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OPPD Expands Customer Support Measures

image credit: OPPD
Jodi Baker's picture
Media Specialist Omaha Public Power District

Media Specialist, Omaha Public Power District

  • Member since 2020
  • 12 items added with 6,927 views
  • Apr 17, 2020
  • 1887 views

OPPD press release on this topic can be seen here. 

Omaha Public Power District knows our customers are facing challenges as our communities cope with COVID-19 and related issues. Whether working remotely, in quarantine, or helping children learn from home, we want to ensure power is there when you need it most.

Senior management recently approved a series of short-term Customer First Solutions, shared with the OPPD Board of Directors during their virtual committee meetings Tuesday. OPPD leadership recommended waiving late payment charges for all customers until 30 days after the expiration of the last COVID-19 directed health measures of any of the 13 counties within OPPD’s service territory. In today’s monthly meeting, held via video conference, the board voted to approve waiving late charges for that time frame.

OPPD is also extending the time frame for our disconnection moratorium until 30 days after the expiration of the last directed health measures of any of the 13 counties within OPPD’s service territory. We had previously announced suspension of disconnections for non-payment through April 30. The extension will help our customers struggling with lost wages and other impacts related to COVID-19.

We urge customers to reach out to us to make payment arrangements if they need assistance. Our customer care team can be reached by calling 402-536-4131 in the Omaha metropolitan area or toll-free at 1-877-536-4131 outside of Omaha. We will also work to connect our customers with community resources, as warranted. And OPPD’s Energy Assistance Program eligibility requirements have temporarily been adjusted to be available without being income qualified.

For business customers, the utility has launched a new Business Energy Advisor website, OPPD.bizenergyadvisor.com. It has energy conservation tips and information to help customers find savings, where possible. 

We will continue to evaluate further measures to support our customers during this pandemic.

OPPD also wants to protect our customers from utility scammers who have been trying to take advantage during this difficult time. In recent weeks, we’ve received increased reports of callers falsely claiming to work for the utility. They demand immediate payment or they threaten to shut off electricity. Sometimes they claim the customer’s bill is overdue, or tell customers they need to pay for the replacement of meters or other equipment. Those ploys are immediate tipoffs of a scam. OPPD is suspending disconnections for non-payment at this time and would never charge customers to replace meters. If you get a call making these claims, hang up. Call OPPD directly with any questions about your account or your service.

State of the Utility

COVID-19 and the need for social distancing has also impacted OPPD’s planned community outreach to share the state of the utility. A series of meetings across the service territory were planned for the last two weeks of March. However, social distancing and restrictions on public gatherings necessitated adjusting the plans to include an online format, including placing materials online. Our customers and other stakeholders may visit OPPDListens.com to see the information and learn more about how their utility is working for them. The website also gives them the opportunity to provide input to OPPD on a number of topics.

Customer satisfaction

OPPD was recently named one of the nation’s 42 “Easiest to do Business With” utilities. President Tim Burke shared the honor with the board during his President’s Report today. It stems from the Cogent Syndicated Utility Trusted Brand & Customer Engagement™: Residential study from Escalent, a top human behavior and analytics firm. The Cogent Syndicated Customer Effort Index is used to rate how easy it is to obtain service, information, and offerings from a utility. High marks mean a utility meets or exceeds customer expectations.

The entire President’s Report will be available to view at OPPD.com/boardmeeting, shortly.

Power with Purpose

During its committee meetings this week, the board received an update on OPPD’s Power with Purpose (PwP) plan, approved in November 2019. The plan includes the addition of between 400 and 600 megawatts of accredited utility-scale solar generation, as well as the addition of modernized natural gas backup generation assets.

Solar generation bids were received on Jan. 29, and our multi-disciplinary team continues to evaluate those bids. The PwP team is currently conducting a detailed technical and financial review of the sites with highest potential. Progress also continues regarding the natural gas backup portion of the plan, with gas asset technologies and gas supply options currently under evaluation. The team continues to assess potential sites and is reviewing responses to a request for information on the natural gas supply options.

OPPD is exploring many options for potential generation sites across our 13 county service territory and the state. No specific site or generation details have been decided at this time. Generation sites close to growing load, transmission and substation infrastructure, and existing natural gas infrastructure are favorable to keep costs low for our customers-owners.

The district remains committed to providing updates to our customers and other stakeholders through various channels as PwP moves forward.

Other action

In other actions, directors: 

  • Ratified the decision to conduct the April board meetings virtually due to the COVID-19 public health situation.
  • Approved the January and February Comprehensive Financial and Operating Reports, March 2020 meeting minutes, and the April 16, 2020 agenda.
  • Authorized a line of credit (LOC) increase in the amount of $200 million to exercise, as needed, in order to provide additional liquidity to the district. This would take OPPD’s LOC authorization from $250 million to $450 million. The LOC increase provides the utility with financial flexibility in the form of additional liquidity, should unexpected needs arise.

OPPD is able to access credit markets during the current market downturn due to its strong financial rating, while lower-rated entities have had limited access. Increasing the LOC allows OPPD to maintain and further strengthen its financial position.

  • Authorized OPPD to execute and enter into the Interlocal Agreement for cooperative use of the Wireless Area Network. This network connects regional entities to leverage shared interests, prioritizing public safety objectives and responses. The current agreement between OPPD, Douglas County, Pottawattamie County, Sarpy County, and Washington County, expires April 14. This new agreement replaces the expiring agreement and adds Dodge County and the City of Fremont to the network.
  • Awarded a contract in the amount of $1,315,968 to IBIDEN CERAM for the material and fabrication of catalyst modules, test elements, seals, and cover screens for the Nebraska City Station Unit 2 Selective Catalytic Reduction System.

Next meetings

Next month’s board committee meetings will start at 10 a.m. Tuesday, May 12. The monthly board meeting will be Thursday, May 14, at 4 p.m. Visit OPPD.com closer to meeting dates for information on how these meetings will be conducted.

 

Previous news releases related to OPPD's response to the COVID-19 situation can be found here:

Direct and up to date information on our response can also be found here: https://www.oppd.com/community/electric-safety/infectious-disease-plan/

    Jodi Baker's picture
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    Matt Chester's picture
    Matt Chester on Apr 17, 2020

    Great example of the type of common sense but necessary measures to assist communities in this time of need. Thanks for sharing Jodi.

    Would you be able to share any insights into what the roll out and communications strategy has been by OPPD to get these important messages out to customers who need them most?

    Jodi Baker's picture
    Jodi Baker on Apr 17, 2020

    Thanks, Matt! We already had a thoughtful infectious disease plan in place, touching all areas of the company, with graduated steps to take as necessary. That pre-planning has been a big help. But, as we all know, the current pandemic and its impacts are greater than most would have ever expected.

    We had communications representatives engaged with emergency preparedness team members early on, as the first cases of what we now call COVID-19 were popping up in China and moving beyond its borders. We talked about employee communications and public communications and what would be needed depending on what happened next and how close to home the virus would hit.

    Initially, we had reactive statements for the media at the ready, should we receive inquiries about how the utility was preparing to protect the health and safety of our employees, to ensure we were able to continue to deliver reliable electric service, as well as our customers. We also began to develop and post stories to our content marketing website, oppdthewire.com, about topics including the utilty's work behind-the-scenes, related employee features, safety at home from remote work to germ protection, and keeping energy use down while spending more time at home. These stories were pushed to social media, as well.

    Employees who could work remotely began doing so in mid-March, and the communications team began having daily meetings to coordinate our efforts to get important messages out to employees and the public. While keeping our employees informed through email communication, snail mail, and our internal company news via our intranet, we also worked to reach customers through bill inserts, in addition to our digital communications channels.

    Our President & CEO discussed the utility's work to keep employees, families and the public safe, and to keep electrical power flowing, during our March board meeting. And we highlighted the topic in our board news release. That release was followed by others as topics arose - from closing down our customer service office to our arboretum to utility scam warnings. We also stay in touch with our neighboring public utility partners to keep eachother abreast of topics and issues that may come up.

    I've reached out to a number of individual reporters on these topics, as well, by phone and email. Our local media has been a good partner in helping us keep the public informed through radio, television and newspaper stories. Our daily meetings continue with great collaboration and support. 

    Matt Chester's picture
    Matt Chester on Apr 20, 2020

    Thanks for the thorough response, Jodi-- great to hear how all-encompassing and all-hands-on-deck the rollout was

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