I have been on the road much of the last few months, going out to meet public power member groups and speaking at their annual meetings. I really enjoy getting out of DC and hearing about what our members are dealing with on the ground.
Recently, I was in Nashville for the annual meeting of the Tennessee Municipal Electric Power Association. TMEPA’s Director, Mike Vinson, put on a great meeting. We had good speakers on varied topics—everything from what is happening with TVA, to the use of drones, to cybersecurity, to recent happenings in the Tennessee legislature. In the evenings, we heard some great music from a Nashville band, Savannah Jack, as well as a lecture about the history and production of Jack Daniels whiskey. Only in Tennessee!
Steve Sax of Murfreesboro got to check item No. 1 off of his lifetime bucket list when Steve Sax, the former LA Dodger and star athlete, came to give an inspirational talk at the meeting and public power’s Steve Sax got to introduce him. But our Steve also told us about a situation that Murfreesboro had been dealing with that really got my goat when I heard it.
Some customers of the Murfreesboro electric utility had been called by sophisticated scammers, most likely from Eastern Europe. These scammers had managed to program their phones so that the Murfreesboro utility name came up on the customers’ caller IDs, giving them some instant credibility. The customers were told that they were past due on their electric bills, and that their service would be cut off in 1 hour unless they immediately went to Walmart, purchased a “green dot” cash card, and called back with the information on the card. Steve expressed great consternation that some of these customers had driven right by utility headquarters on their way to Walmart to purchase the cards, without thinking to stop in and ask why they were being treated this way! Of course, once the customers provided the information, the scammers collected on the cards and disappeared, leaving the customers the poorer for the experience.
Once the utility found out what was going on from these customers, it mounted a very aggressive public relations campaign using multiple media to let the community know and prevent any further thefts. So the scammers have moved on from Murfreesboro to greener (literally!) pastures. Similar activity is now being seen in some neighboring states such as Alabama.
Steve presented on this issue to his fellow Tennessee public power utilities so everyone would be alerted to this problem, and could take speedy action if they saw similar issues developing in their communities.
That is one of the things I like best about public power — if one utility sees a problem that creates a customer service issue, it shares that information with others. All public power systems — and their customers — benefit from such a willingness to share.
So thanks to Steve Sax and to TMEPA for inviting me to a great meeting!