Tennessee Magazine gets the Willies

The Tennessee Magazine staff took home awards of merit for best photo and best editorial at the Willie Award Ceremony held Monday evening, Aug. 11, at the The National Press Club in Washington, D.C. The National Rural Electric Statewide Editors Association Willie Awards is a peer-reviewed program that recognizes excellence in electric cooperative statewide consumer publications.

TECA Executive Vice President and General Manager David Callis received an award of merit for best editorial for Resiliency (Oct. 2015), and Robin Conover, vice president of communications and editor of The Tennessee Magazine, received best photo for this image from The Lions Roar (July 2015).

“Our staff works very hard to create quality content for the readers of The Tennessee Magazine,” says Conover. “Keeping readers engaged with interesting features, editorials and photography is our goal each month. It’s exciting to be recognized by our peers.”

Co-ops issue statement on state broadband study

NASHVILLE, July 19, 2016 – Tennessee’s electric cooperatives are encouraged by the findings and recommendations released earlier today by the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development concerning broadband availability across the state.

The report states that current regulatory barriers restrict investment and competition, specifically mentioning a law that prevents the state’s member-owned electric cooperatives from providing broadband access. Electric cooperatives serve 71 percent of the state’s landmass, including a majority of the rural and economically disadvantaged regions identified in the study as areas of greatest need.

“Limited access to broadband has serious consequences for rural Tennessee, and co-ops are uniquely positioned to provide real solutions,” says David Callis, CEO of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “Co-ops have a legacy of expanding critical services beyond the city limits. A generation ago, the issue was power; today it is broadband. “

“Tennessee’s electric cooperatives appreciate Governor Haslam and Commissioner Boyd for their leadership on this important issue,“ says Callis. “This study should serve as a roadmap to the legislature to remove restrictions and foster competition. Co-ops are committed to working with the state to identify real solutions that will benefit rural and suburban Tennessee.”

A copy of the report is available here.

The Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association provides legislative and communications support for Tennessee’s 23 electric cooperatives and publishes The Tennessee Magazine, the state’s most widely circulated periodical. Visit tnelectric.org or tnmagazine.org to learn more.


#   #   #



Trent Scott | Vice President of Corporate Strategy | tscott@tnelectric.org | 731.608.1519


Cyber counter-attack

About 3:30 in the afternoon last December 23, operators at three electric utilities halfway around the world in western Ukraine found themselves not to be solely in control of their computer terminals. Someone from outside the utilities had taken over the controls and started opening circuit breakers at more than 27 substations, cutting power to more than 200,000 customers. Thousands of fake calls clogged utility switchboards, preventing people from phoning in to get information about the outage. Utility workers switched to manual operations, and it took three hours to restore power.

That’s not a movie plot. And if you missed or forgot about that news report from last year, people who run electric utilities have not. Attention to cyber security at electric utilities has been growing fast in the past few years, and the Ukraine attack pushed that trend into overdrive.

“It’s garnered a lot of attention from the federal government and throughout the industry,” says Barry Lawson, Associate Director of Power Delivery and Reliability for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA).

A big part of Lawson’s job is helping the nearly 1,000 electric co-ops in the country understand digital-age dangers, and ensuring that they know how to protect and secure the power supply, electric grid, and co-op members and employees from Internet mischief.

Electric co-ops are showing they do understand the importance of cyber security, says Cynthia Hsu, Cyber Security Program Manager for Business and Technology Strategies at NRECA.

“Electric co-ops were the first utilities to test and use the U.S. Department of Energy’s cyber security self-assessment tool,” says Hsu. “They are often on the cutting edge of implementing best practices to improve their cyber security capabilities.”

While the Ukraine cyber attack has been studied in-depth by U.S. utilities and the Federal Department of Homeland Security, most analysts see a large-scale attack by hackers as unlikely to succeed in this country. The reports characterize the Ukraine attack as extremely well planned and coordinated, but not technically sophisticated.

The Ukraine incident actually started as early as March of last year, when utility workers received e-mails with Microsoft Office documents, such as an Excel spreadsheet, from the Ukrainian parliament. But the emails were not from the Ukrainian parliament. When workers followed the email instructions asking them to click on a link to “enable macros,” malicious malware embedded in the documents––called BlackEnergy 3––secretly infected the system. Among other capabilities, BlackEnergy 3 can enable an adversary to observe and copy all the keystrokes made on the infected computers, giving hackers passwords and other login information needed to access the utility’s operations control systems.

Defenses against that kind of attack are pretty basic, and you’ve probably even heard the warnings yourself—don’t click on any links or attachments unless you were expecting the message to be sent to you. Utilities are increasing their efforts to enhance and formalize their security plans, processes and controls. New cyber security standards require upgraded levels of training for utility operators, multiple layers of security to shield operational and control systems from the Internet and even stricter procedures for visitor access (physical and electronic) to control rooms. These utilities are regularly audited for cyber security compliance, and regulators, such as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), can levy strict penalties for not following standards.

NRECA’s Lawson describes an example of one type of security technology, a security token—a physical device an operator would carry with them that changes their password every 30 seconds.

NRECA has also worked with the Department of Energy to develop software called Essence, which constantly monitors a utility’s system for even a microsecond of irregularity that might indicate some kind of hacking attempt or malware is interfering with the system.

With all that attention to keeping the electricity flowing, Lawson says there’s another major cyber-threat receiving high-priority attention from electric co-ops—protecting data and critical utility information to avoid identity theft of members’ information. He says some co-ops hire firms to periodically try to hack into their computer systems, so the co-op can identify and fix the holes in their security.

Lawson describes a scary world of cyber terrorists, organized crime, issue-oriented groups or just kids in their basement seeing what kind of trouble they can cause on the Internet. At the same time, he compares those high-tech threats to risks posed by hurricanes or the everyday need for paying attention to safety at the electric cooperative. Co-ops regularly use risk assessment and management practices to balance a wide range of threats to their systems.

“Physical security and cyber security are becoming just another cost of doing business,” says Lawson. “You’ll never be 100 percent secure, and all you can do is try your best to keep up with the bad guys. It’s a fact of life in these days and times we’re living in.”

Paul Wesslund writes on cooperative issues for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Arlington, Va.-based service arm of the nations 900-plus consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives.

Move Over

In 2011, following efforts by Tennessee’s electric cooperatives and municipal utilities, the state’s Move Over law was revised to not only include police, firefighters and other first responders, but utility workers as well. Unfortunately, motorists do not always heed the law.

The requirements of the law are simple. On a four lane road, if safety and traffic conditions allow, a driver approaching a utility vehicle with flashing lights should move into the far lane. On a two lane road or when changing lanes is not possible, a driver should reduce their speed.

The infographic below is designed to help motorists understand their requirements when behind the wheel.



Member, not customer

Many businesses use the word “member” to describe their customers. Places like Sam’s Club or Costco and even American Express like to refer to their customers as members. You pay a fee to buy their goods and services, but that is really all you get for the “membership.” No right to vote for the Board of Directors or to participate in any meaningful way in the organization.

For Tennessee’s electric cooperatives, membership really does mean something more than just the right to buy electricity. Co-ops of all types are founded on seven cooperative principles that give us guidance and strategic direction. Membership also gives you rights as an owner of the co-op.

Brett Fairbairn is the director of the Center for the Study of Co-operatives at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada. He makes the case that member relations is not just part of what co-ops should be doing, but in fact is the fundamental core business of the cooperative.

He further lays out the three strategic concepts that any co-op must get right in order to survive and thrive:

Economic linkage

Co-ops are connected to you. There is a business relationship that serves you (the member) and the co-op. Since co-ops are solely owned by people in the community, they have a mutual interest to ensure that both the co-op and the member do well and prosper.


As an owner of the co-op, you have a right to know how it operates and how decisions are made that directly impact you. If the co-op is transparent and combines this trait with integrity and fairness, it will build trust with the members.


In this case, cognition is best defined as how your co-op thinks. It includes the current and historical identity, the mission and the sense of shared values with co-op members. Research, education and training are critical functions that co-ops must conduct on an ongoing basis to ensure that we always have the best information to make decisions.

The cooperative business model is the best one on earth, but like any enterprise, it is up to the human beings who work at the co-op, who serve on the board and the members like you to ensure that the principles and values do not fade over time.

First and foremost, Tennessee’s cooperatives strive to be thought of as member-owned, and that gives you the best value of any utility. If we succeed, our community thrives and you will always value being a member – not a customer.

Adam Schwartz is the founder of The Cooperative Way a consulting firm that helps co-ops succeed. He is an author, speaker and member-owner of the CDS Consulting Co-op. You can follow him on Twitter @adamcooperative or email him at aschwartz@thecooperativeway.coop.

Tennessee electric cooperatives visit D.C. lawmakers

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – Members from Tennessee’s electric cooperatives visited with Tennessee’s Congressional delegation on Thursday, June 23, in Washington, D.C. They joined more than 40 co-op leaders from across the state in the nation’s capital to discuss issues important to co-ops and co-op members.

“Elected representatives make decisions and pass laws that have serious consequences for Tennessee’s electric cooperatives and their members,” says David Callis, executive vice president of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “It is important that we tell the electric cooperative story and inform Members of Congress of the impact of proposed legislation.”

Co-op members discussed environmental and power supply issues with Members of Congress during their visits. “It is important that we communicate with how legislation affects rates and reliability for everyday Tennesseans,” says Callis.

The Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association is a trade group representing the interests of Tennessee’s 23 electric distribution cooperatives and the 1.1 million consumers they serve. The association publishes The Tennessee Magazine and provides legislative and support services to Tennessee’s electric cooperatives.


Comcast pays delinquent pole fees to DREMC

[SHELBYVILLE] – No interruption of service will occur for more than 7,000 Comcast cable TV and Internet subscribers in Franklin and Moore counties after the company paid delinquent pole attachment rental fees owed to Duck River Electric Membership Corporation (DREMC).

Earlier this month, DREMC put Comcast on notice that rental fees for using space on co-op utility poles would have to be paid by June 24 to avoid disconnection of power supplies and detachment of cable, fiber optics and other equipment. The delinquency dated back to 2015.

Almost a week of negotiation preceded Comcast’s decision to pay the past-due amount. During this time, Comcast customers were asked to contact corporate officials to urge that they act to keep service uninterrupted.

“Our contention was that Comcast should pay for the right to use our utility poles, that our electric co-op members should not be subsidizing their business or corporate profits. The majority of our members don’t have access to service from Comcast or other cable television and broadband providers. It is not fair that they should be providing a free ride for any company using our poles,” said DREMC President and CEO Michael Watson.

He noted that DREMC faced the same issue with Comcast in 2014.

“I am glad we were able to resolve this problem without affecting those subscribers of Comcast who have been paying their cable and Internet bills all along.”

Watson also thanked state lawmakers and federal elected officials who became involved so that Comcast customers would not be penalized by loss of service.

“They worked behind the scenes on behalf of their constituents, and we certainly appreciate their willingness to help,” he said.

Duck River EMC, a Touchstone Energy® cooperative, is a not-for-profit, member owned utility providing electric and other services to more than 73,000 homes and businesses in southern Middle Tennessee. Duck River EMC serves an area of approximately 2,500 square miles in Bedford, Cannon, Coffee, Franklin, Giles, Grundy, Hickman, Lawrence, Lewis, Lincoln, Marion, Marshall, Maury, Moore, Rutherford, and Williamson counties.

Touchstone Energy to sponsor 2016 Super Pull of the South

Tennessee’s Touchstone Energy Cooperatives will be sponsoring the Chapel Hill Lion’s Club Super Pull of the South on Friday and Saturday, July 22 and 23.

“We are excited about the platform that this event provides us to tell the story of Tennessee’s Touchstone Energy Cooperatives,” says Trent Scott, vice president of corporate strategy for the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “The partnerships between Touchstone Energy, participating co-ops and TECA allow us to have a presence and reach our members in ways that no single co-op can.” All 10 Touchstone Energy cooperatives in Tennessee are participating in this year’s event.

The Touchstone Energy hot air balloon team will be giving tethered rides and lifting the American flag over the stands each night during the opening ceremony. Co-op members visiting the Touchstone Energy booth will learn about electric safety and quick and effective ways to save energy. “We are pleased to have TVA joining us this year,” says Scott. “We will be telling members about the eScore program and handing out caulk, LED light bulbs and receptacle gaskets.” Members will also have the opportunity to win a riding lawn mower and other prizes.

Co-op members attending the event are encouraged to visit the Touchstone Energy Cooperatives of Tennessee booth just outside the entrance to the stands.


Touchstone Energy On Tour visited the event in 2015, and the footage they filmed became a part of their latest national advertising campaign.

Move Over Tennessee

Five years after the Tennessee’s Move Over Law was expanded to include utility workers, lineman continue to face roadside hazards

[NASHVILLE] – In 2011, following efforts by Tennessee’s electric cooperatives and municipal utilities, the state’s Move Over law was revised to not only include police, firefighters and other first responders, but utility workers as well. Unfortunately, motorists do not always heed the law.

“We have had cars come through at high rates of speed, hitting the cones we have set up and clipping the outriggers that we have down to support the trucks,” says Greg Bryant, a lineforeman with Gibson EMC. “I think people care, they just don’t pay attention like they should.”

The requirements of the law are simple. On a four lane road, if safety and traffic conditions allow, a driver approaching a utility vehicle with flashing lights should move into the far lane. On a two lane road or when changing lanes is not possible, a driver should reduce their speed.

Electric co-op vehicles aren’t the only utility vehicles covered; service vehicles used by municipal electric systems, telephone companies and utility districts are also protected by the law.

“July marks the 5th anniversary of the expansion of the law, but most motorists are still not aware of it,” says David Callis, CEO of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “Our lineman perform an important job for our community. Changing lanes or slowing down to give them a little space is a simple courtesy that could save a life.”

More information about the law is available at moveovertennessee.org. Bumper stickers are available to help your co-op spread the word about the law. Co-ops can use discount code “moveoverco-ops” when ordering bumper stickers for their fleet.


2016 Washington Youth Tour

Nearly 140 high school seniors from across Tennessee returned last week from the 2016 Washington Youth Tour.

The popular event included sightseeing, visits with elected officials and lots of fun meeting peers from across Tennessee and the nation. Delegates earned their spots on the Youth Tour for writing winning short stories titled “Electric Cooperatives: Powering Everyday Life.” In their winning entries, the talented young writers described how member-owned, nonprofit electric co-ops strengthen their local communities and improve lives across their service areas while providing safe, reliable, affordable energy.

“We take great pride in recognizing the best and brightest from across the state,” said Todd Blocker, director of member relations for the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association and tour director. “By recognizing their accomplishments through programs like the Washington Youth Tour, we show these leaders of tomorrow that their hometown electric co-op is more than a utility provider; these students are active members of their community and fully invested in its prosperity.”

For more than 50 years, the Washington Youth Tour has taken students from electric co-op service areas to our nation’s capital to learn more about our country and the cooperative business model. The annual event is coordinated by local electric cooperatives, the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association and National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA). This year’s Youth Tour involved 1,700 students from 43 states.

“Young Americans given the opportunity to come to Washington, D.C., by their electric cooperatives experience a life-changing event,” said NRECA Interim CEO Jeffrey Connor. “They talk to their elected officials in person, connect to our nation’s rich history and have a hands-on experience with democracy. Youth Tour enriches their understanding of the political process and the vital importance of direct engagement. As a result, they return to their communities with a deeper commitment to the communities they represent.”

On their 2016 visit, Tennessee’s Youth Tour delegates saw the White House and memorials to past presidents Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Delano Roosevelt as well as monuments honoring the sacrifices of veterans of World War II and the Vietnam and Korean Wars. During visits to the museums of the Smithsonian Institution, the touring Tennesseans saw and experienced natural, historical and artistic treasures. Other fun stops included historic homes of former presidents — George Washington’s Mount Vernon and Jefferson’s Monticello — as well as Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, the Hard Rock Cafe and a boat cruise down the Potomac River. Among other Youth Tour highlights were a solemn and sobering visit to Arlington National Cemetery where the group laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns and a stirring Sunset Parade performance by the U.S. Marine Drum and Bugle Corps and Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon.

The group was welcomed to the U.S. Capitol by Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker and members of the Tennessee Congressional delegation who posed for photos and answered questions.

Hope Kelley from Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative, Katie Torrance from Volunteer Energy Cooperative and Kaitlyn Springer from Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative were awarded $3,000, $2,000 and $1,000 Robert McCarty Memorial Scholarships for having the first, second and third place papers of the more than 10,000 papers submitted across the state. McCarty was an employee of Volunteer Energy Cooperative and long-time chaperone on the annual youth tour. McCarty lost a battle with cancer in 2015, and sponsoring cooperatives renamed the scholarship in honor of his love for young people.

Megan Lewis, a senior from Tri-State Electric Membership Corporation, was awarded the $10,000 Cooperative Youth Ambassador Scholarship. Lewis was a 2015 delegate of the Washington Youth Tour. In the year following the tour, delegates who remained engaged with their sponsoring cooperative and completed certain community service requirements were eligible for the scholarship. Lewis’s name was randomly selected from among the 70 delegates from across the state who completed the requirements.

“Our commitment to community is what sets cooperatives apart from other businesses,” said David Callis, CEO of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “The Washington Youth Tour is one way we show the youth of our service area that their co-op is more than their electricity provider. We genuinely care about the prosperity of our communities, and that includes providing special opportunities for these exceptional students and preparing them for future success.”