When you think of the ingredients that go into creating a positive customer experience, the forestry department sounds way off the mark. How can maintaining trees have an impact on the electric service you receive in your home?
In fact, utility foresters like Brandon in Portsmouth, Ohio are essential to delivering our company’s promise to provide top-notch electric service to our customers.
Brandon is responsible for managing the right-of-way (an area surrounding a power line kept clear from trees, brush or any other kind of debris) of every power line in southern Ohio. That means each tree or branch that might make contact with a power line is his responsibility.
Brandon’s contribution to keeping the lights on in Ohio is integral. Since 2010, we’ve reduced the number of outages caused by trees inside our rights-of-way from 2,700 to 531 – an 80 percent improvement. And when we keep trees and vegetation away from our equipment, the rewards are huge.
“The biggest contribution that our forestry department can give to our customers is uninterrupted power,” Brandon says. “If power is lost and our rights-of-way are in good shape, it’s much quicker and easier for our line mechanics to identify the issue, make repairs and restore power.”
With more than 2,300 miles of power lines in portions of Adams, Scioto, Pike, Lawrence, Jackson and Gallia counties, Brandon has his hands full when it comes to identifying problem areas and making sure the trees are properly maintained.
In addition to overseeing contractors doing tree clearing work, Brandon works with engineers to clear areas around new construction projects. He also meets with customers one-on-one to discuss any concerns they have for work being done around their land.
“My typical day starts with meeting with my work planners at the office to discuss current issues on the circuits they’re working on,” Brandon says. “But for the rest of my work I head to the field.”
Out there, he inspects work zones and manages teams to ensure their safety and the safety of anyone near the project areas.
Frequently, forestry departments will utilize aerial tree-trimming methods to clear vegetation. This involves bringing out a helicopter with a specialized saw fixed beneath it. Despite the first impressions that this machine gives off, aerial tree-trimming is actually a safer alternative to normal methods of climbing dense trees and cutting back limbs. Contractor pilots, for example, are required to fly every other month to keep their senses well-tuned.
Brandon’s work also results in positive changes for southern Ohio’s diverse ecosystem. “In densely forested areas like my service territory,” he says, “our rights-of-way add great value to the wildlife’s food and cover needs. We have a vegetation management plan in place that uses best practices to help create biodiversity. Controlling undesired species and promoting grasses and wildflowers benefits birds, bees, deer and turkeys, to name a few.”
“We all like to see wildflowers growing where there once was a dense wall of brush, vines and briars.”
When deciding which trees may be trimmed and which have to go, foresters like Brandon follow rigorous trimming standards put in place by independent experts and regulators. This makes sure that AEP Ohio’s tree-trimming practices only remove what is absolutely necessary to keep the network healthy and reliable.
But ensuring that the forestry department’s work is done safely and efficiently is Brandon’s most important job. His business is caring for his fellow employees and caring for the customers who live and work under the lines every day.
“The added safety factor that is created by a well-maintained infrastructure is immeasurable,” Brandon says. “AEP foresters help make the lines safer for the public and our co-workers. Whether a line crew is performing storm restoration or routine maintenance, a well-maintained right-of-way is always much safer.”
That’s how utility foresters make a difference, and that’s why they’re one more essential piece to our strategy to provide the best service we possibly can.
For decades, Athens right-of-way agent Robbie S. has made it her mission to take care of customers’ problems.
“When it comes down to it,” says Robbie, “I just want to fix what’s wrong, because that’s how you give somebody a positive experience.”
Right-of-way agents are responsible for acquiring the rights necessary to build new power lines between customers’ properties and AEP Ohio facilities. But it’s not always so simple: Agents like Robbie make sure that the lines have a clear path from point A to point B, and that they don’t become obstructions themselves.
Robbie works with customers every day, finding ways to connect communities to the electrical grid without burdening landowners.
“Today, for example,” Robbie says, “I’m meeting a customer at his magnificent old red brick house. We have to find a way to run the lines through without intruding on his property in any major way.”
“It’s so important to respect customers’ land. After all, we’re only here to help, and we have to communicate that effectively.”
For 38 years, Robbie has been a part of AEP Ohio’s effort to provide the very best service to its customers. That’s the kind of experience that makes all the difference in a job like this.
It also helps to be an Ohio native. Robbie has lived in southeast Ohio her entire life, and feels a deep bond with the idyllic lifestyle of the area. Every morning at 5, she wakes up to tend to her horses, which she enjoys riding around her property and along the local trails
Her care for her hometown of Athens, Ohio reflects the same care she applies to her work.
“I have spent my whole life here,” says Robbie. “For me, helping customers is much like helping my neighbors.”
This outlook has served her well over the years. Hers is a work ethic that puts customers first, and, by solving service problems that impact communities, Robbie has built a fulfilling career around her role in southeast Ohio.
“I tend to around 60 percent residential customers and 40 percent businesses,” she says. “I always make sure to maintain good relationships with the folks I work with, because, chances are, I’m going to go back and work with their neighbors and business associates.”
For right-of-way agents, getting the electricity to customers means delivering a positive customer experience, as well as powering up business.
“When you put yourself in the customer’s shoes, you can see that all they want is for you to just fix it,” Robbie says. “It’s important to realize what they’re going through, and that sense of understanding motivates me to get the job done.”
“Art is the most intense mode of individualism that the world has known” – Oscar Wilde
Four artists and two staff members at Kan Du Studio combined their individual talents to turn a vintage, inefficient and recycled refrigerator into an inspiring, brightly colored piece of art as a way to educate customers about our Appliance Recycling Program.
Kan Du Studio, an extension of Blanchard Valley Industries in Findlay, Ohio, is an art studio and gallery that gives adults with developmental disabilities the opportunity to express themselves, and communicate and connect with the community through the arts.
The artists of Kan Du studio looked to their mascot, Buddy, and several other unique characters and illustrations to bring this vintage refrigerator to life. To add a burst of color and individuality, the artists dripped colorful paint down the sides of the refrigerator.
“Our artists are people who have hopes and dreams just like you and me. They love having people see their artwork and to know that they are capable of contributing to the community,” said Rebecca Combs, Kan Du Studio manager. “This project was a fun way to think outside the box and really express their creativity and individuality.”
The artwork Kan Du Studio artists create is displayed and sold at art shows across the state to generate awareness about the capabilities of individuals with disabilities and compensate the artists for their work.
This transformed refrigerator will be on display at Kan Du Studio during Findlay’s Art Walk this Friday, May 1, 2015 from 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
If you can’t make it to Findlay for the Art Walk, you can see this refrigerator and the five others in the AEP Ohio booth at the Columbus Arts Festival June 12-14, 2015.
The Appliance Recycling Program is part of our initiative to help customers use less energy, decrease energy costs, conserve natural resources and protect the environment. AEP Ohio customers can earn a $50 rebate when they schedule their inefficient refrigerator or freezer to be recycled, and we’ll pick up the appliance free of charge. For additional information about AEP Ohio’s energy efficient programs, visit AEPOhio.com.
Did you know you can average out your monthly payments over the whole year?
AEP Ohio’s Average Monthly Payment (AMP) Plan helps customers manage their electric bills through a more consistent monthly payment based on actual electricity used.
“The AMP Plan makes it easier for customers to budget their money because they will know, within a few dollars, what they need to set aside for their electricity payment each month,” said Karen Sloneker, AEP Ohio director of Customer Services and Marketing. “It helps minimize seasonal spikes associated with summer cooling and winter heating by spreading out electric payments over the whole year.”
How the AMP Plan works
With the AMP Plan, monthly payments are based on a rolling 12-month average of the customer’s billed amount. Each month, the oldest bill is removed from the average and the current month’s bill is added. As a result, the payment amount will fluctuate slightly from month to month.
This is not an equal monthly payment plan like the Budget Plan. AMP customers do not have a settle-up month at year-end as they do with the Budget Plan. A reconciliation only occurs when the customer stops participating in the plan.
|AMP Plan||Budget Plan|
|Monthly payments fluctuate slightly||Monthly payments are the same|
|No settle-up month at year-end||Reconciliation occurs at year-end|
New AEP Ohio customers also can enroll. In this case, the initial monthly amount is based on the previous customer’s use and will self-adjust over the following months.
To enroll in the plan, customers can call the Customer Operations Center at 800-672-2231. Additional information is available at aepohio.com/levelpay.
Here are some of our favorite DIY projects that conserve energy and put money back into your wallet:
1)Landscape for Shade
- WHY: Solar heat penetrating into the home can increase cooling costs and proper landscaping can reduce the direct solar heat.
- Planting various trees and shrubs throughout your yard can help reduce the direct sunlight coming into the home.
- If you want to block the sun in the summer, but let it in during the winter consider trees that lose their leaves seasonally.
- If you want to have constant shade consider dense evergreens.
- WHY: Cleaning around the house is not just for sanitation, but can also help save energy and money.
- Dust off the ceiling fan, because you will want to use it! Turning on your ceiling fans can allow you to raise your thermostat by four degrees.
- Clean off your air conditioner’s evaporator coil, which allows it to perform at optimal levels saving you on your cooling bill.
- Peaked behind the refrigerator lately? If your refrigerator coils are covered in dust they cannot release heat, which causes the appliance to kick into overdrive and hike up your electric bill.
- WHY: This DIY project will not only increase privacy, but can help a room stay cool in the summer and warm in the winter by reducing radiant heat transfer through the glass by as much as 50 percent.
- Find a stencil with a pattern you like. A good place to start your search is Pinterest.
- Measure out the window to determine how much contact paper you will need.
- Use the stencil to create the design on contact paper.
- Peel off the back and stick contact paper to desired window space.
For more information on how to complete these DIY projects and others, check out: http://energy.gov/energysaver/blog.
Have some of your own DIY hacks for saving energy and money? Share your tips in the comments below!
Starting April 20, AEP Ohio is changing the way the company disburses refunds for residential customers. Through a partnership with Citibank, residential customers who have a refund balance will be mailed a prepaid Visa card.
The new Prepaid Visa Refund program will benefit customers by offering:
- Quicker access to refund money
- Flexibility to choose a preferred method of refund
“We are pleased to be able to offer our customers a quicker, more convenient way to receive their refunds,” said Gary Spitznogle, AEP Ohio vice president of Regulatory and Finance. “This is another step in enhancing our interactions with our customers and exceeding customer expectations.”
Customers who do not want to use the Visa card can call Citibank and request a check be sent to them instead. Or, customers can opt to have the funds transferred instantly to a checking or savings account. Customers also can call Citibank or use online apps to check card balances, allowing customers hassle-free use of their cards.
Customers with limited access to banking services will not have to pay a check-cashing fee or wait to receive funds as they often do when receiving a refund check.
For questions about the new refund program, call the Customer Solutions Center at 800-672-2231, or visit https://aepohio.com/account/service/SecurityDeposits.aspx#refunds for more information.
Beginning in early March, AEP Ohio will offer residential customers who rent the option of obtaining protection to repair or replace electrical products damaged due to power surges. This new coverage is one of several service plans offered by the company’s home warranty program announced last May, through its partnership with HomeServe USA, a third-party home repair service provider.
The roll out will be conducted in phases, first to rental customers, and then expanded to include homeowners later this year.
“We are pleased to be able to offer rental customers Electrical Surge Coverage, an optional program that can help repair or replace electronics such as computers, televisions, tablets and other consumer appliances that are damaged as a result of an electrical surge,” said Karen Sloneker, director of customer services and marketing – AEP Ohio. “Should this equipment be damaged, the cost to repair or replace them can be expensive. We are happy to be able to offer this program first to renters, and look forward to expanding the program to include homeowners later this year.”
The Electrical Surge Coverage costs about $6.00 a month and will be added to the customer’s monthly electric bill. Customers may cancel the warranty coverage at any time.
With this optional protection provided by HomeServe, AEP Ohio customers will get:
- Up to $3,000 in coverage annually (30-day waiting period with a money-back guarantee for covered repairs)
- 24-hour repair hotline
- Priority repair status
- Multiple service calls per year, up to customer’s annual benefit amount
- Repairs performed by local, certified electricians
- One-year guarantee on all covered repairs
The program covers electrical products with a value of more than $100. Electrical products that cannot be repaired will be replaced with a product that is similar in kind and quality.
HomeServe will began mailing introductory postcards to rental customers on today, followed by enrollment letters beginning March 10.
For more information on Electrical Surge Coverage, visit AEPOhio.com/SurgeProtection.
Yesterday, we awarded Valley Converting Co. a check for $20,772.74 for its participation in our Continuous Energy Improvement (CEI) program. The program helps businesses identify and implement low cost/no cost measures and provides incentives to qualifying participants.
In 2014, Valley Converting, a manufacturer and converter of recycled paperboard based in Toronto, Ohio, completed a year-long project to reduce energy use and save money utilizing low cost/no cost measures. The measures implemented will save Valley Converting approximately 1,038,637 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year and an estimated savings of more than $20,000 in energy costs each year.
Through the CEI Program, Valley Converting was able to identify a key energy saving measure – tuning the vacuum porting water removal pumps in the drying process – which resulted in the removal of a 200 HP motor and other periphery equipment that reduced electricity by approximately 100,000 kWh each month without impacting production.
“Valley Converting has always promoted a culture of sustainability through a strong connection to the local community and by emphasizing reuse and recycling efforts,” stated President Mike Biasi.
“The CEI program is ideal to engage the entire customer facility. It also is an unparalleled tool to completely revamp industrial energy use. The low cost/no cost measures are achievable and drive energy understanding so eventually capital improvements follow,” said Michelle Cross, AEP Ohio CEI Program Manager.
Since 2009, AEP Ohio has helped customers reduce power usage by 1,697 gigawatt-hours (GWh), saving more than $1 billion. AEP Ohio offers a variety of energy efficiency programs and discounts to help business and residential customers to stop wasting energy and start saving money. For more information, visit AEPOhio.com/Solutions (business) or AEPOhio.com/WasteLess (residents).
A new year means a new you, right?
Most people promise themselves that they will start eating healthier, or that they will actually use the gym membership they’ve been paying for. Here at AEP Ohio, we want to challenge you to make a commitment that you’ll want to see through because it saves you money. Follow these three small steps to commit to energy efficiency in 2015.
1. Power down and unplug
Ever get into the habit of keeping the coffee pot plugged in after you leave for work? Or what about keeping your computer on all day, even when you aren’t using it? One quick and easy way to cut back on energy and ultimately save money is by turning off and unplugging appliances and other items that you are not using. According to Energy.gov, leaving a computer on all day can cost 21 cents per day, which totals over $75/year.
Bonus: Challenge yourself to turn off all the lights before you leave and unplug any items that do not need to stay plugged in. For every day that you accomplish it, set aside a dollar and at the end of the year reward yourself with a gift.
2. Schedule an In-home Energy Assessment
You know all those things you said you were going to do in 2014, but never got around to? Now is the perfect time to get an in-home energy assessment. During the assessment, a certified energy auditor will install several free energy-saving items that will provide immediate energy savings once in place. Plus, the auditor will provide you with recommendations on improvements to make your home more comfortable and efficient.
3. Give yourself the gift of a new energy-efficient appliance.
What better way to start off the New Year than with a gift to yourself that will save you money? When buying a new appliance, first make sure to check out the energy guide label on the appliance. By reviewing the label, you can get an idea of what your new appliance will cost you per year in operating costs and electricity use. You can also check out our previous blog post about how to choose the best energy efficient appliances.
As with any New Year’s resolution, start by slowly changing your habits. For example, if you like to fall asleep with the TV on try to only leave it on for three nights of the week, rather than all five. Also, if you slip up it’s okay you can try again. Make sure to set your goals clearly and take small steps to reach them.
For more ways to save, check out AEPOhio.com/WasteLess.
For the third year in a row, AEP Ohio is proud to donate over 200,000 ENERGY STAR® certified compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs to the Mid-Ohio Foodbank in Columbus, Ohio.
FL bulbs use about 75 percent less energy than standard incandescent bulbs, which can save about $50 or more in electricity costs over the course of each bulb’s lifetime.
This year an Ohio distributor, MegaLight, supplied the CFL bulbs. The company provides a full range of energy-efficient, environmentally-friendly lighting products primarily designed for the North American market.
“We are honored to partner with MegaLight to give out energy efficient bulbs this winter,” David Tabata, AEP Ohio EE Consumer Manager said. “These bulbs are one more way we can help people in need save on energy.”
AEP Ohio’s longstanding partnership with Mid-Ohio Foodbank affords the electric company the opportunity to distribute CFL bulbs to low-income Ohioans in eight counties throughout the state.
The donation is part of AEP Ohio’s Efficient Products Program, offering customers discounted CFLs through participating retailers to help people reduce wasted energy, save money and protect the environment.
“The Foodbank’s long standing partnership with AEP Ohio has gone a long way in connecting nutritious food to our hungry neighbors,” said Matt Habash, president and CEO of Mid-Ohio Foodbank. “The CFL bulb donation allows our neighbors, struggling to make ends meet, to focus their resources on accessing nourishing food instead of purchasing these much-needed household items.”
Low-income residential customers are also eligible for the installation of a wide range of higher efficiency, cost-effective lighting, appliances, heating and cooling equipment, weatherization upgrades and other electrical safety measures. For more information about this program, customers can call AEP Ohio at 1-800-545-4112.
Since 2009, AEP Ohio has helped customers reduce power usage by 2,171.75 gigawatt-hours, saving more than $1 billion. AEP Ohio offers a variety of energy efficiency programs and discounts to help residential and business customers to stop wasting energy and start saving money. For more information, visit AEPOhio.com/WasteLess (residential) or AEPOhio.com/Solutions (business).