By South River EMC Executive Vice President & CEO Chris M. Spears
I want to wish all of you a blessed New Year. I also want to take a moment to update you on your local electric cooperative.
Everyone agrees that 2020 was a difficult year and a year like no other due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I suspect most of us did not anticipate what has followed since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic last March. Many were hopeful that we would be much farther ahead by this time. Unfortunately, we still have troubled waters ahead, at least for a while longer. Coronavirus cases are at peak levels and so are hospitalizations. As South River EMC has been making its way through this storm, our focus has been on you, our member owners.
Some of the responses to the pandemic and its impact on our member owners include the following: The Cooperative stopped making service disconnects for nonpayment of electric bills even before being mandated to do so. Once the moratorium on disconnects expired, South River EMC allowed even more time before resuming non-pay disconnects. We supported Governor Cooper in allowing members six months to catch up on COVID-19 balances that became past due during the moratorium on disconnects. We put some projects on hold and made other adjustments to better manage the financial impact on the Cooperative. Capital credits were retired early in an effort to assist members who would benefit from receiving their retirement earlier in the year. Furthermore, we took steps to protect our employees so that they could keep the lights on and be available to serve you. Looking ahead to 2021, we developed a budget that is slightly below the 2020 budget and the construction work plan for 2021 is about $2 million less than in 2020. These initiatives will keep rates stable and should help to avoid a rate increase for the eighth year in a row.
You may be interested in how well the Cooperative is performing. To begin with, I will cover member satisfaction as of the third quarter of 2020. Overall satisfaction is 8.94 on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the highest. The areas of highest performance are restoring electric service when the power goes out at 9.15, providing reliable service at 9.13 and having competent and knowledgeable employees at 9.07. The areas of lowest performance are having a goal to provide the lowest possible costs at 8.25, helping you learn to manage your energy use at 8.36 and providing a good value for the money you spend at 8.42. I would add that the scores for lowest performance are not what I would consider bad scores, they just happen to be the lowest. Another benchmark used to gauge member satisfaction is the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI). South River EMC’s ACSI score for the third quarter of 2020 was an 87. As a comparison, the ACSI for the top municipal system in the country was 73 and the top investor owned utility was 76. Therefore, your locally owned and controlled electric cooperative is outperforming the best municipal systems and investor-owned utilities in the country by a wide margin. These are very good scores and I commend our outstanding team of employees for the excellent service that they provide to you.
We know that reliability is extremely important and we have improved in that area as well. The Cooperative utilizes the System Average Interruption Duration Index (SAIDI) to measure performance pertaining to reliability. Excluding major storms such as hurricanes, South River EMC has achieved a 38.25 percent reduction in the average SAIDI for the last five years, which is significant. The need for overtime has also come down.
Concerning our commitment to community, in 2020, through member participation in the Operation Round Up program, $190,638 was made available to 28 not for profit organizations. The Bright Ideas grant program provided 39 grants to local schools and educators, which totaled $70,121. Additionally $50,000 from the Helping Hands fund was also made available to local community action agencies to assist members with their electric bills.
As we look ahead to 2021, it could very well be spring, or possibly summer, before most Americans have an opportunity to take advantage of the COVID-19 vaccine. Recent reports indicate that it could be the end of the summer before herd immunity is established. Until then, our ability to operate closer to normal will most likely be limited. In November, due to serious increases in those testing positive for COVID-19 and increased hospitalizations along with guidance from the NC Department of Health and Human Services, South River EMC began taking appointments only, once again, in our lobbies. Nonetheless, the drive-through windows remain open. Actually, today, you can take care of pretty much all of your business online or by telephone. We even began offering virtual appointments last year and implemented a chat function as well. When it is safe to do so, we will open the lobbies with no restrictions.
2021 will have its own challenges and opportunities. Nonetheless, I believe we will prevail if we keep the faith, remain hopeful and continue to work together. Thankfully, vaccines have been developed in record time and are being distributed. An appropriate Bible verse I would like to share is from Romans 12:12 - “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” I join many of you in praying that all will remain safe, healthy and well as we make our way through the COVID-19 storm.
As I conclude, I want to express my appreciation for the opportunity to serve as your CEO. Please know that I am here to serve you. Therefore, I want to invite your comments and suggestions. You can email me at CEO@sremc.com. You are also welcome to call me at the office at 910-892-8071.