Tennessee lineworkers head to South Carolina to restore power

More than 40 volunteers from five electric cooperatives to participate in power restoration effort following massive winter storm

NASHVILLE – Forty-one electric cooperative lineworkers from Tennessee are heading to South Carolina to help restore power to those affected by a powerful winter storm. Some crews are already en route and others will depart early Thursday morning.

“Tennessee crews and equipment are on the way to help South Carolina recover from this historic storm,” said David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “We are proud of these volunteers who are leaving their families to help others in need. This will be hard, dangerous work in difficult conditions.”

More than 50 additional lineworkers are on standby to leave Thursday afternoon should the need arise.

Electric cooperatives across the Southeast began planning earlier this week, and details have been adjusted as the exact path of the storm and the extent of the damage became more certain. Electric cooperatives utilize a common safety and construction standards that allow crews to safely and efficiently assist other systems.

Crews will be assisting Santee Electric Cooperative in Kingstree, S.C., approximately 30 miles west of Myrtle Beach.

Assisting in the recovery will be:

  • four lineworkers from Chickasaw Electric Cooperative, Somerville
  • eight from Cumberland Electric Membership Corporation, Clarksville
  • nine from Duck River Electric Membership Corporation, Shelbyville
  • 10 from Plateau Electric Cooperative, Oneida
  • 10 from Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative, South Pittsburg

“One day we will need help,” says Callis, “and when that tornado or ice storm arrives, we know that this assistance will be repaid. Cooperation is one of the founding principles of electric cooperatives. It is what makes us different from other utilities.”

The Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association is a trade group representing the interests of 23 electric distribution cooperatives and the 1.1 million members they serve across rural and suburban Tennessee.

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Contact:
Trent Scott | tscott@tnelectric.org | 731.608.1519

Media Advisory:
Crews from across the state will be departing Thursday morning. Please contact Trent Scott with the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association if your media outlet would like to schedule an interview or video or photo opportunity.

Download photo: http://www.tnelectric.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/CEC-Pax.jpg

Cutline: Lineworkers from Chickasaw Electric Cooperative, Somerville, Tenn., will leave for Kingstree, S.C., on Thursday morning to assist with electric power restoration following an historic winter storm. From left: Chris Huff, Chris Whittemore, Brett Bartholomew, and Hebert Green.

MLEC, CoBank Partner in School Grant Program

Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative is a recipient of CoBank’s “Sharing Success” matching grant program. MLEC combined the $5000 grant with its existing Adopt-A-School grant program to award $10,000 to local schools.

“Our school grant program makes $1000 available annually in each of the five counties we serve,” says President and CEO Hal Womble. “However, with the help of our partners at CoBank, we are able to give $2000 in each county this year to help more educators and reach more students.”

Winning projects range from establishing reading libraries and science lab materials to electronic tablets and classroom equipment. With the awarding of this year’s grants, MLEC’s Adopt-A-School program reached $100,000 milestone in giving. Since 1991, MLEC has awarded 130 grants through its adopt-a-school program.

“Co Bank is pleased to offer our ‘Sharing Success’ matching grant program to assist our customers in supporting their local communities,” says William D. LaDuca of CoBank. “MLEC’s grant program is an excellent example of how we can assist the cooperative in its efforts to provide financial support for teachers and students in its service territory.”

Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative, a Touchstone Energy® cooperative, is a non-profit organization offering reliable, low-cost electricity to over 35,000 members in Hickman, Houston, Humphreys, Lewis and Perry counties. Member – electric power companies of Middle Tennessee. Remember to play it safe around electricity.

Co-op members deliver powerful message to legislators

One voice can still make a difference, and more than 180 board members and employees representing electric cooperative member-owners across Tennessee spoke with one voice during the 2014 Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association Legislative Conference in Nashville on Monday and Tuesday, Feb. 3 and 4. Attendees met with their legislators on Capitol Hill to help them better understand electric cooperatives and the issues that impact delivering safe, reliable and affordable power to their communities.

Attendees reminded legislators that co-ops are not-for-profit, member-owned and -regulated private businesses. Legislators were told of the enormous impact co-ops have on their communities. Co-ops own and maintain more than $2.8 billion of infrastructure, including 86,000 miles of power lines, pay $63 million in taxes, employ more than 2,600 Tennesseans and have a payroll of $94 million. Tennessee’s electric co-ops kept the power on 99.96 percent of the time in 2013 and secured more than $4 million in economic development loans for their rural communities.

Attendees also shared the results of a recent member satisfaction study. Tennessee co-op members are extremely pleased with the efforts of their local co-op, giving them high marks for satisfaction, trust and loyalty.

“Educated and informed legislators are a key component of low-cost, reliable power in Tennessee,” says Mike Knotts, director of government affairs with TECA. “The collective voice of co-op members makes a powerful impression on Capitol Hill.”

The primary issue discussed with legislators this year was a bill requiring all electric co-ops to join the Tennessee One-Call system, a company that provides services to utilities that own and operate underground infrastructure. While many Tennessee co-ops do participate, a few have virtually no underground utilities, so the service would provide little to no benefit. Co-ops believe that the local board should decide if the co-op should join One Call, not Nashville bureaucrats.

“We believe that our members are best served when local decisions are made by local board members elected to run the cooperative,” says Knotts. “We are concerned when legislation limits a board’s ability to act in the best interests of its members.”

“Tennessee’s electric cooperatives maintain a visible presence in Nashville and Washington, D.C., to be certain that the interests of co-op members are protected,” says David Callis, TECA general manager. “We are here to protect rural Tennesseans. Our legislators make decisions and pass laws that can have serious consequences for Tennessee’s electric cooperatives and the members they serve. It is important that we tell the electric cooperative story and inform and educate legislators on the impacts of proposed legislation.”

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Tightening the Net

Co-ops innovate to secure members’ digital data

Amidst continuing cyber threats from crafty computer hackers, electric cooperatives are mounting sturdy defenses to safeguard members’ digital data and ensure reliable power delivery.

Utilities are bulking up cyber security with tools from the Cooperative Research Network (CRN), the research arm of the Arlington, Va.-based National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA). CRN’s Guide to Developing a Risk Mitigation and Cyber Security Plan and supporting documents, released in 2011 with funding support from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), helps utilities of all types develop a process to shore up cyber defenses.

Three innovations promise to advance cyber security efforts: pattern recognition software, an update of CRN’s revolutionary Guide, and securing data.

Cyber Cooperation

Most home and business computer networks use a firewall— a virtual barrier or hardware—to protect linked computers from hackers, viruses, and other virtual invaders. Utilities use firewalls to secure systems, too. But sophisticated cyber threats make firewalls an aging technology.

“Firewalls are less able to provide the level of security we require,” shares CRN Program Manager Maurice Martin. “We want to make sure that our co-ops have the tools they need to work securely.”

To meet the challenge, CRN’s developing a way to replace firewalls with a security tool that monitors computer network traffic. The system memorizes the normal pattern of operation. When the system detects an abnormal pattern (a possible intrusion), it sounds an alarm.

A DOE grant of $3.6 million, with an additional $1.1 million from CRN and partner Honeywell Corp., funds the research. Allies such as Pacific Northwest National Laboratories, Carnegie Mellon University, and Cigital Inc. will work with CRN to develop the cyber security tool.

“We’ll combine high-level functionality with an easy-to-use platform,” predicts Craig Miller, chief scientist at CRN. “The system will simplify cyber security management for small utilities with limited resources.”

Evolving Guidance

CRN’s Guide to Developing a Risk Mitigation and Cyber Security Plan and accompanying template help utilities of all sizes craft a cyber-security plan. The cooperatively-developed resources, free for any utility, have been downloaded more than 8,000 times. Large and small utilities across America and in countries as far away as India and Italy use the Guide.

“The content and ideas were important to share,” explains Martin. The Guide and tools were developed as part of a $68 million DOE smart grid grant three years ago.

But responding to emerging cyber threats is not a one-time effort. It requires constant education, awareness, and vigilance.  New resources—products, services, and educational tools—are on the way. Expected early this year, an updated Guide will work in harmony with new cyber security initiatives from the DOE.

Securing Data

Threats to security—online and to the power grid—are real. Hackers take pride in undermining computer systems and finding a system’s Achilles’ heel. But thanks to innovative cloud computing, utilities are discovering ways to work together to strengthen co-op security and upgrade IT architecture.

“NRECA turned to the Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC) for its solid understanding of the smart grid marketplace and how new technologies can be used to benefit the consumer member at the end of the line,” explains Martin.

That project aims to shore up technologies that capture, store, and secure data and information. Once completed, this work will benefit both co-ops and their members. SAIC is producing a series of reports to help utilities fully implement the smart grid. The reports will evaluate IT developments (cloud computing, new types of databases, and more) with an eye toward how such developments can support the co-ops and even solve their needs. The goal? SAIC will map out an “IT architecture” to explain how the tools fit together to maximize reliability, customer service, and cyber security.

All utilities are vulnerable to digital invasions. But a continually evolving set of cyber security resources and innovations should help keep co-ops and their members a step ahead of the “bad guys.”

Sources: Cooperative Research Network

B. Denise Hawkins writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Arlington, Va.-based service arm of the nation’s 900-plus consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives. Megan McKoy-Noe contributed to this article.  

Why animals and power don’t mix

What do birds, squirrels, and power outages have in common? Animals trigger 11 percent of power outages across the nation.

To ensure safe, reliable power delivery (and healthy wildlife), electric cooperatives go to great lengths to keep animals away from electricity.

Animal Attraction

Electricity seeks the fastest route to the ground. Utility pole insulators keep power flowing safely in your neighborhood, but unwitting squirrels offer high-voltage electricity a way around insulators. If a squirrel doesn’t jump far enough, a powerful electric current—up to 12,500 volts—makes the squirrel a conduit to the ground. The squirrel does not survive.

If a squirrel’s body falls to the ground, the power blinks but stays on. If it falls into equipment, like a transformer, safety measures shut off power. The cooperative must send a lineworker to remove the animal and restore power.

Squirrels are the main culprit, but they’re not alone. Opossums, raccoons, foxes, snakes, birds, and other animals trigger outages, too.

Animal attraction to power infrastructure hurts animals and leaves frustrated co-op members in the dark. Clean up, recovery, and restoring power costs utilities between $15 and $18 million a year, estimates Tyco Electronics, a utility equipment firm.

Grid Guardians

No one wants wildlife hurt. Eighty percent of electric co-ops, public power districts, and public utility districts install animal guards to protect equipment and wayward animals.

3M’s Electrostatic Animal Guard resembles a tarantula. A dozen metal rods arch like bent legs around an insulator, forming an electrostatic barrier. Errant wildlife receives a mild shock if they get too close; the guard acts as an electrified fence.

“Electric co-ops can minimize outages without injuring animals. Guards can be installed easily without de-energizing the circuit,” notes Jim Stanley, a product marketing manager in 3M’s Electrical Markets Division.

Alternatives such as the Rauckman Wildlife Shield™ and ZAPShield™ create a barrier to keep teething squirrels, rodents, snakes, and other animals away from dangerous parts of electrical infrastructure. Frisbee-sized plastic or metal discs guard equipment in substations, too.

Animal guards are not foolproof. But the measures help drive down the number of outages caused by animals. Another option is building habitats to help animals and power safely co-exist.

Osprey and other birds of prey don’t use power lines as highways. Instead, they’re attracted to poles as perches. Raptors often nest on top of utility poles—a dangerous spot. An osprey’s nearly five-foot wingspan can form a conduit between an energized power line and a neutral wire. Like squirrels, these birds may get hurt as high-voltage electricity looks for a path to the ground.

Some cooperatives encourage birds to settle on man-made nest platforms. The utility removes a dormant nest from electrical equipment and places the nesting material on a nearby raised platform (as tall or taller than the utility pole). When the birds return to the area, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service claims odds are good they’ll use the safer structure.

Sources: NRECA, Tyco Electronics, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Wood Quality Control

Megan McKoy-Noe writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Arlington, Va.-based service arm of the nation’s 900-plus consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives.  B. Denise Hawkins contributed to this story.

Warning: don’t bake all bulbs

Oven lights are handy. Curious if a casserole’s ready? Flip the switch; no need to open the oven and release heat to get a baking update. But be careful when replacing this little light. Never put a bulb in the oven that’s not built for high heat.

Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) use less energy than classic incandescent bulbs, but they’re not safe in extreme temperatures. Most lighting labels designate safe temperatures, but warnings may be in fine print. Need to replace your oven light? Look for appliance light bulbs. Found at Home Depot, Lowe’s, and other retailers, these bulbs are designed for extreme temperatures in ovens and refrigerators. The hardy bulbs are here to stay; 40-watt appliance bulbs are exempt from federal lighting efficiency standards.

Why won’t CFLs work? Instead of heating a filament until white-hot to produce light like an incandescent bulb, a fluorescent lamp contains a gas that produces (UV) ultraviolet light when excited by electricity. The UV light and the white coating inside the bulb result in visible light. Since CFLs don’t use heat to create light, they are 75 percent more energy efficient. But the technology that cuts energy use doesn’t stand a chance in an oven’s 400+ degree heat.

CFLs are good for the pocketbook but not perfect in every situation. Keep these tips in mind:

  1. Don’t dim unless it’s dimmable. Buy a specifically designed CFL for a dimmer switch application.
  2. Don’t flip too fast. CFLs work best if they are left on for more than 15 minutes each time they are turned on. Older bulbs take 30 seconds to three minutes to reach efficient operation. Frequently switching them on and off shortens bulb life. Newer CFLs feature an ‘Instant on’ capability; look for that on the lighting label if you expect frequent flipping.
  3. Give them air. CFLs may be used in enclosed fixtures as long as the enclosed fixture is not recessed. Totally enclosed recessed fixtures create temperatures too high for CFLs.
  4. Protect CFLs outside. Look at the package or bulb for temperature restrictions before using a CFL outdoors.
  5. Don’t shake. Don’t use CFLs in vibrating environments such as a ceiling fan or garage door opener.
  6. Do the twist. Always screw and unscrew the lamp by its base. Never forcefully twist the CFL into a light socket by the glass tubes.

To learn more about using and recycling CFLs, visit www.epa.gov/cfl.

Source: Empire Electric Association, U.S. Department of Energy

Cooperative response to State of the Union

(ARLINGTON, VA) — Jo Ann Emerson, CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), made the following statement regarding the President’s State of the Union speech this evening.

“Electric cooperatives advocate for a federal energy policy of reliable and affordable power while protecting health and the environment.

“The President plans to offer a vision tonight that he hopes will expand opportunity for all Americans. However, his Administration’s regulations could directly undermine this goal, especially for those living on fixed income or at lower levels of earnings.

“Specifically, the potential costs of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) greenhouse gas regulations threaten every household and business on a budget, not to mention the ability of electric cooperatives to continue providing reliable and affordable energy. These regulations hit hardest on Americans who can least afford to pay the bigger bills, lose their jobs or turn down their heat. And since electric cooperatives serve the majority of the ‘persistent poverty’ counties in the country (http://www.nreca.coop/wp-content/plugins/nreca-interactive-maps/persistent-poverty/), we take this seriously.

“Co-ops work diligently to provide affordable power in a way that best meets the needs of the local consumers who own their cooperative, including renewable resources, energy efficiency options and other tools demanded by today’s consumers. We require the freedom to pursue new technologies and innovations. The EPA’s insistence to rely on carbon dioxide capture and storage technology that isn’t ready for prime time hamstrings us in a significant way.

“Sometimes folks in Washington get lost in the policy at the expense of the people. Co-ops don’t see it that way and we’ll continue to ensure our members are heard on the affordability of energy and economic opportunity in their communities all over the country.”

The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association is the national service organization that represents the nation’s more than 900 private, not-for-profit, consumer-owned electric cooperatives, which provide service to 42 million people in 47 states.

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Extreme Winter Weather Will Push Energy Bills Higher

The extreme winter weather conditions being experienced in the Tennessee Valley in January have resulted in record energy usage that will ultimately impact end-use power consumers through higher — perhaps significantly higher — power bills in February and March.

Earlier this month, an arctic weather system — recognized as a polar vortex by the National Weather Service — passed through the region, causing record-setting cold temperatures that resulted in an average of 4.2 degrees across the Valley on Tuesday, Jan. 7. On that day, energy usage on TVA’s system set an all-time record over a 24-hour period with 703 million kilowatt-hours used. We are pleased to report that despite these extreme weather conditions, thousands of local power company and TVA employees working together met this record demand with no major power outages or issues to the electric system.

With colder temperatures expected to continue in the weeks ahead, there are a number of steps power consumers can take to keep energy usage and costs down:

  1. Turn down your thermostat to 68 degrees or lower. For every degree you lower your heat in the 60-degree to 70-degree range, you’ll save up to 5 percent on heating costs.
  2. Set the thermostat back to 55 degrees when leaving home for an extended time. Please note that heat pumps should only be set back 2 degrees to prevent unneeded use of backup strip heating, which carries higher costs.
  3. Check air filters. Dirty air filters increase your energy usage and can also damage your heating. Be sure to use filters approved for your specific system.
  4. Caulk around windows and replace old weather stripping around doors to keep the cold air out.
  5. Reduce cold-air drafts around windows — typically seen in older homes — by using heavy-duty, clear plastic sheets or tape clear plastic film inside your windows. Ensure the plastic is sealed tightly to reduce cold-air drafts.
  6. Close your fireplace damper when not in use.
  7. Schedule service for your heating system, and ask what maintenance is required to keep it running optimally. Keep up with maintenance milestones.
  8. Open curtains on your south-facing windows on sunny days to naturally heat your home with sunlight. Close the curtains at night to reduce any chill or drafts.

You can find additional energy-saving suggestions by visiting TVA’s Energy Right Solutions website at http://www.energyright.com.

NRECA Responds to EPA letter

Co-ops: Access to All Options in Energy Policy Critical to Reliability, Affordability

(ARLINGTON, VA) — Jo Ann Emerson, CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), today drew attention to the important role access to all fuels plays in the reliability and affordability of electricity in America.

“We must be deliberate and purposeful with our energy policy to avoid depriving cost-conscious American families and businesses the affordable, reliable energy they count on as a basic component of everyday life. The competitiveness of the U.S. economy depends upon options when it comes to energy and the regional, economic and demographic differences demand flexibility and freedom when deciding which fuels will keep us moving forward.

“As not-for-profit organizations that serve members in 47 states, electric cooperatives recognize the necessity of a diverse fuel mix. And by leading the implementation of efficiency technologies and renewable fuels, especially in rural areas, we’re well aware that getting to a point where innovation is possible requires as strong a foundation as possible.”

The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association is the national service organization that represents the nation’s more than 900 private, not-for-profit, consumer-owned electric cooperatives, which provide service to 42 million people in 47 states.

2014 General Assembly

The Tennessee Legislature will tackle several major issues in 2014, all while attempting to adjourn earlier than it ever has. In order to accomplish this, the members of the General Assembly will have to work earlier and faster than in years past. All while preparing to return home and face re-election this fall. In terms of issues that affect electric cooperatives, it is too early to tell the exact number and substance of bills that will require our involvement.

 

TECA staff will remain vigilant, and communicate with you about these matters thorough our weekly update on Legislatiion – A View from the Hill.  Click here to sign up.

The 2014 Legislative Conference has been scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Nashville.

by Mike Knotts, TECA Director of Government Affairs