Communications and Customer Care
Bills and Rates

Rates: Time for "the talk"

Public power keeps the rates low and the lights on, right? Like your counterparts, perhaps you, too, have gone years without a rate increase. But that does not mean you don’t talk about rates at all. Consider what other utilities like yours are doing to underscore that public power costs less.

Chris Gent at Kissimmee Utility Authority in Florida said, “Because we’ve gone 13 consecutive years without a rate increase, we’ve been fortunate that we’ve only had to communicate about rate stability and our low costs. We use all of our communication channels — local media, online, social — to share this message.”

Lincoln Electric System in Nebraska, the 100 percent public power state, has been creative in communicating about rates. Kelley Porter explains that the utility hosts an annual public meeting during Public Power Week prior to its board voting on LES’ budget and rates. The utility has a video on how rates are made, a digital open house with materials, and an online bill calculator. Of note is its BIG10 campaign, an outstanding example of an engaging way to talk about rates.

Suzanne Hartman at Chelan PUD in central Washington said the utility likes to tell customers how it is able to keep rates low because the PUD is a net wholesaler of power - and that keeps the PUD's retail rates for local residential and commercial customers among the lowest in the U.S. “It’s important to us that our customer owners know the impact of energy markets on their rates. And rates are always part of the annual budget discussion. In our bimonthly customer newsletter we frequently spend a little time talking about rates and what goes into a residential rate.

Hartman counsels putting rates in context for customers. “The more real you can make the discussion — that is, by putting electric rates into some perspective with other costs (and increases in cost of other consumer items during a similar period of time), the better customers are able to understand the relative impact.”

Don’t forget to reach out to your commercial and industrial customers, too. Athens Utilities in Tennessee issues a monthly news release that details the monthly change in the fuel cost adder, how it relates to the base rate, and the resulting effective rate for the month. These news releases also speak in general about rates and any relevant measures by the Tennessee Valley Authority, their wholesale power supplier. “Every time there is a TVA rate change or wholesale move, I provide our large commercial and industrial customers the details about the change and drivers and well as mock billing spreadsheets that show the effect on their bills,” said Wayne Scarbrough at Athens Utilities.