King Country Energy

Tree of Light: Em-POWER-ing a rural community in need

King Country Energy – The KCE Tree of Light

Nearly half of King Country Energy’s (KCE’s) customers live in Waitomo District, about 100 kilometres from the company’s base in Taumarunui.

Determined to run community initiatives across its wider operating area, the company turned its attention on Waitomo in 2015, at a time when that community had been hard hit by the dairy downturn. 

In discussion with the Waitomo District Council about possible initiatives, the company landed on a Norfolk Pine on the main street of Te Kuiti. The tree had been a community icon. Previously it had been covered in lights at Christmas time, but this had ceased 50 years ago.

The KCE Tree of Light was launched in December 2015 at the conclusion of the Te Kuiti Christmas Parade. KCE arranged to have the tree re-covered in 300 LED lights, which were ceremoniously switched on and watched by around 3,000 Waitomo community members.

KCE will operate the Tree of Light year-round. It wants the tree to be a vehicle for the community to raise awareness and funds for local causes and events.

The company invites public submissions on issues and lights the tree in different colours to mark each cause.

The 2016 calendar already holds 20 different events for the tree. Examples of causes sponsored include epilepsy awareness, prostate cancer, domestic abuse prevention and conservation week. The tree, lit bright red, this year became a tribute to ANZAC Day , and the event was picked-up by national newspapers.

KCE staff are encouraged to dress in colours matching each cause, and to volunteer for charity collections in the community. KCE’s community relations manager spends part of her week in Waitomo to liaise with sponsored community groups, maintain communications about the tree and run the events calendar.

The tree has been a particular success with young people. To date, 30 per cent of nominations have been submitted by people aged 5 to 20. KCE is scheduled to visit schools in the second half of 2016 to promote the tree and its causes, as well as encourage participation.

The company says the community has engaged positively with the project and feels the initiative has boosted the overall perception of KCE. In the three months after the Tree of Light’s launch, churn was 51 per cent less than during the same period a year earlier.

KCE feels the tree adds visual and charitable appeal to the town centre, as well as drawing foot traffic. The company received a letter of thanks from Waitomo’s mayor for the benefit and novelty the tree has brought.

Because of this positive response, the company has increased its community relations budget to allow for a second tree launch in 2016.

KCE has operated in the Waitomo District for 16 years and has just over 7,000 customers in the area. It operates across the Central North Island and owns hydro power stations in the King Country and Horowhenua. It says enduring community relationships are at the heart of its value proposition.

The Community Initiative of the Year award category is sponsored by PEPANZ