Customer Service

Power for one, power for all

Access to electricity might be a matter of life or death, national security, or a means to fulfill basic needs such as heating or safe food storage. However, access to electricity can also be fraught with customer concerns over cost, reliability, or environmental impact. Increasingly, utilities’ business decisions — such as conducting public safety power shut offs, selecting a generation mix, or carrying out disconnect policies — are scrutinized for the impact on customers, especially if there is a disproportionate impact on any customer class.

Public power utilities are committed to powering customers through life’s ups and downs. This issue of Public Power Magazine explores utility considerations and programs to serve populations with a variety of needs.

Maintaining a reliable power system is only the first step. Serving each and every customer equally well means that utilities must constantly monitor whether their rates, programs, customer service, and communications are designed to answer a range of needs. As the illustration on the cover conveys, electricity is key to connecting all parts of the community.

A common theme in the articles in this issue is that improving how we serve certain types of customers improves how we serve all customers. Whether this is by becoming more resilient to serve military customers, redesigning rates or programs to reduce inequities, or improving accessibility of information. Utilities can also empower staff to be more compassionate and judge when a situation necessitates a break in policy.

This focus on community and providing the best possible service to all customers is even more important in the face of an increasingly competitive environment. As the American Public Power Association’s new CEO, Joy Ditto, noted in the Q&A, public power utilities are facing threats in the form of new competitors vying to provide an array of energy-related services to our customers. If we can get ahead of the curve, then public power will be the obvious choice for customers.

Our close and careful attention to serving our entire community well, and being a partner in lifting everyone’s quality of life through access to reliable, affordable, and environmentally responsible electricity, is a core advantage of public power. How we define this advantage and our overall value will change, especially as we continue to see the average bundled rates of cooperative and investor-owned utilities come closer to public power’s rates.

The public power model can be an advantage in serving special populations. This is not only because of the resources we are able to access as public, not-for-profit entities, but because of our strong “community-first” culture.