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Co-ops Explore Service and Change at TEC Member Services Conference

December 5, 2016

Increasing competition, the shift to digital platforms and declining rural populations present challenges for electric cooperatives. The Texas Electric Cooperative Member Services Conference, Oct. 25–28, 2016, brought 151 participants together to explore ways to turn those challenges into service opportunities.

"I'm not sure this electric utility business is a natural monopoly anymore," said Mike Williams, TEC president and CEO, explaining that any technology that makes or saves electricity is a market contender. "It could be this is an opportunity and not so much of a threat. ... It's an opportunity to serve our members in new and different ways."

Alyssa Clemsen-Roberts, vice president of communications and business services at Pedernales EC, urged co-op leaders to help the 4 in 10 rural Americans who lack broadband internet access. "We are at the same point in rural America that we were at in the 1930s and '40s when we started looking at rural electrification," she said.

During a panel discussion on economic development, Sarah McLen described Big Country EC's participation in U.S. Department of Agriculture loan and grant programs that helped the community attract an industrial manufacturer, build a health care facility, and keep a local newspaper. It "helped grow awareness that we are about the communities that we serve," McLen said.

Advanced metering infrastructure allows co-ops to offer prepaid metering. "It suits the financial lifestyle of many of our members," said panelist Keith Stapleton of Sam Houston EC, which started offering prepaid metering in June 2016. "It gives control and responsibility to the member."

During a session on social media, Chelsea Beauchamp with Bluebonnet EC said that social media builds goodwill so that when emergency or problem situations come up, co-ops and members are on the same team. Fellow presenter Brianna McQuien of CoServ emphasized the importance of meeting members where they are, which for many, is on Facebook.

Also during the conference, registrants chose among breakout sessions on community solar, geothermal energy and net-zero housing. Other topics included crisis communications, the basics of writing, and updates from Touchstone Energy and Straight Talk. The conference also featured an Idea Fair and Exhibit Show, where co-op representatives and vendors showcased products and proud accomplishments.

View conference photos here.