volume 66 - issue 5 - may 2016
Staying connected—the Cooperative difference
The community of Southern Maryland is living the cooperative difference. Cooperatives provide at-cost electric service to their customer-members—every home and business the cooperative serves. In a cooperative, net margins are used as working capital to improve operations. Any net margins the cooperative retains are returned to the customer-members as capital credits. Investor-owned utilities operate differently. They strive to maximize profits for shareholders, most of whom do not even live in the territory the utility serves.
In 2014, SMECO's margins totaled $8,428,000, and those margins were allocated to capital credit accounts in March 2015. A general refund of $1.52 million, an amount based on a percentage of all customers' capital credit accounts, was issued to members in the summer of 2015.
The difference is clear—members are the core of a cooperative.
Because our customers are our members, staying connected with them is our top priority. We stay connected by offering programs and services that are valuable to our members: Patriot Connect, a service for military personnel and veterans; WattPlan, an online tool for customers interested in solar power; and SMECO 24/7, a service customers use to make payments and report outages using their smart phone or mobile device.
Throughout the year, SMECO continued its efforts to stay connected with its members by improving the customer experience—introducing new technologies and new programs to benefit our members, building on a base of reliable service through upgrades to the electric system, and refining business processes to ensure a lean operation.
Because providing high-quality, valuable service is an essential part of staying connected with our members, reducing overhead and cutting costs are important considerations. SMECO made great strides in 2015 to reduce expenses. We refinanced loans totaling approximately $363 million to save more than $50 million in interest over the life of those loans. The Cooperative also took steps to reduce the workload and costs of maintaining its fleet by eliminating some of its vehicles.
Customer feedback tells us that these efforts to save money and provide high quality customer service are making a difference. SMECO won its eighth consecutive J.D. Power award for customer satisfaction in 2015. The Cooperative also received a fourth ENERGY STAR Partner of the Year award and an Alliance for Workplace Excellence EcoLeadership award in recognition of its commitment to renewable energy, environmentally sustainable workplaces, and efficient use of resources.
As we move forward, we will continue to seek ways to improve and enhance our customer service and reliability.