Even as regulatory approval is pending for the merger of the community’s two power companies, Murfreesboro Electric Department is staying in touch with its customers to keep them informed on the change and what to expect.
MED sent customers a newsletter with their most recent bills to outline the next steps for its acquisition by Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Corp. Approval by the Tennessee Valley Authority is the next step.
General Manager P.D. Mynatt writes in the newsletter that customers have “nothing to worry about” in “bringing these two great utilities together into one system.”
The newsletter says MTEMC’s rates are similar to MED’s with slight variations; MED customers pay slightly less than co-op customers during mild usage times, while MTEMC members pay a bit less during high usage times, the newsletter says.
Also, MED workers will join MTEMC’s staff, Mynatt said.
The newsletter lists benefits of the merger as including: stability provided by efficiency and elimination of duplication of efforts; access to MTEMC’s 24-hour customer service call center; faster response to power outages; and efficiency by spreading fixed costs across 300,000 accounts.
The Murfreesboro Post conducted a question-and-answer interview by email with Amy Byers, MED’s marketing director.
Q: What are some new features that MED customers will gain access to?
Byers: “MTEMC has a 24/7 call center and constant system monitoring and dispatch from its Systems Control operation. MED does not have anyone that monitors the system after 11 p.m. or on the weekends/holidays. Outside of office hours, we have an answering service that can take calls concerning power issues, but cannot handle any customers service questions.
“MED consumers will gain access to an enhanced mobile app and web portal. MTEMC’s members have access to online account management and outage reporting which includes extra features like text alerts for outage communications, interactive outage map, and the ability to report service issues.
“Murfreesboro’s residents will continue to own the electric system. The changes are from public municipal ownership to cooperative membership ownership. All decisions will continue to be made locally, plus as a co-op member you elect local representatives to serve on the Board of Directors. “Currently, the MED board members are appointed by the City Manager and approved by City Council. MTEMC also has programs for members to provide feedback to the utility like the Cooperative Community Forum and the American Customer Service Index survey. Programs like these allow “Murfreesboro rate payers to have more direct democratic control over their not-for-profit electric utility than with a city-owned municipal utility.
“Murfreesboro students will have the chance to participate in the Washington Youth Tour Creative Writing Contest. High school juniors are encouraged to write an original paper about rural electric cooperatives with winners awarded an all-expense paid, weeklong trip to our nation’s capital and an opportunity to win a scholarship. MTEMC also has a Youth Leadership Summit. High school juniors are recommended by their school counselor based on leadership qualities and community activities to learn more about state legislature by attending an all-expense paid, three-day conference in Nashville. In addition to these programs, Murfreesboro students will have access to STEM based educational opportunities like the Hotline Safety Demonstration Trailer and Educational Touring Theatre.
“MTEMC has a charitable foundation called SharingChange, whose sole purpose is to give back to the communities they serve. MTEMC members donate funds, with 100% of the donations going to local nonprofit organizations. As MTEMC members, Murfreesboro’s nonprofits would be able to apply for these grants. Since 2003, Middle Tennessee Electric’s charitable foundations have distributed more than $10 million to more than 550 local organizations. Members donate monthly to the foundation either by having their bill rounded up to the nearest dollar, or adding a fixed amount each month to their bill, or using both of these options. A group of seven members representing MTEMC's service area serve as the foundation's board. This board makes decisions about disbursements for grant requests. SharingChange also has partnerships with community help organizations to distribute funds that assist people who, because of hardship, are unable to pay their electric bills. MED has the magic dollar program, where customers may elect to add a set amount each month (typically a dollar) to their bill which is passed on to Community Helpers of Rutherford County, which in turn provides assistance to those consumers who are unable to pay their electric bill and face disconnection.
“MTEMC has taken another step in becoming the trusted energy advisor in the valley with the construction of its first Cooperative Solar project in College Grove, TN. The one-megawatt array construction was completed in November 2016, and is currently generating solar power that is being put back on the grid. The Cooperative Solar Program provides access to members who might otherwise be excluded from owning and installing their own solar electricity generation. Obstacles like improper roof orientation, excessive roof shading, restrictive subdivision covenants or landlord prohibitions are often barriers homeowners and renters who want to install solar systems run into.
“MTEMC owns a broadband and fiber company – United Communications – that is already serving Rutherford County.
“MTEMC is also on the cutting edge of technology. They recently installed a Tesla substation-scale battery this summer in an exploration of the benefits of energy storage. They are also bringing online a microgrid (a combination of solar and storage) this year at one of their offices.”
Q: It has been said the employee benefits going to MTEMC will be at least comparable to what they have now. Will it be about the same as now, or do employees receive even better benefits?
Byers: “All MED employees who want to make the transition to MTEMC will have opportunities in positions of equal or higher compensation. The vast majority of MED employees will continue doing exactly what they’re doing now and in the same location.
“MED’s union employees, like line crews, would gain the extra security of a binding contract. By state law, union contracts for municipal electrics are non-binding, but for electric cooperatives like MTEMC, contracts are binding.
“MTEMC and MED are working hard to put together a benefit package that is comparable to what employees currently have. Both organizations offer great employee benefit programs, include paid time off, medical and dental plans and retirement plans. MTEMC has pledged the MED employee’s accrued benefits will be maintained during the transition. Discussions will take place on how we best design the final employee benefit plans and create the new employee benefit programs as we come together.
“MED employees will have more career growth opportunities by providing jobs in professional areas like cybersecurity, business strategy, and energy technology.
“In addition to providing benefits administration, MTEMC’s human resources and corporate services team provide job related legal and safety advice in addition to providing professional development training for employees. Access to these resources improves MED employee’s ability to work out in the field or in their office.”