Cooperatives are more than a local business. Not only do they provide the same products and services as their for-profit counterparts, they also go beyond the business, placing great emphasis on community involvement and the flourishing of its members. This past year has been unlike any other in United Power’s more than 80-year history as a cooperative. The arrival of a global pandemic has challenged us to think creatively and act proactively as we consider how to best serve our members through uncertain times. We have responded the way only a cooperative could – by thinking of our members.
This October, United Power invites our members to join us in honoring National Co-op Month, a celebration of the commitment cooperatives have for their communities and members. There are more than 64,000 cooperatives stretching across almost every industry that touches our daily lives, and nearly 1,000 of them are electric co-ops. Birthed out of the hard work of our members, electric co-ops were established to deliver power to parts of the country larger investor-owned companies had no interest in serving.
It was the foundational commitment to community that fueled our founders and continues to fuel our cooperative today. It challenged us to think strategically about how to continue offering services during the past few months. While our leadership made the difficult decision to close offices for the health and safety of both members and employees, they also acted quickly to suspend late fees and disconnects for nonpayment. They recognized the potential economic impact of the situation and announced these temporary measures before Governor Polis issued any statewide orders.
In an effort to circumvent the financial hardships of members, the cooperative’s board of directors also took action to provide member relief. In May, the board allocated $250,000 in unclaimed capital credits to establish the Co-op Cares Fund to help offset electric bills for members impacted by the pandemic, particularly those affected by illness or job loss. They also opted for an early capital credit retirement period – which is usually considered in the fall – to provide a little extra relief.
“We recognized how far reaching the implications of this pandemic could be, and we wanted to respond quickly to our members’ needs,” said Bryant Robbins, United Power’s acting chief executive officer. “We carefully considered our options and were proud to be able to offer this relief package to our members. If any member is continuing to face struggles, we urge them to call us and let us know.”
Meanwhile, the cooperative also had to shift gears while planning its annual meeting when the venue hosting the originally scheduled event closed due to the pandemic. Committed to providing members an opportunity to hear from leadership about accomplishments over the past year, the event’s first-ever virtual format was offered as an alternative. Although the virtual format had to be planned quickly, it was a success with record member registration and participation.
In this unusual year, United Power found a way to provide for your health and safety without sacrificing the level of service our members have come to expect. During this time, we’ve continued to offer rebates, energy management solutions, member services availability and even expanded our payment options. We have extended payment hours at kiosk locations in Carbon Valley and Coal Creek and installed a new payment kiosk at the Brighton office. We hope to be able to open our office locations to members soon, as well.
“This hasn’t been a normal year, and we were forced to reevaluate the way we serve our members,” said Robbins. “It’s challenged us to think about how we can be better at what we do. The lessons we’ve learned have helped us grow through this year and will help us continue to grow when everything has returned to normal.”
While some years are more unpredictable than others, most years don’t look like they have in 2020. Most years we spend this time supporting our communities in the form of sponsorships, scholarships and youth leadership development. Nothing is closer to the heart of a cooperative than community, and that commitment is on full display at many of the community events that were cancelled or postponed this year due to the pandemic.
We have continued to support our local nonprofits, which help meet needs and enrich the lives of our members. When sports return, you’ll see our banners on display at local ballfields. When county fairs and festivals featuring live music and live animals return, United Power will probably have played a role in making it a reality.
While United Power exists to provide safe, reliable and affordable energy, we hope you think of us as more than your energy provider, but as a local business that supports the economic development and prosperity of its communities and members. We, like you, look forward to a return to normalcy. We will “power on” through the difficult and unusual times and continue to serve our members the way we always have, ever since our original members laid the foundation for the cooperative we are today.