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Deceptive Sales Pitches Have NIPCO Member Co-ops Seeing "Red"

Updated: Feb 7, 2023

  • "Save 50% on your energy bills!"

  • "Stop paying your electric utility!"

  • Save thousands on your heating and cooling costs!"

Electric consumers across the US are being targeted through postcards or emails featuring one of these headlines, including cooperative member-consumers in Iowa. With new and increased incentives coming from the Inflation Reduction Act, NIPCO cooperatives anticipate that members will begin to receive even more sales pitches for the installation of renewable generation, battery technology, or products that claim to reduce energy consumption. Often, these third-party sales professionals produce polished promotional materials and talking points that include vague or misleading information.

Image of "no obligation" postcard sent to member-consumers.
Postcards like this one have been sent to hundreds of members across western Iowa.

Members receive invitations to enticing free dinners at local restaurants or a "no obligation" meeting to learn how to "save big" on energy bills. Invitations even include a local phone number to call for more information. While these vendors appear to be locally operated, in many cases, they are not.

Photo of solar panels on the roof of a house.

After the sale, consumers often discover that the equipment was improperly installed, didn't produce the desired results or is simply not supported. NIPCO member cooperatives felt it was essential to develop an ad campaign that could proactively educate member-consumers on how to arm themselves with information to protect them from these salespeople and encourage them to turn to someone they can trust: their electric cooperative.

The "Red Flag" campaign was developed to build member-consumers' trust in their local electric cooperative. The tagline, "Smart energy solutions start with smart energy decisions!" punctuates the idea that the member-cooperative relationship is a partnership to help members reach their energy goals.

Graphic illustration of a red flag with the words, "Don't miss the Red Flags", and "You won't have an electric bill!" above the WIPCO logo.
This ad was used by NIPCO Member, WIPCO, in their newsletter.

Member cooperatives have used the "Red Flag" campaign elements in radio ads, social media, newsletters, and bill stuffers. The campaign educates members on how to spot the "red flags" in too-good-to-be-true sales claims.

NIPCO plans to expand the campaign in 2023 to stay ahead of vendors' evolving sales methods.

The campaign was presented at the 2022 IAEC Fall Service Excellence Conference and drew interest outside the NIPCO system. In the spirit of the sixth Cooperative Principle, Cooperation Among Cooperatives, NIPCO has shared "Red Flags" with other cooperatives in Iowa and Missouri.

Graphic illustration of a red flag with the words, "You don't need to work with your co-op."
This ad was used by Harrison County Rural Electric Cooperative accompanied by messaging that encourages members to work with their co-op as a trusted energy partner.

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