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Co-op leaders have productive visits with D.C. lawmakers

NASHVILLE – More than 60 co-op leaders from across Tennessee traveled to Washington, D.C., on Tuesday and Wednesday, April 10 and 11, to meet with members of the Tennessee congressional delegation as a part of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s annual legislative conference.

“This trip is about building relationships,” said David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “When lawmakers evaluate legislation that impacts electric co-ops or rural Tennessee, we want them to think of us. It is important for them to know who we are and how policy will affect us and our consumers.”

In meetings with legislators, co-ops leaders encouraged lawmakers to support the Farm Bill and rural development programs, reject the administration’s proposal to sell TVA’s transmission assets and dedicate funding for rural broadband and other infrastructure projects. Lawmakers were also invited to visit their local co-ops to meet employees, attend annual meetings or tour co-op facilities.

Meetings were held with Senators Alexander and Corker and Representatives Black, Blackburn, DesJarlais, Duncan, Fleischmann, Roe and Kustoff.

“I’m a big supporter of rural areas, and I thank you for coming up to give a voice to the people you serve,” said Rep. Diane Black. “A lot of people never make it to visit legislators in Nashville, and certainly not to Washington, D.C. It’s important for their issues to be heard, and I appreciate what you do.”

In addition to visits with members of Congress, attendees also heard from industry and policy experts, including U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Purdue. During a speech to co-op leaders, Secretary Purdue discussed the importance of rural broadband and highlighted the successes of Tennessee’s electric co-ops. “Rural broadband is not just a luxury — it’s essential,” said Purdue. “Tennessee recently changed state law, and now seven of their electric co-ops are pursuing broadband. I don’t believe that America would ever reach the productivity we have today across our nation without abundant flow of electricity everywhere. In the same way, we cannot make America great again without high-speed e-connectivity available to every American.”

 

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Electric co-ops celebrate life and service of Dan Smith

NASHVILLE – Dan Smith, a leader among Tennessee’s electric cooperatives, passed away on Wednesday, April 11, 2018. Smith was a board member for Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation in Murfreesboro and served on the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association board of trustees.

Smith is remembered as a passionate advocate for cooperatives and rural Tennessee. A board member for Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation for almost 50 years, Smith served in multiple capacities for the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association in recent years, including board president.

“Dan Smith left a mark on rural Tennessee,” said David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “He was a statesman who worked tirelessly to support cooperatives and other rural interests. His influence and service will be missed.”

“This news hurts, as we had hoped earnestly Mr. Smith would recover from this recent illness,” said Chris Jones, president and CEO of Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation. “Our beloved Mr. Smith, leaves behind an unmatched and irreplaceable legacy, as no one loved the cooperative way more than Dan Smith. Middle Tennessee Electric and its employees past and present have lost a great champion for our cause. I will miss him greatly.”

Dan Smith speaking to delegates to the 2017 TECA Annual Meeting in Nashville.

 

Dan Smith and wife Vondie

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National Lineman Appreciation Day

NASHVILLE – There are more than 700 electric co-op lineworkers in Tennessee, and on Monday, April 9, we pause to honor their service to the state’s rural and suburban communities on National Lineman Appreciation Day. Tennessee’s electric co-ops extend our sincerest gratitude to the hardworking men and women who keep the power on and protect the public’s safety.

“We honor the dedicated service of these courageous Tennesseans and recognize the critical roles they play in keeping the lights on,” said David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “Our communities depend on reliable energy, and Tennessee’s electric lineworkers place themselves in harm’s way to power our everyday lives.”

Electric co-ops maintain more than 86,000 miles of power line and keep the lights on more than 99.96 percent of the time.

“These are special people who are passionate about their jobs and the communities they serve,” says Callis. “They go above and beyond, and all of us in this industry are honored to work with them.”

You can help Tennessee’s electric cooperatives honor lineman by posting on Facebook or Twitter with the hashtag #ThankAlineman.

 

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Put down the shovel and pick up the phone

Spring is finally here! With the snow melted and the ground ready for planting, eager homeowners like you are gearing up to start those outdoor digging projects. Before you reach for that shovel to start digging, remember to call 811, the Tennessee’s call-before-you-dig number, to ensure that your buried utility lines are marked.

April is National Safe Digging Month, and Tennessee’s electric cooperatives want to remind our members that a complex network of pipelines, wires and cables lies just underground. Striking an underground utility line while digging can cause harm to you or those around you, disrupt service to an entire neighborhood and potentially result in fines and repair costs.

A call should be placed to 811 before every digging project, from simple landscaping projects like planting trees or shrubs, to building a deck or installing a rural mailbox. Every nine minutes an underground utility line is damaged because someone decided to dig without first calling 811. Don’t become part of the statistic – make sure to call 811!

Here’s how it works:

  • One free, simple phone call to 811 makes it easy for Tennessee 811 to notify all appropriate utility companies of your intent to dig.
  • Call at least a few days prior to digging to ensure enough time for utility lines to be properly marked.
  • When you call 811, a representative from Tennessee 811 will ask for the location and description of your digging project.
  • Tennessee 811 will notify affected utility companies, like your local electric cooperative, who will then each send a professional locator to the proposed dig site to mark the approximate location of your lines.
  • Once lines have been properly marked, roll up those sleeves and carefully dig around the marked areas.
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Co-ops share broadband successes at Summit

NASHVILLE – On Tuesday, March 20, the BroadbandUSA Program, in partnership with the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, hosted a Broadband Summit in Nashville. Gov. Bill Haslam along with other presenters discussed the importance of broadband and explored ways to increase deployment.

Gov. Haslam reiterated Tennessee’s commitment to expand broadband access: “All means all when it comes to access to education and job opportunities, and all means all when it comes to access to broadband.”

“Since the passage of the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act, electric cooperatives have moved swiftly to help answer the call for more broadband in rural Tennessee,” said Mike Knotts, TECA director of government affairs, who participated in a panel discussion during the Broadband Summit. “Seven of the state’s 22 electric co-ops have already made the decision to move forward with providing broadband service, and others are currently evaluating similar decisions.”

The Broadband Accessibility Act provided $10 million in grant funding in 2018 to spur broadband expansion in unserved areas. Earlier this year two co-ops received $2.7 million in broadband grants from the state. These grants have generated more than $90 million in broadband investment by electric co-ops in Tennessee. “The modest investments made through the Broadband Accessibility Grant Fund are already reaping huge rewards,” said Knotts. “That’s a tremendous multiplier, and we hope that future funding from the state will enable even greater levels of investment into this critical infrastructure.”

On Tuesday Gov. Haslam announced several budget amendments including an additional $5 million in nonrecurring broadband accessibility grants, in addition to the $10 million originally included in the FY 18-19 budget.

Gov. Haslam addresses attendees at a Broadband Summit hosted by the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development on Tuesday, March 20. Photo via Gov. Bill Haslam on Flickr.

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Co-ops host young leaders in Nashville

NASHVILLE – More than 45 high school juniors from across the state attended the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association’s annual Youth Leadership Summit on March 12-14 in Nashville.

Delegates to the annual event receive a hands-on look at state government, learn networking and leadership skills and develop a better understanding of their local electric cooperatives.

While in Nashville, the students visited the State Capitol Building where they were welcomed to Nashville by members of the Tennessee General Assembly. Alan Whittington, assistant chief clerk of the Senate, explained the process required to pass legislation and students debated and voted on a mock bill.

In addition to lawmakers, students also heard from Tennessee leaders like Caty Davis, Ms. Tennessee 2018; Adam Hammond, anchor for Nashville’s NewsChannel5; and Trooper Jeffrey Buchanan with the Tennessee Executive Protection Detail.

“There’s no time that’s bad to learn to be a better leader,” says Tanner Casey, a junior from Atoka High School attending the Youth Leadership Summit. “I appreciate the chance to improve my leadership skills, and I’m grateful for this unique opportunity.”

Delegates to the Youth Leadership Summit are encouraged to be leaders and use their talents to improve rural Tennessee. “Local electric co-ops, school officials and guidance counselors chose these deserving students to attend the summit based on their interests in government and strong leadership abilities,” says Todd Blocker, vice president of member relations for the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association and director of the Youth Leadership Summit. “They will be the next generation of leaders in rural Tennessee, and we want to prepare them for the challenges and opportunities they will face.”

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Weekly Legislative Update

More Committees Closing

This week was make-or-break when it came to bills getting passed through House and Senate Committees. The committee’s calendars were long and many bills heard this week had organized opposition for the first time. After several weeks of committee Chairmen deferring bills that demonstrated any controversy or debate, a large number of bills finally failed or were sent to summer study, where recommended compromise legislation for 2019 can be formed. Oftentimes, these summer study committees never actually meet.

With close to 1/3 of the Legislature retiring or seeking other elected offices, 2019 will bring many new faces to the General Assembly. This means new committee chairmen will be appointed, House and Senate leadership positions will change and new issues will be brought to the table by new leaders. Retiring legislators that have been passionate about certain issues will no longer be around, so many bills that fail this year may never return. At least in their current form.

New Senator Sworn In

Newly elected Senator Shane Reeves (R-Murfreesboro) was sworn into office on Thursday in the Senate Chambers. In attendance for the ceremony were Gov. Bill Haslam, Sen. Reeve’s wife and his three children.

Reeves won a special election on Tuesday to fill the vacant seat, formerly held by Jim Tracy. The unofficial results indicated that Reeves received 13,130 votes, while Gayle Jordan received 5,179.

Reeves is a pharmacist by trade, the former owner of Reeves-Sain Pharmacy, and the CEO of TwelveStone Health Partners.

Save the Date – NRECA Legislative Conference

April 9-11, 2018
Hyatt Regency Washington
400 New Jersey Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20001


TECA Bill Tracker

High Value Bills | Complete Bill Tracker

Smart Meter Legislation

Two “smart meter” bills that have been repeatedly deferred in the House Business and Utilities Subcommittee over the last few weeks have finally been disposed of for the year.

The first bill, sponsored by Rep. Andy Holt (R-Dresden), would have removed universal use of advanced metering technology and would prohibit the recovery costs imposed by members who refuse the technology. A less restrictive amendment was prepared by Rep. Holt, but he decided to refer the bill to a summer study instead of taking a vote.

The second bill, sponsored by Rep. Antonio Parkinson (D-Memphis), would have prohibited a utility from charging its customers who have a smart meter a reconnect fee if the service was disconnected due to nonpayment. His argument was that since many utilities are no longer sending out employees in trucks to reconnect customers’ service, the process is like “flipping a switch” and requires no labor or costs. Therefore, the customer should not be charged any fee. TECA and other industry partners tried to explain to the sponsor why such charges are necessary, but he was insistent in his argument. The bill failed 2-7.

SB  2114 / HB 2495
Round Up Bill

Rep. Joe Towns’ (D-Memphis) bill regarding round-up programs was taken off notice this week in the House Consumer and Human Resources Subcommittee after 4 weeks of deferring the bill.

As originally drafted, the bill would deem any person, governmental entity or other legal entity that rounds up a customer’s bill for goods and services without obtaining the customer’s express, written permission to opt-in to such a billing procedure to be unlawful and an unfair trade practice.

After speaking to interested parties that opposed the bill, Rep. Towns drafted an amendment which would continue to permit opt-out programs, but would put into place strict reporting requirements on the funds raised. This amendment also received scrutiny from the same interested parties and was never voted on.

Finally, on Wednesday, Rep. Towns presented another amendment which excluded most entities from the bill, including electric cooperatives. Still though, the bill had received such negative responses from all stakeholders, the subcommittee members decided not to take action. Rep. Clark Boyd (R-Lebanon) requested that the sponsor take the bill off notice and offered to help him co-sponsor legislation next year pertaining to this issue, but that will be friendlier to the parties involved. The sponsor agreed.

If such legislation is to be introduced again next year, TECA will be involved in discussions and provide input that represents electric co-op interests, and will continue working to protect co-op round-up programs across the state.

Broadband Grant Budget Amendment

After consolation with TECA staff, Sen. Ken Yager (R-Kingston) and Rep. David Hawk (R-Greeneville) have proposed an amendment to Governor Haslam’s budget to increase the Broadband Accessibility Grant Fund. The Governor’s budget requested $10 million, and the amendment seeks to appropriate an additional $10 million (for a total of $20 M) for next year’s grants.

Each year, there are hundreds of budget amendments seeking to add billions of dollars to the state’s spending plan. With the first year’s requests to the Broadband Fund exceeding $60 M and an expectation that year two will see an even higher number of requests, TECA is optimistic about the opportunity to increse the Fund’s budget. However, approval of the budget is typically the last major action taken before the legislature adjourns for the year. So it will be another month, or so, before the final decision is made.
For the remainder of the second session of the 110th General Assembly, View from the Hill will be published bi-weekly.

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Thunderstorm safety tips from the American Red Cross

When thunderstorms are rolling your way, stay safe with these helpful tips from the American Red Cross:

  • Listen to local news or NOAA Weather Radio for emergency updates. Watch for signs of a storm, like darkening skies, lightning flashes or increasing wind.
  • Postpone outdoor activities if thunderstorms are likely to occur. Many people struck by lightning are not in the area where rain is occurring.
  • If a severe thunderstorm warning is issued, take shelter in a substantial building or in a vehicle with the windows closed. Get out of mobile homes that can blow over in high winds.
  • If you can hear thunder, you are close enough to be in danger from lightning. If thunder roars, go indoors! The National Weather Service recommends staying inside for at least 30 minutes after the last thunder clap.
  • Avoid electrical equipment and telephones. Use battery-powered TVs and radios instead.
  • Shutter windows and close outside doors securely. Keep away from windows.
  • Do not take a bath, shower or use plumbing.
  • If you are driving, try to safely exit the roadway and park. Stay in the vehicle and turn on the emergency flashers until the heavy rain ends. Avoid touching metal or other surfaces that conduct electricity in and outside the vehicle.
  • If you are outside and cannot reach a safe building, avoid high ground; water; tall, isolated trees; and metal objects such as fences or bleachers. Picnic shelters, dugouts and sheds are NOT safe.

Source: American Red Cross

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Tennessee co-ops send crews to assist with nor’easter recovery

NASHVILLE – Eighteen lineworkers from co-ops across Tennessee are heading to Virginia to assist with power restoration after a strong storm system moved through the region overnight and early Friday morning. Widespread wind, rain and snow has left more than 900,000 people without power in New England and the Mid-Atlantic states.

Six lineworkers from Appalachian Electric Cooperative in New Market are traveling to Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative in Gainesville, Va.; six lineworkers from Holston Electric Cooperative in Rogersville will assist Central Virginia Electric Cooperative in Arrington, Va.; and six lineworkers from Plateau Electric Cooperative in Oneida will assist Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative in Gretna, Va.

Central Virginia experienced sustained winds of 20 to 30 miles per hour with gusts approaching 70 miles per hour as the storm moved through, toppling trees and damaging power lines.

“I am always impressed by how quickly our co-ops respond to requests for assistance,” said Todd Blocker, vice president of member services and mutual aid coordinator for the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “Just a couple of hours after receiving the request from Virginia, these guys were loading up and heading out. Their willingness to leave home and serve others is admirable.”

File photo – Duck River EMC crews respond to storm damage in Florida. Photo by Robin Conover.

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Tennessee’s Aaron Lay speaks at NRECA annual meeting

Lay meets with FLEC representatives from FLEC backstage after his speech.

Nashville – Aaron Lay, a senior at Sequoyah High School and Washington Youth Tour delegate from Fort Loudoun Electric Cooperative, addressed more than 6,000 co-op leaders assembled in Nashville today for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s annual meeting. Lay was selected by his peers as spokesperson for the 2018 Washington Youth Tour delegation and NRECA’s youth leadership council.

Lay talked about the importance of co-ops and the impact that the Washington Youth Tour had on his life.

“We are all blessed and incredibly lucky to live in such a time where it is as simple as flipping a switch to say, ‘let there be light,'” said Lay during his speech. “Upon applying for the Youth Tour I realized I had nothing to lose, but everything to gain. I made a decision to invest my time into the application, and I appreciate the people behind the Washington Youth Tour for matching that investment into me and my future.”

“Aaron stood out on Youth Tour as a leader among leaders,” said David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “He did a phenomenal job addressing the NRECA annual meeting, and I am excited to see how he uses his talents to tell the story of rural Tennessee.”

Aaron’s full speech is below.

“You have to find what sparks a light in you so that you in your own way can illuminate the world.” – Oprah Winfrey

Let there be light……..

Ohhh, the story of electricity. You know, The one we learned about in elementary school and will be taught to generations to come.  Benjamin Franklin and his urge to play with lightning.

Thomas Edison with the invention of those things called light bulbs that I’m positive every person in this room has had the pleasure of replacing a time or two. In 1880- Small electrical station based on Edison’s design were in a number of U.S. cities.

Life as they once knew it was beginning to change drastically.  I said U.S. cities, the hustle and bustle, when most people think of the United States cities like Atlanta, New York City, and Washington come into the picture.

But ladies and gentleman the heartbeat of this great country is its rural areas. President Roosevelt agreed.

In 1935, 82 years ago, the Rural Electric Administration was created to bring electricity to rural areas such as those that the majority of us in this room come from.

I recall the stories of my great grandfather milking cows by hand and then carrying the milk in cans down to the spring house to keep it cold until the truck came to pick it up for processing. Imagining such a time without electricity is inconceivable.

For today’s society, especially today’s youth, a phone without a phone charger, a Pop Tart without a ten second microwave ride or an early morning shower without hot water would be considered unbearable.

We are all blessed and incredibly lucky to live in such a time where it is as simple as flipping a switch to say, “let there be light.”

“Nothing can dim the light that shines from within” –Maya Angelou

Let there be light for inspiration within yourself…

Like any person in my position, I was a bit skeptical of getting on a bus and traveling to a large city where the only three people that I knew were me, myself, and I.

Little did I know that the multiple people traveling from all across the state and nation to Washington D.C. would soon become some of my closest friends.

From meeting our state’s congressional delegation, visiting the sights and memorials of our Nation’s history in D.C., to fellowshipping with new-found friends aboard the top level of the Spirit of Washington on the Potomac River, this trip to our Nation’s capital had quickly turned into a trip of a lifetime.

Having the opportunity to stand on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered the famous “I have a Dream” speech inspired me that I too, a rural farm kid from East Tennessee have a dream as well.

Visiting the homes of former presidents, honoring the service men and women who gave their life during World War II amidst the water fountain- it is these moments throughout the trip that were truly life changing.

The humbling experience of the laying of the wreath and changing of the guard of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery gave me great pride of the sacrifice of our fallen.

You see, it isn’t the places we went or the food we ate but the inspiration drawn, friendships created, and memories made during the Washington Youth Tour that I will cherish forever.

Let there be a light of gratitude…

“Gratitude is a quality similar to electricity: it must be produced and discharged and used up in order to exist at all.” – William Faulkner

These experiences reminded me of how this amazing trip to Washington was even possible. The vision of the leaders of the NRECA and our respective state and local cooperatives know how important young leaders are.

Young people have been coming to Washington, D.C. for years because of the commitment they have made to their communities, state, and nation, and I am forever grateful for that commitment.

The Washington Youth Tour is much more than seventeen-hundred teens from across the country coming together to tour Washington. It is about discovering and inspiring the young leaders of tomorrow individually.

Taking time to encourage and polish young people like myself is not always as simple as it sounds, but I think I can speak for every person on the trip when I express a sincere Thank you.

“We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future”- Franklin D. Roosevelt

Let there be light for youth leadership…

I have always been taught that a leader is meant to empower, not overpower and that with ability comes responsibility. There is a Japanese proverb that goes “None of us is as smart as all of us.”

Working together in groups of people can become somewhat chaotic at times but one principle always shines through, and that is that working together will always take you forward.

While walking the streets of Washington, D.C. it could be viewed as just a bunch of large buildings made of marble and granite, but after attending the tour I have gained a new appreciation for the individuals who work in these buildings as they are the ones that make this country great.

Upon applying for the Youth Tour I realized I had nothing to lose but everything to gain. I made a decision to invest my time into the application and I appreciate the people behind the Washington Youth Tour for matching that investment into me and my future.

I want to thank Ms. Amy Kirkland and Mr. Jared Bracket of my local coop, Fort Loudoun Electric, the Tennessee Electric Cooperatives Association and the National Rural Electric Cooperatives Association for giving me, as Oprah Winfrey would say, a “light bulb moment.”

You see, there would not be any young leaders without the forethought of the leaders in front of them. After all, the universal symbol of a good idea is a light bulb. Let there be light.