once-a-month classes, for five months, at various NBU facilities for the utility’s customers. The program enables participants to better understand how the utility operates.

“Have you ever wondered what happens behind the scenes at New Braunfels Utilities? NBU University is a dynamic program designed to give attendees a better understanding of the inner workings and processes of their community-owned utility company,” the utility notes on its website.

Enrollment in the program is offered to 25 current NBU customers. 

This year’s program began with an introductory mixer where students learned essential functions and general knowledge about New Braunfels Utilities.

The following classes focus on one of the three utility services (electricity, water, and wastewater) NBU provides and what it takes to deliver them day in and day out and the program concludes with a detailed look into the future of NBU.

Lakeland Electric

In Florida, Lakeland Electric, a public power utility, recently completed its 2024 Customer Academy.

The utility offered four sessions starting in late March that covered the following areas: utility overview, power generation and utility solar, energy delivery and customer service.

In an April 12 Facebook post, the utility posted photos of a tour of a utility power plant that Customer Academy participants took part in.