“Integrity is doing the right thing. Even when no one is watching.”
—C. S. Lewis
Each September we celebrate Labor Day, a national tribute to the contributions American workers make to the strength and prosperity of our country. This Labor Day, I can’t think of a more meaningful thing to celebrate than the integrity of the employees of YOUR electric cooperative, Big Country EC.
When the weather goes awry and the calls come in, employees who were safe at home often call in to see if there’s anything they can do to help. We’ve had customer service representatives simply show up to help answer members’ calls during a crisis. Nothing is more important than making sure that every member is safe and sound—with the power humming—even during inclement weather. We don’t do this just because it’s our job. We do it because we care about you, our members, who are our friends, family and neighbors. It’s a labor of love and the employees of Big Country EC have the integrity to do it. Integrity is our compass.
And it’s not just when the lights are off that our employees are working hard. Their dedication is evident every day. I’ve known and seen that every day in my eight years at Big Country EC, but never has it been more visible to me than in the last 18 months.
• We have dealt with a nationwide pandemic and had to follow the guidelines assigned by the state and had to shut down or restrict access to our offices for almost a year. Whether answering phone calls and emails from our kitchen tables or crews leaving from lonely offices, we kept your lights on and provided excellent customer service even while most of our employees worked from home.
• An unusually early and crippling ice storm targeted the Big Country in late October 2020, testing Big Country EC and several neighboring utilities, leaving many members and other utilities’ consumers in the dark for hours, days in some instances.
• We dealt with Winter Storm Uri in February 2021—a devastating winter storm that packed a massive cold punch but no ice, and very little snow and wind. The event that lasted four days crippled Texas’ power grid and cost millions of dollars, which will take several years to be repaid. We caught a lot of heat during this storm as did ERCOT. During the storm and in our subsequent monthly publications, we did our best to warn, educate and update our members, which was the best way we could serve you during that event that tested the patience and grit of everyone.
The one thing we have maintained through it all is our integrity. We have been honest about the situations we have faced and the repercussions we have had to deal with. Big Country EC communicated with complete honesty even when the information we had to share was not good news.
Transparency during times like we have faced over the last 18 months is paramount to maintaining trust with you, our members. It is our duty to be honest with you, which is exactly what we have done over not just the last 18 months but for all of our 83 years, and it’s what we will always do.
Although COVID, storms and crises in general have dominated the headlines for the last year and a half, we have made incredible strides across department lines and the many different functions performed by YOUR co-op, all in line with our labor of love to serve you:
• We installed our new Voice Over Internet Protocol phone system at the end of 2019 that allowed our member accounts reps to take the calls using the app on their phones from home.
• Our IT team installed computer equipment at employees’ homes so that they could securely access the billing, accounting and other operational software.
• Members can complete all required documents through our fillable forms on our website through Docusign.
• Payment methods that are available even when our office lobbies were closed include: online through SmartHub from our website, SmartHub app via smartphone, pay-by-phone, mail, dropboxes, recurring credit card and auto draft.
• Members can contact us using Chat on our website and we began using automated phone calls, text messages and emails for member communication.
• A new bill format in June 2020 made your BCEC electric bill easier to read and understand.
• We improved and continue to improve communications to our members especially during outages, when you need it the most, by utilizing Facebook and our website more. We have also begun using text, email and automated phone messaging to reach members about urgent concerns such as power outages.
• We implementated an accounts payable workflow which allows for electronic routing of invoices for approval while simultaneously strengthening internal controls, requiring multiple approvals on large purchases and system defaults to require sufficient documentation.
• We utilized industry experts to analyze our business processes and make recommendation to us for ways we can improve our processes and maximize our software capabilities.
• We continued building a progression plan to continually train employees to progress in knowledge and skills, to ensure continuity of excellent service to our members as seasoned employees retire. This included our lineman training program as well as personal and leadership development to make sure that our employees have not only the technical skills to serve you, but the people skills as well.
• Working closely with your board of directors, we are continually planning for the long-term financial health of BCEC while accommodating significant increases in load, increases in cost of purchased power and rising costs of materials and fixed expenses, etc.
• Our operations and engineering team have been looking at ways to shorten outage times by adding tie lines to connect substations and metering points together. We have some in place already but continue to look at different ways to add more. We recently moved a main feeder line to the road west of Nugent. We increased the size of the line and changed out the transformer and regulators in the Nugent substation to help accommodate the growth we have seen in that area. This also added a stronger feed between our Anson and Nugent service points. Our crews, along with contractors, have also been trimming trees in the Nugent area to decrease potential problems and outages. We are also moving forward with plans for similar improvements across our system and looking at areas where new substations may be warranted to better provide reliable service to all members.
• We are continuing to work on the communications on all our substation and metering points. This will allow us to better manage our SCADA and automated metering system. Our crews continually look for potential problems on our system and many are repaired before they cause outages. We have such a large system that this is part of our everyday work assignments.
• We expanded director elections to allow member voting online, through SmartHub or mail in ballot, for those who would like to vote in advance or are unable to attend the annual meeting of the membership.
You, our members, have been understanding as we responded to COVID and allowed us to serve you in new ways without complaint. You have been patient and understanding as we continue to deal with the aftereffects of Winter Storm Uri. Thankfully, Big Country EC is in an excellent financial position to respond to the additional costs thrust upon us by the unprecedented storm, as compared to other utility organizations throughout the state.
Our power supplier, generation and transmission cooperative Golden Spread Electric Cooperative has been a great partner with us as we navigate through this unique time period. Like Big Country EC, GSEC is in excellent financial position as well. Working together with the other 15 GSEC member cooperatives, we have an attainable plan moving forward.
Your trust in us because of our integrity is valued and appreciated. We know each day we must continue to show integrity by communicating honestly and openly in order to maintain this trust. Big Country EC must also continue to keep our moral principles strong for doing the right thing simply because it’s the right thing to do. Integrity is a trait not very common in our world today but one we at Big Country EC cling tightly to as we continue to move forward. After all, even though our offices will be closed for Labor Day on September 6, if your power goes out, we’ll be on our way to fix it, holiday or no holiday.