One thing that has absolutely baffled me, astounded me, insert whatever extreme adjective you can think of here me, is how our local utility company can have such good press. Or is it marketing doing its job?
Everywhere else you go, or where I go anyway, the local utility is vilified, chastised, and criticized. Up here, it is the other way around. And that is saying a LOT. You need to remember that Madison is one of the most "liberal" (I prefer the word "leftist" but whatever) areas in the entire country. We have a city council made up of people in the Progressive Party. Companies like Starbucks see their facilities picketed on a regular basis. We have anti big-box store ordinances. We have no smoking ordinances. What I am trying to say is that this isn't exactly a big business (or any business for that matter) friendly town. What Madison Gas and Electric has accomplished in getting almost ZERO bad press EVER is, simply amazing. The worst of the worst, the big, bad utility, oppressor of the people, is a valued member of the community.
Here are obvious things they do. They sponsor UW sporting events. Everywhere you go on football Saturdays you see the M G and E logo. They do TONS of charity work. They sponsor almost EVERY charitable walk, run, ride, parade, firework show and picnic. And they do this in all of the little surrounding towns as well. Every time I have had meter work or something like that done at my home or business, the men doing the work have all been POLITE, ACCOMMODATING AND UNDERSTANDING.
When they hike their rates everybody simply shrugs their shoulders and pays. No protests, no marches, no letters to the editor, nothing. I cannot stress to you enough, dear reader, how amazing this is for a utility company to be able to thrive in a city like Madison.
Here is another great example. I received this packet in the mail yesterday:
Before we discuss the contents, lets look for a moment at the outside of the packet. On the left is a little white boy playing outside. We have a decent sized population that lives in rural areas outside the city of Madison, and those folks are pretty much your run of the mill Caucasians. Then we have a photo of a black family. This appeals to the "liberal" crowd in Madison, who tend to appreciate concepts like "diversity", even though Madison is probably 90% white. Lastly, we have a photo of a student, and, of course, UW is a huge institution. So by the very careful selection of photos on the front, M G and E has successfully appealed to pretty much ALL of the people in Madison. Are you as impressed by this stinking envelope as I am?
Now, the contents:
It is a pretty large pack of information about how M G and E is attacking the future. One of the first things I noticed is that they are going to stop burning coal at the Blount plant in 2011. This is the power plant you see in aerial photos of Madison, right up the street from the Capitol Building. They are, however, going to keep using natural gas there. This is important that they mention this. Many "liberals" care a LOT about the environment. And even though burning coal isn't nearly as bad as it used to be, it still has a very bad reputation. "Liberals" are happy to read things like this. Even though most didn't lift a finger to stop M G and E from burning coal at Blount, they can think they are part of a bigger cause and say to themselves "we didn't want coal here and now it will be gone". More than likely it was a efficiency issue for M G and E, but who cares. Let the "liberals" think they won one.
Also in the packet is a letter from the CEO of M G and E detailing dozens of power workshops they will be holding to educate folks on how to conserve power.
They also detail how they are going to be one of the first to utilize sugar based, hydrogen fueled generation as well as landfill gas generation. Neither of these two will probably generate enough electricity to make a difference off the bat, but the fact that they are inviting the public in to see demonstrations of them make them look like the good guys AGAIN. The environmentalists have absolutely no wiggle room to protest anything they do since they are actually trying to use alternative energy resources.
Lastly, and most importantly, there is an eighteen page color booklet, written in fairly large letters (for senior citizens) detailing in very plain language ways normal people can conserve energy. Turn your thermostat down (or up). Wash in cold water. Use compact fluorescent bulbs. Turn off lights not in use. Purchase high efficiency appliances. The language they use is outstanding. Take a look at this sentence:
Switching five frequently used lights from standard incandescent bulbs to compact fluorescent bulbs saves two-thirds or more of the electricity needed to power these lights. If they are used at least four hours each day, this is a savings of about $40 in the first year. Calculate your light savings at mge.com/lighting.Beautiful. ANYBODY can understand that. I wish at times the marketing at my business was as simple and effective as M G and E's.
Whoever is running the marketing and PR over at M G and E should get a hefty raise. They are, without a doubt, one of the most successful companies at those activities that I have ever seen. To get away with being a utility company in Madison - not just tolerated, but treasured - is an accomplishment somebody should be patted on the back for.