The Sun News

Q&A with Jimmy Autry

City of Residence: Kathleen

Occupation: Senior vice president for member and community relations, Flint Energies

Q: Some predict a long, cold winter, which might mean winter storms and power outages. How does Flint Energies prepare?

A: First, we’re a 77-year-old electrical utility and being prepared has been a part of our life for a long time. It’s what we do. We’re 24/7 with equipment and people ready with go-bags to do what’s needed at any time.

Q: How do you plan all that?

A: Experience, and once every year we have a large scale tabletop emergency exercise. We look at every angle of a simulated emergency. We look at everything from chain-of-command to who’s going to feed all these people and what best practices are there for restoration. Even though we’ve been doing this for years, we always learn something new.

Q: What kind of manpower do you have available for emergencies?

A: That’s the best part of the story. I don’t think any utility in the country has the manpower for large-scale storm restoration on its own, but cooperating together we do.

Q: How does that work?

A: We always hope any outage is small enough to manage with our own people, but if it’s not, there are 41 electrical cooperatives in Georgia just like us that are ready to send crews to help. Like last year’s winter storm, it didn’t hit us but reached just above Macon. We were standing ready but with no need here, we sent crews farther north. If we had needed it, crews from elsewhere would have helped us. The name of the game is mutual aid.

Q: What’s your restoration goal when power goes out?

A: Twenty-four hours. But realistically, it depends on severity but always it’s as-soon-as-possible. Our men are tough about it -- they don’t want to go home until everyone’s power is on -- but there are safety issues and we have to get them sleep after 24 hours. We try to give our members good estimates when power will be back on so they can respond accordingly. They may decide to stick it out or go stay with relatives or something.

Q: How many customer/members does Flint have?

A: We have 86,600 over 17 counties.

Q: Even without storms and outages, winters can be hard on low income families. What financial programs are available?

A: Several. On the broadest level, we always have ways like level billing that can help anyone budgeting better. It’s billing on a rolling average based on a 13-month history. There’s never any catch-up billing and again, it’s for everybody. The second has been a phenomenal success for Flint and is called prepaid electricity. It’s like paying for the gas you put in your car before you use it. You buy electricity in advance and never get a bill. If somehow you forget to prepay before you run out, there’s a little grace period where you’re notified and can pay before power is turned off. That’s especially popular with people who’re paid weekly or want to avoid one big monthly bill.

Q: How about specific low-income programs?

A: We connect members with community action agencies that administer low income heating energy assistance programs (LIHEAP). In fact, this month, November, they’ve started taking applications from elderly and handicapped members. In December, anyone can apply, but you have to be able to prove low-income household status.

Q: Then how does it work?

A: After approval, we credit LIHEAP dollars to members’ accounts. In addition, our board made the decision to help LIHEAP members further by taking $10 off their monthly bill for 12 months after approval each year.

Q: Where would Flint members in Houston and Peach County apply?

A: Through the Middle Georgia Community Action Agency at 478-328-0333.

Answers may have been edited for length and clarity. Compiled by Michael W. Pannell. Contact him at mwpannell@gmail.com.

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