Rotarians learn of Cleco’s community involvement
Rotary Club of Crowley President Scott Shumacher, right, welcomed, from left, Sabrina Salling and Bill Fontenot from CLECO to discuss the company with the club.
When Cleco looks at itself, according to Senior Vice President of Utility Operations Bill Fontenot, it sees a company that is serving “a product that is quality of life.”
Fontenot is no fool, however, he knows most customers view Cleco as another bill, as he explained to the Rotary Club of Crowley Tuesday.
But Cleco, which has been in operation for 78 years, has grown from a small town and small beginnings to a company that bolsters 1,200 employees and 284,000 customers in 23 parishes.
“We’ve grown by investing in our communities,” said Fontenot.
In fact, Fontenot says the only way Cleco can grow itself is by growing the community.
Cleco not only continues to add more communities to its service area, but it also has people within the company that actively try to get businesses into its service area.
In turn, Fontenot explains, Cleco works to put that money back into the communities it serves, whether that’s through property taxes and the like or through charity and being a good corporate citizen.
Fontenot also discussed the company’s work into improving its technologies and infrastructures.
While talking about the company’s advanced metering system that is now in place across the board, he explained that it was actually the first step in allowing Cleco to remotely control all aspects of the power getting to its customers.
That means that, while Cleco can now remotely read meters, in the future, it will look to being able to take on electrical outages. For instance if a minor storm causes a limb to harm part of a line structure, Cleco hopes to be able to remotely re-route electricity to the customers, limiting the number of effected parties to a bare minimum.
It will also help keep its workers out of harm’s way during the storms as it will be able to do some fixes on its end before venturing out into the elements. Part of that process will be building a central hub of command, of sorts, to take care of all of its customers.
Of course, as Fontenot points out, there are some things technology cannot help, such as in the event of a hurricane. A hurricane would not only take out power lines, but those technologies.
As part of its community partnership, Cleco has also been able to proudly add new jobs into the communities it serves. Like, in 2010, when Cleco completed the largest generation project in its history — Madison Unit 3 — that saw the creation of 70 new permanent jobs, all of which are still intact today.
Fontenot also explained the company’s modest history that many may not realize. Cleco’s roots go as far back as 1906 and Bunkie. That year, a 25 kWh Corlis steam-driven generating plant was installed in Bunkie.
Cleco also started out as an ice company. Specifically, in 1914, when the company, then known as Louisiana Ice & Utilities, added a 50 kWh diesel engine to the plant to produce ice and light.
By 1935, the call for more electricity began to grow from the community and the company reorganized as Louisiana Ice & Electric Company. Three years later, the company’s first power plant, Rea Station, went into operation in Bunkie.
By 1945, the company changed its name to Central Louisiana Electric Company, Inc. (CLECO). It has only grown since then.
Earlier in the meeting, the Rotary Club of Crowley welcomed a new member, Bertha Mire, to its midst. Mire is transferring her membership to Crowley after being an Abbeville Rotarian for several years.