To the casual observer, it may seem that people in today's world are increasingly isolated — more engaged with their smartphones than with each other. But we're actually riding a growing back to the community wave. Many of today's communities are virtual — we have Facebook friends, LinkedIn connections, WhatsApp chat groups, neighborhood listservs, fantasy sports leagues, and even online book clubs. People unite around common causes and common interests.
But we're also seeing a trend back toward physical communities — in towns and even big cities across America. People care about what happens in their communities. It's all about making connections, about buying and eating local, about shared stewardship of the environment. It feels like it's back to the future — with a 21st-century twist.
We in public power can be a vital part of these 21st-century communities. Together, public power utilities serve one in seven Americans. We need to recognize and double down on our strength. Our strength is that we are organized at the community level. Our strength lies in the power of community — in our ability to work together to accomplish what we cannot do alone. Public power IS community power.
The challenges and changes are coming at us from all sides. You'll read about some of them in this magazine — electricity markets, electric vehicles, customer service, new technologies, and raising awareness of public power.
We have our work cut out for us as we take on these and other changes. But we have an advantage. We already have the community connection that large, for-profit utilities are spending big advertising and consulting bucks to get. We don't just provide electricity and send the bills from remote corporate headquarters. And we don't put the interests of shareholders ahead of our customers. We live and work with our customers. We see them at the supermarket. We see them at church. Our mission is to serve them. Many public power utilities show this by sponsoring programs that go way beyond providing electricity — farmer's markets, movie nights, and bike share programs, just to name a few.
Peter Fox-Penner says in his book Smart Power that distributed generation and smart grids will favor community-scale resources located closer to load. He thinks public power utilities, owned by their communities, are facing a unique, back-to-the-future moment. He is right, and we need to seize the moment.
We need to get ahead of our retail customers and offer them the services they will want. Because they will soon expect of us what they now expect of Amazon, Uber or Google Maps — instant access and seamless service, along with expert guidance on the available options. We owe it to them to provide this level of service — after all, they own us.
Let's work together to become the trusted energy service providers in our communities.