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LPG Spotlight: Blue Ridge Energy

May 1, 2020 By    
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Blue Ridge Energy launched a campaign to help customers during a coronavirus-driven turndown of the economy. Photo courtesy of Blue Ridge Energy

Although the coronavirus has introduced unprecedented worries into people’s lives, the nation has seen hope firsthand when people and companies support and give back to their communities.

Blue Ridge Energy is giving back with its campaign – fittingly dubbed “In This Together” – to offer its communities financial relief in a time when many people feel unsure.

The United States has seen a staggering unemployment rate due to a coronavirus-driven downturn of its economy. The Blue Ridge Energy campaign aims to provide more leeway for qualifying customers who are struggling to pay their electricity and gas bills due to job insecurity or loss.

The campaign includes an elimination of all late fees and emergency delivery fees. The company is also setting up payment plans with customers unable to pay their bills, in order to help them budget once normalcy is regained.

This begs the question: Where is the money coming from? For years, the company has been involved in Operation Round Up, where customers are asked to round up their bills to the nearest dollar. That contribution, ranging from 1 to 99 cents per bill, enters a fund that goes directly back to subsidize bills of those who are struggling to pay. According to the company, the fund raises about $250,000 annually.

That fund is going toward the In This Together campaign. Blue Ridge Energy is asking customers to donate if they are able to, in order to adjust to the high level of need.

In addition, Blue Ridge Energy’s parent company is using funds from its capital credits campaign to give back to customers. Because the company is a member-owned cooperative, each year it retires millions of dollars back to consumers via checks in the mail or credits on bills.

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This year, the company is retiring $5 million back to customers. In light of the pandemic, Blue Ridge Energy is encouraging customers to donate their credits to the In This Together campaign if they can afford it, so that the money can be used to help those who are most in need.

“We’re trying to get as much money as possible to members who are struggling,” says Grey Scheer, director of community relations at Blue Ridge Energy. “They’re worried, they’re scared, they’re buying food. Utility bills have been put on the back burner and we’re not going to pressure them to pay.”

The community response has been tremendous, according to Renee Whitener, director of public relations at Blue Ridge Energy. “I’ve never seen a flood of so many heartfelt ‘thank yous,’” Whitener says.

The campaign has inspired many customers to donate money. According to the company, Operation Round Up subsidized one man’s bills for years. When he saw people struggling financially more than he was, he put some of his own money back into the fund so that other people could benefit.

“The people that are needing help, most of them have never needed help before,” Scheer says. “All of a sudden, they’re out of work and they don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel yet.”

Scheer and Whitener say they feel fortunate to be considered an essential business during this time. They are encouraging their own employees to round up if possible – not just to the nearest dollar, but to the nearest $5, $10 or $20 for the campaign.

The company says it will run In This Together for as long as there’s a need for it.

“It’s just the right thing to do. It’s ingrained in our DNA. People are struggling and we need to do whatever we can do to help,” Scheer says. “Good companies do that kind of thing.”


BLUE RIDGE ENERGY

YEAR FOUNDED // 1936 as Blue Ridge Energy, 1998 as Blue Ridge Energy Propane and Fuels subsidiary
FOUNDER // Blue Ridge Energy Propane and Fuels is a wholly owned subsidiary of the electric member-cooperative parent company
HEADQUARTERS // Lenoir, North Carolina
EMPLOYEES // 179 (electric), 53 (propane and fuels)

About the Author:

Carly McFadden is associate editor at LP Gas Magazine. She is a graduate of Ohio University's E.W. Scripps School of Journalism and a native of Cleveland, Ohio. McFadden can be reached at cmcfadden@northcoastmedia.net.

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