North East Mississippi Electric Power Association adjusting to COVID-19 crisis
Like every utility company, North East Mississippi Electric Power Association is having to adjust to a new normal during the COVID-19 pandemic.
To help combat the spread of COVID-19 and implement social distancing techniques while still servicing their customers, NEMEPA began using half staff every other day. Some employees were provided computers and a set-up to be able to stay home due to different reasons, but still have the ability to answer phone calls from customers.
“We were already divided up into two teams,” said NEMEPA general manager and CEO Keith Hayward. “The doors are open to employees. We’ve had to close the lobby, and because we’re under construction, we don’t have a drive-thru.”
To replace not having access to a drive-thru, NEMEPA has placed a lock box out front in their parking lot where customers can make a payment. On Friday, they introduced a new service called Checkout, where customers can go to any Dollar General, CVS or Family Dollar once they download a barcode specific to their account on the NEMEPA website and make payments at those locations.
North East Power is its own entity and regulated by the Tennessee Valley Authority – not Mississippi’s Public Service Commission. Earlier this month, the PSC announced they were temporarily suspending disconnect fees for 60 days due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite not being regulated by the PSC, Hayward said they are also following the commission’s lead.
“We’ve suspended all disconnects, for now,” Hayward said. “We are still sending disconnect notices out. We’re putting a bill stuffer in saying this is just a courtesy reminder, that you do have a balance that’s due so people can kind of keep up with how much they have due.”
Hayward said they will still cut off power at the request of a customer.
This year, NEMEPA is scheduled to debut their new rural fiber optic network, SPARC, to their customers. The COVID-19 outbreak has not slowed down the initial construction phase of laying the fiber down.
“We’ve had some delays due to rain. The virus has not caused any problems as far as putting fiber up,” Hayward said. “We’re getting a few problems getting electronics in. Some of the electronics we anticipated needing, we’ve got some back orders or delays on those.”
Hayward said they do not expect to be able to start hooking up houses to SPARC by May, and it may probably be June at the earliest. They are about to open up their first circuit, which will notify people that SPARC will be ready by this summer, and customers can begin to select which package they want.