News & Events

Guest column written by Cara Evans, director for District 5: Our long, cold, snowy winter has tested us all, and now I hope everyone is welcoming spring -- gladly saying goodbye to the ice and snow, and trying to forget those very cold temperatures. This past winter certainly made us realize how much electricity does for us, and how much we depend on it, for so much, in our daily lives. And what a true value electricity is, for all the work and convenience and comfort it provides for us. Now we’re all looking for the robins and the crocuses and the baseball games -- any sign that yes, spring has arrived in mid-Michigan. Here’s another sign of spring: HomeWorks Tri-County Electric Cooperative has scheduled the District Membership Meetings in May. Have you ever attended a district meeting? Have you met the general manager, Mark Kappler, and talked with him about your concerns? Do you know the employees who keep things flowing, working for you? Did you vote for the person who would represent you and your neighbors, making decisions for the cooperative at the board table? Have you ever said “thank you” to the people who keep the power on? If not, try something you’ve never done before. Come experience your district meeting. All you have to do is come on in, sit back and relax, talk with friends and neighbors, or maybe meet someone new. We will do all the rest. The opportunity is yours, the door is open to experience the power of the people who come together to make HomeWorks Tri-County Electric Cooperative. Oh, there are prizes to be won also, and did I mention food? I welcome you all to take the opportunity this year to experience the cooperative difference at your district membership meeting. 2014 District Membership meetings: May 12 - District 5    Fulton Middle School Gym May 13 - District 3    Eagle Park Hall May 14 - District 7    St. Michael’s School, Remus May 15 - District 1    St. Mary’s Church Hall, Charlotte May 19 - District 4    (election) Vestaburg Middle School May 20 - District 6    Beal City High School May 21 - District 2    (election) St. Edward’s Church Hall, Lake Odessa *Board election in Districts 2 and 4; see the May issue of Country Lines for information and an absentee ballot request form. Each meeting starts with a light supper, followed by a business meeting at 6 pm. Watch your mailbox in late April for information, a map, and your registration card!
Notice to Members of HomeWorks Tri-County Electric Cooperative A Special Member Meeting is set for 9 a.m. April 28, at the cooperative’s Blanchard office The board of directors will consider changes to the cooperative’s rates and tariffs at its meeting on April 28, 2014, to be held at the cooperative office at 3681 Costabella Avenue, Blanchard, MI. The meeting will start at 9 a.m. and is open to all members of HomeWorks Tri-County Electric Cooperative. The session will begin with an opportunity for members to provide direct input to the board of directors, without filing a formal request under cooperative policy. Members are asked to come to the lobby by 9 a.m. and request to speak to the board; staff will direct interested members to the meeting room. Time constraints on each member’s comments will be at the discretion of the board president, but members are asked to keep comments to less than five minutes. The following items will be considered. Members will have an opportunity to address the board on the proposed changes prior to board action. 1)   Reconcile the 2013 Power Supply Cost Recovery Factor collections. The Power Supply Cost Recovery Factor is applied to Tri-County Electric Cooperative’s retail member-customers’ monthly kilowatt-hour use. It represents the power supply costs as established by the cooperative in conjunction with Wolverine Power Cooperative. The factor is established annually, and reviewed monthly. 2)   Discuss elimination of provision for outage-related penalties, set by the State of Michigan to be paid to utility customers in case of power outages extending beyond pre-determined limits. While HomeWorks Tri-County Electric Cooperative has restored outages within those limits to date, the idea of one member-consumer paying more to subsidize another member-consumer receiving an outage penalty goes against the cooperative principles. Actual elimination of the provision would take place by vote of the members at the Cooperative’s Annual Meeting. Notice of changes or additions to the cooperative’s rates or service rules shall be sent to all members, as required by P.A. 167, by publication in Michigan Country Lines at least 30 days prior to their effective date. Participation: Any interested member may attend and participate. The location of the board meeting site is accessible, including handicapped parking. Persons needing any accommodation to participate should contact HomeWorks Tri-County Electric at 800-562-8232 a week in advance to request mobility, visual, hearing or other assistance. Comments may also be made before the meeting date by calling General Manager Mark Kappler at 517-647-1281, or by email at mkappler@homeworks.org. Notice of the board meeting shall be sent to all members, as required by P.A. 167, by publication in Michigan Country Lines. (as published in April, 2014, edition of Country Lines magazine)
Electric cooperatives were formed by farmers in an areas unserved by the large utilities. People got together and created a different kind of utility to bring them the services they needed but couldn’t provide on an individual basis. Like co-ops, governments are formed by the people of a region to help themselves and their neighbors with centralized services, from roads to schools. Governments, from your township board to the U.S. Congress, are supposed to improve the quality of our lives by working together to pool resources and provide those needed services.  Similarly, HomeWorks Tri-County is your electric utility, not some faceless corporation.  Neither situation is meant to be “Us vs. Them.” Your leaders in both cases are elected locally, from local people - not strangers brought in from elsewhere to control your lives without your consent.  That means, as citizens, that our job doesn't end on Election Day. We become public servants ourselves - serving on a township board, coaching a Little League team, being a volunteer firefighter.  And, we take time to let our elected public servants know what we’re asking them to do. We share our opinions and show our support, thank them when they get it right, talk to them when the course needs correction. Through Action.coop, a website created by NRECA, our national organization, you can make sure your opinion is heard. And through ACRE Co-op Owners for Political Action program, you can contribute to candidates that support electric co-op interests - especially reliable and affordable electric power. The average ACRE (Action Committee for Rural Electrification) contribution made by over 32,000 members nationwide is about $41. This isn’t corporate lobbyists buying influence. This is grassroots folks like you and me showing our commitment to our cooperative and our local community. We’ll be talking more about ACRE at our District Meetings, coming up in May. We hope you’ll consider joining in to support a great cause that in turn supports your family’s need for affordable, reliable electricity *** Speaking of improving the quality of life in our communities, I hope you’ll take a few minutes to review the Tri-County Electric People Fund’s Annual Report for 2013, which is included as a cover wrap in this issue. The People Fund is a great example of working together for public service. You give your spare change from your energy bill, and the board members give their time, to return funds to families and organizations in need around us. Over $1.8 million has been granted to fire departments, ambulance services, hospice, libraries, food pantries, and youth programs, among others. It’s all due to you, and your neighbors, who round up. Thank you for your continued support of the Tri-County Electric People Fund!
Join us in learning more about the power of sunshine at our Community Solar Garden seminars on March 18 at Portland, or March 19 at Blanchard. We’ll serve a light supper at 6 pm, followed by information about our project with Cascade Renewable Energy, and finish with time for questions and answers. Reserve your space at http://www.homeworks.org/content/were-growing-community-solar-garden.
Whether you're looking for college money, or a chance to hone your leadership skills, March 17 is the deadline to apply this year! Our Touchstone Energy Scholarship program offers two $1,000 scholarships (one-time) to high school seniors, and two $250 scholarships to adults who are seeking to further their education. For details and applications, visit http://homeworks.coopwebbuilder.com/content/scholarships. High school sophomores and juniors are eligible to attend the Youth Leadership Summit April 23-25 at Springhill Camps near Evart, and to go on to the National Rural Electric Youth Tour in Washington, D.C., June 14-19. For more information, visit http://homeworks.coopwebbuilder.com/content/youth-leadership-summit-national-youth-tour. And here's a direct link to the on-line application form: http://www.miyls.com/apply/homeworks/application/.
Good news for our HomeWorks Tri-County propane customers! We are, right now, informing our delivery drivers to begin filling tanks to "full" status as of this afternoon (February 12). Propane inventories continue to stabilize here in the Midwest; based on our current on-hand supply and contract arrangements, we don't see a reoccurrence of short-filling for the remainder of the heating season. Just a thought: if you've gotten used to dialing down during this situation, you may want to continue. It will make a difference in your energy use and your bills!
Helping the less fortunate among us is our responsibility, and our duty, as human beings. Sadly, the Michigan Legislature tried to find a way to make it our responsibility as consumers of electricity, and in 2013 their hurried attempt at a law created a bigger mess than they were trying to fix. After several years of discussion, the Legislature developed a funding plan to be paid by the state’s electric consumers rather than from everyone’s tax dollars. At the last moment, they added a provision to make it optional for utilities, like HomeWorks, to participate. The bill was signed into law July 1 and handed over to the Michigan Public Service Commission for implementation. On July 11, we were notified of the MPSC’s plan, to put a surcharge of about a dollar on the monthly electric bill for each meter. We had until July 24 to decide to opt in or opt out. Members of our staff were assured, several times by several different people, that our members would still receive low-income energy assistance this winter, whether we opted in or not. However, because we did not opt in, we are not allowed to disconnect any meter for non-payment during the winter months. Your board of directors, at the July board meeting, looked at how much this surcharge would cost our members over a year. Considering the costs and benefits, and the fact that this was done in such a short time we had no chance to seek member input, the board chose not to participate this year, and re-evaluate for next year at an open member meeting. Just before Christmas, the state decided that because we can’t remove the meter, our low-income members are not facing an emergency situation and therefore don’t qualify for assistance until after April 15, when funds may or may not still be available. This is a 180-degree change in the policy that we were given in July. This means two things: • those members will face months of worry over increasing past-due balances, and the possibility of funds not being available in the spring; and • all of our other members will be responsible for the costs of bills that go unpaid, in the form of write-offs. We don’t think this is fair, and we’re working with our statewide association to get some kind of policy change to make sure our members are not punished for the rushed start to this year’s assistance program. Meanwhile, we are working with our low-income members to make the payments they can afford. And the Tri-County Electric People Fund has received a donation they will use this winter to help low-income members with their electric bills. Our customer service representative will refer eligible members to the People Fund, as well as to the 2-1-1 service’s list of other area agencies that may be able to help. There are no easy answers to helping our low-income neighbors, and we’re disappointed with the state’s response, starting with the Legislature’s rushed bill. We are working on solutions that will be fair to all of our members; we hope if you have suggestions, you’ll share them with us at or before the open member meeting April 28.
There have been severe shortages in propane supplies across the Midwest since last fall, and our suppliers may have to set us up on an allocation system that restricts our access to our contracted propane. To help make sure all our customers have enough fuel for the next weeks and months, we are filling tanks only to a maximum of 60%. Factors contributing to the propane supply situation across 24 states include transportation issues, higher foreign exports, a late and wet harvest season (propane is used for grain drying), extreme cold temperatures, heavy snowfall, and pipeline disruptions or shutdowns. We are keeping a careful eye on both the supply situation and your tank, so that you don’t have a propane outage. You can help us by checking your own propane tank gauge often and calling us at 1-877-574-2740 if it’s at 20% or lower. You can also help by “dialing down” your thermostat to conserve your own fuel supply. Dialing down the thermostat just one degree during the winter can result in about 1 to 3 percent less fuel use. Instead of turning up the heat to increase the overall warmth in the huge volume of space inside your house, you can dial down and simply increase your personal insulation with a sweater or sweatshirt and warm socks to help retain body heat. It will take just a day or two for your body will adjust to the "new normal" house temperature. We also suggest using an alternate heat source, such as a woodstove or fireplace, if you have one available. Our guaranteed capped and pre-buy prices will remain in effect through the heating season, which ends April 30. After that date, you’ll want to budget for an increase in prices, unless the wholesale market returns to its pre-shortage levels. updated January 24, 2014
Scammers continue to target electric cooperative members in several states, including here in Michigan. Cherryland Electric Cooperative reported this morning that “Last night someone called one of our members claiming they owed $4,000 and that their power would be shut off if they did not pay immediately with their credit card over the phone. Luckily, this member recognized it as a scam and called us today to report it.” Other scammers seek personal information such as your Social Security number or bank account number. Like Cherryland, we will NEVER call you and demand immediate payment over the phone. If your account is delinquent, you will receive a notice on your bill and you will receive automated calls from our automatic calling system. These calls will instruct you to call our toll-free number to make a payment. You can also access your account anytime, anywhere through SmartHub on our website. This will allow you to verify your balance and make payments using our secured online system. We only collect personal information about you when YOU call US, to set up your service or make a payment, for example. Once your account is set up, our CSRs may ask you to verify information we have on account; they have access to your birthdate and the last four numbers of your Social Security number to compare. We also suggest you set up a password on your account so we can verify your identity when you call us. If anyone calls you or approaches you and claims to be collecting money or information for HomeWorks Tri-County Electric Cooperative, please don’t GIVE them anything. Gather information about them, if you safely can, and report it to us at 1-800-562-8232 as soon as possible.
Writing this as our crews have just finished cleaning up from the November 17 storm, I’m reminded that every power outage is a learning experience for us. Ideally, of course, we would never have power outages, or blinks. But that’s not the way electric distribution systems work, so instead of wishing for the impossible, we focus on eliminating potential problems. For instance, trees are one of the most significant causes of power outages during wind storms, so we invest time and money every year into our right-of-way clearing program. Since 2006, we’ve nearly completed clearing all 3,400 miles of our system. The next challenges are 1) keeping those rights-of-way clear for the future, and 2) looking out for the taller trees beyond our right-of-way that could still come down into our lines. We’ll be doing more with herbicides sooner, to stop trees before they grow where they shouldn’t. The ash tree problem of the past few years has also kept us busy, as many ash trees that were healthy when we cleared the circuit have since been infested and killed by emerald ash borers. They’re now considered “danger trees” and we’re being proactive, working with property owners to take care of them before they cause problems. Our crews have also been doing circuit-by-circuit inspections, looking for loose connections, worn equipment, or other areas that need just a little work now, to prevent problems later. This work is in addition to our longer-term work plan, where our engineers review each circuit to make sure it’s working efficiently to serve the members it reaches. We also know that communication is essential, back and forth between dispatchers and crews, and between our office and our members. We’ve worked with area telephone companies to get the best use of our phone lines. Still, even with sending calls to a large regional cooperative call center, not everyone can get through. Especially on that Sunday in November, when the storm blasted hard through most of the Midwest. With millions of people out of power, there just weren’t enough phone lines or dispatchers to take every call. Facebook is not meant to be a substitute for calling, but it is a useful clearinghouse for information and we will continue developing our presence on Facebook, and soon on Twitter, to help keep the conversation going. Our mission, as always, is to provide you and your family with energy and other services to improve your quality of life. Making sure your power is there when you need it is the foundation for everything we do.                                                                                                                  

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