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.

Transparency

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.

Cognition

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.”

NRECA Names Former U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson New CEO

(Arlington, Va.) — The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) today announced that former U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson has been selected to serve as NRECA’s 6th chief executive officer. Matheson will succeed Jo Ann Emerson, who was stricken by a severe illness in August of last year.  He will join the association and assume his duties as CEO in July.

“On behalf of our board of directors, we are extremely excited to have Jim join NRECA,” said NRECA President Mel Coleman. “Jim will bring to the position a broad knowledge of the issues facing rural America and will be an inspirational leader for America’s Electric Cooperatives.”

Matheson currently serves as principal, public policy practice for Squire Patton Boggs, a large well-respected international law firm based in Washington, D.C.  During his tenure in the U.S. House of Representatives, from 2001 to 2015, he served as a member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee.  The respect Matheson has on both sides of the aisle, and his ability to bridge political and policy divides to find common ground, will serve NRECA and all member cooperatives very well.

“I am excited by the opportunity to lead NRECA and to continue to build on its remarkable record of service to its members,” Matheson said. “I am honored to be associated with this member-driven organization that has a strong reputation for quality and integrity.  I look forward to working collaboratively with all of the cooperative community as we look to the future.”

In addition to his extensive background in Congress and public policy, Matheson worked in the energy industry for several years.  He was a project development manager in the independent power industry. He worked at two consulting companies, including his own firm, providing services to large energy consumers.

Jim was born and raised in Salt Lake City, Utah.  He attended public schools in Salt Lake City, received a Bachelor’s Degree in Government from Harvard University, and an MBA in Finance and Accounting from UCLA.

Youth Tour inspires students, fosters civility in an era lacking it

By Justin LaBerge

On a mild Monday evening less than a week after Mardi Gras, 18-year-old Collin Craig was sitting in a downtown New Orleans hotel room talking to himself. He wasn’t having some sort of psychological episode; he was practicing an important speech.

The next day Collin would stand on a stage in a giant exposition hall at the New Orleans Convention Center. Behind him would be a dazzling array of video screens, some projecting his image larger than life. In front of him would be a sea of 6,000 faces, all several decades older than him, and all quietly waiting to hear what this high school senior from Slocomb, Ala., had to say.

Tuesday morning arrived, and Collin stood backstage in the green room waiting. The emcee called his name, music started playing, and Collin climbed up the steps and into the spotlight. He stood at the podium, and, reading from the kind of teleprompter that’s typically reserved for presidents, told the crowd gathered for the 74th annual meeting of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) about the journey he’d taken in the past year.

A year earlier, Collin had been selected by Wiregrass Electric Cooperative to participate in the 2015 Electric Cooperative Youth Tour.

Every June, nearly 1,700 students from electric cooperatives across the country, including 134 from Tennessee, converge in our nation’s capital for the Youth Tour. Students spend the week visiting monuments and museums, meeting Senators and members of Congress from their state, learning about leadership and the cooperative business model, and forging lifelong friendships with fellow Youth Tour participants from far-away places who were strangers just a few days before.

Each of the 44 states that participate in the program selects one member of their delegation to represent it on the Youth Leadership Council. Members of the council come back to Washington for additional leadership development experiences, serve as youth ambassadors at events hosted by their state’s electric co-ops and represent their states at the annual meeting of America’s electric cooperatives.

The Youth Leadership Council elects one of its members to be the group’s spokesperson and deliver an address at the annual meeting. Last year, they selected Collin.

In his speech, Collin told the audience, “there is a bigger picture that can only be reached through the actions we take to make the world a better place. We can’t do that by ourselves. It’s a collective effort from the leaders in our community who take action and look beyond their own lives.”

When he concluded his remarks, he was given a standing ovation and NRECA President Mel Coleman praised Collin and his 43 fellow members of the Youth Leadership Council.

Though Collin was the man in the spotlight at the annual meeting, all Youth Leadership Council members are leaders in their schools, communities and extracurricular activities.

Shantelle Des Marais, a freshly minted high school graduate from Pipestone, Minn., is one of them.

As a three-sport athlete and competitive dancer, Shantelle keeps a busy schedule. Though she is active in her community, coaching children enrolled in beginner gymnastics and track programs at the local rec center, she had never really paid attention to politics.

Last year, she saw a flyer for a program sponsored by her local electric cooperative, Sioux Valley Energy, called EmPower Youth Leadership. She talked to her school counselor and applied for the program.

After completing the program, she was selected to be a member of the Minnesota Youth Tour delegation, and was later chosen to be the state’s Youth Leadership Council delegate.

“At the start of this whole process, I didn’t even know what a co-op was at all,” Shantelle said. “Now I’ve learned so much about the model and the Seven Cooperative Principles, and it reminds me of how I’d like our country to run. I wish we could all keep those principles in mind and be good to one another.”

Her experience with Youth Tour and the Youth Leadership Council inspired the 18-year-old to get involved in her first presidential election. Not only did Shantelle caucus for the first time, she was selected to be a county delegate.

“The best thing about this whole experience is that it has opened my eyes to different possibilities,” she said.

Another young woman who participated in this eye-opening program was Emma DeMaranville from Tonganoxie, Kan.

Emma was familiar with her local electric cooperative, but had no idea how many different types of cooperatives there are and the impact they’ve had throughout the U.S. and the world.

Her grandmother had seen the opportunities other students had gained through the Youth Tour program and urged Emma to apply.

An active member of Family Career and Community Leaders of America who also participates in forensics, debate and theatre, Emma was selected to represent Leavenworth-Jefferson Electric as a member of the Kansas Youth Tour delegation.

“Every kid on Youth Tour has big aspirations, and their goals inspired me to do something with my career and future that could make an impact,” Emma said. “Being in the nation’s capital with some of the most passionate and intelligent people I have ever met made me feel like I could do anything.”

One common theme mentioned by all three of these young leaders was the need to cooperate, be respectful and find common ground to solve problems.

Collin recounted the many spirited conversations he had with other YLC delegates on important issues. “There were times when we might have different opinions, but there were never any fights, rivalries or hatreds. In fact, we used these debates to strengthen each other. We learned how to unite. Diversity doesn’t cause adversity, it can demolish it,” he said.

Emma said she’s gained a better understanding of other people, and the similarities and differences in their lives. “I want to do bipartisan work to make a difference for the people around me. Youth Tour helped me see the struggles others face, and has instilled in me a desire to create change on a global level.”

Shantelle said her experiences have helped her realize that great leaders are real people, too. “You go to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial or the Lincoln Memorial, and you think about the great things these leaders did and how they helped me get where I am today. It always feels like something so far off. But then I got to meet my Senators and you realize that they’re real people and maybe I could do this some day.”

All three of these students plan to attend public universities in their home states this fall, and say the experiences they’ve gained over the past year have influenced what they’ll study and how they plan to live their lives after college.

“If you had asked me a year ago what I wanted to do with my life, I would’ve said ‘I don’t know. Probably something with computers.’ I still plan to major in computer science, but that’s just the foundation for many different things Youth Tour has inspired me to pursue,” Collin said.

Youth Tour is a joint investment made by your local electric cooperative, the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. When Youth Tour participants arrive in Washington each June, the expectation is that they will learn from our political leaders and be inspired to do great things in their communities.

Based on the wisdom and maturity displayed by Collin, Shantelle and Emma, our future is certainly bright, and our current elected leaders could learn as much from the students as the students learn from them.

Justin LaBerge 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.

 

  • How do co-op youth programs impact our local communities? Read [link or reference article] to find out. <IMAGE>

 

What’s in it for “we?”

One of the most attractive features of cooperatives is that we answer the popular question, “What’s in it for me?” with “What’s in it for we!” Cooperatives are formed when the market fails to offer a good or service, with decent quality, at an affordable price. Electric cooperatives in Tennessee were formed in the 1930s because, when investor-owned utilities realized there was not enough profit to be made in our community, they refused to offer electricity.

The founding members of these co-ops went door to door to collect $5 in order to raise a portion of the original investment the co-op needed. Those “go-getters” realized the only way to get electricity for me was to get it for we, the whole community.

Cooperative ownership is in the hands of the people who use the co-op’s goods and the services (not investors), so not only do co-ops start out answering the question of “What’s in it for we?” – they continue to answer that question for as long as they exist.

These days, we often hear about companies that abandon their local communities and move overseas in search of cheaper labor. This negatively impacts the community through job loss, decline in housing values and school closures. Because local residents own a majority of cooperatives, they are less likely to leave their community. In fact, it would be impossible for Tennessee’s electric cooperatives to operate elsewhere. The co-op is a critical part of what makes the community a community.

The way co-ops continue to answer the question, “What’s in it for we?” is critical to their survival. It is imperative that we keep you – our members – as the primary focus. Keeping rates as low as possible is one major part of that focus, but ensuring that we provide real value as your trusted energy advisor is also extremely important.

By maintaining that focus with your help and support, we will continue to be able to serve the “me” and the “we” in our community long into the future.

Co-ops are prepared for summer storms

Summer is here, school is out and families are gearing up for a few months of fun and relaxation. While summer brings much fun in the sun, it can also bring the occasional severe storm. In the event of a power outage, you can trust that your local electric cooperative is ready to respond.

The major cause of most power outages comes from damage to power lines due to falling trees and branches. We work year round – through right-of-way clearing – to ensure power lines in our service territory stand little risk of being damaged by trees, branches or other types of vegetation.

Despite our best efforts, during major storms, damage can occur to transmission stations, substations and power lines. When this happens, our first priority is to safely restore power to as many members as possible in the shortest amount of time.

We start by mobilizing our line crews and other critical staff. Every phone line available is utilized to take your outage report calls. The big problems are handled first – like damage to transmission lines, which serve tens of thousands of people. These problems must be corrected before we can focus on other areas where more localized damage may have occurred.

Co-op line crews inspect substations to determine if the problem starts there, or if there could be an issue down the line. If the root of the problem is at the substation, power can be restored to thousands of members.

Next, line crews check the service lines that deliver power into neighborhoods and communities. Line crews repair the damaged lines, restoring power to hundreds of people. If you continue to experience an outage, there may be damage to a tap line outside of your home or business. Make sure you notify your local co-op so crews can inspect these lines.

We will do our best to avoid power outages, but sometimes Mother Nature has other plans.

Meghaan Evans 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.