Cooperative News

From manual to high-tech meters

PEC pioneer's career traces evolution of cooperative's metering

PEC Meter Technician Rhonda Stell vividly remembers interviewing for her first position at the cooperative in 1997. She was competing with 29 others for a meter reading job, and she was the only woman in the room.

Rhonda Stell standing in front of a wall of electric meters.
Rhonda Stell was originally hired as a meter reader, physically reading about 37,000 analog electric meters each year. Her role evolved as the cooperative has, and she now helps manage more than 286,000 meters in PEC’s system.

“One of the men told me that I needed to go home, that he needed the job more than I did because he had a family to support,” Stell said.

But she didn’t leave. Instead, she was hired on, becoming one of six female meter readers at the cooperative. From that pioneering role, Stell’s position here has evolved, reflecting the ways the cooperative has changed over the years as well as how it has stayed the same.

As a meter reader, Stell physically read 37,000 analog electric meters every year on a route that included Johnson City, Spicewood, Circle C, Dripping Springs and parts of Oak Hill. For several years, she carried a book of engineering maps, hopped fences and quickly learned that an animal cookie here and there could buy a dog’s friendship.

“After a year or two of treating those dogs to those animal cookies, even the meanest, snarliest dog would automatically sit and wait for me to climb the fence and feed one to them,” Stell said.

When we converted in 2003 to the TWACS system, a two-way automatic communication system for electric meters, readings started being transmitted automatically to calculate bills. Stell and the other meter readers were transitioned to new roles as account field representatives. They would knock on doors to collect past due balances of $200 or more, disconnecting meters when necessary.

Rhonda Stell standing beside a PEC member.
Stell (left) highlighted PEC’s environmental efforts for members at the 2011 PEC Annual Meeting.

Stell said the days were long, many lasting from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. She is thankful she never felt in danger and said she may be biased but, as a collective group, the women were kind collection agents.

As the cooperative continued to evolve with the development of new metering technologies, Stell’s role at the cooperative evolved with it. Her metering knowledge earned her a position as a meter tester in our central meter shop. Soon after, Stell was promoted to meter technician.

While Stell initially spent most of her time in the shop repairing meters, her role has shifted over the years to one focused on paperwork and the management of the meters in our system.

“I’m really blessed that they’ve given me the opportunity to be at my best,” Stell said. “I don’t have any complaints. This is my family, and I love them and this company.”

More than 19 years at the cooperative have taken Stell from analog meters and maps to automatic meters and navigation systems, reflecting how far we’ve come. As Stell helps the cooperative prepare for a system-wide conversion to high-tech advanced metering infrastructure meters, she is eyeing retirement.

Off-hours: Brightening our community

Rhonda Stell kneeling in the grass behind a pile of strings of electric lights.
Stell organizes lights for the Johnson City Lights Spectacular. Each holiday season, she helps drape 100,000 lights on the Blanco County courthouse. Stell is one of the founders of the annual holiday tradition.

Just as Rhonda Stell blazed a trail in her professional life, she has pushed boundaries off hours in our community, most notably as one of the founders of the Johnson City Lights Spectacular, which drapes the Blanco County Courthouse with 100,000 lights during the winter holiday season. The 2016 event marked the tradition’s 27th year.

“Without the support of PEC, we could not turn our community into a Christmas wonderland,” Stell said. “Since the event’s start, the ‘light elves’ and PEC have helped me put up the lights. The display brings holiday cheer to locals as well as visitors who travel from near and far.”

Stell also serves her community as a four-term member of the Johnson City City Council and a member of the Johnson City Volunteer Fire Department Fire Corporation. She also volunteers with the Blanco County Fair and Rodeo Association, Blanco County Cleanup and many other organizations.

“I just volunteer for everything,” Stell said. “Anything that has to do with benefiting other people, I’m all in.”

“Life’s too short to not choose to love what you do and the people around you,” Stell said. “I don’t know what the future holds for me, but I know I’ve had my fair share of fun, and I owe it all to this place.”