News & Events

by Tom Manting, Chief Information Officer At HomeWorks, we try to blend old-fashioned service with new technology to add greater value. Some recent examples are our automated metering program, combined with SmartHub™, the app and online service that gives members control of their energy information. There’s also been our online outage map, and a variety of bill payment options that take advantage of technology. Obviously, these don’t work the same way for every member, and not every member makes use of them. But for some, these are great solutions, offering convenience and saving time or money. We’re now looking at a service that’s been around a while, and not only in the electric industry. You may already use a prepaid cell phone or a prepaid credit card. These programs are like paying for gas as you put it in your car’s tank, or for food at the grocery store - you “pay as you go” rather than waiting for one bill each month. Oklahoma Electric Cooperative, as just one example, started its prepaid electric program in 2006 and now has about 4,500 of its 52,500 members participating. In recent surveys, 88% said they would recommend prepaid service to others, and 86% feel they are more aware and/or more conservative of their electric use with prepaid. How can our members benefit? Individual members will: have better control of their energy budget be able to make smaller, more frequent payments choose their own payment schedule, when it’s convenient for them be able to take energy efficiency measures and see the results right away have a low start-up cost, and in some cases, could save money on late fees, collection charges, etc. All members will benefit from lower costs through the cooperative prepaid service because it: reduces unpaid account write-offs cuts time and money spent on collection efforts saves the co-op over $6 per member per year by eliminating a paper bill (plus it’s good for the environment), and provides a new billing option we can offer Our plan is to get a pilot program started by mid-2015. Please watch Country Lines for updates later in the year. We have a lot to learn about how prepaid metering can work here, but we think it’s a great opportunity to provide a useful new service that adds value for many of our members. February, 2015
A $10,000 gift to Manna’s Market in Lake Odessa was presented Tuesday, Jan. 6, by HomeWorks   Tri-County Electric Cooperative of Portland, represented by director Wayne Swiler and general manager Mark Kappler. The gift was made possible by a $5,000 matching grant from one of the cooperative’s lenders, CoBank, as part of CoBank’s Sharing Success program. This $3 million charitable fund was designed to benefit cooperatives and the charitable groups they support throughout rural America. CoBank first launched the program in 2012 in conjunction with the International Year of Cooperatives. “We were pleased to have this opportunity to support an organization like Manna’s Market, where my wife, Pam, and I have volunteered our own time. Our rural communities need these services and this gift will help Manna’s Market stock its pantry and serve our neighbors,” said Swiler, who represents Barry and Ionia counties on the HomeWorks Tri-County Electric board. CoBank provides loans, leases, export financing and other financial services to agribusinesses and rural power, water and communications providers in all 50 states. It’s also a member of the Farm Credit System, a nationwide network of banks and retail lending associations chartered to support the borrowing needs of U.S. agriculture and the nation’s rural economy. CoBank is headquartered outside Denver, Colorado. HomeWorks Tri-County Electric Cooperative believes community service is an essential part of its mission to provide its members and customers with energy, comfort, and communications solutions that will enhance their quality of life. The co-op was created in 1937 by farmers in Eaton, Ingham, and Jackson counties, and moved its headquarters to Portland in 1941. Since 1993, the Tri-County Electric People Fund, has granted over $1.8 million to needy families and organizations across mid-Michigan in its 13-county service area. The People Fund is supported by member-owners who voluntarily round up their monthly electric bills. Manna’s Market is a nondenominational, faith inspired, non-profit Michigan corporation serving all of Barry County and the communities of the Lakewood School District, including Vermontville and Mulliken in Eaton County, by extending a helping hand and providing food, clothing and baby pantry items for those facing dire circumstances beyond their control. Photo caption: From left, Manna’s Market board members and volunteers Dan Hankins, Robin Michalski, and Jayne Flanigan accept the $10,000 check from HomeWorks Tri-County Electric general manager Mark Kappler and director Wayne Swiler, with his wife, Pam. For more information:
Contributors whose photos we print in 2015 will be entered into a drawing and Country Lines will pay the winner's January 2016 electric bill (up to $200.00)! Click here to submit your photo electronically. (A new page will open with the submission form.) To send by mail: Include your name, address phone number, photographer’s name and details about your photo. Identify the people left to right and tell us their relation to you. Mail to: HomeWorks Snap Shot Contest Attn: Country Lines Snapshots 7973 E. Grand River Ave Portland, MI 48875 Photos will not be returned. Do not send color laser prints or professional studio photos. Here are the monthly themes coming for the rest of 2015: TOPIC PUBLICATION ISSUE DEADLINE My Favorite Pet March January 16 Kids at Play April February 13 Cars May March 16 Sunrises & Sunsets June April 15 America the Beautiful July/August May 15 Country Roads September July 16 Action/Sports October August 13 Michigan's Splendor November/December September 17
September may be the traditional back-to-school month, but we have education on our minds almost all the time. In fact, “Education and Information” is the fifth of seven Cooperative Principles we operate under. For instance, we send you Country Lines magazine 10 times a year to keep you updated on your electric cooperative. And in this issue, you’ll find notices for three programs which support education in our service area: Teachers or school districts can apply for Touchstone Energy classroom technology grants for up to $2,500 to purchase tools or software that will help them educate young minds. Since we started this program in 2011, we’ve given nearly $100,000 in support back to our area schools. High school sophomores and juniors can apply for the Youth Leadership Summit (April 22-24), which could lead to winning a week in Washington, D.C., in June. High school seniors, and adults furthering their education, can also apply for Touchstone Energy scholarships. In upcoming issues of Country Lines, we’ll inform you of the board election process and about the annual member-owner meetings in which we come to each of the seven districts to visit with you and bring you co-op news. This kind of information is essential to the democratic governance of a cooperative like ours. Speaking of board elections, we have two new directors to educate. Kimber Hansen was elected last year in District 4, and has already started attending the courses offered to electric co-op directors. Luke Pohl was appointed to the District 3 board seat in September, and will serve through next year’s election. Board policy calls for directors to become certified during their first three-year term; both are already asking good questions at the board table and bringing their own experience to the wide variety of decisions board members are asked to make. Employees are no exception to our education program. Everyone attends regular safety training on general subjects, and as their jobs require, on some very specific subjects. Most of our managers and supervisors have earned certification through our national organization. This education serves two purposes - making sure they’re up-to-date on the latest laws, regulations, programs and technologies, while developing a nationwide network of co-op professionals that we can call on. All of this emphasis on education benefits you as member-owners because it means the decisions made in running your electric co-op are not based on "best guesses" or a need for profit. Instead, HomeWorks runs on facts, experience, and your input. Country Lines - January, 2015
Our offices will be closed for Thanksgiving    -  Thursday, November 27  (re-open Friday, November 28, at 8 am) Christmas Eve   -  Wednesday, December 24, and Christmas         - Thursday, December 25 (re-open Friday, December 26, at 8 am) New Year's Day - Thursday, January 1 (re-open Friday, January 2) As always, we have crews on call for service emergencies. Please call 1-800-848-9333 or use the free SmartHub app to report any problem. Please enjoy a safe and happy holiday season!
If you’re familiar with Steven Covey’s “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” you’ll know that one of those habits is “Sharpen the Saw.” To us, that means continually improving by using the tools we have in a better way, being open to new technologies that help us provide you with better service, and learning every day. For instance, we’re still figuring out how to tell you about all the useful features of SmartHub®, a self-service site that gives you instant access to your account via computer or mobile device.  Sure, you can pay your bill, but you can do so much more. With SmartHub, you can check your energy use and compare it to last month or last year. You can “bookmark” a date when you replaced an appliance, to track how it changes your energy use patterns. You can also update the information on your account, such as your phone number, send us service requests, or even report a power outage and skip being on hold when our phone lines are temporarily overwhelmed.  On page 9 of the November-December issue of Country Lines (a pdf file of the page is linked below this article), you can read more about our latest technological change – our online outage map. The map we had was adequate, but showed only basic information. Working with other co-ops and our data processing vendor, we now have a new interactive online outage map that will help us answer more of your questions.  When there’s an outage, you want to know: 1) Does the co-op know my power is out? 2) When will the power be back on? and 3) What caused the problem?  Working with this new map program, we’re learning to adjust our internal work processes in order to gather and share the information you want. This will include the cause of an outage, as soon as it’s known, and an estimated time for restoration of your service. Both of these new tools give you power over the information you receive from HomeWorks. Moving forward this way helps us keep our saw as sharp as possible to serve you well.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the National Rural Electric Youth Tour. Youth Tour was created 50 years ago by a rural electric co-op member from Texas - Lyndon B. Johnson. He thought bringing teen-aged student leaders to Washington, D.C., would be a great way to foster future leaders for cooperatives, and that’s still our goal when we invest in our teenagers each year. Here in Michigan, HomeWorks has been participating since the mid-1980s, and we have sent about 60 high school students from mid-Michigan to the nation’s capital over those years. Sometimes it’s their first airplane flight, or their first significant trip away from their small town and family. Tiffany Burton and Michaela Clark represented us this year, then came to the co-op's annual meeting to tell us about the experience. They were joined by 1995 Youth Tour alumnus Cary Dumas. We had asked previous Youth Tour participants to update us on where they are now, and what impact the Youth Tour had on them, and we’ll be sharing a few of those stories over the next few months in Country Lines. They all remember the monuments and museums, but nearly everyone has said "meeting new people" and "seeing their world become bigger" made the biggest difference to them. Investing in our future leaders is more important than ever. There are many challenges ahead for HomeWorks, and a committed, educated board of directors will be necessary to guide us through them, just as our past and current directors have brought your co-op to where it is today. That same need exists in our businesses, communities, states, and even our nation. Where will we find those leaders? Investing in teens now will help us develop the leaders we need tomorrow. Thank-you for your investment in the future - for your continued support of programs like Youth Tour, our scholarships, and similar programs.
The board of directors will consider several changes to the cooperative’s rates and tariffs at its meeting on September 22, 2014, to be held at the cooperative office at 3681 Costabella Avenue, Portland, 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: 1) Establish the 2015 Power Supply Cost Recovery Factor, to be applied to the cooperative’s retail member-customers’ monthly kilowatt-hour use. The Power Supply Cost Recovery Factor 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) Revise the cooperative’s Requirements for Pole Attachments tariff sheet from $14.00 per attachment point per year to $16.50 for 2015. 3) Revise the cooperative’s miscellaneous billing fees, charges, and rates as needed. 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 Notice of the board meeting shall be sent to all members, as required by P.A. 167, by publication in Michigan Country Lines.
Like your family, at HomeWorks Tri-County we mark the big occasions in the lives of our “work family." This summer, we’ve had several changes within a short time. Calvin Foster completed his 7,000-hour line apprenticeship program and is now a journeyman lineman. Calvin has been with HomeWorks for 15 years, having started with our propane subsidiary. Becoming a lineworker requires a dedication to working safely over long hours and in difficult working conditions, and we are fortunate to have Calvin on our team. Congratulations, Calvin! Another lineman at Blanchard, Tom Hoffmeyer, had the opportunity to return to his hometown and transferred to our sister co-op, Presque Isle Electric & Gas. We’ll miss his contributions to our team, but we wish Tom and his young family the very best. Long-time director Laverne Hansen chose to retire rather than run for re-election to the board this year. Laverne and his wife, Joyce, have been such a big part of our co-op life over the past 27 years that it’s going to be a little bit jarring to look at the board table and see someone else in his seat. We hope to see Laverne stay active with HomeWorks even in his retirement. We’ll still see a Hansen in the District 4 board seat, however, as Kimber Hansen won the seat following a dramatic tie vote. Although he’s already familiar with the co-op from being around his dad, Laverne, we’ll all benefit from helping our newest board member learn the ropes. Changes like these give us interesting new points of view, although they can sometimes be bittersweet. But we believe our culture of “HomeWorks family” is an important asset that helps us provide our member-owners with the reliable and affordable service you expect.
Our offices will be closed Monday, Sept. 1, to honor Labor Day. We'll re-open Tuesday, Sept. 2, at 8 am. If you have a service issue, please call 1-800-848-9333. Our after-hours service will be able to dispatch one of our on-call crews. Remember, you can pay your bill online using SmartHub, which is also available for iOS and Android smartphones and tablets. Or call 1-877-999-3395 to pay by phone, anytime. Please enjoy a safe and happy holiday weekend!


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