Change doesn’t always come easy as new customers of Rappahannock Electric Cooperative (REC) have found.
The 51,000 former customers of Allegheny Power, including about 4,700 in Rappahannock County, became customers of the cooperative June 1 after REC and the Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative bought Allegheny’s distribution operations in Virginia once it was offered for sale.
Confusion reigned when the REC included “an outdated version of our membership application” with new member packets sent out that explained REC’s services and membership benefits, the company admitted in a press release.
“Well, at this point I’m not liking Rapp Electric,” said one post from a new REC customer on Rappnet (www.rappnet.org), an email list-serve with some 800 members in and around Rappahannock.
Another new REC customer wrote: “Going forward, I suggest we make sure that the ‘member-owner’ elected board become representative of our community.”
Continuing, the post said, “Interestingly, my packet and first bill both arrived yesterday. It’s difficult to compare, as they do not seem to categorize charges the same way.”
Confusion among customers was centered on what appeared to be a requirement to supply a Social Security number to the Cooperative, a “connection fee” and the membership application itself. (For his personal take on REC’s mailing, see Richard Brady’s “Rappahannock Voices” column.)
An REC news release issued to try to clarify matters for customers makes the following points: that although there is a $15 connection fee for each new account, it won’t be assessed against active accounts transferred from Allegheny Power. Also, no one will be disconnected for failing to fill out and return the application sent to former Allegheny customers.
“We still encourage consumers to complete and return the membership application to ensure that we have the most up-to-date information such as address, phone numbers, emergency contact information and e-mail address,” explained Matt Faulconer, director of government and community relations for the REC, in a statement received by Laura Dodd, clerk for the town of Washington, and apparently received by other officials of local governments in REC’s service area.
“We have received an overwhelming volume of phone calls regarding this matter,” his communique said. “The high volume of calls has resulted in unacceptably long hold times. We are aware that many consumers have become frustrated while trying to contact us and have resorted to calling their local government representatives. We sincerely apologize for this confusion and are working diligently to clarify the matter.”
A call this week by the Rappahannock News about the complaints some new REC customers have was answered by Brian Wolfe, a public relations specialist for the cooperative. “We’re receiving phone calls about these issues,” he acknowledged.
He said customers with concerns can call 1-800-552-3904 to reach the customer service center (open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday). Customers calling to report an outage can call anytime, he added.
Questions can also be sent via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. The Web site at www.myrec.coop also has answers to frequently asked questions, including answers to questions about how rates are charged. A membership application can also be downloaded there.
Wolfe addressed another area of concern that he said has been raised by callers – a security deposit, which he likened to an administrative fee. That fee, he pointed out, is not being charged to accounts transferred to REC “as long as they [the customers] have a good payment history.”
He said those who fill out the application form are not required to supply their Social Security number. Having it does help REC ensure the identity of the customer so that “we can verify whom we are speaking with,” he explained.
Wolfe said he had his own experience with a request for his Social Security number when his wife went to get their son added to their cell phone account and had to supply the number for identification purposes.
While the REC doesn’t require its customers to supply the Social Security number, the information will be protected, he said, and not shared with anyone.
He said that the customers new to REC will be billed bimonthly “until we can implement automated meter readings. That will take a little bit of time.”
Actually, it is an 18- to 24-month long process that involves a system upgrade in a substation and new meters at homes. Once those changes are in place, monthly billings will commence.
REC is a member-owned, not-for-profit utility, according to a REC press release. A board of directors elected by its members governs the cooperative, thereby giving member-owners a voice in the leadership.
The cooperative provides electric service to more than 154,000 connections in parts of 22 Virginia counties. Its general office is in Fredericksburg. REC now maintains more than 15,500 miles of power lines through its service area, which ranges from the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Tidewater area around the Chesapeake Bay.