Friday, February 23, 2001

EMC welcomes Armenian visitors

Coweta-Fayette EMC recently hosted a group of people from Armenia in the Electric Utility Metering and Collections Internship Program of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association International Ltd.

The firm and its president/CEO, Michael Whiteside, hosted a similar group from Bangladesh in 1995.

This year's guests, interested in how private American utilities handle metering, billing and collections, were from a country heavily embroiled in the process of privatization of a number of government-controlled entities. Whiteside sent a memo to department heads in January, asking several to prepare an informative program in a classroom setting for their Armenian guests' three-day visit in February.

Sandra Mote, who heads up the meter-reading department, had a different task; she was to schedule an entire day of on-the-job training with an EMC employee for each of the four men who would be visiting.

"We're both delighted and honored with your presence," said Whiteside in his welcome address, going on to say that he hoped the program wouldn't be redundant, since there "are many similarities in our business."

After an introduction of the EMC department heads and a brief overview of what to expect during a guided tour of the facility, the CEO joined staff members around the table, planning to observe the morning session. It wasn't difficult, according to visitor Hrayr Avanesyan, to see why Whiteside was the company president. Avanesyan, head of the Computing and Analyzing Center for the government-owned and operated Central Electrical Network, said he was impressed by the fact that his host not only attended the classes, but fielded questions and participated in the training.

"He is very educated and knows his business," offered Avanesyan, adding that the visit to Coweta-Fayette EMC was the most informative of several stops on the group's itinerary.

David Khachatryan, chief engineer of the Yerevan Electrical Network, concurred, saying that he was "very much surprised" that the company president would know the answers to so many questions and be so involved in the operations of the firm.

According to the visitors, the public utility company in Armenia is divided into territories and each of them worked for a different sector, or for a research and development arm. The differences, they say, in how the businesses operate here and there are vast.

Without legal ramifications (such as our court system), the utility company in their country is unable to turn off the electricity to some industries, even if they never pay. While the theft of electricity is virtually unheard of in America, the Armenians say it accounts for up to 30 percent of their losses each year.

During their stay, the group learned about modern equipment for reading meters, and how much more effective their own billing process could be with changes. "In Armenia, all the meters are read on the same day," explained Levon Aghekyan, deputy general director, head of the training center for the Institute of Energy.

He went on to say that the number of employees needed to accomplish such a task was high, and therefore, costs were also exorbitant. Wearing casual clothes and EMC caps for their final day on the road with meter readers, the group was able to enjoy a warm, sunny afternoon driving around Fayette and Coweta counties.

When Gagik Margaryan (head of the Power Control and Analysis Department, Yerevan Electrical Network) took a break with his new friends and comrades, it was with levity that he recounted the day's experiences. His memories would include the fact that he "walked and walked and walked." In Armenia, he obviously hadn't been out for a day with his crews.

And Coweta-Fayette EMC meter readers decided that fun is fun in any language and in any country.

Taking home a bag of promotional items and printed materials, each of the men said that they hoped to use the knowledge and experience they had attained during the trip to America. "This is one of the most valuable programs that the NRECA has sponsored over the years," concluded Whiteside. "We thoroughly enjoy the experience and are proud to be of service to our counterparts across the globe. Naturally, we wish the best for this group as they go through the arduous task of the privatization process."

NRECA International (a subsidiary of NRECA) is a non-governmental organization that provides technical assistance and expertise in electric power systems with a focus on rural electrification in developing countries. For nearly 40 years, the program has provided technical assistance to electric utilities throughout the world.

The organization represents nearly 1,000 member systems and is the largest distribution utility network in the U.S.

Robert Schiller, senior management consultant for NRECA and its internship program, accompanied the group of Armenians as they toured the country, visiting a number of cooperatives.

Coweta-Fayette EMC provides electric power to members in Coweta, Fayette, Heard, Meriwether, and parts of south Fulton, Clayton and Spalding counties. Recently, the EMC introduced a subsidiary, Relyco, to offer and manage a wide variety of services that are available to both members and nonmembers, including home security and monitoring, pagers, installation of BOSE sound equipment and a surge and lightning damage protection program.

For information phone 770-502-0226.


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