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Co-op careers: Close to home, far from ordinary

If you want to work where the action is, how about a job in the fastest-growing occupation in America?

As a wind-turbine technician you could make about $50,000 a year and know that your career is expected to grow 108 percent in the next seven years, says the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

And you’d be part of the cutting-edge essence of the American economy, according to a report on electric utility jobs.

“Electricity is the backbone of our economy and is crucial to our national security,” concludes a recent report by M.J. Bradley and Associates, LLC, titled Powering America: The Economic Workforce Contributions of the U.S. Electric Power Industry. The report says, “Our high-tech society demands electricity to power or charge nearly every new product or technology that comes to market.”

The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) sponsored that study, along with two other national utility groups, to show how electric utilities power the economy as a result of lighting our homes and businesses.

$100 million a year on infrastructure

Powering America cites the utility industry as the most capital-intensive economic sector, investing more than $100 million a year on the nation’s electricity infrastructure with advances in technology, environmental protections and other improvements. And that’s in addition to money spent on regular operations and maintenance.

All that adds up to supporting more than 7 million jobs. More than 2.6 million of those jobs result from direct employment, like utility employees and contractors. As all those people go to work and live their lives, they create another 4.4 million “induced jobs”—teachers, doctors, real estate agents and service workers.

The report calculates the economic impact of the electric power industry at $880 billion—about 5 percent of the nation’s $18 trillion Gross Domestic Product.

The U.S. Department of Energy slices and dices those numbers a different way, shedding a little more light on wind-turbine technicians and other renewable energy jobs.

DOE’s second annual United States Energy and Employment Report released in January views energy jobs more broadly than just electric utilities. It includes careers in energy efficiency, mining and transportation, and concludes: “Rebuilding our energy infrastructure and modernizing the grid, diversifying our energy mix, and reducing our energy consumption in both our built environment and motor vehicles, America’s labor markets are being revitalized by our new energy and transportation technologies.”

Wind power jobs may be growing rapidly, but the DOE report lists solar energy jobs as the largest share of people working on all types of electricity generation. Almost 374,000 people are working in solar power—43 percent of the electricity generation workforce. Wind employs about 100,000 people.

Powering America

Co-ops hire veterans

Those renewable energy jobs are in addition to a raft of other careers in energy, from mining, to energy efficiency, power plant operators, and social media and cyber security specialists. Jobs at electric co-ops especially offer openings in cutting-edge careers, says Michelle Rostom, director of workforce development for NRECA.

“There are a lot of great opportunities at co-ops,” says Rostom, noting that electric co-ops expect to hire as many as 25,000 new employees in the next five years. “Electric co-ops are doing a lot of research on integrating solar power and wind with coal and other cutting-edge solutions. There are opportunities to be part of the next generation of the energy industry.”

Part of the reason those jobs will be available is that the large Baby Boom Generation is retiring—Rostom says 6,000 co-op employees retired last year. Other parts of the energy industry went through that wave of retirements several years ago, but Rostom says it’s just catching up with electric co-ops. “People stay at the co-op for so long because they’re great jobs, with interesting work, a chance to grow professionally in a lot of different areas and they have a strong connection with their local communities,” says Rostom.

Electric co-ops formally addressed that need to hire more talent when NRECA set its six strategic objectives, one of which is to develop the “Next Generation Workforce.”  In 2006, NRECA joined with other national groups to form the Center for Energy Workforce Development as a way of making sure jobs get filled with high-quality workers.

NRECA sees military veterans as part of the solution: Another part of Rostom’s job is coordinator of NRECA’s Serve Our Co-ops; Serve Our Country veterans hiring initiative.

“Veterans have always been a core part of our co-op workforce, and this program creates additional intent to hire more veterans,” she says. “Veterans are mission oriented, disciplined and safety-focused… They show strong leadership capabilities and they work well under pressure.”

Rostom adds that the experience veterans bring to their jobs matches the culture of the local, member-owned electric co-ops: “There are a lot of parallels between the military and cooperative principles, like teamwork, autonomy, independence and community.”

Locally, co-ops employee more than 2,600 Tennesseans, and we are always hiring. Visit tnelectric.org/about/careers/ to learn more.

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Tennessee’s electric co-ops issue statement on TVA board nominations

[NASHVILLE] – Today President Donald Trump announced that he would nominate Kenneth E. Allen of Kentucky, James R. Thompson III of Alabama, A. D. Frazier of Georgia and Jeffrey Smith of Tennessee for the TVA board. David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association, made the following statement:

“Decisions made by the TVA board have a major impact on Tennessee’s 23 electric cooperatives and our 2.1 million consumer-owners. We believe that qualified and experienced leadership is critical to the agency’s success. TVA is an important partner in our mission to provide safe, reliable and affordable energy across rural and suburban Tennessee, and we look forward to working with these nominees.”

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Tennessee Co-ops send aid to Florida, Georgia

Volunteer lineworkers from 11 electric cooperatives to participate in restoration effort following massive hurricane

NASHVILLE – More than 90 electric cooperative lineworkers from Tennessee are heading to Florida and Georgia to restore power to those affected by Hurricane Irma.

“Eleven electric cooperatives in Tennessee are sending personnel and equipment to Florida and Georgia to assist electric cooperatives impacted by this incredible storm,” said David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association.

Tennessee crews have been making plans since last week, but co-ops were hesitant to commit crews until the remnants of Hurricane Irma moved through Tennessee. With the storm passed, some crews have already left and others are making final preparations to leave for hard-hit Florida and Georgia. This cooperation is enabled through mutual-aid agreements among electric cooperatives.

“On more than one occasion our friends from other states have offered assistance following tornados and ice storms,” says Callis. “We are glad to repay their kindness. Cooperation is one of the founding principles of electric cooperatives. It is what makes us different from other utilities.”

Crews from Tennessee are joining some 5,000 electric cooperative workers from 25 states who are converging this week on the hurricane’s impact zone. This represents one of the largest coordinated electric restoration efforts in history.

“We invite you to keep these co-op heroes in your thoughts and prayers,” says Callis, “Today they are lacing up their boots, leaving their families and heading to a difficult and dangerous environment. Our lineworkers are second-to-none, and we are very proud of their desire to help those in need.”

 

Crews already departed:

  • 12 lineworkers from Appalachian Electric Cooperative, New Market
  • 8 lineworkers from Holston Electric Cooperative, Rogersville
  • 9 lineworkers from Plateau Electric Cooperative, Onieda

 

Departing today, Sept. 12, at 1:00 p.m.:

 

  • 12 lineworkers from Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation, Murfreesboro
  • 4 lineworkers from Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative, Centerville
  • 9 lineworkers from Fr. Loudoun Electric Cooperative, Vonore
  • 9 lineworkers from Cumberland Electric Membership Corporation, Clarksville

 

Departing Wednesday, Sept. 13, at 8:00 a.m.:

 

  • 9 lineworkers from Fayetteville Public Utilities, Fayetteville
  • 12 lineworkers from Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative, South Pittsburg
  • 8 lineworkers from Gibson Electric Membership Corporation, Trenton
  • 8 lineworkers from Tennessee Valley Electric Cooperative, Savannah

Tennessee’s electric cooperatives prepare to assist states impacted by Hurricane Irma

[NASHVILLE] – Electric cooperatives across Tennessee today are monitoring the track of Hurricane Irma and preparing to assist in the recovery efforts if needed.

Electric cooperatives from 17 states, including co-ops in Tennessee, have spent the week developing a plan to assist in the recovery of areas impacted by the dangerous storm. “We work days ahead of events like this to organize resources, line up volunteers and make travel and lodging arrangements,” says Todd Blocker, vice president of member services for the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association and coordinator of cooperative mutual aid for the state. “Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi will provide assistance to Florida, and our crews will likely assist coastal Georgia and South Carolina. These plans may change as we get more information on the track of the storm and extent of the damage.”

The storm is expected to bring significant wind and rain to portions of Tennessee early next week, so volunteer crews will not be released until the remnants of the storm have passed. “Restoring service to our own members will be our priority,” adds Blocker.

“Tennessee lineworkers have provided assistance to several states in recent years,” says David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “Our crews have a reputation for responding quickly, working safely and showing compassion to those who have been impacted. We appreciate our employees’ desire to serve and wish them well in the days to come.”

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Rural communities have a voice in Washington

Given the incessant news out of Washington highlighting partisan bickering and gridlock in Congress, it can be hard to tell whether our elected leaders are listening and being responsive to the concerns of rural Americans. That’s why America’s electric cooperatives urged members to get out and vote in the last election and are now focused on advancing the interests of rural communities in our nation’s capital. We’ve asked for a seat at the table—a request that’s been met with some success.

Early this year, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), our national service organization in Washington, led a group of more than 40 organizations in sending a letter to President Trump asking him to make rural issues a top priority of his administration. “As you witnessed first-hand during the campaign, the issues facing rural America are no less significant than those facing urban parts of the country, but can be more easily overlooked because America’s small towns and rural areas make up just 15 percent of the nation’s population,” the groups wrote.

To address this concern, the organizations urged the president to designate a senior member of the White House staff to take point on rural issues or establish an office of rural policy within the Executive Office of the President. In response to this and other electric cooperative outreach efforts, the president in late April signed an executive order establishing an inter-agency Rural America Task Force to examine the issues facing rural America and identify actions needed to address them.

NRECA CEO Jim Matheson called the creation of the task force “a key step as we seek to develop rural communities economically. That includes implementing new energy technologies to meet tomorrow’s energy needs, while also deploying broadband and other services to enhance daily lives throughout rural America.”

Electric cooperatives also have been weighing in on another big topic in Washington: the need to improve the nation’s aging infrastructure. Co-ops have told policymakers that they must look beyond merely repairing roads and bridges if a federal infrastructure initiative is going to meet the needs of rural communities. High on co-ops’ list of priorities is closing the rural-urban digital divide by expanding rural access to high-speed Internet service, which Matheson calls “a key ingredient for a healthy 21st century economy, particularly in rural areas.”

Given this imperative, co-ops were very pleased when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) appointed Matheson to serve on a newly created Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee. The mission of the panel, which held its inaugural meeting in April, is to advise and make recommendations to the FCC on how to accelerate the deployment of broadband by reducing and removing regulatory barriers to infrastructure investment. Matheson will work to ensure that rural needs are addressed.

This isn’t to say that everything in Washington will go co-ops’ way. The federal government is a massive bureaucracy with many interests vying for attention. But there’s one thing you can count on: Electric cooperatives will fight to make their voices heard on Capitol Hill and within the many federal agencies that impact the quality of life in rural communities. They’ll always strive to get a seat at the table.

Dan Riedinger 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.

Renewable energy growth

How we got here and the challenges that lie ahead

Here’s how big solar energy has gotten: the eclipse coming up on August 21 has utilities making plans to avoid power outages when the moon blocks the sun for two minutes and 40 seconds over the middle of North America.

No, you don’t need to worry about losing electricity—your local electric cooperative knows the eclipse is coming and will keep the power flowing. But that astronomical event does show how renewable energy is starting to make a difference as solar and wind power elbow their way into the more traditional electricity fuels of coal, natural gas and nuclear power.

“Electric Industry Generation, Capacity and Market Outlook,” a new report by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), describes those changes and what they will mean for electric co-ops.

“The (U.S. Department of Energy’s) Energy Information Administration (EIA) projects that by 2018, non-hydroelectric renewables will be about 10 percent of the generation mix, which is a really big deal,” says Lauren Khair, an NRECA regional economic analyst and one of the authors of the report. “Back in 2008, just to give you an idea, the share of non-hydro renewables was around 3 percent.”

But the rapid rise is only half the story. Wind and solar also generate electricity differently, and that has utilities making changes in the incredibly complicated system of generation and transmission.

Solar eclipse lessons

Then the moon moves in front of the sun during an eclipse, “Solar shuts off very quickly,” says Michael Leitman, NRECA strategic analyst. “Then it comes right back to full power.” That can cause problems for an electric grid designed to generate power exactly when it’s needed, and to keep that electricity at a consistent frequency.

Traditional baseload resources, like coal, nuclear and natural gas, provide stability to the electric grid and prevent sudden shifts in frequency. Due to their intermittent nature, wind and solar do not automatically provide these benefits. As the share of wind and solar grows, this becomes more problematic. Luckily, new inverter technologies are emerging that can provide synthetic inertia to help alleviate this problem, in conjunction with more natural gas resources, which are more flexible than coal at adjusting to sudden shifts in supply and demand. Further, these flexible resources can ramp up faster when the sun stops shining or wind stops blowing.

The organization responsible for assuring resource adequacy of the electric grid, the North American Electric Reliability Council (NERC), issued a report suggesting that utilities prepare for the eclipse. NERC singles out California and North Carolina as states that are both near the path of the total eclipse, and that also rely on a lot of solar power. NERC says those states should “perform detailed studies and retain necessary resources to meet the increased and varying load” as the expected drop in solar will call for more electricity from other sources during those few minutes. The path of the total eclipse in North America will start in Oregon at 10:15 a.m. Pacific time and move across the country during the next hour-and-a-half, leaving South Carolina at 2:49 p.m. Eastern time. A partial eclipse will affect a much wider band along that route.

Government policies for renewable energy

Government policies are a big reason for the expansion of renewable energy. Solar and wind power grew rapidly due to federal tax credits in 2012, slowed when they were expected to be discontinued, then picked up when the credits were extended. The tax credits even affect the time of year that renewable energy projects are built. As NRECA’s report states, “Most renewable projects are completed in the fourth quarter of the year, due in part to the timing of qualifications for federal, state or local tax incentives.” Projections for renewable energy show strong growth until 2020, then leveling off for several years as tax credits begin to expire. Renewable growth is projected to strengthen again around 2026 as electricity demand growth continues and more coal power plants are expected to retire.

State governments also help the growth of renewables, with laws setting targets for renewable energy use, known as Renewable Portfolio Standards. Although the federal tax incentives are a primary factor for renewable projects, Renewable Portfolio Standards are another important driver. Renewable Portfolio Standards have been adopted by 29 states and Washington, D.C., with several others adopting voluntary standards.

Cheaper and better technology

Improved technology and lower prices are also pushing renewable energy growth. The NRECA report says, “States have been able to meet or surpass these [Renewable Portfolio] standards, in part because of declining costs of solar and wind … utility-scale solar costs for crystalline panels dropped 85 percent and utility-scale wind costs dropped 66 percent in the last seven years.”

More transmission lines needed

Large-scale wind and solar installations tend to sit in wide-open spaces, so the electricity needs new transmission lines to get to where people live. The transmission system also needs to accommodate renewable energy generated only when the wind blows or sun shines. “The increase in variable generation to the wholesale market has led to increasing concerns about transmission congestion,” says the NRECA report. The report cites one estimate, from Edison Electric Institute, that investor-owned utilities plan to spend $22 billion this year on transmission projects, noting another speed bump to the development of renewable energy: “As transmission projects become more difficult to site due to environmental concerns, land availability, local opposition and other constraints, planners will need to find innovative ways to meet these challenges.”

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.

Predicting the future of power outages

Predicting the future is the stuff of science fiction movies. However, sci-fi often finds its way into our everyday lives. Researchers and the nation’s utilities have been working on a variety of systems to predict where on the utility system an outage could occur.

Power outages are inconvenient to most and costly to many. Outages can happen for many reasons. Watch this quick video to learn about the most common causes of power outages.

A careless driver can run into a pole. A strong storm can push a tree into the lines. An unlucky squirrel can find himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. However, many outages are a result of aging infrastructure. The amount of equipment on a typical distribution line is immense. Electric cooperatives maintain hundreds of miles of distribution lines that must be patrolled and inspected. This is often a time consuming and labor intensive process. But what if there was a better way?

America’s electric cooperatives are working with a variety of the nation’s leading universities and technology vendors to test different systems that can predict when and where an outage will occur before co-op members experience the outage. These systems typically work by recording a disturbance in the system. These disturbances are short-lived and appear as waveforms. They can be compared to the device that records the human heart. Each waveform has a unique characteristic, which would be similar to a fingerprint. For example, a tree branch rubbing against a distribution line looks different than a cracked or damaged piece of equipment.

However, figuring out where on the system the issues are happening and how critical the issue is have been a challenge. Co-ops are testing systems developed by universities and major corporations to help solve the problem. In the fall of 2017, a group of electric co-ops will embark on a test of a new system developed by one of the world’s leading engineering companies to help improve reliability and lower costs.

Universities and vendors often come to electric cooperatives to test new products because of the nimbleness of co-ops and their unrelenting commitment to improving the lives of those they serve.

As these technologies advance, predicting the future, or at least future power outages, may not seem so far-fetched.

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Tennessee delegate named youth tour spokesperson

Aaron Lay, a senior at Sequoyah High School, was named national spokesperson for the Washington Youth Tour.

Sponsored by local electric cooperatives and coordinated by the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Youth Tour brings thousands of high school seniors to the nation’s capital each summer to learn about public policy, rural issues and cooperatives. Lay was a 2017 Youth Tour delegate from Fort Loudoun Electric Cooperative.

More than 1,800 delegates from across the country participated in the 2017 Washington Youth Tour. Lay was named Tennessee’s representative to the Youth Leadership Council in June and recently appointed national spokesperson.

“We are celebrating this great accomplishment with Aaron,” says Jarrod Brackett, CEO of Fort Loudoun Electric Cooperative. “This is a great reminder that rural Tennessee students are second to none. We know that Aaron will be an excellent representative of our state and our co-op.”

Lay will address some 8,000 attendees of the 2018 National Rural Electric Cooperative Association annual meeting in Nashville to share his experiences from the Youth Tour.

“We are excited about Aaron’s selection as national spokesperson for the Youth Tour,” says David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “He stood out on Youth Tour as a leader among leaders, and we are excited to see how he uses his talents to tell the story of rural Tennessee.”

Aaron is the son of Butch and Lisa Lay of Madisonville.

 

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Move Over

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

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

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

 

moveoverinfographic

Outage management technologies improve reliability

“The only things certain in life are death and taxes,” the old saying goes. Well, we can add another to the list: power outages. An outage can range from annoying to dangerous, depending upon its timing and length.

Your local electric cooperative’s primary goal is to deliver the highest possible quality of electric service at the lowest possible price. Perhaps the key measure of quality in the eyes of members is the number of times their lights blink or go out.

Let’s talk a bit about how the grid is designed as a backdrop to how technology is improving reliability by reducing blinks and outages. Along the power lines that bring electricity to your home, the co-op installs protective devices in the form of fuses and reclosers (high-voltage circuit breakers). Fuses and reclosers serve the same purpose as the fuses and circuit breakers in your home.

A fuse is a one-shot device. When a fault occurs, the fuse blows, and everyone “downstream” from it loses power. Reclosers are multishot devices, meaning they can operate a certain number of times before they stay open and an outage occurs. A common setting is what’s known as a triple-shot. Here’s how that works: A tree limb contacts the power lines and creates a fault. The recloser senses it and opens, creating the first blink. Here’s where a recloser differs from your home circuit breaker. The recloser waits a certain amount of a time (typically a few seconds), then recloses to try and complete the circuit. If the fault is still there, the recloser opens again. This creates the second blink. Triple-shot settings allow the device to reclose a third time and, if the fault is still there, it stays open, and the members downstream experience a power outage.

Blinks are nuisances, but they eliminate a lot of extended outages by protecting wires and equipment from serious damage.

So, what kind of technology is improving service reliability? The smart grid is spawning an amazing array of equipment and software that are already improving reliability. When combined with field construction practices like building multiple ways to feed power loads and the deployment of advanced metering systems (AMI), the future of reliability is bright — pun intended.

Electric co-ops are starting to use more of what are called intelligent electronic devices. “Intelligent” basically means a co-op can program the device to behave a certain way when a specific event occurs. It also means the co-op can remotely command the device to take an action, either preprogrammed or ad hoc.

Eventually, there will be a power outage — despite your cooperative’s best efforts. That is where AMI and an outage management system (OMS) earn their keep. The basic element of an AMI is a meter that can communicate with your electric co-op. The OMS maps system data and meter locations into a piece of software that models the electric grid. When a device on the grid reports loss of power, the OMS runs calculations to determine the exact location of the fault and the number of members impacted.

Now, the whole suite of systems your co-op uses comes into play. The co-op dispatcher can call out or redirect a crew to the exact location of the problem. A map of the outage and number of impacted members is generated, and member service reps are notified that an outage is in progress. Members who have signed up for it might receive a text stating there’s an outage and another when power is restored.

The end result of all this technology is the minimization of outages and their length, plus more availability of up-to-date information for the consumer.

Mother Nature is a tough opponent, and it’s impossible to eliminate outages and blinks altogether. But with the way technology is advancing, we can expect to see some remarkable improvements.