The people are the co-op


Tom Purkey serves as Executive Vice President and General Manager for the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association.


The people are the co-op

by Tom Purkey, Executive Vice President and General Manager for the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association

I’m no psychologist, but I know that it’s important in this world of ups and downs to find the positive things in your life and focus on them rather than allowing the negative issues to control your thoughts.

In our business of providing safe, reliable and affordable electric service to rural electric cooperative members, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the many complex issues facing the energy industry: How do we reduce carbon dioxide emissions into our atmosphere? Is it feasible to collect these emissions and safely store them where they won’t affect the environment? How much electricity should be generated from renewable sources such as windmills and solar arrays? How do we build expensive transmission lines from the renewable energy generation locations to the populated areas in our country, and who should pay for those lines? Should we start investing in more-expensive electric cars to become less dependent on foreign oil? The list of these questions grows longer every day.

However, there are some really positive aspects of our business that allow us to focus on and become confident in what we are doing as we work to achieve the goals that give us our direction.

I must say I’m extremely confident in the direction Tennessee’s cooperatives are taking when I look at the people — employees, staff, managers and directors and electric cooperative member- owners — who make up rural electrification. Some 24 years ago, I moved from Oneida, where I was general manager of Plateau Electric Cooperative, to join the staff of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association in Nashville. I worked with a fabulous group of employees and directors, and my statewide duties would establish relationships with co-op personnel across Tennessee. Every cooperative (23 systems in Tennessee) has a staff that generally includes the general manager, administrative assistant, directors of engineering, finance, member services and operations and other important key employees and is also governed by a board of directors consisting of approximately 10 people. “How will I ever meet all these people?” I remember thinking. Well, I finally realized that it happens gradually and not all at once. And my have I enjoyed the journey!

It’s been wonderful knowing the people at each cooperative. They are the backbone of rural electrification in Tennessee, providing the resources for solving the problems and challenges our cooperatives face. The issues are tough, but the people with whom I work across the state provide the input for planning the proper course of action.

The complexities of this life are never too overwhelming thanks to the relationships that allow us to collectively work through the difficulties that we face together. Though I don’t know the names that go with all the faces at each cooperative, I know that everyone, including the officials who make the decisions, are good people, doing what they think is best to ensure the future success of your hometown electric cooperative.


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