Our Cooperative Response to COVID-19 with Mario Romero, CEO of Otero County Electric Cooperative
Mario Romero, General Manager and CEO of Otero County Electric Cooperative, sits down with our host, Bazi Kanani, to discuss how his cooperative has responded to issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Across our cooperative family, amazing work is being done by our members as business practices have pivoted in an effort to tackle challenges related to COVID-19. As part of this series, Bazi Kanani interviews CEOs from our member cooperatives and public power districts to discuss how they are responding during this difficult time.
Otero County Electric Cooperative serves Cloudcroft, New Mexico, where tourism is a major part of the community's now struggling economy while faced with COVID-19. Mario talks about how his cooperative is supporting their community until the tourists come back. He also describes what leading through these telling times is like, adapting day-to-day operations and guiding his cooperative so that no matter what, they can keep the power on.
To learn more about what Otero County Electric Cooperative is doing in their communities, watch the video below.
Read the Interview Transcript Here
"We've decided as a co-op is, here in New Mexico, the state had issued a ban on disconnects for non-payment for residential accounts, and we decided to expand that to small businesses as well."
Bazi: the charming Main Street in Cloudcroft, New Mexico is suddenly silent, tourists gone away, many businesses closed during this viral pandemic. In this series, we're learning more about how cooperatives like Otero County Electric are responding to the crisis while making sure vital electricity is something their members can count on.
Joining this video call is Mario Romero. He is the general manager and CEO of Otero County Electric. Mario, I wanna ask you first about an issue that many leaders and organizations may be facing during these times.
Can you tell us about managing the dynamics at play when there are strong differences of opinions among your employees about just how serious the coronavirus is?
Mario: So I think one of the silver linings for us has been the use of technology. This Zoom meeting, for example, but also back in January coincidentally, we had switched over to Office 365 from Microsoft. We didn't even know we had Microsoft Teams as part of that package, and once this situation occurred we've been able to use Microsoft Teams for video conferencing, for holding weekly staff meetings, for holding weekly employee meetings company-wide, even to having our first virtual board meeting, which was held this last Friday.
Bazi: Important to find those silver linings, for sure. So Mario, as you know very well, one of the cooperative principles is concern for community. Can you talk to us about how that has played a role in your response?
Mario: We've noticed a tremendous impact to our economy. We are in a mountainous area. The primary economic driver is tourism so we have hotels and we have restaurants and retail shops and jewelry shops. They're closed right now. So the people that we see everyday, those people are out of work. So we are definitely noticing the economic impact here.
What we've decided as a co-op is, here in New Mexico the state had issued a ban on disconnects for non-payment for residential accounts, and we decided to expand that to small businesses as well. These businesses are going to be struggling, and if we disconnect them and they lose power, that will likely be the final nail in the coffin for them, and it's everyone's interests, theirs and ours, for them to be successful and to continue operating. So that's one thing that we've done.
As far as the co-ops across the state, we have that network. So one manager found a place to purchase bulk orders of hand sanitizer so we're going to be able to share most of that with local volunteer fire departments, senior centers, food banks and those type of things.
Bazi: Definitely a nice thing to be able to share in these times. Mario Romero is CEO of Otero County Electric. Thanks for your time, Mario.
Mario: Thank you.
COVID-19 Community Response
As a family of electric cooperatives and public power districts, our distribution members reach consumers at the end of the line, many of whom have been directly impacted by COVID-19. To learn about our response, how are members are responding and the amazing work being done in communities across the West, watch our videos and read the articles here.
Tri-State is a not-for-profit cooperative of 46 members, including 43 member utility electric distribution cooperatives and public power districts in four states, that together deliver reliable, affordable and responsible power to more than a million electricity consumers across nearly 200,000 square miles of the West. For more information about Tri-State and our Responsible Energy Plan, visit www.tristate.coop.