Flippin' the Switch

S4 E10: Our Best Moments of 2023

December 20, 2023 Jones-Onslow EMC Season 4 Episode 10
S4 E10: Our Best Moments of 2023
Flippin' the Switch
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Flippin' the Switch
S4 E10: Our Best Moments of 2023
Dec 20, 2023 Season 4 Episode 10
Jones-Onslow EMC

Buckle up for an energizing journey through 2023 and the best of Flippin' the Switch! Join us as Natalie Oldani reviews the triumphs of the past year as we unravel the most remarkable moments that defined the co-op. From groundbreaking achievements to heartwarming stories, this is your front-row seat to the extraordinary success that unfolded in the last 12 months. Plug in your headphones and charge up your spirits with us—Let's celebrate the best of 2023 together!

Run Time: 28 minutes

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Buckle up for an energizing journey through 2023 and the best of Flippin' the Switch! Join us as Natalie Oldani reviews the triumphs of the past year as we unravel the most remarkable moments that defined the co-op. From groundbreaking achievements to heartwarming stories, this is your front-row seat to the extraordinary success that unfolded in the last 12 months. Plug in your headphones and charge up your spirits with us—Let's celebrate the best of 2023 together!

Run Time: 28 minutes

Speaker 1:

Hey there, listeners, Natalie here with a very special edition of Flip in the Switch To end this year on a high note. We are revisiting all of the best podcast moments of 2023. I'm excited to journey back in time and recall all of the insightful and fun conversations we've shared with you. So let's start Flip in the Switch Kicking off this year in review. We're jumping right into debunking electric vehicle myths with our very own Aaron Spencer. Aaron is the vice president of power system reliability and in this episode, he discusses the common misconceptions when deciding to purchase an electric vehicle. So let's hear what he has to say on the first episode of the season.

Speaker 2:

True or false? Electric vehicles don't have enough range to handle daily travel demands.

Speaker 3:

I think that's false. Electric vehicles do have a significant range for the daily driver nowadays. In the past they have been lacking, but a lot of electric vehicles now have 250 plus miles of range. Some of them are even getting up there over 300 miles of range on a single charge. I currently drive about 26 miles one way to get to the office every day and so really and truly, if I was driving an EV, I wouldn't have to charge it every night and still have plenty of range to make it for my daily commute. That's even assuming that I do more driving than just the straight from my house to the office. So even if I was driving 70 miles a day, I've got plenty of charge to go multiple days on a charge. So the daily commute is not an issue. I mean especially for those that have that sub 60 mile trip. Even one way 60 mile trip is not an issue.

Speaker 1:

With every new year brings new and exciting changes. Here at Jones-Onslow In 2023, we incorporated some innovative technology to better serve our members. Vegetation management supervisor Clayton Jones discusses how we use artificial intelligence, or AI, to ensure power lines are clear and ready to power your homes.

Speaker 4:

Explain to people why trimming right away or having clear right of ways are important. Why is that important for Jones-Onslow the company? Why is that important for Jones-Onslow members?

Speaker 5:

Okay. So what jumps out at me is there's two main points that kind of stand out, and the first thing to most important is the safety aspect. So it's very important for us to maintain the utility easements. We need to keep the vegetation away from the power lines, try to minimize the potential for somebody to have electrical contact, because it is possible. So that's probably one of the main reasons why we do what we do. And then, as equally important, but probably second on the list, will be the reliability side of it. So it's very important for us to maintain these easements, trim the vegetation back, try to mitigate these hazards so that we can make sure the lights are staying on as much as possible. The last year or so we've brought in AI and that has really been a tremendous asset to our department.

Speaker 2:

Let's talk a little bit about what AI is and what it stands for, and kind of the program that you guys are now utilizing.

Speaker 5:

All right. So essentially, ai is artificial intelligence and it uses satellite imagery to overlay with the specific GPS coordinates of our poles and structures on our system. What it does is it recognizes the vegetation that's growing close to those lines and, based on previous models and predictions, it can kind of tell us at what rate those trees are growing. And what it basically does is it maps out where we need to put our resources to mitigate these hazards. So in the past we kind of just started at point A and trimmed till we got all the way around our system, kind of-.

Speaker 2:

Which is a huge system to be working on.

Speaker 4:

And that's like a. Was that like a three-year cycle, four-year cycle?

Speaker 5:

Three to four five-year cycle. So basically we just trimmed our entire cycle. I wouldn't say aimlessly, but we just trimmed in just rotation.

Speaker 4:

And you may be trimming some stuff that had really not grown a lot from the previous three or four years ago that you had been there.

Speaker 2:

Exactly, and you would have never known that.

Speaker 5:

We would have never known that previously to AI so with AI it's able to tell us you need to be in this specific location by this specific time.

Speaker 1:

As we continue to explore the new technology at the co-op AMI, technician William Priest joins us for the next podcast episode introducing how JOEBC uses drones. William talks about how drones can be used in a multitude of ways to service different areas with a wide aerial view. So to start our conversation today, can you explain what a drone is and how it works?

Speaker 6:

Well, certainly a drone is a. Well, it's an unmanned aircraft system and it operates using four propellers. It allows us to position exactly. It'll hold in place where RC airplanes. If you turn it loose, it keeps going. If you turn a drone loose, it will stop and it will sit and we can take photographs with it. The only thing you can implement you can put on it and, for red, for instance, allows us to see heat and of course, this gives us a bird's eye view of you know our equipment and allows us to inspect things a little bit better, a little bit closer, and be more proactive versus reactive.

Speaker 1:

Awesome. So why did we, as a co-op, decide to implement drone usage into what we do here at Jones-Onslow, and how does it improve the quality of what we offer members?

Speaker 6:

Well, the drone helps us in several ways. First, and of course, the most obvious would be, it allows for us to access areas that have been very difficult or even completely inaccessible over the past years, or that we require sending personnel into rough and unforgiving terrain. The other way is that it allows us a never before seen bird's eye view of our equipment. In times past, the best we could hope for would be standing on the ground with a pair of binoculars and only being allowed to see mainly the bottom of our equipment. Now, with the drone, it gives a very distinct advantage of being able to see all sides top, bottom and everything in between. It also gives us the ability to see the very top of the pole and catch top rot, which is when the top of the pole rots from the inside, essentially leaving a shell.

Speaker 1:

So one of my favorite things about working here at Jones-Onslow is promoting all of the great programs and benefits we offer to our members. One of the most successful and most beneficial programs we have is our Connect to Save program. Learn more from Charlie Ferrell about what this program entails and how to take advantage of it to save big in your home today. So if you were at this year's annual meeting, you may have talked to Charlie a little bit about Connect to Save. But for members and just people at large that don't know what Connect to Save is, can you explain a little bit about the program and how it benefits people's households?

Speaker 8:

Yeah, absolutely, and it's something that we started back in the summer of 2020, clearly, not only Connect to Save was starting in 2020 with COVID-19, but anyways, the Connect to Save platform, it's really an online store for energy solutions for members of Jones-Onslow EMC, and we also work with other cooperatives throughout North Carolina to offer this as a service to rural electric consumers, and the premise is to help achieve affordability, reliability, sustainable power through these energy services. So we use these technologies in this case, smart thermostats, and we also have water heater control devices and we offer those at significantly discounted rates much, much lower than retail rates that you'd find in a big box home improvement store and we're able to provide a $50 annual reward for participating in the program. Each year and so far, since the summer of 2020, we've had 3,500 Jones-Onslow EMC members enroll in Connect to Save and we've had over 10,000 members across six other cooperatives join Connect to Save as well.

Speaker 1:

Along with Connect to Save, we have even more helpful tools available to our members on our website, so this next episode of Flip and the Switch highlights the home energy calculators and home energy audit our members can complete online. Both of these tools help you manage the way you use your energy in different areas of your home, and these tools assist in adjusting how you do so to save on your next bill. And, best of all, these resources are absolutely free. Check them out. So, in partnership with Apogee, we have so many great free resources available to our members that are housed on our website, as I mentioned, but one of the most useful and unique resources we have is our home energy audit, so can you go into more detail about how that works and how members can access that resource?

Speaker 9:

Yes, I'd be happy to, and I do want to start out by saying just how great of a job Jen Zanzlo does with making the member experience to find these resources so easy and so seamless. Jen Zanzlo does have an energy-wise program that is blasted on the front of the home page, so I really don't know how you could mention it. What is where the app-a-g applications live in this energy-wise program? So the online audit in particular or home energy profile you'll hear me say those two terms this is designed to teach the member. The member has to go in and do their part right. So they're going to go in and do this 11-question audit and what sets this audit apart from the regular audit that you see like through your utility website is that this is personalized. So we are securely receiving data that goes into this audit that is personalized to that member once they put in their own account number to get started. So we are pulling in personalized data securely. We are taking into account the local weather in your region and we're also going to use the input that the member puts into the audit to create an analysis.

Speaker 9:

Okay, so the online audit has questions that will ask the member how big is your home? How many people live in the home? Do you drive an electric vehicle? Do you drive gas? How much insulation do you have? What's your heating and cooling system like? What even goes into? Is your thermostat programmable, yes or no?

Speaker 9:

Just very interactive, easy questions to answer. However, it can get even more advanced with however much information the member would like to put in there. The more information, obviously, the better. It helps our analysis really provide the best dating tips, recommendations and the bill analysis to be the most accurate that we do so. With that, once the member is filled out this audit it takes less than five minutes to do so they will be prompted to complete the audit.

Speaker 9:

They will be prompted into a savings tip recommendations page. So this, like I said before, this is going to be dependent on the member's energy use data that we are pulling and going to be dependent on the inputs that they have just answered on that audit, along with the weather and the algorithm of the higher fees that know about all of that. They will have personalized savings tips tailored to them. So, for instance, if they couldn't, they did not drive an electric vehicle and that they are driving a gas vehicle, 30 miles a day with gas $3 a gallon, a recommendation there is going to be let's look at switching to an EV and see how much energy and money you can save there.

Speaker 1:

This next episode was definitely one of my favorites this year the education edition of the podcast. We highlighted some of the awesome work we do for schools around Jones and Onslo County and also surrounding areas. I was able to interview some of our very own youth tour attendees from Onslo County and talk to them about their experience in Washington DC. Plus, we hear from a local educator about our Bright ID as grant program. What was the most impactful part of the trip to you that maybe you'll carry into this last year of high school?

Speaker 10:

For the diversity aspect. A lot of people came from different cultures. In my group there was two or three that they used to not go by their real names because their parents thought it would be bad for getting colleges or getting jobs. But upcoming this year, when they're applying to colleges and applying to jobs, they're actually starting to use those real names. That was kind of an eye-opener because I've never had that problem. My parents have never thought about that, but it's a big deal for them and their culture. That was just really impactful for me.

Speaker 11:

I think for me I'm a good talker.

Speaker 11:

I like to talk and use my voice with other people, but I think I also learned to listen better, which I think is very important, because everybody there has a lot to say. It's not just about what I have to say or Mackenzie has to say. I think hearing people's questions while we were at Capitol Hill, that was crazy, because there was a couple of girls that I mean these questions were like Thought out for sounds like months. So I think even in Capitol Hill I didn't ask as many questions, but I I listened more and I think that was very important because I got to learn more that I wouldn't have asked if I wouldn't have been there.

Speaker 10:

So right and one of these girls. She's actually the one that used to not go by a real name. Her name that she introduced was Haley, but her real names Amaru, and she was one of those girls asking like all those questions, and her questions were like insane. She also won the youth tour, like the wild sea, oh wow. So Her questions were really.

Speaker 11:

I learned a lot just from her.

Speaker 1:

So that's awesome, like sponges almost trying to soak up all of the information and Experiences that other people have to, not even just yourself, you know, that's really cool.

Speaker 2:

So let's talk about, like, how did you get started with the bright ideas program?

Speaker 13:

So I guess I've been around since about half of its start time, which is kind of crazy. But yeah 2008, 2009.

Speaker 13:

I want to say is, when I started and someone just mentioned to me like hey, you know, there's a, there's a way. If you want some extra lab stuff or some things that, like you know, we, the schools, can't really, you know, afford, then try to reach out and apply for this grant. And I was like, okay, sure, why not? And so I applied for it, and I think it was the first or second time I applied. I got one.

Speaker 2:

That's awesome.

Speaker 13:

And yeah, and I just it's fairly easy. I mean it's it's a pretty simple application. It's maybe it takes you about 30 to 40 minutes to fill out, which is a no-brainer to fill out out for some free money, and and that's, that's where I got my start with it.

Speaker 2:

So one thing that you mentioned it was one of those things that helped you cover some expenses of a project you might have wanted to do, but the school didn't have the money and they didn't need, and you personally didn't have the money I your pocket either. And that's kind of how the bright ideas program started. It all started with one lady and a shopping line and there was a teacher in front of her that had a cart full of items and she was like hey, that lady doesn't need to be buying 15 packs of colored pencils for her kids. There's got to be something better. So it's a collective of people coming together to try to help educators make something really innovative in the classroom happen, and that's exactly what you're doing. So let's kind of talk about from that first project, which we had kind of talked before we got on air here, to where you are now. So how have your projects impacted the students that you work with and where did you start?

Speaker 13:

Well, I mean, I started with just basic science equipment to teach science stuff and then it kind of evolved into, like you said, a bright idea, right, something different that I wanted to try. So in I don't know 2015-16, somewhere in there, I got the idea to.

Speaker 13:

It wasn't my idea, was some of the students ideas actually to bring bees on to campus and to start managing honey bees on campus, and so that was kind of one of the we I knew bright ideas was. A was a an easy way of trying to get some quick money to get that started, but we obviously had to buy safety equipment for the kids and the bees themselves and all the equipment. So it wasn't just brought ideas, but that they gave us the start for it, and since then it's kind of evolved into a lot more than that. I mean it's obviously grown the green team quite up.

Speaker 13:

More kids and interested in environmentalism and, and now we have quite a few beekeepers on campus, student beekeepers on campus too. So I think I think that, for for my experience of the broad ideas, it's kind of been the gateway to even bigger and better and more more prominent ideas.

Speaker 1:

So you being local to many military affairs. One special program we promote here at Jones-Onzlo is our no Barriers program sponsored by Cobank. This program allows disabled veterans to embark on an outdoor adventure that tests their limits, physically and mentally. Dave Mastin recalls his experience on this year's trip with other veterans in the September episode of Flip and the Switch.

Speaker 2:

Now you had mentioned you went in July. What were the dates and where did you go?

Speaker 7:

So we flew from here to Denver on the 6th, got off the plane and that day we went straight to Fort Collins, picked up some team gear and individual gear, if you needed any, and then right up to their base camp. It's located on the north edge of the Arapaho National Forest, in between, I think, livermore, colorado or something like that and the Red Feather Lakes.

Speaker 2:

I'm sure it's a spectacular area. It was amazing.

Speaker 7:

yes, I know photos do not do it justice in my mind yeah, and then we were there for three days and then I flew back here on the 10th of July.

Speaker 2:

Okay, so for that, for anyone that's listening that trip is all paid for. So Cobank, our generous sponsor, handles all of that for whoever goes, and Dave was a lucky one to go this time. With that. How do you feel like that adventure changed you? What led you to go down that path and continue on Phase 3? Do you have any takeaways from it? I do.

Speaker 7:

So while you're there, it's very outdoor-centric and you do a few different mini. Well, at least I had the base camp experience, so each day was a different mini adventure, if you will. But you spend time with your team each day talking about different aspects of the no Barriers lifestyle, and the idea is that you can identify where you want your life to go and then formulate a plan and some support to do that.

Speaker 1:

One of the biggest changes that we experienced at JOOMC this year was gaining a new wonderful CEO, mr Gary Ray, and bidding a fond farewell to former CEO Jeff Clark. We sat down with Jeff to reflect on his time here at Jones-Onslow and working in the co-op world for many years.

Speaker 2:

Here's our favorite sentiment from that episode Now, what aspects of your leadership style and approach do you hope will continue here to influence Jones-Onslow in the future and its success?

Speaker 14:

That's a very interesting question. This whole transitioning thing. It's a very interesting process. This is the second time I've been through it. The first time I was the recipient of it and now I'm the one that's leaving the organization.

Speaker 14:

We put a lot of things in place that I think are going to allow us to move forward. Whether my imprint stays on them or not is not important at all. It's whether or not they get continued and that they come to fruition. We started with a strategic plan back in 2016, along with the board, to give the company direction to go in versus everybody in the different areas of the company just kind of doing their own thing. We've implemented a lot of internal programs and it's about the platforms putting the platforms in place that will allow these things to, if they're worthy, go through and be a part of the culture and the operation of the organization, or, if they're not necessarily needed and cut them. We've got some really good things that we've laid a foundation for in the last several years. We've implemented programs like diversity, equity and inclusion, where it's a work in progress. We've created a vision EMC program, which is extremely cool.

Speaker 14:

Not many cooperatives have this.

Speaker 2:

I think we're the only one in the state that has something like that. Maybe one other at Blue Ridge might be the only one.

Speaker 14:

Yeah, I think you're right, but that's a leadership program designed to let our employees see a bigger picture of what we do. They also get involved in a community project, which is really cool. That's part of our fabric here at this organization community. You've been through it.

Speaker 2:

I have, I've had the pleasure and it was a great experience.

Speaker 14:

It lets us For lack of a better way to describe it watch the individuals going through the program to see is there something that they can aspire to after they've gained the knowledge that we've put them through in this particular program? So it's a multifaceted program. I think probably the most important thing that I would like to be remembered for, or if remembered, and is we have really worked on developing our senior management staff at this organization and empowering them to do the things that they need to do to make this organization run as smoothly as it possibly can and a more, from their perspective, empowered position. That's not been the case that a lot of cooperatives over the years it's been a One direction, you know, do this because I said so.

Speaker 14:

I don't mean that critically, but it's just the way this entire program has evolved over the years and by working with everyone and going through exercises of hey, let's figure out what my personality is and how does that interact with other people, and then understanding that there are many different disciplines inside of a cooperative as there are any electric company. You've got engineering, you've got operations, you've got human resources, finance and accounting, communications, and everyone plays a very important role in trying to get us out of any silos that we might have been in, to communicate better among ourselves, to communicate better among our employees. You know we put a company wide communication program in place. Jossel, you guys put that in place for us and I think that's had a big impact. We want everyone in this organization to know everything that they can about what's going on, and that hasn't always been the case in electric cooperative worlds and other business worlds too.

Speaker 2:

I will say as kind of not so much an outsider but I'm not in your office every day but I can tell you that your leadership style to many, including myself, is that you try to bring in a collective approach. You bring in folks from all different aspects and you certainly ask how it went, which I appreciate. I mean on a daily basis. If you see Jeff somewhere, he'll make sure to say what'd you think about this? Not many people take the time to do that, so it definitely speaks to your leadership style as bringing in a community.

Speaker 1:

Still looking for a Christmas gift idea? Want to help someone in need as we close out these special moments of 2023, find out how our Power Bucks program can help you help others this holiday season.

Speaker 2:

Now, while we have Kathy here, we're going to ask her another burning question, and that is about a program that we started last year around this time for Christmas and it is called Power Bucks. But it's not just for Christmas, it can be done any time of the year. But it's a really thoughtful idea as we go into the holiday season. Can you tell us a little bit about the program?

Speaker 12:

Yes, Crystal Power Bucks is a way to basically give the gift of energy by making an anonymous payment to a fellow member's account or by sharing it as a gesture of support. Now, it does not have to be anonymous. You can receive a card and you can have your receipt placed in it if you'd like, or you can actually write a note on the card as well.

Speaker 2:

You can place it underneath the Christmas tree if you wanted to, that's correct.

Speaker 12:

It could be a gift that way, or if you do want to remain anonymous, your payment will. It will post to our Power Bucks account, which then we will either credit it to the member that you choose or if you're just filling.

Speaker 2:

Philanthropic. You know you could give it to somebody that you know that's in need.

Speaker 12:

Yes, or one of the member service representatives as well can help you with that, if you need suggestions.

Speaker 2:

I think that's a great idea. You know, sometimes you're looking for a gift and you know all of us have those people in our life that are impossible to shop for and you just don't know what the perfect gift is. But everyone has an electric bill, so it's really nice to say, hey, at least I can give you the gift of energy for one month or however long you choose to do it for.

Speaker 1:

Well, that's all for this special year in review of Jones-Onslow's Flip in the Switch. If any of these topics interested you, remember you can listen to each episode in full today. We're excited to see what 2024 holds for the co-op and for season 5. Thanks for listening and we'll see you next year.

Speaker 4:

Well, folks, that'll do it for this episode of Flip in the Switch Until next time. If you don't currently follow us on Facebook, instagram or any of our other social media channels, consider doing so. It's the best way to keep informed about what's going on with your co-op. Thanks again.

2023 Podcast Highlights and Energy Programs
Bright Ideas and No Barriers Adventure