Over the past few years, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of scams targeting utility consumers’ pocketbooks. In one, a caller posing as a representative of your electric cooperative threatens to shut off service unless you provide immediate payment using a reloadable debit card, prepaid gift card or online payment service like PayPal. That’s not the way your locally owned electric cooperative operates. Education and communication help reduce the number of victims, but some still fall prey.
There are other attempts to take your money that fall somewhere between scams and shady dealings. Many legitimate products such as programmable thermostats, energy-efficient appliances and timers truly help you manage and lower your energy use. But when the first pitch is “What the Electric Companies Don’t Want You to Know,” there is a good chance the product’s claims may be questionable. The implication is that all electric utilities are out to take as much of your money as we can. The seller claims to have a product that will lower your electric bill. And you will, of course, have to use some of those promised savings to purchase the device.
Fact: We want you to have a lower electric bill. Member-owned, nonprofit electric cooperatives operate on margins that don’t include paying dividends to investors. Every dollar taken is used for running the system or reinvested back into the poles and wires you own.
If there are energy-saving devices out there that can cut your electric bill, we want you to know about them. Electric cooperatives frequently give away compact fluorescent bulbs or LED lights. We provide free advice on energy efficiency. Some cooperatives even sell appliances that provide energy savings, even offering rebates for their purchase. We provide incentives to contractors who build energy-efficient homes.
Do you see the theme here? We’re encouraging you to use less electricity.
This effort doesn’t stop with devices in your home. Despite what you might have been told, electric cooperatives and the Tennessee Valley Authority encourage the use of renewable energy sources. Though Tennessee isn’t a great location for wind turbines (most of TVA’s wind energy comes from Illinois!), solar power installations can be located almost anywhere. Several large solar farms are already in operation or under construction in Tennessee. Combined with competition among manufacturers, federal tax breaks and other incentives, solar installations are affordable for homeowners. Despite unscrupulous vendors’ claims to the contrary, we don’t hate solar.
I strongly encourage you to thoroughly research any decision before making a purchase — whether it’s a programmable thermostat or rooftop solar panels. As with any other product or service, there are great manufacturers and some that are just looking for a way to separate you from your hard-earned money.
The bottom line is that your local electric cooperative is concerned about your family’s bottom line. Keeping the lights on has always been our primary concern. That concern isn’t limited to keeping the power flowing. It also means keeping your energy affordable.
So, the next time you see an ad for “what your utility doesn’t want you to know,” put your hand on your pocketbook. In the meantime, ask your local electric cooperative about ways you can use less electricity. It’s something we really do want you to know.
For more information, go online to www.tnelectric.org, www.tva.gov or www.energystar.gov.