Formed in 2008, the Fair Energy Rate Action Fund (FERAF) is a Missouri-based coalition whose mission it is to keep the state’s electrical rates fair and affordable. Its members are comprised of three diverse consumer protection groups: AARP, Missouri Association for Social Welfare (MASW) and Missouri Rice Research and Merchandising Council.
In 2009, FERAF endeavored to oppose an overreach by Ameren UE, Missouri’s largest utility company serving 1.2 million electric and 127,000 gas customers in the eastern, central and southern parts of the state. Ameren was seeking an immediate 18% rate increase and the ability to institute future rate hikes with greater frequency. With a recession, state unemployment at nearly 10% and a high concentration of senior citizens living on fixed incomes, the financial impact on business and residential consumers would have been significant.
FERAF rallied against Ameren as it appealed to the legislature to allow a rate increase in order to fund a new nuclear facility. When its initial attempt failed, Ameren’s appeal was redirected to the Missouri Public Service Commission (PSC). Prior to issuing approval, the PSC scheduled a series of public hearings. In order to defeat Ameren’s efforts, FERAF needed to focus on educating and mobilizing the people of Missouri by getting them to attend the hearings which historically garnered little to no participation.
Front Porch Strategies identified TeleForum as the most viable solution for FERAF to engage Missouri residents to take action against Ameren’s plans. Its virtual town hall meeting format utilizing telecommunications technology provided a platform with which representatives from each of the three FERAF groups could connect with the general public, including remote and housebound consumers, to provide specific ways they could influence Ameren’s appeal and what to do in the event the rate increase occurred. Live Q&A enabled two-way communication while post-event voice messaging empowered participants to share their stories.
Between March 2009 and February 2010, FERAF hosted ten TeleForums, with Front Porch Strategies, reaching out to more than 888,000 Ameren customers throughout Missouri. The events not only drove awareness of the issue and public hearings, it also increased traffic to the FERAF Website. Sound files of participant post-event voice messages were broadcast on the Web and as radio spots. Direct mail and customized auto calls were leveraged as follow up to increase attendance at public hearings and elicit direct outreach to policy makers.
Utilizing TeleForum as the hub to its communications campaign, FERAF successfully educated people who were previously unaware and exponentially increased community participation at public hearings; attendance grew from 0-5 people in rural communities to 300+. It is estimated that both the PSC and Ameren were shaken as a result of so much sudden community involvement and activity. Associates of Front Porch Strategies who attended the meetings noted that in 25 years, they’d never seen anything like it.
As a result of its efforts, FERAF, working with Front Porch Strategies, has effectively stalled and continues to campaign against Ameren’s attempted rate increase.
“The results were unbelievable. There would have been no other way to inform and mobilize this number of people this quickly. TeleForum allows for two-way communication while TV and radio only offer 30-second sound bites.” – PJ Wenzel, Partner, Front Porch Strategies
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