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Telling the co-op story to a national audience

[NASHVILLE] – Electric co-op leaders, including one from Tennessee, appeared today on RFD-TV to discuss the important role that co-ops play in rural communities.

During an interview on the network’s Market Day Report, Mike Partin, CEO of Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative in South Pittsburg, Tenn., discussed the role that electric co-ops can play in rural broadband expansion.

“It makes a lot of sense for co-ops to be a part of the solution,” said Partin. “We have the people and the equipment needed to do this, but most importantly, we have the passion to do this. We are talking about areas that don’t have broadband because there is not a lot of money to be made there. If it were highly profitable, some other company would have already built it. We are doing this because it is the right thing to do. We are a part of rural America, we have been for decades, and we are not willing to stand by and watch the communities we love be left behind.”

Partin also discussed the important role that broadband has in economic development, a topic that is very important to rural communities and electric co-ops.

“Rural America has a lot to offer,” said Partin. “We have low overhead. We have a skilled workforce. There are a lot of reasons that businesses would want to locate to rural America. In Tennessee last year, 45 percent of all new jobs created in the state were created in rural counties. That’s remarkable. Businesses have an appetite for rural America. But if they cannot connect to the outside world, it doesn’t matter how great the site or how talented the workforce, they’ll walk away and go somewhere else. That’s truly unfortunate. We need jobs and investment to have robust and sustainable communities.”

RFD-TV is a national network that features programming devoted to rural issues, concerns and interests. The network can be found on DirecTV, Dish Network and most cable TV companies. Co-op leaders from across the country are in Nashville this week for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s annual meeting, and Monday’s segment was filmed at the network’s studio in Nashville.

Co-op leader addresses TVA board

Mike Partin, president of Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative, addressed the TVA board during its quarterly meeting today in Chattanooga. Partin challenged TVA to work alongside local power companies to address the challenges and opportunities facing the Valley.

“Our industry stands at a crossroads, and together with a commitment to all the people of the valley, we will continue to be a leader in innovation and energy solutions,” said Partin. “We fully support TVA and it’s ongoing, 80-year commitment to the Tennessee Valley. The partnership between TVA and Tennessee’s local power companies has delivered both power and opportunity to the Valley. Together, we have an unmatched record of improving this area and the everyday lives of the people who call it home.”

Video of today’s board meeting will soon be available on TVA’s website.

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Low temps and high bills – an explanation

The unusually cold weather in December and January has created some unusually high electric bills for members of electric co-ops. Many are asking the question, “Why does my bill go up when it is cold outside?”

The infographic below helps explains the relationship between electric rates and energy consumption.

If you are concerned about your electric bill, contact your local co-op to learn more about programs and services that can help you save energy and money the next time the weather gets cold (or hot).

 

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TVA utilities respond to administration’s budget proposal

CHATTANOOGA – Today the Trump administration released the Legislative Outline for Rebuilding Infrastructure in America, a framework to address improvements to the nation’s transportation, energy, utility and healthcare needs. Among the items included in the plan was a proposal to sell the Tennessee Valley Authority’s transmission assets.

In response to the administration’s proposal, the Tennessee Valley Public Power Association, the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association and the Tennessee Municipal Electric Power Association share the following response:

  • We strongly support the public power model and are fearful divestiture of transmission assets would have a negative effect.
  • We recognize the importance of TVA’s transmission assets to the ratepayers of the Tennessee Valley, and we believe they should not be sold to interests who may not place a priority on public power or the Valley’s interests.
  • It is important to note that Congress has not appropriated money to TVA since 1992, and customers have paid back the initial investment plus interest.
  • According to a 2013 study by the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy, TVA has returned to the U.S. Treasury more than $3 billion on the government’s original investment of $1.4 billion. Source of these funds are the Valley’s ratepayers.
  • Our respective organizations will pursue all options to protect electric ratepayers and the TVA assets they have paid to build as well as the public power model, which is as relevant today as it was 80 years ago.
  • Divestiture of part or all of TVA assets has been proposed in the past. Each time, Congress has vehemently rejected such privatization.
  • Proceeds from the sale of TVA’s transmission assets would go to the U.S. Treasury and would not benefit Valley ratepayers.

A complete copy of the Legislative Outline for Rebuilding Infrastructure in America is available on the TECA website.

Close to home but far from ordinary

Evolving technology is changing how energy is generated and distributed through the electric grid to homes and businesses. These changes have brought new challenges and opportunities to electric co-ops working to keep pace with the evolving landscape.

Within the electric cooperative workforce, new skills and experience are needed to help co-ops meet shifting market and consumer demands. This is why electric co-ops are recruiting fresh talent to help us provide even greater value to our members.

Co-ops are owned by the people we serve. This subtle fact impacts everything that happens at the cooperative.

People – the consumers we serve – always come before profits, and our employees are serious about the responsibility that we have to provide power to our communities. The work that we do not only makes life more comfortable and convenient, but we also make the hospitals operate, the factories run and the cell phones, computers and other technology that we rely on each day function.

Our employees power everyday life for our region. It is a serious – and sometimes hazardous – job that is incredibly rewarding and full of opportunity.

There is a broad range of highly-trained professionals working behind the scenes at your local co-op.

Lineworkers are the most visible and identifiable employees of the co-op, but their responsibilities go far beyond climbing poles and repairing lines. They can also pinpoint an outage from miles away and restore power remotely.

Experts in information technology are increasingly important to safeguard the grid and protect data and other sensitive cyber assets. Engineers provide ongoing expertise and guidance on the operations side of the utility, particularly as system upgrades and more renewable energy choices become available.

Professionals in business administration, communication and digital media help co-ops deliver messages through multiple platforms and keep members informed of critical information in today’s 24/7 media environment.

Electric co-ops are looking for people with technical skills who also understand our mission to serve our communities and members.

Simply put, we believe co-ops build a better world, and we are looking for talented people to join us. Contact your local co-op to learn more about a career that is close to home, but far from ordinary.

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Co-ops tell story of rural Tennessee during day on the hill

More than 200 electric co-op leaders from across the state were in Nashville on Monday and Tuesday, Jan. 29 and 30, for the 2018 Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association Legislative Conference. During meetings with legislators on Capitol Hill, co-op members and employees stressed the important role that co-ops play in their communities and briefed lawmakers on issues that impact rural and suburban Tennessee.

Lt. Gov. Randy McNally opened the meeting on Tuesday morning. “I’d like to welcome you here to Nashville,” he said. “I appreciate the job you do.”

Tennessee’s electric cooperatives maintain a visible presence in Nashville and Washington, D.C., to protect the interests of co-op and their consumer-owners. “We are here to give a voice to rural Tennesseans,” says David Callis, CEO of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “We must tell the electric cooperative story and educate lawmakers about the impact of proposed legislation.”

“Advocating for our members doesn’t stop at the edge of our service territory,” said Michael Watson, president of TECA’s board of trustees and CEO of Duck River Electric Membership Corporation. “It is critically important that our elected leaders in Nashville keep cooperatives in mind when crafting laws and regulations that impact us. We have a responsibility to our communities to tell their story.”

Co-ops addressed three specific issues during their visits this year:

  • Co-ops asked lawmakers to support Senate Bill 1646 and House Bill 1591 that will speed the deployment of broadband by allowing co-ops to utilize existing easements for nonelectric purposes such as telecommunication services.
  • Co-ops expressed support for Senate Bill 1752 and House Bill 1773 that will elevate the charges of assaulting a utility worker and makes them consistent with penalties already in place to protect other first responders.
  • While legislation has not yet been filed, a final issue discussed was an effort by the Department of Revenue to apply sales tax to fees paid by utility consumers. Co-ops asked the General Assembly to enact legislation to protect utility consumers from these additional taxes.

“Educated and informed legislators are necessary for us to provide low-cost, reliable power, and our legislators listen when we come to visit,” said Callis. More than 100 legislative visits were made during the conference, and many legislators from across the state attended a reception honoring members of the Tennessee General Assembly.

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Co-ops awarded two ECD broadband grants

[NASHVILLE] – On Friday, the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development announced that two electric cooperatives will receive grants to support the deployment of broadband in rural Tennessee. Gibson Electric Membership Corporation in Trenton will receive $1,353,148 million and Tri-County Electric Membership Corporation in Lafayette will receive $1,350,000.

David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association, made the following statement:

“We are pleased that the state recognizes the vital role co-ops can play in the expansion of broadband,” said Callis. “Modern healthcare, education and commerce depend on access to fast, reliable internet, and co-ops are uniquely positioned to bring this service to rural and suburban Tennessee. Today, we celebrate with Gibson EMC, Tri-County EMC and the communities they serve.”

In 2017, the Tennessee General Assembly, bolstered by strong support from Gov. Bill Haslam, passed the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act. This landmark legislation removed restrictions that prevented electric cooperatives from providing retail internet access and established a grant fund to encourage broadband expansion.

Tennessee’s electric co-ops serve more than 2.5 million Tennesseans, many of whom do not currently have access to broadband.

 

Tips to prepare for winter storm

[NASHVILLE] – Electric co-ops across Tennessee today are preparing for a significant winter storm that is expected to impact the Volunteer State overnight and Friday.

“The threat of ice is something that we take seriously,” says Todd Blocker, vice president of member relations for the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “Co-ops are closely monitoring forecasts and preparing crews and equipment to respond quickly and safely if outages occur.”

Snow and ice can break trees, poles and wires and cause widespread power outages. Co-ops crews will work to restore power, but there are a few things you can do to prepare you and your family.

Stay warm

Plan to use a safe alternate heating source, such as a fireplace or wood-burning stove during a power outage. These are great options to keep you and your loved ones warm, but exercise caution when using, and never leave the heating source unattended. If you are using gasoline-, propane- or natural gas-burning devices to stay warm, never use them indoors. Remember that fuel- and wood-burning sources of heat should always be properly ventilated. Always read the manufacturer’s directions before using.

Stay fed

The CDC recommends having several days’ supply of food that does not need to be cooked handy. Crackers, cereal, canned goods and bread are good options. Five gallons of water per person should also be available in the event of an extended power outage.

Stay safe

When an outage occurs, it usually means power lines are down. It is best not to travel during winter storms, but if you must, bring a survival kit along, and do not travel alone. If you encounter downed lines, always assume they are live. Stay as far away from the downed lines as possible, and report the situation to your local electric co-op.

 

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New scholarship available to Washington Youth Tour delegates

[NASHVILLE] – For more than 50 years the Washington Youth Tour Creative Writing Competition has honored some of Tennessee’s most talented young writers. Among other incentives, winners receive a trip to Washington, D.C., to learn more about history, government and public policy. Recently the rewards of winning grew when Union University in Jackson, Tenn., announced a new scholarship exclusively for youth tour winners.

The annual competition and trip is coordinated by Tennessee’s consumer-owned electric cooperatives and the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “We take great pride in recognizing the best and brightest from across the state,” said David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “With this commitment from Union University, the Washington Youth Tour creates more opportunities than ever before for Tennessee students.”

Union University will offer 24 $4,000 per year scholarships and one $10,000 per year scholarship to winners of Tennessee’s Washington Youth Tour Creative Writing Competition.

“Strong writing skills and a first-hand knowledge of government and public policy are valuable traits in today’s world,” says Robbie Graves, Assistant Vice President for Undergraduate Admissions. “Union University is honored to be a part of the Washington Youth Tour. We believe the competition offers Tennessee students a unique opportunity to develop their leadership abilities and be equipped to return to their local communities with confidence to make a difference.”

“This is an exciting opportunity for youth tour winners,” says Tina Morris, communications and community outreach specialist and youth tour coordinator for Southwest Tennessee Electric. The university approached Morris with the scholarships after learning about the program at an orientation dinner for youth tour winners held on the university campus. “We want youth tour to motivate students to pursue things they had never before considered, and this scholarship could be just what they need to take the next step. We appreciate Union University for partnering with us to open more doors of opportunity for these young people.”

 

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General Assembly Outlook

The 110th General Assembly of the State of Tennessee reconvened on Tuesday, January 9, 2018, for the second year of the two-year session and the first year in their new legislative offices at the Cordell Hull Building. It is expected that the upcoming legislative session will be a short one as 2018 is an election year, and members cannot raise funds for re-election while the legislature is in session.

Over two dozen members of the General Assembly will be retiring or running for a different elected office in 2018 and will likely be eager to return to their districts as quickly as possible. House Speaker Beth Harwell (R – Nashville), a gubernatorial candidate herself, will also be pushing for a quick session so that she may return to the campaign and fundraising trail.

Major issues likely to be taken up in the 2018 legislative agenda include the opioid epidemic, medical marijuana, seven-day liquor and wine sales and, of course, the budget.

Opioid Epidemic

A task force on opioid and prescription drug abuse, created by Speaker Harwell, met this summer and compiled a list of recommendations for treatment, prevention and policy. It is expected that a number of these recommendations will be introduced in legislative form this session. Look for bills that limit emergency room prescriptions, call for the hiring of additional Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Agents and establish a commission to combat drug abuse.

Medical Marijuana

Rep. Jeremy Faison (R – Cosby) has been on a mission to legalize medical marijuana, and he may be closer than ever to reaching his goal. He will present a bill this session that would allow patients with certain debilitating illnesses to obtain prescriptions for certain marijuana products, including oils and extracts in capsules, pills, ointments, lotions and liquids. Smoking will not be an allowable product. While the bill would not allow for the recreational use of marijuana, opponents of the bill argue this is the next step before legalizing marijuana for recreational use. While the chances of passage this year may still be slim, the tide seems to be shifting in supporters’ way.

Seven-Day Sales of Liquor and Wine

The wine-in-grocery-stores law became effective in July 2016 and some liquor stores have seen a dramatic decrease in sales as a result. In hopes to offset some of this decline in sales, a bill was filed last year to permit wine and liquor sales on all seven days of the week. The 2017 bill was ultimately opposed by some vocal retail liquor store owners who want to maintain a state-mandated day off despite lagging sales. Working in support of the measure is a coalition consisting of grocery stores, the Tennessee Retail Association and manufacturers of distilled spirits. The coalition will resume its efforts to clear a path forward in 2018.

The Budget

As Gov. Haslam starts the last year of his eight-year administration, this will be his final budget to present before the General Assembly. With the passage of last year’s IMPROVE Act, which cut food and business taxes, the governor and legislature may have to put in extra work to balance our budget. Tax collections continue to increase but not at the rate of increase before the IMPOVE Act became law. In short, there will be a tighter budget.

Co-ops

Of specific interest to electric cooperatives, a coalition of utility associations will work to ensure that sales tax is not newly applied to fees charged by water, sewer, gas, and electric providers. This is the result of potential rule making by the Department of Revenue which would apply the state sales tax to fees charged to electric cooperative commercial and industrial customers. The rule has not yet been finalized, but conversations with the Department have shown that proactive legislation is the best bet to ensure that increased taxation for utility customers does not occur.

Senator Ken Yager (R-Kingston) and Representative Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga) will be introducing legislation to ensure that electric cooperatives have full rights to utilize cooperative easements for any purpose that State authorizes cooperatives to perform. This legislation will ensure that any written or prescriptive easement held by the co-op could be legally used for the provision of electric and telecommunications services.

Other issues will surely rise throughout the course of the session, and the TECA Government Affairs team will keep members informed each step along the way.

Flickr image by Rain0975