Survey shows boost in co-op consumer confidence


Steve Freese, President and CEO

When back-to-back snowstorms hit Wisconsin electric cooperatives in the central and northern parts of the state recently, the timing was bad, and the conditions were worse. The first storm rolled in just before the Thanksgiving holiday, which means many co-op employees were not watching football and sleeping off the turkey and fixings—they were at work. Linemen logged long days restoring power, and just when the job was almost complete—the next storm hit. 

And these weren’t the mild-type storms. These storms brought high winds, stinging sleet, and mainly heavy, wet snow that weighed down the trees and brought down lines from Eau Claire to Ogema to Stiles. Eventually, power was fully restored, and many members in the communities they serve responded with much gratitude and appreciation. In a word, they were thankful.

Wisconsin’s electric cooperatives work hard to provide safe, reliable electricity, and as member-owned organizations, they are also an integral part of the community. A dedication to open communication and transparency every day of the year helps build the foundation for a trusting relationship. A newly released survey shows the people on the front lines at our electric cooperatives are getting it right.

A recent national survey commissioned by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and conducted by Frederick Polls finds big gains in electric co-op consumer confidence, compared to just one year ago. 

In the survey, 84 percent of consumer members say their electric co-op keeps them informed about its actions, and 83 percent said it is a trusted source for information about energy use and devices, including solar (both up 5 points from 2018). Eighty-three percent of members say their co-op is a partner in understanding energy technologies and controlling electricity costs, up from 73 percent last year.

Other positive data shows co-ops holding steady with prior surveys on overall job performance (93 percent positive), providing reliable service (95 percent positive), and quickly restoring service after outages (92 percent positive).

Most respondents (56 percent) say their household electric bills are “about right” or “a bit low” versus 41 percent who say their bills are “too high.” Fifty-seven percent say they would be loyal to their co-op even if allowed to choose a provider whose “price is slightly lower.” Even more (69 percent) would be
loyal to the co-op over a competitor with no price difference.

Questions about political engagement show a majority of members feel their co-op should encourage people to vote (75 percent), should send updates about government actions impacting co-ops (69 percent), and should ask members to contact elected officials on co-op issues (59 percent). Nearly all (96 percent) say they will vote in the 2020 elections.

And despite reports of economic troubles in rural America, 75 percent of those who described themselves as “rural” say their local economy is strong.

Finally, respondents in the survey overwhelmingly said electric co-ops are one of the most stable and longest operating members of local small town and rural America communities and as such, have a crucial role to play helping strengthen the local economy. 

Heavy, wet snow pulls power lines nearly to the ground. Photo courtesy of Alex Glomski and Kris Dubiel, Eau Claire Energy Cooperative.

The positive results of this annual survey, and the reaffirming appreciation electric cooperatives receive directly, such as feedback received after the recent storms, is a testament to the men and women who work so hard to build the trust of consumer members. 

One consumer posted to Oconto Electric Cooperative: “We are secluded with hard to reach power lines and they got us back on tonight!!! Thank you! Thank you!!

Another said to Washington Island Electric Cooperative: “Thank you to all the WIEC employees, you do an amazing job under less than desirable circumstances! 

To Eau Claire Energy Co-op, “Love our linemen! Thanks for all your hard work! Be safe!

We are thankful for the co-op employees who didn’t get to spend Thanksgiving with their families this year. We are thankful for all of our members for their support. We are thankful not just to serve local communities, but to be part of local communities. And we are thankful for all of consumer members.

(The telephone survey, which has been conducted annually for the past six years, polled 750 co-op consumer-members in mid-July. It has a margin of error of 3.6 percent.)