Though EBCE started service to all residential customers in November, and to commercial, industrial, and public customers five months earlier, many customers are still learning about the switchover from PG&E to EBCE.
To let people know about the switch, EBCE is doing intensive outreach and education through a combination of advertising and events, in multiple languages.
“EBCE was formed by community to serve the community,” says Annie Henderson, Vice President of Marketing and Account Services. “We want to be certain we are reaching people in their own language and in ways that are accessible so they can understand the benefits of the transition to EBCE.”
START SPREADING THE NEWS
Since July, EBCE has undertaken a multi-pronged outreach campaign of advertising, events, and mailings.
EBCE has used print and digital advertising, social media, and billboards and bus signs, earning a total of 34,854,055 impressions to date. Over two million letters and postcards were mailed out to customers and brochures are being put in public places like libraries.
In-person meetings have been a priority, underscoring EBCE’s status as a member of the community. EBCE staff have hosted or participated in 65 events so far, in all 11 cities that EBCE serves. The “Understanding Your Bill Tour” kicked off in January, with sessions hosted in coffee shops and libraries.
Some of the events have focused on specific sets of customers, including seniors and low-income households, and people who speak Spanish and Chinese. The Oakland Chinatown Lunar New Year Festival was a good chance to reach the Chinese community, while an event hosted with the Unity Council helped reach Hispanic seniors. (Some presentations are being professionally video recorded and will be available at EBCE.org.)
One big unknown with the CCA concept in general was whether customers would stay with their new community provider or opt out and go back to their utility. So far, so good, says Henderson.
“The retention rate is high, about 97 percent across the county,” she says. “We had anticipated that as customers started seeing the EBCE charges on their bill that we would see a spike in opt-outs, but it has been low. It is following trends other CCAs have seen.”
It is true that some customers are surprised by the changes on their bill, she says, and initially upset to see what they thought were new charges. Part of that may be due to the fact that EBCE service coincided with the onset of winter, when energy use rises due to cold weather and long nights. Some customers blamed higher bills on the transition, rather than on the season.
Seasonal increases could be due to higher heating demands – either more electricity that pushes customers into a more expensive tier or additional natural gas consumption, which EBCE doesn’t sell. For those using more electricity while on the Bright Choice electric rate, they are still paying less than if they were with PG&E.
The in-person meetings are helping address their concerns. “They have a lot of questions and are appreciative that we are there,” says Henderson. “They may come in frustrated but they are very receptive that we are meeting them in their community and making ourselves available.”
While customer awareness is increasing, outreach is a never-ending task. EBCE will start serving the first phase of solar net-metering customers in April (on terms that are more generous than what PG&E offers), with notification mailers going out in February.
And there is a busy calendar of outreach events coming up, including Earth Day in April, Bike to Work Day in May, and the Alameda County Fair in June. Upcoming events are listed on the EBCE website, and can be tracked by following EBCE on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.