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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The Top Tenn

The first annual TECA Top Tenn Communication Awards were presented during the 2015 TECA Annual Meeting. Duck River Electric Membership Corporation received an award for Best External Newsletter or Magazine Section; Appalachian Electric Cooperative, Best Internal Newsletter; Cumberland Electric Membership Corporation, Best Website; and Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative, Best Use of Social Media. Duck River Electric Membership Corporation, Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative and Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative each received awards in the Wild Card category, with Chickasaw Electric Cooperative and Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative also earning Honorable Mentions.

“Effective communication is a powerful tool for modern electric cooperatives,” says Robin Conover, TECA’s vice president of communications and editor of The Tennessee Magazine. “We honor these winners for telling the electric cooperative story in a professional way across multiple platforms.”

Best External Newsletter or Magazine Section

Duck River Electric Membership Corporation
Monthly sections in The Tennessee Magazine

“Content in these sections is varied enough that any reader can find articles of interest,”the judge claimed in describing the writing as “excellent” and praising General Manager Michael Watson’s monthly columns: “Whether he’s telling Duck River Electric Membership Corporation members about the prospects of their co-op merging with a neighboring system, getting them fired up about a monstrous tractor pull, or detailing the challenges of dealing with two huge ice storms in the same week, General Manager Michael Watson knows how to put things in perspective for members. His messages to the membership are simple, friendly, and to the point.”

Best Internal Newsletter

Appalachian Electric Cooperative
The Hotline employee newsletter

Our judge noted the heavy emphasis on co-op news, one particular article he noted as “masterfully done.” “Diversity of content in this newsletter should attract an array of readers,” he said citing “light, friendly offerings” and writing that’s “outstanding — clever, crisp, creative.”

Best Website

Cumberland Electric Membership Corporation

Our judge noted, “Articles are timely, up-to-date, and easy to read in proper journalistic style;” “Menus are easy to find and comprehend;” “The home page, especially, is clean, well-organized, and easy to distinguish what is most important and most relevant;” and “Articles are timely and updated.”

Best Use of Social Media

Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative

In analyzing Sequachee Valley EC’s social media posts, our judge said, “SVEC is getting incredible engagement on their posts as measured in retweets, shares, likes, and comments,” interaction the judge called “refreshing.” As for writing quality, it was noted as “appropriately varied according to the type of post: informative when there’s a power outage, lively when there is some interaction required, reverent when there is something serious or inspirational to say.”

Wild Cards

Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative
“Celebrating 75 Years of Light” campaign: Video, “A Place at the Table” cookbook, 75th anniversary quilt

We bundled together for consideration three related entries. “A Place at the Table — Celebrating 75 Years of Light” is a cookbook our judge called “a masterful, meaningful project dedicated to member-owners of Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative.” The cooperative’s annual meeting video, also titled “Celebrating 75 Years of Light,” is, our judge said, “A wonderful 12-minute video for which Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative staffers created the script and story board was perhaps the crown jewel in the organization’s celebration of its Diamond Anniversary — the 75th — in 2014.” And he called MLEC’s 75th Birthday Quilt “a great job all around!” “After being unveiled at MLEC’s 2014 Membership Meetings, the masterpiece made its way to each of the counties the cooperative serves. Those gatherings attracted some 1,200 members! That the quilt project was a modern-day version of quilting bees of the past made it even more appropriate for a 75th anniversary observance.”

Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative
“Energizing Our Communities for 75 Years” campaign: Cookbook and 75th anniversary commemorative book

This is another bundled set of submissions. “Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative Celebrates 75 Years,” our judge wrote, “is compact enough that it doesn’t take up much space on a shelf or in a drawer, and its type is easy to read. It should be a treasured keepsake for many members.” He also added extra praise for the book’s details: “What impressed me about (the cover) picture was that each of the 50 people shown was identified! An editor after my own heart!” Meanwhile, commemorative publication “Energizing Our Communities for 75 Years” is praised as “a marvelous 65-page book chronicling the 75-year history of Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative. A masterpiece chunk full of facts, features, and touching testimonials from some of the pioneers who helped bring electricity to the scenic Sequatchie Valley, this volume is a true keepsake for SVEC employees and members.”

Duck River Electric Membership Corporation
“Co-op Connections Business Directory”

“Somebody has put a lot of work into compiling and maintaining this comprehensive directory of local businesses that offer discounts and specials to participating Duck River Electric Membership Corporation members,” our judge commented. “All in all, Coop Connections is quite an undertaking, and the top-quality directory compiled and maintained by DREMC obviously plays a major part in its success.”

Honorable mentions

Chickasaw Electric Cooperative
“Third Annual Deck the Halls at Chickasaw”

“What a clever and creative Christmas promotion!” praised our judge, showing that a large budget isn’t necessary for strong communications initiatives, including those aimed at employee engagement. “I’m sure it’s something Chickasaw employees look forward to every year, and from the photos submitted with the entry, it’s evident that lots of creativity and effort go into the joyful project. Visitors are bound to be impressed – and inspired! Based on the photos, my favorite is the tree on which the Christmas-red “‘Caution: buried electric line below”’ tape and other electric utility trinkets are used as
decorations.”

Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative
“45 Years of WYT”

“Though I wish this video had narration, I understand why that wasn’t feasible,” begins the judge. “The producer did the next best thing, though, by providing text that tells who’s who, which year is which, and something about what’s going on. It’s a long video at just over 24 minutes, but considering the time span it covers and the number of young people it features, it’s worth every minute! I can’t imagine how long it took to gather all the information on Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative’s Youth Tour delegates, round up photos, and then write copy for this project.”

The Top Tenn

The first annual TECA Top Tenn Communication Awards were presented during the 2015 TECA Annual Meeting. Duck River Electric Membership Corporation received an award for Best External Newsletter or Magazine Section; Appalachian Electric Cooperative, Best Internal Newsletter; Cumberland Electric Membership Corporation, Best Website; and Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative, Best Use of Social Media. Duck River Electric Membership Corporation, Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative and Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative each received awards in the Wild Card category, with Chickasaw Electric Cooperative and Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative also earning Honorable Mentions.

“Effective communication is a powerful tool for modern electric cooperatives,” says Robin Conover, TECA’s vice president of communications and editor of The Tennessee Magazine. “We honor these winners for telling the electric cooperative story in a professional way across multiple platforms.”

Best External Newsletter or Magazine Section

Duck River Electric Membership Corporation
Monthly sections in The Tennessee Magazine

“Content in these sections is varied enough that any reader can find articles of interest,”the judge claimed in describing the writing as “excellent” and praising General Manager Michael Watson’s monthly columns: “Whether he’s telling Duck River Electric Membership Corporation members about the prospects of their co-op merging with a neighboring system, getting them fired up about a monstrous tractor pull, or detailing the challenges of dealing with two huge ice storms in the same week, General Manager Michael Watson knows how to put things in perspective for members. His messages to the membership are simple, friendly, and to the point.”

Best Internal Newsletter

Appalachian Electric Cooperative
The Hotline employee newsletter

Our judge noted the heavy emphasis on co-op news, one particular article he noted as “masterfully done.” “Diversity of content in this newsletter should attract an array of readers,” he said citing “light, friendly offerings” and writing that’s “outstanding — clever, crisp, creative.”

Best Website

Cumberland Electric Membership Corporation

Our judge noted, “Articles are timely, up-to-date, and easy to read in proper journalistic style;” “Menus are easy to find and comprehend;” “The home page, especially, is clean, well-organized, and easy to distinguish what is most important and most relevant;” and “Articles are timely and updated.”

Best Use of Social Media

Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative

In analyzing Sequachee Valley EC’s social media posts, our judge said, “SVEC is getting incredible engagement on their posts as measured in retweets, shares, likes, and comments,” interaction the judge called “refreshing.” As for writing quality, it was noted as “appropriately varied according to the type of post: informative when there’s a power outage, lively when there is some interaction required, reverent when there is something serious or inspirational to say.”

Wild Cards

Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative
“Celebrating 75 Years of Light” campaign: Video, “A Place at the Table” cookbook, 75th anniversary quilt

We bundled together for consideration three related entries. “A Place at the Table — Celebrating 75 Years of Light” is a cookbook our judge called “a masterful, meaningful project dedicated to member-owners of Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative.” The cooperative’s annual meeting video, also titled “Celebrating 75 Years of Light,” is, our judge said, “A wonderful 12-minute video for which Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative staffers created the script and story board was perhaps the crown jewel in the organization’s celebration of its Diamond Anniversary — the 75th — in 2014.” And he called MLEC’s 75th Birthday Quilt “a great job all around!” “After being unveiled at MLEC’s 2014 Membership Meetings, the masterpiece made its way to each of the counties the cooperative serves. Those gatherings attracted some 1,200 members! That the quilt project was a modern-day version of quilting bees of the past made it even more appropriate for a 75th anniversary observance.”

Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative
“Energizing Our Communities for 75 Years” campaign: Cookbook and 75th anniversary commemorative book

This is another bundled set of submissions. “Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative Celebrates 75 Years,” our judge wrote, “is compact enough that it doesn’t take up much space on a shelf or in a drawer, and its type is easy to read. It should be a treasured keepsake for many members.” He also added extra praise for the book’s details: “What impressed me about (the cover) picture was that each of the 50 people shown was identified! An editor after my own heart!” Meanwhile, commemorative publication “Energizing Our Communities for 75 Years” is praised as “a marvelous 65-page book chronicling the 75-year history of Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative. A masterpiece chunk full of facts, features, and touching testimonials from some of the pioneers who helped bring electricity to the scenic Sequatchie Valley, this volume is a true keepsake for SVEC employees and members.”

Duck River Electric Membership Corporation
“Co-op Connections Business Directory”

“Somebody has put a lot of work into compiling and maintaining this comprehensive directory of local businesses that offer discounts and specials to participating Duck River Electric Membership Corporation members,” our judge commented. “All in all, Coop Connections is quite an undertaking, and the top-quality directory compiled and maintained by DREMC obviously plays a major part in its success.”

Honorable mentions

Chickasaw Electric Cooperative
“Third Annual Deck the Halls at Chickasaw”

“What a clever and creative Christmas promotion!” praised our judge, showing that a large budget isn’t necessary for strong communications initiatives, including those aimed at employee engagement. “I’m sure it’s something Chickasaw employees look forward to every year, and from the photos submitted with the entry, it’s evident that lots of creativity and effort go into the joyful project. Visitors are bound to be impressed – and inspired! Based on the photos, my favorite is the tree on which the Christmas-red “‘Caution: buried electric line below”’ tape and other electric utility trinkets are used as
decorations.”

Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative
“45 Years of WYT”

“Though I wish this video had narration, I understand why that wasn’t feasible,” begins the judge. “The producer did the next best thing, though, by providing text that tells who’s who, which year is which, and something about what’s going on. It’s a long video at just over 24 minutes, but considering the time span it covers and the number of young people it features, it’s worth every minute! I can’t imagine how long it took to gather all the information on Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative’s Youth Tour delegates, round up photos, and then write copy for this project.”

Small Towns, Big Ideas

NASHVILLE – “Small Towns, Big Ideas” was the theme of the 74th annual meeting of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association, held Sunday, Nov. 22, through Tuesday, Nov. 24, in Nashville. More than 350 electric cooperative leaders from across the state attending the event were encouraged to be advocates for the communities they serve.

“Whether it be broadband expansion, political affairs or economic development, co-ops have unique opportunities to foster development in our service areas,” says David Callis, TECA executive vice president and general manager. “Concern for community is one of our guiding principles. The focus of this event – and the coming year – is to explore the real ways co-ops can demonstrate our commitment to rural and suburban Tennessee.”

During the meeting, elections were held for positions on the association’s board of trustees. Jeff Newman, general manager of Forked Deer Electric Cooperative in Halls; Dan Smith, a director from Middle Tennessee Electric Cooperative in Murfreesboro; and Jarrod Brackett, manager of Fort Loudoun Electric Cooperative in Madisonville, were elected to four-year terms.

Jim Coode, general manager of Cumberland Electric Membership Corporation in Clarksville, was named president of the board of trustees. John Collins, general manager of Chickasaw Electric Cooperative in Somerville, was named vice president; and Johnnie Ruth Elrod, a director with Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative in Centerville, was named secretary-treasurer.

Delegates also elected Tom Purkey, a director with Middle Tennessee Electric, to represent Tennessee on the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association board.

“Congratulations to those honored with leadership positions,” says Callis. “Their talents and ideas will be valuable as we continue our mission to serve Tennessee’s electric cooperatives and their members.”

The first annual TECA Top Tenn Communication Awards were presented during the event. Duck River Electric Membership Corporation received an award for Best External Newsletter or Magazine Section; Appalachian Electric Cooperative, Best Internal Newsletter; Cumberland Electric Membership Corporation, Best Website; and Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative, Best Use of Social Media. Duck River Electric Membership Corporation, Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative and Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative each received awards in the Wild Card category, with Chickasaw Electric Cooperative and Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative also earning Honorable Mentions.

“Effective communication is a powerful tool for modern electric cooperatives,” says Robin Conover, TECA’s vice president of communications and editor of The Tennessee Magazine. “We honor these winners for telling the electric cooperative story in a professional way across multiple platforms.”

The Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association represents Tennessee’s 24 electric cooperatives and the 2.1 million members they serve across rural and suburban Tennessee.

For more information
Trent Scott, Director of Corporate Strategy
Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association
615.515.5534 | tscott@tnelectric.org

 

There is a Cooperative Difference

While all electric utilities offer the same product, where it comes from makes a difference.

In the U.S., the vast majority of people receive their electricity from one of three types of utilities; investor-owned, municipal-owned or through their electric cooperative, which is owned and controlled by the people who use it. Let’s take a closer look at these three types of ownership models and see why it matters to you.

In the investor-owned model, the corporation is owned by a great number of stockholders who may or may not be real customers of the utility. Investor-owned utilities tend to be very large corporations such as Entergy, Con Edison or Excel. They serve large cities, suburban areas and some rural areas, too.

In most cases, investor-owned utilities (IOUs) have few employees in the communities where they operate. This, combined with the fact that they have outside investors whose sole motive is to make a profit on their investment, generally tends to lead to less personalized service. Consumer surveys confirm that IOUs have the lowest customer satisfaction ratings. About 72 percent of the U.S. population is served by investor-owned utilities.

Municipal electric systems, as the name implies, are government owned. They can serve large cities, like Los Angeles, Austin or Orlando, or smaller areas, like Jackson, Knoxville or Chattanooga.  In municipal systems, the city runs the utility with little to no meaningful oversight from the citizens. About 16 percent of the market is served by municipal utilities.

Rural electric cooperatives serve the smallest number of consumers, about 12 percent of the market, which equals 42 million people. There are more than 800 other electric co-ops in 47 states in addition to the 23 in Tennessee. While co-ops serve the fewest number of people, our electric lines cover more than 75 percent of the U.S. landmass. This is because we provide power where others once refused to go because of the low population density. Electric co-ops rank highest in member satisfaction among the three types of utilities. We believe this is because we serve member-owners, not customers.

As the electric utility business continues to evolve, we are committed to being there for you, our member, to provide for your electric energy needs. Unlike large investor-owned utilities, we are rooted right here in Tennessee. Over the years, we have answered the call to provide additional benefits and services because it is extremely important to us that our community thrives and prospers.  This is why Tennessee co-ops are active in economic development and energy efficiency and help to prepare young leaders for the challenges of tomorrow.

There is a cooperative difference. You own us, and we are here to serve you.

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

Why electric co-ops replace utility poles

You probably don’t pay much attention to the utility poles in your neighborhood, but did you know these tall structures are the backbone of Tennessee’s distribution network?

Strong, sturdy utility poles ensure a reliable electric system, which is why co-ops routinely inspect the thousands of poles found on our lines. Throughout the year, crews check poles for decay caused by exposure to the elements. They know which poles are oldest and conduct inspections through a rotational process. Typically, a standard wooden distribution pole is expected to last more than 50 years.

Occasionally, poles need to be replaced for other reasons besides decay and old age. Weather disasters, power line relocation and car crashes are potential causes for immediate replacement. When possible, co-ops communicate when and where pole replacements will take place so that you stay informed of where crews will be working.

Here is a quick breakdown of how crews replace a utility pole:

When a pole needs to be replaced, crews will start the process by digging a hole, typically next to the pole being replaced. The depth of the hole must be 15 percent of the new pole’s height. Next, the new pole must be fitted with bolts, cross arms, insulators, ground wires and arm braces – all of the necessary parts for delivering safe and reliable electricity. Then, crews safely detach the power lines from the old pole. The new pole is then raised and guided carefully into position, and the lines are attached, leaving the new pole to do its job.

So, the next time you come across a co-op crew replacing a pole, use caution and know that this process ensures a more reliable electric system for you, our members.

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.

Three keys to understanding the EPA plan on climate change

The U.S. is in the process of taking a giant step in the noisy process of changing how we generate and use electricity now that the Environmental Protection Agency has released the final version of its Clean Power Plan.

That contentious process will continue for years, or even decades, as advocates warn of nothing less than destruction of the economy on the one side and the destruction of the planet on the other.

This current energy focus is the result of President Obama’s August 3 announcement of what he called, “A plan two years in the making, and the single most important step America has ever taken in the fight against global climate change.”

Two days after that announcement, 16 states asked the EPA to put a hold on the plan, calling it illegal and saying it would raise utility bills.

The plan would reduce the burning of coal to produce electricity, which now generates more than one-third of our electric power, and increase the use of renewable energy sources like solar and wind. The huge effects of those changes, and the complex and controversial ways they would happen, guarantee that the Clean Power Plan will be setting the nation’s energy discussion for the foreseeable future.

Here are the key things to know about the EPA Clean Power Plan:

Over the next 15 years, the plan would change the U.S. energy economy

The Clean Power Plan targets the 1,000 fossil fuel-burning electric power plants in the U.S., aiming to cut carbon dioxide emissions by one-third.

The Plan also sets out a way for that to happen. It calls for states to work with the power industry and submit a carbon dioxide emission reduction plan to the federal government by September, 2016. A two-year extension can be requested. Reductions would begin in 2022 and would be completed by 2030.

To replace fossil fuels, the Clean Power Plan encourages renewable energy.

Opposition could delay the plan

The 16-state request for a delay actually seeks to kill the Clean Power Plan. The request, in the form of an August 5 letter to the EPA, says that the agency should hold off on implementing the plan because of the states’ intention to sue the EPA.

The planned lawsuit would claim that the law the EPA is using as a basis for the Clean Power Plan, the Clean Air Act, does not allow the EPA to require states to make such large-scale changes to their energy economies.

The EPA says the Clean Power Plan has been carefully written to comply with the law. The August 5 letter cites other objections to the Clean Power Plan, including that it would “coerce states to expend enormous public resources and to … prepare State Plans of unprecedented scope and complexity. In addition, the State’s citizens will be forced to pay higher energy bills as power plants shut down.”

Additional lawsuits are expected from other opponents.

There is also strong political opposition. Elected officials in Congress as well as state governments have called on states to refuse to submit carbon reduction plans.

Electric co-ops say plan would raise electric bills, hurt rural economy

Electric co-ops cite special concerns about the effects of the Clean Power Plan because of their higher share of low-income members and often already-fragile rural economies.

The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association warned of the expected increase in electric bills as a result of power-plant closures.

“Any increase in the cost of electricity most dramatically impact those who can least afford it,” said NRECA. “The fallout from EPA’s rule will cascade across the nation for years to come.”

Paul Wesslund 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.

Why co-ops plan outages

Have you ever received a notification from the folks here at your local electric cooperative informing you of a “planned outage?” You may have wondered, “what is a planned outage?” and “why does my electric utility need to perform one?” Occasionally, the equipment we use to bring power to your home needs to be replaced, repaired or updated. When this happens, as a way to keep our crews and you safe, we plan an interruption to electric service.

We do our best to plan these outages during times when you will be least inconvenienced, so we often perform planned outages during school and business hours. We also try to avoid planning these outages during winter or summer months. We understand these are peak times of the year when you depend on running your heating and cooling units the most.

While they may sound slightly inconvenient, planned outages are actually beneficial to you, our members. Regular system upgrades are necessary for optimal performance, and they increase reliability. Repairing and upgrading our equipment is also critical to maintaining public safety. If older lines need to be replaced, we plan for it, repair or replace it, and that keeps everyone safe.

Planned outages also allow us to keep you informed of when and how long you will be without power. We can notify you long before an outage, so you can be prepared. We also keep you aware of when line crews will be working in your area.

Tennessee’s electric cooperatives want to make sure we are doing everything we can to keep you safe and to keep our systems running smoothly. So, the next time you hear about a planned outage, know that it is one of the best ways we can provide you with quality electric service.

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.