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Critical connections behind the power

Pictured: The Clay Electric Linemen responsible for keeping power to your home: (L – R)  Damien Bowling, Dan Henderson, Brody Snell, Matt Conklin, Adam Smith.  

By Adam Schwartz

April 11, 2016, is National Lineman Appreciation Day so it is appropriate that we take a moment to recognize the people that often work in brutal weather conditions to ensure we all have safe and reliable power. In fact, linemen are often first responders during storms and other catastrophic events, working to make the scene safe for other public safety officers. However, while linemen work in highly visible settings, there are many behind the scenes that also labor tirelessly to help keep the lights on. However, they do so with little or no public recognition or acknowledgement. While lineman can do their job out in the open– whether it is restoring power after a natural disaster, maintaining the lines or building new service – there is a lot more work taking place behind the scenes.

The power behind your power

    The lineman out in the field works with thousands of volts of electricity high atop power lines 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, to keep electricity flowing and maintaining the energy infrastructure. Another “powerful” figure in the co-op is Ed VanHoose, Executive V.P./General Manager. Similar to the head coach of a team, he ensures that all the players (employees) know their roles and perform them at a high level. He also must recruit and retain talent; this is especially challenging in today’s highly competitive hiring environment. 

Promoting a culture of safety

    The Operations and Engineering department ensures that the overall system is well maintained. This team is responsible for planning ahead for future needs and continually monitoring existing equipment and resources. An equally important area of focus is safety. Working with electricity is an inherently dangerous task, and helping to foster a culture of safety for all workers is a major priority. Members can count on the Operations and Engineering department for everything from lighting, heating, cooling and so much more.

Purchasing and inventory

    This department insures that we have the material on hand, to build and maintain the Clay Electric System. This includes trying to have enough material, poles, transformers, etc. on hand in case of a major outage, similar to the recent snow, ice, & wind damage we just had in February. In addition to having the material in inventory, he must also know who to contact for emergency orders to get the poles and material in as soon as he can.

Delivering timely savings

    The Accounting and Finance department is responsible for the financial well-being of Clay Electric. It includes billing, collections and overseeing any loans the co-op has received. As you know, the co-op generates an electric bill that we send to you. We do so to ensure we can apply the latest technology, help lower your energy costs and send timely, accurate bills to you.

    While we are a member-owned cooperative and operate differently than investor-owned utilities, we are still a business. As such, the accounting department ensures that revenue collected from the membership exceeds our expenses. Typical expenses include the money we pay for electric power, equipment, new technology, upgrades to the infrastructure, employees and other expenditures.

Calling for energy efficiency

    The Member Services department is responsible for energy efficiency, and helping Members with answers to questions about their usage. This department is also responsible for the co-op’s Annual Meeting and special outreach to community organizations, including schools and communications such as this newsletter.

    Continual learning and training for co-op employees is crucial to having a skilled workforce that helps keep the co-op operating at an optimal level. This learning element is also one of the Seven Cooperative Principles and extends to our members. For example, Clay Electric sponsors youth scholarships and an educational trip to Washington, D.C. as part of the co-op’s Youth Tour program each summer.

Staying in sync

    Many different people and departments work closely together to serve you because you, the member, are at the heart of everything we do. Unlike other types of businesses, as a cooperative, our concern for community is one principle that sets us apart from other businesses. The electricity we provide literally powers our communities. And it takes every person in the co-op, to deliver on this promise. Across the country, Clay Electric, together with 900 other electric cooperatives, provide safe, reliable and technologically advanced service to 40 million Americans while maintaining a unique consumer-focused approach to business. 

    Adam Schwartz is the founder of The Cooperative Way a consulting firm that helps co-ops succeed. He is an author, speaker and member-owner of the
CDS Consulting Co-op. You can follow him on Twitter @adamcooperative or email him at
aschwartz@thecooperativeway.coop