Members take co-op message to legislators

NASHVILLE – More than 250 members and employees from Tennessee’s electric cooperatives were in Nashville on Monday and Tuesday, March 7 and 8, for the 2016 Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association’s Legislative Conference. Attendees met with their legislators on Capitol Hill to help them better understand electric cooperatives and the issues that impact rural and suburban Tennessee.

House Speaker Beth Harwell welcomed the group to Nashville. “You serve 71 percent of our state and 2.5 million Tennesseans,” she said. “We recognize the impact you have on our state.”

Tennessee’s electric cooperatives maintain a visible presence in Nashville and Washington, D.C., to protect the interests of co-op members. “We are here to give a voice to rural Tennesseans,” says David Callis, CEO of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association.

“Legislators consider bills that have serious consequences for co-ops and the communities they serve. We must tell the electric cooperative story and educate lawmakers about the impact of proposed legislation,” says Callis. Attendees reminded legislators that co-ops are not-for-profit, member-owned and –regulated private businesses that impact rural and suburban Tennessee in many ways.

Visits focused on specific legislation that impacts co-ops and the communities they serve. Co-op leaders expressed support for a bill that allows electric co-ops to provide broadband Internet service. “We serve the areas with the greatest need for broadband,” says Mike Knotts, Vice President of Government Affairs for the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “We have a role to play in bringing high-speed connectivity to rural Tennessee.” Co-ops also voiced their support of legislation that modernizes the tax code for co-ops and discussed the impact of the recent Supreme Court decision to halt implementation of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan.

“Educated and informed legislators are necessary for us to provide low-cost, reliable power, and our members make a powerful impression when they come to Nashville,” says Knotts. More than 100 legislative visits were made during the conference, and dozens of legislators from across the state attended a reception honoring members of the Tennessee General Assembly.

MTEMC launches new charitable foundation

Middle Tennessee Electric today launched its new charitable foundation SharingChange. The foundation gives members the opportunity to easily give to local charitable organizations.

The move streamlines the cooperative?s charitable efforts and gives members more options on how they can contribute to their communities.

“Over the last 13 years, Middle Tennessee Electric members have donated more than $8 million to over 550 local nonprofit organizations in the four-county service area served by MTEMC,” said Chris Jones, MTEMC President. “Every penny that members donate, 100 percent, goes back to those communities through local charitable organizations.”

A highlight of the new program is the different ways to give. Members can now round up their bill to the nearest dollar; or they can add a fixed amount to each monthly bill; or they can do both.

“We recognized over the years, these were additional options our members wanted in their charitable giving,” said Jones. “For pennies each month, the collective impact on our communities is significant.”

Averaging about $6 dollars per year, the rounding of the bill is the easiest option. If a member?s bill is $48.50, the bill is rounded up to $49, and that 50 cents is contributed to SharingChange.

“For much less than a cup of coffee a month, our members are changing the lives of their neighbors,” Jones added.

Past grant recipients and their programs included helping fulfill medical needs of local senior citizens, student scholarships, helping control the pet population and even funding local veterans; programs designed to help build camaraderie and find productive, safe ways to deal with conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder.

To learn more about the program, or to begin participating in SharingChange, visit www.SharingChange.org.

“I encourage you to take the steps to do absolutely the easiest good thing, you’ll ever do,” Jones said.

Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation is a member-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperative providing electricity to more than 210,000 residential and business members in Williamson, Wilson, Rutherford and Cannon counties.

For more information, please contact MTEMC Communications Coordinator Josh Clendenen at 615-494-1071 or 615-516-5020.

Co-ops Vote

(NEW ORLEANS) — The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) today launched a major initiative to enhance voter engagement. The goal of the “Co-ops Vote” campaign is to boost voter turnout in areas served by cooperatives by encouraging electric co-op employees and their consumer members to exercise one of their most basic rights—the right to vote.

“America’s electric cooperatives are leaders in the communities they serve throughout the country with a powerful sense of their civic duty,” said NRECA Interim CEO Jeffrey Connor. “Co-ops Vote focuses elected leaders on the people who are most invested in the success of their own communities.  With 42 million members across the nation, electric co-ops are a powerful voice on national issues that have a local impact.  We want to be sure that voice is always heard, especially on Election Day.”

Working in collaboration with states and local co-ops, this non-partisan campaign will educate and engage all voters on important issues, such as ensuring continued access to reliable electricity, promoting co-ops’ development of innovative renewable energy solutions, and expanding broadband coverage throughout rural America.

Co-ops Vote will provide a wide variety of tools to its more than 900, not-for-profit members to help educate and engage employees and communities, including voter registration information, candidate information and a campaign video. Co-ops are urged to take simple steps, such as encouraging employees to register to vote, hosting voter registration drives at co-op offices, and partnering with local civic groups to plan voter registration efforts.

For more information, visit www.vote.coop and follow #CoopsVote.

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.

Statement on Supreme Court Decision to stay Clean Power Plan

The Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association was pleased with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to halt implementation of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan.

Last fall, Tennessee’s electric cooperatives joined the National Rural Cooperative Association (NRECA) in launching legal efforts to stop implementation of the Clean Power Plan. On Tuesday, the United States Supreme Court took action halting the EPA’s landmark carbon rule.

“We continue to believe that low rates and reliable power must be a part of our clean energy future. This decision opens the door to find real solutions that effectively balance environmental and economic concerns,” says David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association.

“If this stay had not been granted, cooperatives across the nation would have been forced to take costly and irreversible steps to comply with these new regulations. The Supreme Court’s ruling validates our belief that the Clean Power Plan is an overreach of EPA’s legal authority.”

In 2014, electric consumers from across Tennessee submitted more than 14,000 comments to the Environmental Protection Agency in opposition to the agency’s proposals to limit carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.

The Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association is a trade group representing the interests of Tennessee’s 23 electric distribution cooperatives and the 2.5 million rural and suburban consumers they serve. The association publishes The Tennessee Magazine and provides legislative and support services to Tennessee’s electric cooperatives. Learn more at tnelectric.org.

Electrify Africa becomes law

(ARLINGTON, Va.) — The President signed into law S. 2152, the Electrify Africa Act, with strong praise from the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) and America’s electric cooperatives. Three years after the bill was first introduced, this law will now bring electricity to 50 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa, and lift rural communities from impoverished conditions to improved economic activity and a higher quality of life. The presidential signature came after passage of the Act in the U.S. House of Representatives last week. This followed the Senate’s unanimous passing of the legislation in December.

“We are celebrating this achievement with all our members, because our domestic and international work has always focused on power distribution, and making it possible for people to have direct access to electricity,” said NRECA Interim CEO Jeffrey Connor. “This new law makes it possible to have a significant impact on the lives of millions, and we are proud to be part of this worthwhile effort to bring power to Sub-Saharan Africa. We applaud and thank the bipartisan leadership of Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Ranking Member Sen. Ben Cardin (D-M.D.), House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) and Ranking Member Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), who all believe that promoting economic development by expanding access to electricity will benefit people on both sides of the Atlantic.

“Sen. Corker’s leadership on this legislation has been extraordinary,” says David Callis, executive vice president of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “We are looking forward to see the lights come on for millions in rural Africa.”

NRECA’s international affiliate—NRECA International – has worked in developing countries since 1962. Its global commitment has provided electricity to more than 110 million people in 43 countries.

The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association is the national service organization that represents more than 900 private, not-for-profit, consumer-owned electric cooperatives in the United States. Those co-ops provide service to 42 million people in 47 states.

Be prepared for winter storm

When winter temperatures drop and storms hit, it can be challenging to stay safe and warm. Winter storm severity varies depending on where you live, but nearly all Americans are affected by extreme winter storms at some point. Tennessee’s electric cooperatives care about your safety, and we want you to be prepared.

Heavy snow and ice can lead to downed power lines, leaving co-op members without power. During extremely low temperatures, this can be dangerous. During a power outage, our crews will continue to work as quickly and safely as possible to restore power, but there are a few things you can do to prepare yourself.

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 co-op.

Winter weather can be unpredictable and dangerous, and planning ahead can often be the difference between life and death. Tennessee’s electric co-ops are ready for what Mother Nature has in store, and we want you to be ready, too. For more winter safety tips, visit www.ready.gov/winter-weather.

Abby Berry 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.

2016 Legislative Outlook

On January 12, elected representatives from all across Tennessee made their way to the state capitol in Nashville to begin the second session of the 109th General Assembly. Both the House and the Senate began their work drafting, debating, and voting upon new laws for our state. The general consensus is that year’s legislative session will be fast-paced, as both the Speaker of the House and the Lieutenant Governor have indicated they hope to adjourn in early April – which would be the earliest adjournment in many, many years.

The legislature is likely to grabble with some issues of large consequence. Over the past year, Governor Haslam has begun a conversation about the inability of the state’s road building fund to keep up with the need to build and maintain the road system. The gasoline tax along with increasingly unreliable federal funding, is the primary method which the state funds its road program. While it is unlikely that an increase in the tax will pass this year, other sources of funding will be explored and debated. Disagreements between counties and cities over the distribution of sales tax revenue will likely result in legislation being offered, which is sure to result in spirited debate. And some are predicting that a proposal to  provide public funding for students to attend private schools may have the support become law this year.

TECA will be monitoring these issues closely to determine if any proposals have negative impacts upon electric cooperatives and our duty to provide reliable, low-cost energy to our member-owners. Specifically, we will be working with legislative leaders as they consider Tennessee’s response to the Clean Power Plan. Finalized late last year, the Federal mandate now requires each state to develop a compliance plan. This plan will be prepared by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, and TECA will be working closely with TVA and other stakeholders to ensure that the concerns of rural and suburban Tennesseans are paramount in the development of the plan.

To stay better informed of TECA’s work on behalf of Tennessee’s co-ops make sure you subscribe to “View from the Hill,” our newsletter about legislative activities. To sign up, click here.

Mike Knotts serves as director of government affairs for the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association.

Tips for a safe and happy holiday season

The holidays are upon us. For many, that means more celebrations with friends and family, travel, decorations, cooking and shopping. Your local electric cooperative wants you to stay safe during the holidays, so here are a few tips to consider as you gear up for the season.

Your co-op can’t guarantee that the hustle and bustle of the season won’t leave you with a few frayed nerves, but it can certainly help you avoid frayed wires.

Inspect your seasonal items

Many of us have treasured holiday mementos that we bring out of storage and proudly display every year. The holidays are also a time when we dust off specialized cooking gadgets that allow us to prepare our favorite seasonal treats. These items are often handed down through generations and might lack modern safety features.

Take a few moments to carefully inspect all your holiday items to ensure everything is in safe, working order. A few things to look out for include:

  • Brittle insulation on wires
  • Rodent damage to wires
  • Chafed or frayed wires, especially at stress points
  • Worn switches with the potential to short-circuit
  • Corroded metal parts
  • Broken legs, unstable bases and other tip-over hazards

Extension cords are temporary

When you asked your teacher for an extension on your term paper, it was a one-time thing, right? The same holds true for extension cords. They are designed for temporary use and should never be used as a permanent or long-term solution.

Never defeat safety devices

There are reasons why some devices have fuses, why some plugs have three prongs instead of two and why one prong is wider than the other on two-prong outlets. When those safety features get in the way of your grand holiday décor plans, you might be tempted to tamper with or defeat those features. Don’t do it! If your plugs won’t fit together, that means they’re not designed to work together. Rather than tampering with a safety feature, find a safe solution.

Look up and live

When working outside with a ladder, be mindful of the location of overhead power lines. Always carry your ladder so that it is parallel to the ground. Before placing your ladder in an upright position, look around to ensure you are a safe distance from any power lines.

Beware of power lines through trees

Over time, tree branches can grow around power lines running along the street and to your home. If those branches come in contact with power lines, they can become energized, too. If your holiday plans call for stringing lights through trees, this can create a safety hazard.

Stay away from your service connection

The overhead wire bringing power from the utility pole to your house is dangerous. Treat this line the same way you’d treat any other power line on our system. Maintain a safe distance — even if that means a small gap in the perfect gingerbread house outline of lights.

Read the fine print

If you take a few minutes to read and understand the specifications and limitations of your lights and other electrified holiday decorations, you can save yourself a great deal of work and frustration in the long run. For example, the tag at the end of an extension cord will tell you if it’s rated for outdoor use, whether it will remain flexible in cold temperatures and how much energy it can safely handle. Similarly, holiday lights will tell you how many strings can be safely linked together.

Don’t forget about the kids… and pets

If you have small children, you’ve probably spent a great deal of time making sure every square inch of your home is childproof. Every cabinet is locked and every outlet is covered. But sometimes the joy of celebrating the holidays with our little ones makes us a little less vigilant about electrical safety. Make sure your holiday décor receives the same level of safety scrutiny you apply to all the permanent items in your home. Curious and mischievous pets can present similar challenges. Make sure Fluffy isn’t nibbling on all those extra wires or using your tree as her personal back-scratcher or jungle gym.

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.

Cooking up holiday energy savings

For many of us, the best holidays involve home-cooked meals and wonderful aromas of turkey, dressing and baked goods wafting throughout the house. It means a busy kitchen and a bustling house full of family and friends. If this rings true for you, you still have an opportunity to save energy during the holidays despite the increased kitchen activity.

Cut carbs (carbon) painlessly

In addition to being the “heart of your home,” your kitchen could pump savings back into your wallet.  According to the Department of Energy, cooking accounts for 4.5 percent of total energy use in U.S. homes. This number, combined with the energy use associated with refrigeration, dishwashing and water-heating, means that as much as 15 percent of the energy in the average American home is used in the kitchen. So, saving energy here can have a significant impact on your household budget.

For example, when preparing side dishes, baked goods, soups and such, consider using a small appliance like a slow-cooker, toaster oven, microwave or warming plate instead of your conventional oven or stovetop. These small appliances are smart, energy-saving alternatives, typically using about half the energy of a stove.

Seal in efficiency

When using your oven, don’t peek! Opening the oven door can lower the temperature by as much as 25 degrees and causes your stove to work harder (consuming more energy) to return to the set cooking temperature. If your recipe calls for baking the dish more than an hour, it is not necessary to preheat the oven.  If your oven is electric, you can likely turn the oven off for the last five to 10 minutes of cooking and allow the residual heat to complete the job. Clean burners and reflectors increase efficiency and offer better heating, so don’t neglect this small but important task.

Just as keeping the oven door closed seals in efficiency and enables the stove to operate more economically, the same rules apply to the refrigerator and freezer. Keep the doors closed as much as possible so cold air doesn’t escape. However, leaving the door open for a longer period of time while you load groceries or remove items you need is more efficient than opening and closing it several times.

If you are entertaining a large group, you may be able to give your furnace a brief holiday. When your oven is working hard and you have a house full of guests, the heat from the stove and the guests will keep your house comfortable, enabling you to turn down the thermostat.

Clean up with energy savings

When it’s time to clean up, extend fellowship to the kitchen, and wash and dry dirty dishes by hand. This uses less energy than a dishwasher. However, don’t leave the water running continuously or you will waste energy. If you do use the dishwasher and rinse dishes before loading them, use cold water. Run the dishwasher with full loads only, and, if possible, use the energy-saving cycle. Note that dishwashers that have overnight or air-dry settings can save up to 10 percent of your dishwashing energy costs.

By adapting these efficient practices in your kitchen, energy savings will be one more thing to be thankful for this holiday season.

Anne Prince 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.

LEDs for the holidays

“LED, LED, LED!’” (Imagine this being chanted the way “USA” is at the Olympics.) While light-emitting diodes won’t necessarily anchor a relay to victory, they are most certainly the current champions when it comes to energy-efficient lighting. So let’s discuss using LEDs for your holiday decorating enjoyment.

When I was a kid, we enjoyed decorating with large painted incandescent bulbs. My dad would hang them around the front door, and we’d deck out the tree with a couple of strings. They were glorious! And hot, posing a real danger when used on a dry tree.

Fast-forward a couple of decades, and the energy-conservation movement created a demand for more-efficient options. Enter the mini incandescent light strings. These are still widely used today and dramatically reduced the power consumed by their predecessors.

As is true in our technological age, manufacturers didn’t stop looking for even more efficient alternatives. This led to the introduction of LED lights. The first incarnations generated less than appealing garish blues, greens and reds but quickly softened into a more eye-pleasing spectrum. Today, LEDs are the undisputed champs of holiday lighting.

You could literally wrap your home in LED light strings, become visible to the International Space Station and still have a pleasantly manageable power bill at the end of it all. Now there is no reason to let concerns over cost of operation limit your decorating genius.

LEDs are also showing up in other forms and places. They are available in clear tubes that you can wrap around objects for extra interest (the tubes glow), and many yard figures are constructed with these as the main structural element. Imagine the possibilities!

Now if that isn’t enough for your holiday pleasure, how about wearing some holiday LED bling? Yes, the tacky (but ever so popular) holiday tie with tiny lights that illuminate has been around for years. But, combine the advances in LEDs with conductive paints and micro controllers like the Arduino or Raspberry Pi, and you can create some truly memorable fashions for the holidays. Just imagine the sensation you can cause at the office holiday party arriving in a coat of many, many colors. You could even spell out special holiday greetings with the proper display or simply glow all night long. Don’t worry about needing clunky power supplies or treacherous extension cords to keep your fashion style illuminated. These displays sip electricity from batteries like a fine wine. Just be sure to turn yourself off before driving home.

Two of my favorite sources for such goodies are www.sparkfun.com and www.adafruit.com (click the “wearables” link at either).

You have worked hard all year to reduce your energy consumption to save money and slim down your carbon footprint. Now reward yourself with a splendid holiday display that will be the envy of all who see it while you remain miserly with power use.

Tom Tate writes on cooperative issues 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.

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