The City of New Bern’s Department of Public Utilities (DPU) has been awarded a 2020 Public Power Award of Excellence from ElectriCities of North Carolina. The award recognizes superior achievement in the areas of communicating the value of public power, grid modernization, workforce development, wholesale power cost, and continuous improvement. New Bern’s award is for its efforts in communicating the value of public power.
“This award recognizes the work we do through communicating storm and other weather-related outages, communicating the value of public power on social media, celebrating Public Power Week with our staff and customers, and other community outreach,” said Charles Bauschard, Director of the Department of Public Utilities.
When hurricane Isaias made landfall south of New Bern last year, DPU staff used several methods to communicate with utility customers even before tropical storm force winds swept into the area. First, they encouraged the public to use the City’s online outage reporting tool to report power outages, and posted on the City website, City 3 TV, and social media about ongoing outages and restoration estimates. Then, the DPU team routinely reached out to the City’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) to keep management staff up to date on outages, infrastructure repairs, and restoration times. Equipped with that information, EOC staff were able to keep the media updated on utility damages and outages across the service area.
“We all recognize the value of public power during those instances when mother nature takes the wheel,” said City Manager Mark Stephens. “During hurricanes and other weather events, our crews are unstoppable at getting power restored as quickly and efficiently as possible. They understand the commitment to our community and our customers. Kudos to them for this well-deserved award.”
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, staff also communicated the value of public power during Public Power Week in October. They hosted an event at Union Point Park called “Public Power at the Point,” and invited the community to learn more about public power, ask questions, and meet staff in a safe, socially distanced way while enjoying a beautiful fall day outdoors. In a series of Public Power Week social media posts and videos, they shined a spotlight on their colleagues and shared some of the department’s careers in energy using the hashtag #NewBernPublicPowerHero. Employees, including customer service representatives, meter technicians, utility control system operators, line crew leaders and more, shared their daily responsibilities and what they like best about working for a public power provider.
Another example of communicating the value of public power happened in December 2020 and brought regional attention to the City’s Department of Public Utilities. Energy Management Specialist Amber Gray noticed a large increase in a local business’ electricity usage, so she reached out to the owner. Amber suspected the problem might be a faulty appliance and she worked with ElectriCities to arrange for a free energy audit. The audit revealed an HVAC unit was not working efficiently. Once the unit was repaired, the business’ energy consumption returned to normal. Amber was featured in an ElectriCities article called “Faces of Public Power” for her excellent customer service and keen eye for details.
“It’s exciting to see the many achievements in North Carolina public power communities each year,” said ElectriCities CEO Roy Jones. “I am always impressed by the ingenuity and true commitment of public power communities, particularly throughout 2020 when cities and towns were faced with challenges no one could have anticipated. We are proud of these public power communities and are grateful for their dedication.”
This is the third time the City of New Bern has been recognized with a Public Power Award of Excellence from ElectriCities. The City previously won awards in 2017 and 2019.
By Colleen Roberts, Public Information Officer, City of New Bern