Two-and-half decades ago, a power outage in Johnson County would require employees to huddle around a map, figuring out where repairs would need to be made.
Now, they can use computer programs to pinpoint both the location of the outage and the homes that have been impacted before the calls from customers even begin coming in.
In his years leading Johnson County REMC, change has been the one constant experience for CEO Chet Aubin.
When he first took the job in 1991, residents would often wake up on winter mornings to see the footprints of meter readers who would walk from house to house, taking note of how much electricity had been used the past month.
Now, once an hour, meters will automatically transmit data about power usage to the utility, and customers can go online to track how much energy they are using.
After 27 years, Aubin will be retiring March 16 as the leader of the utility that serves more than 26,000 customers throughout the county.
John Sturm, a Center Grove area resident who most recently worked as an energy consultant after decades of working for various energy companies, has been hired as his replacement.
Sturm jumped on the chance to work at Johnson County REMC because of a desire to be involved with a company that is integral to his community, he said.
“My vision is to be the most well run and service-orientated public utility in Indiana,” Sturm said. “Chet and his staff have positioned this company really well, with infrastructure, technology and staff to meet that vision.”
Aubin got his start as an accountant for Hoosier Energy in 1969, and his time in the utility business has been defined by the way advances in technology have changed the industry. For Sturm, who began working at the utility at the start of the month, the expectation is that change will only continue to happen at a rapid pace.
“The change has been unbelievable,” Aubin said.
Johnson County REMC had 32 employees in 1991. The customer-owned utility has 58 now, as it grew from serving about 10,000 customers to more than 26,000.
While constant improvements of technology have been exciting to follow, there have been some anxious moments as well.
Aubin recalled the anxiety at the utility toward the end of 1999 as the new year was approaching. No one was sure how the computer systems would adjust once the clocked ticked over from 1999 to 2000, and what impact computer system crashes could have.
On New Year’s Eve, they brought in most of their staff, from line repairmen to customer service representatives, and waited in the Johnson County REMC offices as the clocked ticked toward midnight. Concerns about computer glitches causing problems for electrical systems in Johnson County and across the country turned out to be unfounded, but the situation served as a reminder of just how quickly technology was changing the industry, Aubin said.
One key area Aubin has remained focused on throughout his time at the utility has been economic development, because as more businesses come to the county, that helps limit the amount of rate increases for customers. Shortly after arriving in Johnson County, Aubin worked to help start the Johnson County Development Corp., which is focused on helping recruit new businesses to come to the county.
In 1991, customers were charged 9.5 cents per kilowatt hour. Now, they pay 11.5 cents. One of the main reasons the company has managed to keep rates low has been its focus on supporting county economic development efforts and getting industrial customers whose revenue helps keep residential electricity rates low, Aubin said. For example, when FedEx’s new multimillion-dollar facility opens in Greenwood, Johnson County REMC will be supplying its electricity.
In coming years, the utility hopes to expand its internet service. In the past decade, the utility connected all of its substations with more than 100 miles of fiber optic cable. The goal was to allow better monitoring and communications in its own systems but has also allowed Johnson County REMC to begin offering internet service to commercial businesses, as well as some residential properties, Aubin said.
Sturm wants to focus on expanding internet services both with REMC being better able to manage their own electric system and offering internet access to customers, he said.
Family: Wife, Roberta, and son, Nicolas
Education: Bachelor’s degree in business administration from Indiana University
Residence: Unincorporated Johnson County, south of Bargersville
Job: Johnson County REMC CEO since February 1991; he’s planning to retire in March
Retirement plans: Taking care of his home and working on older automobiles, including his 1971 Le Mans