Member co-ops stay cool in a crisis

“We’re all in this together.”

It’s a sentiment that resonated through the pandemic, but in February 2021, it took on another dimension. A deep freeze and high demand for power through the central United States exposed just how interconnected we really are via the transmission grid.

Electric cooperative members heard about the Southwest Power Pool (SPP), perhaps for the first time, as their power was cycled off by transmission operators to preserve the integrity of the grid. Interruptions came with little warning, leaving members with questions: Who? Why? How?

Electric cooperatives stepped up with answers, deploying a variety of tools from their communication toolboxes to prepare, inform, and connect with their members. Here are some examples.



Sioux Valley Energy began advising members to conserve power prior to the energy emergency. However, on Feb. 16, SPP directed the Western Area Power Administration (WAPA) to shed load and open breakers, and 7,035 of the co-op’s members lost power. The outages came with little warning, and many members were understandably upset.

Sioux Valley Energy CEO and General Manager Tim McCarthy addressed member concerns directly that day in an open letter on the co-op’s website and on Facebook. Excerpts from the letter:

“Our members are upset. Rightfully so! It is dangerously cold in our region at the moment and to go without power for any length of time is more than an inconvenience. However, what I need to convey to all of our members is the consequences of not taking these actions this morning. … Simply put, the system starts to implode and it will shut down in very damaging fashion. … My vow to you is we will do everything we can to keep you informed. We will give notice when we can. However, the truth is, that may not be possible.”

McCarthy’s letter resonated with many throughout the region. The Facebook post featuring his letter was shared 362 times.

Carrie Vugteveen, Sioux Valley Energy vice president of public relations, says Sioux Valley Energy aims to be transparent with the membership, and McCarthy takes that to heart. “He not only talks about the cooperative’s motto, ‘Serving Our Members. Always,’ he lives it. He believes that Sioux Valley Energy’s membership deserves to hear from the leadership of the organization during times of crisis, even if it is a tough message to give and we may not have all the answers,” she says.



As unplanned outages peppered cooperatives in the region, Mor-Gran-Sou Electric saw an opportunity to employ outbound messaging via telephone to alert the entire membership of the possibility of outages. Ultimately, members around northwest Mandan and New Salem, North Dakota, were affected the morning of Feb. 16.

“With only a few minutes to prepare a message, we got to work and initiated an IVR (interactive voice recording) message as soon as possible. That IVR message was used as the backbone to our initial message on Facebook and our website,” says Jackie Miller, Mor-Gran-Sou Electric chief of staff. The automated calls also freed up their member service representatives to speak to members one-on-one.

Whether it is a typical outage or the recent controlled interruptions of service, Miller says they try their best to keep the lights on and members informed.

“Better-informed members make better decisions should their power become impacted. Also, we try to keep the message as condensed and consistent as possible, and SRS (Security and Response Services) is helpful in message preparation,” she says.

Jolene Johnson supervises SRS at Basin Electric. She says the outbound messaging capability used by Mor-Gran-Sou Electric is available to any cooperative that uses SRS’s services. The co-op provides the message and the specifics of who needs to receive the message, and SRS staff and software can quickly push out the message.

“The new software program is actually very helpful and can reach a lot of members in a very short time. This, along with social media, is a great way to communicate and keep everyone informed about all kinds of emergency situations, disconnects, or planned outages,” Johnson says.

Basin Electric’s Security and Response Services (SRS) can push outbound messages to co-op members, informing them of outages and other events. Pictured: Sonya Wanner, lead service dispatcher.

 Read about how these members managed the crisis in the Spring 2021 issue of Basin Today:

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