Embracing New Technology Keeps Lights On and Rates Down
When the light bulb was invented, progress happened at a snail’s pace. Thomas Edison introduced indoor electric lights in Manhattan in 1882. Demand was high for the new, safer way to illuminate homes and businesses. But, because constructing and maintaining a power grid was slow and expensive, half of all U.S. homes were still lit by gaslights and candles by 1925.
Electric utility cooperatives began forming during that time to bring the life-changing invention to the other half of the country — the rural half. Wiregrass Electric Cooperative was founded in 1939 to bring that technology here. Our founders began with just a handful of members, one office, a large service territory and a mission to provide local, dependable electric service at affordable prices.
That mission remains the same 83 years later. WEC now has 65 full-time employees working out of offices in Hartford, Dothan, Samson and Ashford, serving over 18,000 members and 25,000 meters. To make good on our commitment to the community, we deploy the best and latest technologies to improve efficiency and productivity and keep costs down. That translates into affordable rates for members.
The Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition system, or SCADA, allows us to control field equipment remotely. We can isolate outages and perform switching without rolling a truck out to the affected location. This helps us restore power quickly. In some cases, SCADA even tells us where we have a problem before we get a call reporting an outage. We’ve also upgraded substations and converted to digital automated meters that inform our system remotely. System enhancements such as these improve customer service and reliability.
Technology has come a long way, and Chief Technology Officer Danny Exum has been quarterbacking the implementation of all of it for the last nine years. He’s in charge of everything we do with software and he manages partnerships with support services vendors. Our partnership with Troy Cable, a C Spire company, allowed us to directly connect all offices and substations to a fiber network, which maximizes the benefits we get from using existing software.
We also recently transitioned to a cloud-based phone system. WEC has a geographically large and spread-out service area. A solid communication system is critical. It’s a massive and complex undertaking, and Danny has been up for the task. He is retiring at the end of the year to spend more time with his family, and he will be greatly missed by everyone at WEC.
WEC has been blessed with many talented employees who stepped up into key management roles. Danny is one of them, and so is Bethany Retherford, our human resource and compliance manager. Recently, Bethany deservedly secured a spot on the Dothan Area Young Professionals 20 Under 40 list this year. We are grateful for her many contributions in the workplace and in the community.
We wouldn’t be where we are as a co-op today without dedicated staff members and volunteers who are passionate about the people and communities we serve. This was on full display at our first-ever Operation Round Up Charitable Golf Tournament, which was among the most successful inaugural fundraising competitions I’ve ever seen. I believe the credit is owed in large part to the people representing and partnering with Wiregrass Electric to bring this event to life. I was lucky to be a part of it and look forward to experiencing it again next year.
CEO Wiregrass Electric Cooperative