Survey shows customers happy with OTEC

July 01, 2008 11:00 pm

By MIKE FERGUSON

Baker City Herald

Oregon Trail Electric Consumers Cooperative (OTEC) customers are very satisfied with their consumer-owned utility, a recent poll indicates.

A majority would like the utility to provide more green power — but most indicated that they aren't willing to pay more for the privilege.

And local ratepayers are divided almost evenly over whether OTEC should be contributing more money toward economic development efforts in the four counties OTEC serves — Baker, Union, Grant and Wallowa.

According to a press release issued by OTEC, overall satisfaction ratings among the 400 OTEC customers surveyed by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association was 8.86 on a 10-point scale.

The customers surveyed were selected randomly and were interviewed in March and April.

Those interviewed were asked to evaluate 17 performance quality attributes related to customer service, value, rates, community involvement, communication, the environment and electric service. On 15 of the 17 attributes, the mean ratings were 4 or higher on a 5-point scale. Mean ratings for nine of the attributes exceeded 4.50, which the utility considered "excellent."

"It's pleasing to know that OTEC was graded very positively on most attributes, especially having friendly, courteous employees, having employees who are highly trained and professional, being easy to reach, supporting the local communities, providing accurate and easy-to-understand bills and having convenient payment options," said Werner Buehler, OTEC's general manager.

The two areas that received the lowest grades among respondents — rates and fees charged — are typically rated lower than the other categories, Buehler said.

"I believe we can improve this by communicating more about why we have monthly minimum charges and where our rates compare to other utilities around us," he said. "We plan to work on this in the near future."

While 60 percent of those surveyed said it is "extremely important" for utilities to provide environmentally friendly green power, only 20 percent of members say they're willing to pay the higher rate, which is about three times what Bonneville Power Administration charges utilities for regular hydropower, Buehler said.

"If members want it, we'll have to pay for it," Buehler said.

Fifty-one percent of those surveyed said they're "likely to support the concept" of OTEC contributing cash for economic development to increase jobs in Northeast Oregon communities even if it raised their electric bill.

"Being that the economic development issue is about a 50/50 split means boardroom discussion will continue on this issue," Buehler said, adding he was "very pleased with the outcome of the survey."

"It shows that the cooperative is serving the members well and identifies some places where we can improve," Buehler added. "We will continue with our good work and begin efforts to improve in the areas identified."