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Foster Campbell announces support of electric cooperative internet projects


At a press conference held on October 6, Louisiana Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell announced his support of Claiborne Electric Cooperative and Northeast Louisiana Power Cooperative providing affordable, reliable, high-speed broadband internet service in the areas where they provide electric service.

Claiborne Electric General Manager & CEO Mark Brown said this support is vital to the proposed fiber-to-the-home broadband project the cooperative has been working on for the past three years.

“We express our sincere thanks for Commissioner Campbell’s support of our project,” Brown said. “Without his endorsement, our proposal wouldn’t be able to get off the ground. With his help, we will now be able to provide desperately needed, genuine broadband access to thousands of homes and businesses across our service area.”

Brown said if the entire LPSC gives the green light to the projects at their mid-October meeting, Claiborne Electric is preparing to participate in the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)’c Rural Digital Opportunity Fund auction (RDOF). This program provides significant grant funding to businesses willing to provide broadband internet service to underserved Census blocks. Nearly every part of Claiborne Electric’s service area is underserved.

Brown said that if Claiborne Electric is able to succeed in this fall’s RDOF auction, the co-op’s internet subsidiary will begin a building project immediately, with some subscribers able to receive service as quickly as early summer 2021. As the backbone of the internet system is built, subscribers in each area will be able to use the service. The system should be completely built within five years, with hopes that the project could be finished closer to three years. Brown said the initial build will be financed through a mixture of federal grants and low-interest loans.

Campbell said during the next 10 years, federal agencies are expected to distribute more than $600 million to expand Louisiana’s high-speed internet service. Campbell said he now supports and urges electric cooperatives to compete for that funding.

“These are our tax dollars,” he said.  “Few public needs are as vital right now as broadband access, so we should fight to capture these dollars for our state.

“So much of our education, health care, and commerce is now conducted on-line, so reliable, fast and affordable internet service is needed in every household and every community.”

Campbell said he will ask the PSC this month to support proposals by Claiborne Electric and Northeast Power to create subsidiary companies that will offer internet service in their regions.  The Louisiana co-ops are part of a trend across the country of electric cooperatives entering the broadband business. Currently, more than 100 electric cooperatives nationwide have thriving internet subsidiaries.

“Rural residents and business owners in North Louisiana have received reliable and reasonably priced electric service from these co-ops for decades,” Campbell said.  “I believe they can count on the same for internet service.”

Nominations open for district elections


Nominations are open for the election of three (3) members of Claiborne Electric Cooperative’s Board of Directors, including Districts one, six and nine.

Nomination petitions must be submitted by close of business on Wednesday, October 21, 2020. If more than one nomination is submitted for districts one, six or nine, elections will take place at district meetings held Saturday, December 5, 2020 in or near those districts. Current Directors in these districts are:

  • District one – Hez Elkins
  • District six – Rand Killgore
  • District nine – Richard Noles

Claiborne Electric Cooperative is a not-for-profit organization, owned and democratically controlled by the members it serves, and managed by a nine-member Board of Directors, which is elected by the membership of the Co-op.

Claiborne Electric is divided into nine membership districts. Each year, three districts participate in district elections, and directors serve three-year terms. District elections are held the first Saturday of December each year. Any person who is a member of record and receiving electric service from the Co-op, has the right to participate in electing the Director to represent the district in which the member lives.

Members of the Co-op also have the right to run for election to the Board of Directors. Any three members of a district, acting together, can nominate any member of that district to run for the Board. The nomination must be made and submitted to the Secretary of the Cooperative at least 45 days prior to the District Meeting. The secretary will post the nomination at the Homer and Farmerville offices, per the bylaws.

In the event that more than one member is nominated for the election, a quorum of 100 members must be present at the District Meeting to conduct the election.

Article IV, Section 4 of Claiborne Electric’s bylaws reads as follows:

“Section 4. Nomination

Any three (3) members living within a district and acting together, may make a nomination in writing not less than 45 days nor more than 90 days prior to the meeting and the secretary shall post such nominations at the principal office of the Cooperative in both Union and Claiborne Parishes. If only one nomination is submitted, the Board of Directors will declare the nominated candidate as the winner and may choose not to hold a meeting. If no nominations are submitted, the seat will be considered a vacancy and will be handled according to Article IV, Section 6 of these bylaws.”

Any person interested in serving on Claiborne Electric’s Board of Directors can contact Lisa Ledbetter (Lisa@our.coop, 318-927-3504) for an interest packet.

For specific information on districts, or specific election rules, please reference Claiborne Electric’s bylaws. Bylaws pertaining to districts and director elections can be found in Article IV of the bylaws.

Nomination form for Claiborne Electric Cooperative Board of Directors

My lights are out! Now what?


Electricity powers our lives. We depend on it for nearly everything we do. So we understand how frustrating it can be when you’re left in the dark.

Power outages are never convenient. It takes a lot of hands to keep your power on, and even more hands to get it up and running when an outage occurs. Claiborne Electric Cooperative works hard to restore your electric service when outages occur, but there are necessary steps to take to ensure that power is restored to the majority of members as quickly, and as safely, as possible.

After a major storm, our line crews must identify which infrastructure has incurred damage. Sometimes, transmission towers and lines can be damaged. Transmission lines deliver power to substations. Most of the transmission lines delivering power to Claiborne Electric’s substations are owned by a separate transmission company. We pay this company a fee to deliver power from our power supplier near Baton Rouge to our substations along their transmission lines. If there is damage along these transmission lines, there is no power being delivered to our substations. Repairing damage to transmission lines is the first necessity when it comes to restoring power.

Next, damage must be assessed and repaired at Claiborne Electric’s substations. These substations serve thousands of members each. If the issue is isolated and can be resolved at the substation level, great! That means thousands of people can get their power restored at once.

At times, the issue cannot be isolated to one of our distribution substations. If that is the case, crews inspect supply lines between the substations and the meters they serve. If the supply lines can be repaired, power can be restored to the towns and homes those lines serve, as long as there is no damage to the tap lines.

Tap lines carry power to the transformers outside homes and other buildings. Line crews identify which damaged lines to work on first based on which lines can receive power, and which ones will restore power to the greatest number of members.

Sometimes, the service line between a member’s meter and the transformer is damaged. Have you ever lost power only to look next door and see the lights still blazing from your neighbor’s window? This is what we refer to as an individual or single outage. If this happens, report it so we know we have individual damage in the area that will require the attention of a line crew.

Power restoration can be a tricky business, so if you lose service in your home or neighborhood please remember the following:

  • Stay clear of downed power lines. Contact with these lines could be life threatening.
  • Report the outage to by using our free SmartHub app or calling 800-900-9406 as soon as possible.

Click here for a model of the power restoration process: Power Restoration handout

Co-op preps for Hurricane Laura – Manager’s Message


A MESSAGE FROM OUR GENERAL MANAGER

Friends,

Here’s a quick update on our preparations for Hurricane Laura. We currently have four extra crews here onsite from ECHO. We also have four more crews on the way. There has been a steady stream of delivery trucks arriving over the last few days bringing us an extra supply of poles and pole-line materials. We should be ready when this storm arrives.

I should also offer a few words regarding how the repairs will be handled as a reminder of our procedures. These kinds of situations are the most dangerous for our co-workers and for our contractors. Safety comes first. As the storm approaches, we will stage materials and supplies in our warehouses and on each truck involved in the restoration effort. While the storm is actually underway in our area, our employees and co-workers will be located safely out of harm’s way. We will be assessing the extent of our outages during this time to better allocate resources across the system. When the storm passes, the restoration effort will begin in earnest.

You should be aware of the priorities used in this effort. Transmission lines must be restored first. Any required substation work comes after that. Next, we focus on main three-phase feeders. We then begin working on large single-phase feeders. Finally, we commit effort to restoring smaller single-phase taps and individual outages. We often receive complaints from members telling us that we drove right by their house without stopping. It will likely happen again over the next few days. We must follow the proper power restoration process. For example, if a substation is without power, we must make those repairs before homes served by that substation can receive power. We will focus our efforts where they can make the most impact in the shortest amount of time.

Please pray for our Cooperative, for our employees and for those individuals who have come to our area to help us with these restoration efforts.

Mark Brown
General Manager & CEO

Claiborne Electric refunds nearly $700,000 in account deposits


Claiborne electric members who have paid their monthly electric bill on time for the past 36 months will receive a credit on their August or September bill in the amount of the deposit they paid when connecting their account.

“At a time when many of our members are wondering how they will pay monthly expenses, our Board of Directors made the decision to refund deposits on accounts with a demonstrated on-time payment history,” Claiborne Electric General Manager and CEO Mark Brown said. “These members have shown that they are unlikely to disconnect and leave the Co-op with unpaid debt, which is the reason we keep a deposit on file. For many of these members, a deposit refund will mean one to two months without owing an electric bill.”

Brown said refunding deposits after 36 months of on-time payments will continue.

“This is not a one-time refund,” he said. “Any member, no matter how long they have been connected, will receive their deposit back at the point they have paid on or before the due date for 36 months.”

Claiborne Electric names 2020 college scholarship recipients


Congratulations to Claiborne Electric’s 2020 college scholarship winners! Due to the cancellation of our Annual Meeting, winners were drawn in our office.

Each student will receive a $2,000 scholarship.

 

Elise Perritt (parents: Wayne & Monique Perritt)

Kathlyn Redman (Parent: Michael Redman)

Bethany Morris (Parents: Terry & Stacey Morris)

Evangeline Brasher (Parents: Ryan & Leslie Brasher)

Mihir Patel (Parent: Kamlesh Patel)

Janae Battle (Parent: Jacqueline Battle)

Allyson Martin (Parent: Megan Martin)

Daisy Verdin (Parents: Chad & Amanda Verdin)

Kaleb Armstrong (Parent: Kevin Armstrong)

Kyleigh Bass (Parents: Charles & Dwala Bass)

Claiborne Electric offers payment arrangements for delinquent accounts


During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Louisiana Public Service Commission issued an order to suspend disconnection of electric services due to non-pay. As that order expires, Claiborne Electric General Manager & CEO Mark Brown wants Co-op members to know they have payment options to clear delinquent debt.

“We understand that this pandemic has caused financial hardship for some of our members, and we want to help them clear that debt so that it doesn’t grow to an unmanageable amount,” Brown said.

Electricity used during the order will still have to be paid for. Members who feel they will be unable to pay balances should contact the Co-op for possible payment arrangements. Brown said members have multiple options to clear debt over time instead of paying an entire accrued balance at once.

12-month payment plan:

For members who want to pay debt on a traditional monthly billing cycle, the Co-op offers a 12-month payment plan. With this plan, all debt owed by the member to the Cooperative is divided by 12. The member pays one portion of the debt each month by the due date, along with their current monthly bill, until all debt is paid in full.

This plan allows members to bring their current balance out of a negative state and pay a small portion of the debt each month for 12 months, at which point the debt is cleared.

EZPay:

Members with an outstanding debt may opt to use Claiborne Electric’s EZPay program. EZPay allows members to pay for electricity in advance instead of receiving a traditional bill. The program allows members to purchase electricity before it is used, giving them the flexibility to add credit to their electric account as their budget allows. It also eliminates deposits, due dates, late fees, and fees associated with disconnection or re-connection.

EZPay also has a mechanism that helps members pay off accumulated debt. When a member who owes debt to the cooperative makes an EZPay payment, 80% of the payment purchases electricity for future use and 20% of the payment is applied to outstanding debt. This allows a member to pay the debt over time without facing disconnection. This would be a good option for members who have accumulated debt during the pandemic that they are unable to pay in full. If a member is on traditional billing and would prefer changing to EZPay, we can also apply the account’s deposit to help lower the debt.

“The people we serve are our friends and neighbors, and we want to help them during this difficult time,” Brown said. “I would ask members not to wait until they owe an amount that makes them overwhelmed. Call us. We will be glad to help find the payment option that fits their needs.”

To discuss payment options, please call our Farmerville office at 368-3011 or our Homer office at 927-3504.

Members urged to encourage veto of SB 406


On May 25, Claiborne Electric’s General Manager & CEO Mark Brown issued an urgent call for Co-op members to contact their area legislators concerning Senate Bill 406.

The bill was originally an effort to grant legislative authority for electric cooperatives to provide broadband internet service. Almost immediately, however, SB 406 was targeted by large telecom companies, and amendments were added to restrict cooperatives so severely that it would be nearly impossible for an electric cooperative to offer internet service in a financially feasible manner.

Although Claiborne Electric’s members stepped up immediately and answered Brown’s call with an outpouring of messages to state legislators, the bill ultimately passed (34-0) with the restrictive amendments included.

“This is a disheartening result,” Brown said. “We had such high hopes for this bill, but the amendments put into place drastically changed the original intent of the bill. What started out as a great thing for our rural friends and neighbors turned into a bill that does more harm than good to the Co-op and its members.”

Electric cooperatives typically serve rural areas where options for true broadband internet service are nonexistent or severely lacking. More than three years ago, Claiborne Electric began the process of trying to join about 150 electric cooperatives across the country filling the rural broadband void with fiber-to-the-home internet projects. These co-ops are providing the fastest, most reliable internet available with no data caps, all at extremely competitive rates. The geographic areas where electric cooperatives are building these projects have largely been ignored by for-profit internet companies.

The current internet situation is eerily similar to electricity in the 1930s. At that time, for-profit electric companies refused to build lines to rural areas because they weren’t profitable, so farmers and ranchers created electric cooperatives to bring electricity to the countryside. To date, the large for-profit internet service providers have ignored rural America, and cooperatives have once again stepped up to provide a critical service to their members. With the amendments added to SB 406, these companies acted to obstruct genuine efforts to bring broadband internet services to rural Louisiana.

The bill, as passed, will severely limit the number of internet customers for electric cooperatives. It prohibits them from offering internet service to a significant portion of their electric members. The bill will eliminate competition and customer choice, even if the co-op could offer better service at a more affordable rate with no data caps. This bill’s amendments also require electric cooperatives to allow large telecom companies to use the cooperative’s infrastructure (physical materials owned by the co-op’s members) to deliver internet service using the cooperative’s poles and other physical plant.

If signed into law, SB 406 makes Louisiana the most restricted state in the nation where cooperative-provided broadband is concerned. This bill is anti-competitive, anti-free market, and will essentially eliminate any chance of cooperatives providing affordable, reliable, true broadband internet service to rural Louisiana.

Although the bill is a set-back for electric cooperatives wanting to provide this critical service, Brown said he still has hope for the future of cooperatives and rural broadband.

“This bill has essentially derailed our efforts to bring a Fiber-to-the-Home solution to our members,” Brown said. “However, we want our members to know we are still fighting this outcome. We hope to convince the governor to veto the bill in its present form.”

Brown said he believes SB 406 bill may violate certain state and federal laws related to the restraint of trade by preventing the Cooperative from delivering the service to all its members. He said it also likely violates the provisions of the Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 – a bill that was designed to enhance competition for telecommunications services across the nation.

 

Please follow this link to show your support in encouraging Governor Edwards to veto this bill: https://www.alec.coop/legislation-regulatory/legislative-updates/

 

Cooperative calls on members to help with Senate Bill 406


Claiborne Electric’s General Manager & CEO Mark Brown issued an urgent call today for the help of the Co-op’s 17,000 members in contacting their area legislators concerning Senate Bill 406, which is scheduled to be heard on the House floor on Wednesday, May 27.

The bill, authored by Senator Beth Mizell, was originally an effort to grant legislative authority for electric cooperatives to provide broadband internet service. Electric cooperatives typically serve rural areas where options for true broadband internet service are nonexistent or severely lacking. About 150 electric cooperatives in dozens of states are now filling that void with fiber-to-the-home internet services. These co-ops are providing the fastest, most reliable internet available to areas that have largely been ignored by for-profit internet companies.

Almost immediately, SB 406 was targeted by large internet providers in the state and amendments were added to restrict the ability of electric co-ops to offer this service. The amendments have made the bill so restrictive that it almost completely eliminates the possibility of an electric cooperative offering internet service in a financially feasible manner.

Provisions in the current amendments include allowing cooperatives to only provide service to “unserved” areas of their service territory. There are several issues with this provision. This would not allow the electric cooperative to compete with other broadband providers in an area where service is available. Even if the co-op can offer better service at a more affordable rate with no data caps, they would not be allowed to provide customers that choice. This provision would mean that Claiborne Electric would not even be permitted to provide an internet option to most of the members they already provide electric service to. Also, the term “unserved” applies by census blocks, and if one single resident in that census block has available broadband service, the entire block is deemed “served.” Finally, many current providers will likely argue that broadband internet is available nearly everywhere, although customers reliant on satellite or cell-based service know the problems with cost, unreliable service, speeds which don’t line up with what is advertised, data caps, and speed throttling on “unlimited” plans.

Another provision that has been added to the bill would require electric cooperatives to allow large telecom companies to use the cooperative’s infrastructure – the physical materials that are owned by the co-op’s members – to deliver internet service using the cooperative’s poles and other physical plant. The co-op would be restricted to an extremely limited number of internet customers, but would be forced to allow the big for-profit companies to use co-op infrastructure in delivering internet service.

These amendments are anti-competitive, anti-free market provisions that will keep our local communities from having a choice for affordable, reliable, true broadband internet service. The amendments would make Louisiana the most restricted state in the nation where cooperative-provided broadband is concerned.

In discussing the bill with legislators across the state, misinformation has come to light about the origin of electric cooperatives. Many members of the Louisiana Senate and House of Representatives are being told that electric cooperatives are government-created, taxpayer funded organizations, and these provisions would only be fair. This is simply untrue. Electric Cooperatives are private electric utilities owned by the members they serve. These co-ops were not created by government. The government created a loan program to electrify rural America more than 80 years ago. The government offered that program to the investor-owned utilities, but they rejected the offer to serve these unprofitable areas. Farmers and ranchers then joined together to form rural electric cooperatives to meet their need for electrification in those areas. They signed up for the loans, built their infrastructure, and have re-paid those loans with interest. That program has never been a taxpayer burden.

The situation today is eerily similar. The for-profit internet service providers have ignored rural America. The cooperatives have once again stepped up to the challenge of providing this critical service to their members. For-profit companies that have ignored our market for decades are now coming forward to act as obstructionists with clearly anti-competitive amendments to a bill that promises to help bring broadband internet services to rural Louisiana.

Claiborne Electric appreciates Senator Mizell’s efforts, and agrees with her that broadband is essential to healthcare, business, and education. Electric cooperatives have always been committed to rural America. The bill, with its current amendments, will essentially eliminate any chance of cooperatives entering the internet business.

Please reach out to your area members of the Louisiana House of Representatives (https://house.louisiana.gov/H_Reps/H_Reps_ByParish) and ask them to support this bill only if electric cooperatives are allowed to offer this service across their entire membership. Customers deserve a choice in their internet service provider. Help us stop these anti-competitive, protectionist, for-profit companies from stifling progress in your communities.

Co-op’s response to COVID-19


During the COVID-19 pandemic, Claiborne Electric wants its members to understand how we are taking care of our employees, our members, and our Cooperative during this difficult time.

As COVID-19 started to spread across Louisiana, our management team developed a work plan specific to this crisis. That plan was immediately put into action to decrease the chance of contracting or spreading a virus.

During the pandemic, our offices are closed to the public. Employees are still serving our membership full-time, but lobby areas are closed for the safety of employees and members. We are pleased to serve members in the drive-through, Kiosks, by telephone, online, and through our SmartHub app.

The Louisiana Public Service Commission has issued an order to utilities during this time to suspend disconnections due to non-pay. As with all LSPC orders, Claiborne Electric will gladly comply. We will not disconnect members who do not pay their bills while the order is in effect. However, there has been confusion about this matter, and we want our members to fully understand this issue. The order does not grant free electricity. All electricity being used will have to be paid for. If it is possible for members to pay bills during this time to keep accounts current, members are urged to do so. Claiborne Electric General Manager and CEO Mark Brown said keeping accounts current, if possible, will avoid hardship down the road.

“We don’t want our members to have an unmanageable amount owed when this mandate lifts,” Brown said. “If members are facing a financial hardship due to COVID-19, they can contact us about possible payment arrangements.”

Brown also said that members should be mindful of additional electric usage while being home more during the pandemic. The Co-op’s free SmartHub app has many convenient features, including the ability to help members monitor and manage electric usage. SmartHub can be downloaded on any Apple or Android device.

If any member has questions or concerns about their account, Member Service Representatives are available in Farmerville at 318-368-3011 or in Homer at 318-927-3504.

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