Every utility gets calls about high bills, but how many pick up the phone to warn members when something's amiss?

Berkeley Electric Cooperative does. And there's a good chance your co-op can, too.

"Your computer system can set up rules so that if a bill is way high compared to the previous year—or even very high daily kilowatt-hour use—it kicks it out and notifies your energy specialist, so they can proactively contact the member and say, 'We know your bill is high this month and we want to try to help you solve that problem,'" said Eddie Plowden, director of marketing and energy services at the Moncks Corner, South Carolina-based co-op.

It's a simple idea that works wonders to help your co-op become the members' trusted energy adviser, which was the focus of an Aug. 17 webinar taking an in-depth look at findings from the Touchstone Energy® Cooperatives 2017-2018 National Survey on the Cooperative Difference.

"Don't wait for them to call you mad. You become the hero for that member if you actually call them on a high bill," said Plowden. "You have contacted them to try to help them. You're their trusted energy source, and they are very happy that you have engaged them right when that bill has come out."

Checking the daily and hourly kilowatt-hour use can help find when the problem began, which makes it easier to pinpoint the source. Berkeley Electric has seen a wide range of issues. Some are routine, such as water pumps that don't shut off. Others are more unusual—like the member who set up a bitcoin server farm at home.

In this video, Berkeley Electric Cooperative helps a member discover a water leak that's leading the hot water heater to run continuously.

"Over a three-month period, his bill went from $40 a month to $900," said Plowden. The co-op called and was invited out to the house, where they found three places that had been wired for 240 volts and were "actually pulling 12 kWh per hour from this equipment."

"We let him know this was the maximum in a residential setting that he could even use, so he was going to limit out on the capacity that he could have," said Plowden. The co-op not only solved a high bill issue but averted an engineering problem.

In another instance, something was way out of line at a vacation property. At one point, daily use tripled from $6 to $18 per day. Turned out a pinhole leak in a water line became a gusher under the condo, causing the water heater to run virtually nonstop. But the owner lives out of state and had no idea—until Berkeley Electric called.

"The member was so appreciative," said Plowden. "He was amazed that we had contacted him."

Learn more about the 2017-2018 National Survey on the Cooperative Difference, and register for upcoming webinars focusing on key findings in the report.