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An Expert on Rude

MECO: A textbook case of consumer service and communication at its worst.

October 31, 2013
Susan Halas - Contributing Writer (wailukusue@gmail.com) , Maui Weekly

It seems many people are unhappy with Maui Electric (MECO). Their residential customers caught in PV limbo are unhappy. The smaller folks without the financial ability to install the new technology are unhappy because as the more affluent adopt it, operating costs are shifted to those least able to pay the ever-rising rates. The bigger commercial electricity users standing in various queues for the chance to bring their larger scale projects online are not happy campers, either, as they wait for the other shoe to drop.

The contractors who install these systems large and small are unhappy too, because they are dubious about the way the loads are calculated, and other parts of the process seem unfair to them.

The consultant who monitors the overall electricity planning process for the state Public Utilities Commission (PUC) is also unhappy. He's so unhappy, he has refused to certify the results. (See "PUC Consultant Refuses to Certify Integrated Resource Planning Report" on front page).

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Susan Halas

And the media (this writer included) is unhappy too. Electricity, it seems, is a complex, multifaceted topic and speaks its own language studded with acronyms that only the initiated can understand. Let's compare it to a ball of uncooked yeasty dough: It's soft and sticky, it's expanding rapidly and shifting shape as it goes. Poke it in anywhere and the result is it pops out somewhere else. I cannot pretend to comprehend what it all means.

The subject encompasses policies, technology, engineering, economics, politics, futuristic thinking and an arcane regulatory climate. In this environment, customer service and communications bring up the rear.

In fairness to MECO, it well may be a victim of its own success. The adoption of the PV technology has been so rapid (doubling each year since 2007) that it's not surprising they've had a hard time keeping up, much less making their side of the story understandable to the public. The problem is that one gets the impression that they really aren't trying very hard to explain what's going on. In fact, one senses they aren't trying at all.

I suspect MECO is unhappy, too, and perhaps with good reason. But to an outside observer, its officials appear less than candid, and certainly what information has been provided comes with little or no documentation and a thick coating of techno-babble that makes much of it incomprehensible.

If MECO is unhappy, then let them consider how and why it has come to this. For starters, let's ask them why they fluff their long suffering customers off with a hasty oral apology after months of stonewall silence accompanied by unannounced, after-the-fact rule changes with enormous financial impacts? (See "More Delays & Costs Ahead for MECO PV Customers" on front page.)

What kind of a business waits months to say anything at all, and then gives less than seven days' written notice on matters of serious economic consequence and provides no written documentation of any kind?

I am no longer a young reporter. I got my first national byline in 1968. I've been writing business for more than 40 years, and often in markets far larger than this one. But I've never before seen this kind of slipshod, careless, arrogant, evasive, protracted, all-encompassing disregard for the customer. When you deal with the management of MECO, you get a textbook case of consumer service and communication at its worst--a new low; the absolute bottom of the barrel.

And finally, let's take a look at the customer question card passed at their public meeting the evening of Oct. 16. The piece of paper measured 21?2 by 31?2 inches. The space to ask your questions was 3 inches wide by 3/4-of-an-inch tall. Would it be possible to have a card any smaller? Would an impartial observer surmise it was intended to stimulate or discourage dialog?

Steven Rymsha, MECO's supervisor of alternate energy projects, gave the "explanation" at that meeting. He showed many slides, and as he spoke, frequently commented, "Of course that doesn't apply to any of you." Why would you bring your customers out on short notice and then show them numerous specifics that were not even relevant to their situation?

He talked for about 40 minutes and then took questions on those peewee cards. He ended with a statement to the effect that he could only be there for a few more minutes, and if he couldn't answer their questions now, they'd have to wait for another opportunity.

All the while, MECO President Sharon Suzuki and Alternate Energy Manager Matthew McNeff, the management team that created the mess and presumably also devised the new rules, stood in the back and let Rymsha take the heat.

In the end, McNeff, standing behind the crowd, raised his arm above his head and tapped his watch and the whole dog-and-pony show came to an end.

About energy, I may not be an expert, but rude--I've seen it before and this is exactly what it looks like. I didn't make this scenario--I'm just reporting on it. I may not be an expert in energy policy or the conversion to new technology, but I am a certified expert in evasiveness and the failure to disclose all the relevant information in a timely understandable manner.

I've seen my share bad manners over the years--pushing your weight around and behaving like a bully. When it comes to rude, MECO takes the prize.

 
 
 

 

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