Salt River Project’s commitment to customers goes beyond power provision

by Steven Brown

EL&P’s choice for 2004 Utility of the Year is a unique one, not only in its structure, but in its commitment to customer service, technology and philanthropy.

The choice of Salt River Project (SRP) is a bit of a departure from the IOUs that traditionally garner our Utility of the Year award. SRP is made up of two entities: the Salt River Project Agricultural Improvement and Power District, a political subdivision of the state of Arizona, and the Salt River Valley Water Users’ Association, a private corporation.

Although not as large an organization as past winners, such as 2003 winner Southern Company or 2002 winner Consolidated Edison, SRP is the nation’s third largest public power utility. SRP provides electricity to over 825,000 customers in the Phoenix area, a city whose population is growing at a rate three times the national average. In fiscal year 2004, SRP employed more than 4,200 workers, and had a net revenue of $112 million dollars. It operates or participates in seven major power plants and numerous other generating stations, including thermal, nuclear and hydroelectric sources.

But it wasn’t the size or structure of SRP that caught our eye. It was the undeniable dedication to its customers and community that we felt made the organization worthy of our 2004 award. In its published mission statement, SRP notes that it is dedicated to delivering “ever-improving contributions to the people we serve through the provision of low cost, reliable water and power, and community programs, to ensure the vitality of the Salt River Valley.”

SRP’s commitment to customer service has been well-documented in the customer satisfaction studies conducted by J.D. Power and Associates. This year, SRP ranked highest among Western utilities in both residential and business customer satisfaction in the J.D. Power study. SRP has ranked highest in the West in residential customer satisfaction five out of the last six years. Its business and residential customer satisfaction scores in 2004, when compared to the other regional winners, would also place it tops not just in the West, but in the entire nation.

SRP has performed remarkably in all areas that J.D. Power uses as criteria in its study: power quality and reliability, company image, price and value, billing and payment, communications and customer service.

SRP is also a technology leader among utility companies. In addition to my job as EL&P editor, for the past five years I also have edited Utility Automation & Engineering T&D magazine, which could rightly be called a utility “technology” magazine. In my role as UA&E editor, I’ve long been aware of and admired SRP’s commitment to technological innovation.

In just the last few issues of Utility Automation & Engineering T&D, we’ve documented the following major implementations of technology at SRP:

“- SRP has been proactive in putting mobile computing technology into the hands of field workers. An article published in the September/October 2004 issue of UA&E noted that SRP has deployed mobile computers to its staking group, preventative maintenance crews and line maintenance supervisors. By employing mobile computing, SRP increases work crew efficiency and decreases the amount of time customers are out of service.

“- A May/June 2004 article in UA&E noted that SRP started installing Ethernet in its distribution substations in 2000, and is currently installing Ethernet in newer transmission substations. By replacing the dial-up lines with Ethernet networking in its substations, SRP is technological front-runner among utilities and is realizing a number of operational benefits.

“- SRP is also one of a handful of utilities currently testing new high-capacity transmission cable from 3M, as noted in a July/August 2004 UA&E article.

That’s only a sampling of the technology implementations SRP has undertaken. SRP is a partner in the Consortium for Electric Infrastructure to Support a Digital Society (CEIDS) research program, which aims to develop the technologies necessary to transform the current electricity grid into a sustainable, adaptive and self-healing power delivery system. The utility is also a member of the U.S. Demand Response Coordinating Committee (DRCC), a group that works to promote demand response as a viable option to address national, regional and state electricity issues and challenges.

Finally, worth noting are SRP’s volunteer efforts and philanthropy. SRP frequently donates to areas schools and other institutions, and sponsors and encourages volunteerism among its employees. In 2003, SRP employees and their families contributed 700,000 volunteer hours. Through corporate giving and sponsorship of its employees’ volunteer efforts, SRP is ensuring “the vitality of the Salt River Valley,” as it says in its missions statement, in a way that goes above and beyond the provision of water and power.

All of that is to say that SRP is an entity truly worthy of EL&P’s Utility of the Year award. SRP’s commitment to its customers, to technology and to the community it serves is a commitment that all utilities would do well to emulate. Kudos to Salt River Project, EL&P’s 2004 Utility of the Year.

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