Curtis Wynn of Roanoke Electric Cooperative: 2021 Energy Central Innovation Champion

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Audra Drazga's picture
Vice President of The Power Industry Network Energy Central

I am the VP of the Energy Central Power Industry Network.  In this role, I help to connect professionals in the power industry through the development and management of topic-specific community...

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  • Apr 27, 2021

This item is part of the Leaders In Innovation - April 2021 SPECIAL ISSUE, click here for more

In early February, Energy Central dispatched our second annual call for nominations for power professionals leading the way in Innovation. We asked our community to nominate leaders who they thought were charging the path for rapid evolution across the sector today-- explicitly looking for those who carry the necessary attitudes to adapt to change while embracing and encouraging new ideas. 

The response was overwhelming, making it challenging for the Energy Central Community Team and our committee of industry thought leaders-- selected from among our Energy Central Network of Experts-- to narrow the list of nominees to the final six Champions of Innovation. 

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I am happy to announce that Curtis Wynn, President & CEO of Roanoke Cooperative and Subsidiaries, was chosen as one of our final six. Curtis was nominated for spearheading innovative programs in the low-income and rural utility space that found unique ways to share customers money, preserve local resources, and piloting new technology programs that are focused on benefitting his customer base above all else.

Please help us celebrate Curtis's success by reading some of the insights garnered from an exclusive Innovation Champion Interview between him and Matt Chester, Energy Central's Community Manager. I would also love it if you congratulate him by leaving a message in the comments section at the bottom of this article, or even feel free to share a general question or comment for him on these important topics.

Congratulations Curtis!



Curtis’s Journey to the CEO Role

Leading up to my service at Roanoke Electric, I've worked at one other electric co-operative during my 40 year career. I started at West Florida Electric Co-operative while I was a senior in high school and worked my way through the ranks there.  I was hired to wash trucks, doing warehouse cleaning.  I was eventually promoted to be their nighttime dispatcher. While working as a dispatcher and serving in the Air National Guard, I went to college and finished my degree in business and information systems.  Upon graduation, I started my professional career at West Florida. I worked in a number of capacities ranging from systems analyst to vice-president of member services, marketing and economic development. I came to North Carolina in 1997 to be CEO of Roanoke Electric Cooperative, the position I’ve held for the last 24 years.


Innovating at a Rural Electric Coop

It's no secret that if you love what you're doing, you're much better at it. I love the co-operative network, its customer-centric focus and generally what co-operatives stand for as organizations serving communities. My dedicated team and I have the added pleasure and challenge of serving a community that badly needs our services; one that has a significant number of economic and other demographic challenges.  That reality has created an environment that requires a consistent level of innovation to make sure we are providing the services that our members demand.  The challenge is significant when you have a system that's not growing and you're trying to come up with ways to keep the members engaged and satisfied while keeping their rates competitive. Juggling priorities puts you in an innovative space pretty much every day, trying to keep all of primary business imperatives balanced. So, I think it's a function of the environment and forces you to be innovative in your thinking.


Curtis’s Customer-Focus for Innovation

We're careful to roll out programs that directly benefit our members. We survey our member-owners often and remain actively engaged to make sure we understand their needs and challenges. Customers appreciate our programs that particularly those that address their ‘pocketbook issues’, such as the energy efficiency programs; Upgrade to $ave, and Roanoke SolarShare.  These programs were created as a direct response to their complaints about high bills and the burden it places on their monthly budgets.

By working with our members, we can explain that their high bills are not completely the fault of our rates, but more about their energy consumption.  Many members do not realize their energy consuming habits or that their homes are not properly weatherized, causing energy leakage.  So, taking the time to go over member’s bills, showing them the monthly usage trends and ideas where improvements can be made through the numerous special programs we have in place to address their concerns is quite rewarding for both them and us.


Roanoke’s Culture of Innovation

We've established a culture that establishes that it is our job to respond to customer needs. As a matter of fact, we have a tagline that is attached to our strategy map stating: “Responding to the Call to Serve.” These exact words are used in our communications and it is a core value throughout the organization. We're here to serve the members and that's our job, so we encourage innovation.  We’ve established an environment or a culture where people are free to bring their ideas to the table. We know that all ideas may not work, but we encourage creativity and passion to solve our members’ problems.



Upcoming Innovations at Roanoake to Watch Out For

We’re actively promoting the benefits of electric vehicle ownership, which is clearly a future trend. We see that manufacturers are transitioning their production from internal combustion engine vehicles to electric vehicles.  So, we're actively preparing for this imminent transition to electric vehicles. And we see the transition as a major game changer for even a co-op like Roanoke where the belief is that low and moderate income individuals are not going to be owners of electric vehicles. We think differently and are working to dispel the myth and position ourselves and our members to take advantage of the lower cost of owning and maintaining an EV, including piloting the concept of allowing parked vehicles to become another distributed energy resource.

Other areas of focus include workforce development and supplier recruitment. The rapid pace of energy transformation compounded by the sustainability demands being placed on electric utilities by; large consumers, state and federal lawmakers and regulators are requiring more and more creativity and innovation.  To deal with these demands and those of the increasingly diverse communities we serve, we're introducing the concept of diversity, equity and inclusion as a central component of our business strategy.  All of these realities call for the need to bring more diverse and innovative minds to the problem solving table through our employees as well as the service providers and suppliers we hire.


Energy Central thanks Curtis Wynn for his irreplaceable contributions to our great industry and for truly embodying what it is to be an Innovation Champion. We encourage leaders to share a note of thanks, ask a question, or just your two cents in the comments below. To see the other Energy Central Innovation Champions, see the rest of the Special Issue on Innovation in the Electric Power Industry.

PJ Davis's picture
PJ Davis on Apr 27, 2021

Congrats Curtis! Well done!

Rachael Lewis's picture
Rachael Lewis on May 4, 2021

Congratulations Innovation Champ Curtis for your work on new technology programs that benefit your customer base!

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