BUFFALO, N.Y.—Members are demanding change from their electric cooperatives, and co-ops must respond with new technology and renewable energy options or risk being left behind by consumers, NRECA President Curtis Wynn told co-op leaders Friday at the NRECA regional meeting in Buffalo, New York.

“Today’s energy consumers … want more than affordable and reliable electricity from their utilities,” said Wynn, who is also president and CEO of Roanoke Electric Cooperative in Ahoskie, North Carolina.

“Don’t get me wrong, they still want cheap electricity. But they also want renewables and value-added services such as instant access to usage and pricing data, and the ability to easily optimize and control their energy usage. And you know what? We can offer all of that.”

Wynn shared the story of a 29-year-old Roanoke member, Sam, who recently moved back to his hometown of Roanoke Rapids and made it clear that he expects a lot from his co-op.

“When Sam called to connect his service, he had a lot of questions: ‘Can I get texts to remind me when my bill is due? Do you use solar? My last utility connected my account to Alexa so I could monitor my electric use; can you do that?’ Essentially, his questions revolved around a singular issue: How can you make your service more convenient for me?”

Giving members what they want will help co-ops stay ahead of “disruptors”—companies that come into a market to offer products such as smart home devices, programmable water heaters and solar power, Wynn said.

“We are at risk of losing long-standing member relationships as companies across the board offer personalized service that member-consumers could, in the past, only get from their co-op,” he warned.

“These new companies are meeting our members where they are … and using language that appeals to them: ‘It’s convenient. You can save money. It’s good for the environment.’”

Co-ops can do a better job of satisfying members’ demands and boost business at the same time by promoting beneficial electrification, Wynn said.

“Beneficial electrification can save our members money over time on their total energy expenses, while using more of our products and services,” he said. “When our members choose electric vehicles, appliances and farm or industrial machines rather than ones powered by diesel, gas or oil, they save money, reduce environmental impacts, and get the new technologies, optimization, and convenience they demand. It’s a win-win.”

Roanoke EC and other co-ops are working with North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives to promote electric vehicles to members, Wynn said.

“In July, we launched a targeted online advertising campaign to drive members to a site with frequently asked EV questions like: ‘How much will I save? How much will I help the environment?’ and even, ‘What else is in it for me?’”

Co-ops can leverage consumer data they already have to help meet members’ demand for new services and lower costs, he said. He pointed to Randolph Electric Membership Corp. in Asheboro, North Carolina, which is using hourly meter data to identify members who could lower their costs by using a smart thermostat or a water heater controller to move their energy use to non-peak hours.

“We must educate our members on emerging technology and demand-response tools that put the control in their hands—items like smart thermostats and energy use portals,” said Wynn.

He urged co-op leaders to take at least one thing they learned from the regional meeting and use it to try something new.

“Some situations are best dealt with ahead of time. Investigate new technologies before everyone else has them. Strengthen member relationships before someone else does,” Wynn said. “Together, let’s be proactive and retain our rightful position as leaders in this industry. Let’s lead our cooperatives and our communities into a future full of promise.”

More Regional Meeting Coverage:

NRECA CEO Jim Matheson: ‘If We All Stand Up,’ Co-ops Can Save Tax-Exempt Status

Co-ops Could Be Affected by Hundreds of State Actions on Electric Vehicles