UNITED COOPERATIVE SERVICES A MONTHLY INSERT FOR MEMBERS OF UNITED COOPERATIVE SERVICES. Power Talk. Consumer satisfaction

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1 A MONTHLY INSERT FOR MEMBERS OF Power Talk MEMBER SATISFACTION: ACSI Scores Are Tests, Learning Opportunities Consumer satisfaction research is a two-way street. One direction provides confirmation of a job well done or dissatisfaction with a particular area or experience. It could be considered the members lane. The other direction is a distillation of the research data obtained from the members lane, then doing something about it. That s United s lane and the cooperative takes its responsibility seriously in conducting satisfaction surveys of the membership, then using that data to enhance certain aspects of the organization. Because of the emphasis United s board and employees place on United receives good news in higher satisfaction score, and welcomes member feedback on areas where the cooperative can improve. continual improvement, it was welcome news when the cooperative learned that it improved its American Customer Satisfaction In- Please see ACSI, PAGE 10 INSIDE THIS ISSUE: United sets a rare standard of openness that few businesses equal, especially utilities... PAGE 2 HOLIDAYS ARE THE PERFECT TIME TO USE CO-OP CONNECTIONS CARD, PAGE... 4 UNITED ENERGY AUDITOR SERVES IN HONORARY POST ASSISTANT CEO OF THE WEEK, PAGE... 6 ENERGY STAR STANDARD PROVIDES HON- EST APPRAISAL OF ENERGY SAVINGS TO CONSUMERS, PAGE... 8 RATE WATCH COMPARES UNITED RATES TO OTHER PROVIDERS, PAGE MANAGER S PERSPECTIVE: WHAT HAPPENED TO OUR VISION? PAGE DECEMBER

2 United By MAURI MONTGOMERY IS AN OPEN BOOK You hear a lot about transparency these days about open government, about open meetings, Sunshine Law; and so, too, sincerity, honesty, fairness, ethics, truthfulness, accountability and almost any other virtue that embodies the definition of integrity. Indeed, corporate excess, corruption and deceit has heightened the public s distrust of business any business. Nonetheless, despite the easy rhetoric of officials who wax poetic about transparency, the public is rarely treated to even a simple example of how transparency is applied and practiced within their ranks. United Cooperative Services has tried very hard to set a standard of openness that leaves no room for doubt with its membership: chiefly, to engage and inform members through every cost-effective communications device and medium available to the co-op. While businesses everywhere have shied away from the crow of the political and media roosters even if the sum of their ethics and business standards are not being paraded for inspection United has instead sought critical appraisal from legislators and mainstream media throughout the state and nation. Those efforts have yielded a variety of flattering independent appraisals that have featured United s competitiveness, openness, Power POINT rigor for efficiency, as well as unbridled views of the cooperative s best practices both within the electric industry overall, and among electric cooperatives throughout the nation. United also extended its external communication outreach to members or anyone who cared to learn more about the cooperative through a series of town hall meetings held throughout the co-op s service territory. The meetings provided United and members a forum to discuss co-op initiatives, and any concerns or wishes members might have about United s operations. Time was also allotted in the cooperative s annual business meeting agenda this past October for an open membership question and answer period. CREDIBLE COMMUNICATIONS ATTRACT DIFFERING VIEWS And even though the cooperative regularly reports industry trends and their relationship to cooperative endeavors to control costs to members in the co-op s locally produced PowerTalk member newsletter (inserted within Texas Co-op Power magazine), one of the most repetitive, simple and telling symbols of United s interest in giving United members straight talk about their cooperative is RATE WATCH. The monthly snapshot of current electric rates offered by electric providers within the North Texas market has been published since September 2006 in Texas Co-op Power as a convenient resource to members. The rate comparisons have been a good litmus test for us in gauging how well our members are absorbing the material we distribute to them every month, said United CEO Ray Beavers. We want our members to know what we know, and we have always felt an engaged and informed membership is going to have a better understanding of the challenges we have to address together, chiefly the rising costs associated with electric generation and transmission. Our members let us know when they ve noticed United isn t the lowest rate provider, but they are also keenly aware of our track record for keeping our rates among the lowest for the past several years. And, overall, I believe our members appreciate our candid reports about their cooperative and its work to keep pace with changes occurring within the industry. RATE WATCH is only one reference tool we utilize to help them in that appraisal, he said. As Beavers attests, United publishes the rate comparison an average of the highest and lowest rate plans regardless of whether the co-op is the lowest rate provider. As of November 2009, there were 123 rate plans offered in the deregulated North Texas market, but there were only 28 market participants. More than a few providers offer more than one rate plan, and some frequently market competing rates from within a subsidiary. The deregulated market has also created a flux of many short-lived rate plans and providers. Consistency in our rate is a common refrain in member feedback, said Beavers. One of the most significant examples of how steady United has held its rates is the fact that the cooperative hasn t had an increase in the distribution rate since early Because of our efforts to control costs, we Utility companies, including electric providers, aren t generally renowned for providing their consumers with rate comparisons unless of course, they are advertising they have the lowest rate. United marches to the beat of a different drummer. Please see OPEN BOOK, PAGE 11 2 DECEMBER 2009 DECEMBER

3 P.O. BOX 16 CLEBURNE, TEXAS Holiday Savings Galore Are Yours With Co-op Connections Card Participating Merchants BUSINESS TYPE BUSINESS NAME DISCOUNT PHONE / ADDRESS ACCOUNTING Albert L. Young & Associates 20% discount SW Wilshire Blvd, Burleson Holy Cow Ac*cow*nts Bookkeeping Service Free payroll access to Quickbooks with monthly payroll service ($299/year value!) Kelly Ln., Alvarado AGRICULTURAL Memco Lawn & Ag Irrigation 5% off PO Box 932, Stephenville AUDIO AUTO SALES AUTOMOTIVE Texstar Kubota Deuce And A Half Sound Company Texstar Ford, Lincoln, Mercury Alvarado Paint & Body Burleson Car Wash and Oil Change Burleson Express Car Was Cordy Tire Factory Outlet Discount Wheel & Tire Hood Tire Center Jerry s Windshield Repair Lynn Smith Chevrolet Quicklane $200 additional discount on new or used tractor 10% off installation $200 additional discount on new or used car or truck 10% off (customer pay) repair labor. Free customer shuttle to work/home within 15 miles. All estimates are free $1 off any service $1.00 off any service Free tire rotation & brake check (most cars and trucks) $20 off regular price on any set of 4 new tires. $30 off regular price on any set of 6 new tires. $10 off alignments. Not vaild with any other offers. 5% discount Free estimates on windshield repair and rock chip $10 off normal Lube, Oil and Filter Change Service 10% off any repair over $100, parts & labor included P.O. Box 937, Stephenville SW Wilshire Blvd. Suite Burleson W. Washington, Stephenville South I-35W, Alvarado SW Wilshire Blvd., Burleson NW John Jones, Burleson N Plaza Dr., Granbury Wolfe Nursery Rd., Stephenville N. Plaza Dr., Granbury Byron, Stephenville N. Burleson Blvd., Burleson W. Washington, Stephenville MENTAL HEALTH The Helping Place Sliding Scale Fees E. Washington St., Stephenville CONSTRUCTION A Custom Foundation Repair 10% off repair PO Box 4290, Burleson Wholesale Flooring and Stone 10% off total purchase E. Hwy. 377, Granbury P.O. BOX 16 CLEBURNE, TEXAS BUSINESS TYPE BUSINESS NAME DISCOUNT PHONE / ADDRESS CONSULTING DENTIST Tarleton State Small Business Development Center Anthony W. Sharber, DDS ELECTRICAL Cain Electrical Supply 10% off ENTERTAINMENT FINANCIAL TEC Electrical Contractor Miles Electric Energy Innovation Smart Eco Solutions Granbury Live Edward Jones Investment - Harvey Harper Edward Jones Investment - Janet Hanna Edward Jones- Scott Cox McGowan & Associates Investment Center Renfro Financial 50% off any workshop or seminar. Free start-up business counseling 1) New patient offer including exam, x-rays, cleaning and treatment plan for $100 (regularly $179); (2) Free orthodontic consult for braces ($75 value); (3) Routine check-up visits including exam and cleaning will receive x-rays at NO CHARGE 10% off total service call 10% discount on service calls. 10% off Special rate of $26.52 (last 7 rows) or $30.85 (1st 7 rows) for adults. $16.78 youth (15 and under) and students (16-21) $ Excludes special events and Christmas. Free Retirement Plan Review and/or Free Investment Review Complimentary financial/ portfolio review Free Consultation/ portfolio review Free Consultation Complimentary no obligation financial review. FITNESS Cleburne Fitness Center $50 off enrollment fees FLORIST Joshua Curves Blossom Kingdom Flowers & Gifts 50% off current sign-up fee 15% off regularly priced gifts & cards. 20% off cashand-carry fresh flowers. Patrick s Cleburne Floral 10% off local delivery GLASS Heritage Glass & Mirror 10% discount Quick Glass 10% discount P.O. Box T-0650, Stephenville Spanish Oak Trail,Glen Rose S. Christy, Stephenville Walnut Dr., Alvarado PO Box 679, Venus Matlock Dr, Granbury Granbury Square 4 N. Crocket, Granbury or W. Washington St., Stephenville Fall Creek Hwy., Granbury East Hwy 377, Granbury P.O. Box 5429, Granbury S. Caddo St., Cleburne N. Nolan River Rd., Cleburne Conveyor Dr #2, Joshua N. FM 2353 Possom Kingdom Lake, Graford N. Caddo, Cleburne P.O. Box 1843, Burleson Caddo Peak Trail, Joshua Find a complete list of participating merchants online at 4 DECEMBER 2009 DECEMBER

4 The Thinking BUSINESS HIS WORK ENVIRONMENT IS NORMALLY FOUND IN AN ATTIC OR IN A CRAWL SPACE, but United Energy Conservation Coordinator Seth Rosser got a chance to mesh what he sees every day in the field with new insights he received while serving recently as the co-op s Assistant CEO of the Week, an honorary post manned by United employees twice every year. The following is his essay about the week. By SETH ROSSER As I sit and reminisce about the week I spent with United management and executive staff, one topic seemed to be at the forefront of every conversation. Directly, or indirectly, I began to understand how everything we do at United Cooperative Services correlates with Energy Innovation. I am fortunate to be working for United CEO Ray Beavers, and a staff, who places a strong emphasis on being leaders in The New Energy Innovation Paradigm. Ray is continuously speaking on this topic. At employee meetings, town hall meetings, annual meetings, or just in casual conversation, Ray is always quick to express the challenges that lie ahead. I think he would agree with me when I say it is crucial that cooperatives take a proactive approach in adopting this philosophy. Everyone s collective involvement can make a significant difference. Ultimately, our members are relying on us! The sincerity of the cooperative s focus on this ideal was made clear when I sat in on one of United s board meetings. One topic that made this apparent was a staff report on United s recent American Customer Satisfaction Index scores. When surveying our members, the category for [Reliability] has consistently been one of the top attributes that members sought from their cooperative. However, [Managing Energy Usage] has risen during the last several years to become one of the key drivers of member satisfaction, according to the survey. Obviously, a shift in the mind-set of our members appears to have occurred. They are beginning to subtly ask for help, as many feel powerless in their ability to control their expenses. And their cries for help haven t fallen on deaf ears; United is responding to those needs. Cooperatives must not forget about the founding principles. They must continue to have concern for their community and provide the education and training consumers need to save energy. As the energy conservation coordinator in the communications department, I deal with this first hand. Not only does United perform free residential and commercial energy audits, we continuously seek avenues by which to communicate the need for energy innovation to the membership. Most people do not understand how energy innovation initiatives will help in the future. It is not just a way to reduce energy bills in the present; it can pave the way to lower bills in the future. As the co-op s Assistant CEO of the Week, I was also afforded the chance to attend a board meeting at Brazos Electric Power Cooperative, which is our generation and transmission cooperative. During the meeting, I got to hear a discussion about the building of additional generation capacity. I also got to view the pictures of the plants that are currently in construction. I was amazed how much it costs to build new power plants. In the end, the building of more power plants, in order to increase the availability of power, increases energy prices for everyone. While communicating to the membership the need for energy innovation, I now have a different view on my role at United. The time our corps of energy auditors devote to performing energy audits and communicating to the membership about the ways and means to save energy is not a shallow fix to an immediate problem. Instead, it is essentially laying the foundation of Energy Innovation for many years to come. The United management team reviewed with me the impact our energy audit program is having on our membership. Research has shown that United members who receive an energy audit have decreased their average usage by 100 kwh/ month. At first glance, this may not seem like much. But if you do the math, a stark picture is painted. Last year alone, we performed more than 1,000 audits. If 1,000 audited members reduced their electricity use by 100 kwh/month, then over the course of a year, they would have saved a combined 1.2 million kwh in That s a benefit for the entire membership and hopefully inspiration for others to manage their use. If we could perform audits for just half of our residential members, which is roughly 25,000 members, then that could lead to 2.5 million kwh/month and 30 million kwh/ year that could be saved! Further, if we could multiply those savings by the number of cooperatives that are participating and communicating these initiatives across the state and nation, just imagine how significant such a shift could be. As I stated earlier, cooperatives are uniquely geared to make a significant difference, and I m proud of the fact that United is a leader in such efforts. Not only should distribution cooperatives work together to combat rising energy costs, they must also partner with their generation cooperatives. If these two entities can come up with energy efficiency programs, or even share ideas, this can be beneficial. Here at United we are fortunate to get our power from Brazos Electric Power Cooperative, which has adopted an energy efficiency rebate program to be rolled out in While I shadowed the cooperative s staff, I was able to take a closer look at this program, and I became better aware of why such a rebate program is a necessity. It all boils down to taking care of your membership and looking out for their best interests. The week I spent in this honorary post has better equipped me to explain the nuances involved between United initiatives and the challenges we have today in the electric industry. This experience has enabled me to see our cooperative as a whole, and I now have a greater appreciation of the role Energy Innovation plays at United Cooperative Services. It has certainly enlightened me to the fact that United members are beginning to understand their responsibility for taking ownership in their energy usage, and that together we are providing solutions to rising energy costs that will very likely overwhelm many of the nation s consumers. 6 DECEMBER 2009 DECEMBER

5 ENERGY INNOVATION A Well-Heeled Efficiency Standard By Ed Nunez More than 65 years ago, rural America welcomed a new partnership with electric cooperatives as a means to break away from the blight of a world bound by the limits of candles and kerosene lamps, and hard physical labor. Because no other utilities were willing to offer service to the nation s sparsely populated bread basket, electric cooperatives were the only salvation back then for country folk who clamored for the new resources electricity could provide. The advent of electricity finally brought the wonder of new appliances and machinery that replaced the exhausting tediousness of rural life MODERN CONVENIENCES THAT HAVE ONLY IM- PROVED THROUGHOUT THE TIMES. Parallels can be drawn between pioneering families who endured the Great Depression and whose legendary thrift was born through necessity to consumers today. Just as economics dictated back then, folks today want every dollar to stretch as far as it can. And when it comes to energy, United Cooperative Services is working hard to ensure every member s energy dollar is maximized. A significant portion of those efforts is dedicated to informing United members about energy-saving methods and technologies. Home appliances have come a long way since they were first introduced to cooperative members. As is the case with almost every retail product, consumer demand contributed to the evolution of appliance styles, sizes and types. Consumer preferences and practices have driven manufacturers to design appliances that are capable of doing more while using less energy. In 1992, the ENERGY STAR program was established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The purpose of this government-backed program was to help consumers save money and protect the environment through energy efficient products and practices. As a branding initiative, the Energy Star program has successfully become a trusted appraisal of appliance efficiency, and an important resource for homeowners wishing to compare overall value when purchasing appliances such as refrigerators, dishwashers, and water heaters. ENERGY STAR-compliant products have been tested and certified as offering the same or better performance as equivalent models, while using less energy a certification that has forced every appliance manufacturer to meet similar standards. According to ENERGY STAR, nearly three-quarters of appliance shoppers look for the Energy Star label. Many household appliances have become increasingly efficient since For example, a dishwasher purchased before 1994 could cost as much as $40 more a year to operate than a newer, more efficient, unit. Such savings appear more significant when the average year lifespan of today s appliances is considered. Those savings are also magnified as energy costs increase. Refrigerators manufactured before 1993 typically cost more than $100 a year to operate. Replacing an old refrigerator with a new ENERGY STAR-compliant model could cut the related energy costs by half. And just imagine the savings windfall you could achieve if you retired that old standby refrigerator that is running out in an unconditioned garage. Look for the Yellow Energy Guide Major home appliances must comply with the Appliance Standards Program set by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Manufacturers must use standard test procedures developed by DOE to prove the energy use and efficiency of their products. Test results are printed on a yellow Energy Guide label, which manufacturers are required to display on many appliances. This label estimates how much energy the appliance uses, compares energy use to similar products, and lists approximate annual operating costs. According to the EPA, more than 2 billion Energy Star products have been sold since Last year, those Energy Star appliances saved U.S. household consumers more than $19 billion in energy costs, according to the EPA. Energy Star standards and rules continue to be scrutinized and the government is reportedly looking to strengthen them further. In fact, the yellow label certifications could soon have a new rating structure to help consumers better understand the efficiency of a particular appliance. We understand that there might be a new rating system that would apply a numerical rating in addition to the amount of kilowatt-hours an appliance consumes Please see ENERGY STAR, PAGE 11 8 DECEMBER 2009 DECEMBER

6 Reaching out to the membership in system wide town hall meetings provides forum for hearing member likes, dislikes firsthand. FACE TIME United CEO Ray Beavers fields questions from some United members during a town hall meeting at Possum Kingdom Lake. ACSI continued from PAGE 1 dex (ACSI) score in the third quarter, notching an 87. The score is one point better than the second quarter tally, but more importantly, it showed areas where the cooperative could be more attentive. Specific areas of the survey delve into member sentiments on: Reliable Service Good Value Managing Energy Use Handling Problems Knowledgeable Employees Courteous Service Being Modern/Progressive Commitment to Community Looking Out for Members Best Interests As a comparison from the same quarterly survey, TXU and Reliant Energy each netted scores of 72, respectively, while the industry average was 74. We are pleased that United s employees stepped up their efforts last quarter and led our score higher, but we re very fortunate to serve members who recognize those efforts, he added. While measures of overall satisfaction are extremely important to improving member satisfaction, it is vital that detailed feedback with all aspects of member interaction be obtained so that effective changes can be implemented, said United CEO Ray Beavers. The ACSI, sponsored by the American Society for Quality and administered by the business school at the University of Michigan, tracks consumer satisfaction levels across 43 industries and more than 200 corporations. The third quarter survey showed a change in member sentiment with regards to the dominant drivers of satisfaction. For the first time since United began surveying its members, a service activity other than Providing Good Value was determined to be the most important, supplanted by Managing Energy Use. I think the emphasis United has placed on informing members about ways to waste less energy, and how conservation measures taken today will reap even greater financial benefit as energy prices increase, played a role in the third quarter survey results, said Beavers. Our free home energy audit program isn t just about showing members how to be more energy efficient. It s an opportunity for our employees to communicate on where the industry is headed with regards to costs and how all of us have a role to play in implementing innovative energy solutions, he said. RATE WATCH The rate comparisons shown above represent a portion of all rates offered in the North Texas utility market for the month of NOVEMBER 2009 and do not include new participants who have posted only temporary or introductory rates. Even though they are often lower than the average among all deregulated retail providers, those introductory rates are often short-lived retail enticements and historically, they still track higher than United s rates. A complete comparison of rates offered in Texas electric retail market may be obtained at OPEN BOOK continued from PAGE 3 don t anticipate another rate increase for the foreseeable future, whereas many of our for-profit competitors have had more than a few during the same time frame, he added. While United Cooperative Services isn t part of the deregulated market, like utilities which operate under the oversight of the Public Utility Commission (PUC), it does regularly compete toe-to-toe with regional investor-owned utilities and retail electric providers in dual-certification service areas drawn by the PUC. In singlecertification service zones drawn by the PUC zones granted to only one provider customers served by deregulated utilities can choose their electric provider. United members may not have such an option, but they are owners in their utility company and they have a voice in their cooperative s governance and direction. This ownership stake in the business is demonstrated every fall when United distributes member dividends to the membership in the form of either a check (if $20 or greater) or as a bill credit on a member s monthly statement. That United was formed to provide reliable electric service at the lowest possible cost to those who have ownership in the company is a story worth telling. That such a business model and relationship is thriving when so many other negative stories are dominating the public s purview of business today, is a story worth revisiting over and over again with United members; local, regional, state and national media, legislators and the entire electric utility industry, alike. And United s interest in telling that story to anyone who is willing to listen is one of the secrets of United s success. Contrary to the rule that so often provokes public, journalistic and legislative outcry these days, United Cooperative Services enthusiastically welcomes the opportunity to discuss its best practices and the merits of the cooperative business model. ENERGY STAR continued from PAGE 9 on an annual basis, said United Vice President of Communications Marty Haught. We re supportive of any measure that helps consumers and our members waste less energy, he added. Stimulus Bill Incentives There are two avenues available to consumers who are seeking financial incentives under the current Stimulus Bill for making energy efficient home improvements. There are federal tax credits available for energy efficiency upgrades. The tax credits are for 30 percent of the cost, and are capped at $1,500 per household. Be aware that only certain efficiency measures qualify for these tax credits. Information on availability and filing can be found on According to DOE, expect to see ENERGY STAR rebates available for appliances in Details for the rebate program are slated to be provided by the end of Each state will develop its own rebate program, and will have the flexibility to select which appliances to include, as well as what rebate amounts to offer. We take our role seriously when it comes to keeping our members informed about energy conservation and industry issues, said Haught. As soon as we learn what Energy Star rebates are available to Texans, we will let our members know, he said. 10 DECEMBER 2009 DECEMBER

7 POWER TALK Ray Beavers, CEO What Happened to Our Vision? There seemed to be a time not so long ago when our nation seemed to have a clear idea of its direction, and faith that the journey be fruitful. It was the spirit of a people willing to go to any length to make our hopes, our dreams and our visions become realities. I even seem to recall a time when there were collaborated efforts to make things happen. Gee, I guess I thought that was the way a democracy and a unified nation dealt with all the challenges we have faced since the birth of this country. Was I just naïve, or did my parents and teachers tell me wrong? Have we been, or are we now a nation of selfindulgent individuals who miss no opportunity to set our own agendas above what is right ignoring the needs of the many to benefit the few, or the one? No, I still believe we are a nation of character and honor. But I also believe we Americans have lost some of our desire to develop the vision and the gumption necessary to meet the unprecedented challenges we are facing today. Before we can set our vision for the future, we have to agree on what the problems are. If we can t see any problems, we can t fix any. For illustration, think about looking through framed piece of glass. It s essentially a window to the world. When you look through it, you can clearly see the complete surroundings. Ask someone else to look through that glass, and chances are they will see the same images, or vision as you did. Then you both can discuss what you saw and how you each interpret the vision. It is likely you can both agree what is really there. Sounds simple doesn t it? Now, let s complicate this example somewhat. Let s suppose that you try to look through the glass again, but this time a piece of Have we been, or are we now a nation of selfindulgent individuals who miss no opportunity to set our own agendas above what is right ignoring the needs of the many to benefit the few, or the one? dark material has been affixed to the back of the glass. What do you see then? The material has caused a reflection. You are standing in front of a mirror. I am equally amazed and frustrated that, today, when great vision is such an imperative for our nation, we seem more inclined to look at our reflection in the mirror, rather than trying to look through a clear pane of glass to see the challenges before us, and then react to them. I am particularly concerned about the convenient self-delusion that rages today among corporate and political debates in regard to the nation s energy policy. Wouldn t it be refreshing to see our national leaders come together and look at our challenges from the same perspective (the long view) for a change, instead of bringing to the debate the same self-centered and personal biases that habitually shackle meaningful dialogue and honest answers to our challenges. More often than not, though, the real power to get things done comes from us, anyway as voters, business owners, business leaders, and volunteers on boards and councils. When we finally feel enough is enough, that s when we will no longer be willing to accept any backing on the glass we are looking through. We will keep that glass clean enough so we all can see the same challenges, and then we will answer them with a common vision. We have too much at stake to continue to allow self-serving actions of those who are interested only in their reflection. What happened to our vision? Nothing, we just need to start looking through the same glass. 12 DECEMBER 2009

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