Don’t fall victim to energy scams

By T.J. Kirk

Across the U.S., cases of fraud and identity theft are at all-time highs. In 2014 alone, there were over 40,000 cases of phone- or utilities-related fraud, or 118 cases every day. Energy scams are becoming more sophisticated and prevalent, and it’s possible for anyone to be tricked by them. The best way to stay safe is to be aware of some of the common ploys, be suspicious of free energy claims and to contact your electric cooperative if anything seems amiss.

Phone scams

In summer of 2012, thousands of consumers from coast-to-coast, including members at electric cooperatives, fell prey to a telephone scam promising bogus help with energy bills. The criminals claimed that President Obama had authorized a special federal program to pay electric bills. Then, they asked each victim to provide personal information, such as a bank routing number or a Social Security number to receive the payment. Although this particular scam has run its course, scammers are always coming up with new stories to steal consumers’ personal information.

Email

We’ve all come to realize that today is not the day a Nigerian prince gives us his fortune, but many people don’t realize how much more sophisticated scam emails have become. Many of these emails will mimic emails from legitimate sources and contain personal information such as your name, address, bank name and more. Unfortunately this information is not difficult to find and can make otherwise sensible people send back sensitive information or click a link in the email. If you open an email that you suspect is a scam or asks for private information, you can always call your utility to confirm its authenticity. Just don’t click the link first.

Door to door

Even in the digital age, there are still scams being perpetuated face to face. Typically these scams target the elderly or people who may not speak English well, who may be easier to intimidate. Claiming to be from the utility (or associated in some way), they will tell you that something is wrong (bill past due, equipment missing or broken) and that you need to pay them money immediately or be disconnected. Electric cooperatives do not demand payment like this in the field and do not go to a member’s house unless there is a scheduled appointment. Again, if you want to check if the person at your door is a utility employee, call your electric cooperative.

Product scams

We’ve all been taught that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. This is almost always the case with “miracle” devices that claim to reduce energy use without providing a sensible explanation for how they work. In May 2008, the Texas Office of Attorney General took legal action against a firm offering what it called the Xpower Energy Saver or Mega Power Saver – a $300 small gray box that plugged into an electrical outlet at your home and promised to cut electric bills by 10 percent. Testing by the University of Texas in Austin revealed these devices couldn’t deliver their promised savings. In addition, the lab revealed that the products are, in reality, ordinary capacitors. Capacitors are regularly used by electricians, and they can be purchased for less than $20. While this gadget is now off the market, you can be sure that similar products will spring up to take its place.

Avoid energy scams with these tips:

  • Always guard your personal accounting and banking information, and never share this information with family, friends or strangers.
  • Remember – your electric cooperative will NEVER call and ask for sensitive personal information over the phone.
  • Only use methods authorized by your electric cooperative to pay your bills.
  • Cooperative employees visit a home only in response to a service request. If a service call has not been scheduled or requested, do not allow the person to enter your house.
  • When an employee does respond to a service call, check identification and make sure the service truck is clearly marked with the proper logo.

By following these steps, you can avoid falling for many common energy scams, and if you are looking to save money on your energy bill, or understand your bill better, contact your local electric cooperative. They can help you find real ways to save.

Thomas Kirk is a technical research analyst specializing in energy efficiency and renewable energy for the Cooperative Research Network (CRN), a service of the Arlington, Va.-based National Rural Electric Cooperative Association

Look up for hazards during harvest

After working in a field on a neighbor’s farm, Jim Flach parked his equipment and stepped out of the vehicle. Sadly, Jim did not realize his equipment was touching an overhead power line, and he became a path for the electrical current as he placed his foot onto the ground. Jim received a severe electric shock that ultimately resulted in his death a few months later. Safe Electricity urges farmers to take the proper precautions when working around power lines.

“The rush to harvest can lead to farmers working long days with little sleep,” cautions Kyla Kruse, communications director of the Energy Education Council and its Safe Electricity program. “It is important to take time for safety. Before starting work, make sure to note the location of overhead power lines.”

To stay safe around overhead power lines, Safe Electricity urges farm operators and workers to:

  • Use a spotter when operating large machinery near power lines.
  • Use care when raising augers or the bed of grain trucks around power lines.
  • Keep equipment at least 10 feet from power lines — at all times, in all directions.
  • Inspect the height of farm equipment to determine clearance.
  • Always remember to lower extensions when moving loads.
  • Never attempt to move a power line out of the way or raise it for clearance.
  • If a power line is sagging or low, call your local electric cooperative.

If contact is made with a power line, stay on the equipment. Make sure to warn others to stay away, and call 911. Do not leave until the utility crew says it is safe to do so. The only reason to exit is if the equipment is on fire. If this is the case, jump off the equipment with your feet together, without touching the ground and vehicle at the same time. Then, still keeping your feet together, hop to safety as you leave the area.

Some additional safety tips from Safe Electricity include:

  • Do not use metal poles when breaking up bridged grain inside and around grain bins.
  • Always hire qualified electricians for any electrical issues.
  • Do not use equipment with frayed cables.

“You need to double check, even triple check, to see what is above you,” says Marilyn Flach, Jim’s widow. His son Brett adds, “Be conscious of your surroundings. You need to keep your eyes open and beware of overhead lines.”

For more electrical safety information, visit SafeElectricity.org.

Safe Electricity is the safety outreach program of the Energy Education Council, a non-profit organization with more than 400 electric cooperative members and many others who share the mission of educating the public about electrical safety and energy efficiency.

Magazine wins awards

The Tennessee Magazine recently received an Award of Merit for Best Entertaining Feature and a first place award for Best Website in the 2015 National Electric Cooperative Statewide Editors Association (SEA) Willies Awards.

“I’m very proud of the work we produce at TECA,” says Robin Conover. “There are some very good communications programs among the electric cooperative statewide associations. We push each other to do our very best work.”

The 2015 Willies Awards (named in honor of “Willie Wiredhand”) were presented during the SEA Institute, held Aug. 1-5 in Portland, Ore. The annual competition drew more than 300 entries from 23 cooperative publications nationwide.

Congratulations to the TECA communications staff: Robin Conover, Chris Kirk, Ron Bell, Susan Pilgreen and Trent Scott.

Statement on Clean Power Plan

NASHVILLE, Aug. 3, 2015 – The Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association, an organization representing Tennessee’s not-for-profit, member-owned electric cooperatives and the more than 1.1 million homes, farms and businesses they serve, made the following statement about the Environmental Protection Agency’s final Clean Power Plan rule.

“We are disappointed that the EPA continues to ignore the burden these regulations will have on Tennessee families and businesses,” says David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “We will continue to advocate for a solution that strikes a balance between a healthy environment and a healthy economy.”

“The EPA rule fails to consider the impact to electric rates and reliability. That’s a risky move,” says Callis. “Affordable and reliable energy is critical to Tennessee’s economy, and any regulation that overlooks that fact is incomplete and ill–advised.”

“The modifications to the Clean Power Plan accelerate the pace of emissions reductions and discounts the efforts that have already been made,” says Callis.

In 2014 Tennessee’s electric cooperatives coordinated a grassroots campaign calling on the EPA to ensure that affordable and reliable energy was protected. More than 14,000 electric consumers in Tennessee responded during the EPA’s comment period on the Clean Power Plan.

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

UPDATE – TECA has learned that the EPA will allow TVA to count new generation from Watts Bar nuclear plant toward state CO2 emission reduction requirements. TECA and NRECA will continue to monitor the plan and evaluate the impact it will have on Tennessee co-op members.

 

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Contact:
Trent Scott | Director of Corporate Strategy | tscott@tnelectric.org | 731.608.1519

Co-ops Pull Together

Some 25,000 people attended the 2015 Lions’ Club Super Pull of the South in Chapel Hill on Friday and Saturday, July 24 and 25. The event was sponsored by the Touchstone Energy Cooperatives of Tennessee and TECA.

More than 70 volunteers from eight of Tennessee’s 10 Touchstone Energy Cooperatives volunteered to make the event a success. Each participating co-op as well as TECA and The Tennessee Magazine had displays set up and greeted co-op members from across the state. The Touchstone Energy hot air balloon team flew over the stands with the American flag during the opening ceremony and gave tethered rides each evening.

“The Chapel Hill Lions Club was extremely appreciative of Touchstone Energy and TECA sponsorships and the involvement of the electric co-ops. It was a record-setting event with huge crowds each night,” says Steve Oden, director of member services for Duck River EMC. “Thanks goes to the more than 70 employee volunteers from eight Touchstone electric cooperatives who helped make the brand shine.”

“It was great to see so many of our co-ops work together on this event,” says David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “The partnerships between Touchstone Energy, participating co-ops and TECA allowed us to have a presence and reach our members in ways that no single co-op could have done. We hope this is the first of many opportunities for co-ops to partner and tell our story.”

Touchstone Energy produced the video below as a part of their On Tour project. You can read more about their experience in Chapel Hill at ontour.touchstoneenergy.com.

The electric grid connects us all

The energy industry is in the midst of an unprecedented period of transition. As this energy revolution unfolds, a modern, interconnected and reliable electric grid has never been more important.

In April, Elon Musk, the charismatic billionaire CEO of Tesla, introduced a new lithium ion battery called the PowerWall. In typical fashion for this brash tech entrepreneur, Musk paints a rosy picture of a future where homeowners disconnect from the power grid and meet all their power needs through a combination of rooftop solar and battery storage.

It’s exciting to imagine a future where renewable energy systems will allow us to generate and store electricity in a reliable and cost-effective way. Though there are many working hard to realize that goal – including electric cooperatives – it is still a long way from reality.

Unlike gasoline or propane, electricity is a form of energy that is difficult to store in large quantities. Batteries can hold enough energy to power small devices for moderate amounts of time, but current battery technology cannot practically and economically store enough energy to power larger items like appliances and TVs for longer durations.

We don’t know when the cost, size, quality and reliability of battery storage will improve to the point that it becomes a viable option to help meet our energy needs. If/when that happens, it has the potential to transform countless aspects of our lives, from our smartphones to our cars to our electric system.

The lack of a viable option for large-scale energy storage creates another challenge for power companies. Electricity supply and demand must always be perfectly matched.

If you’re a farmer, imagine what your job would be like if you couldn’t store your product – not even for a short period of time until a truck could come to pick it up. Imagine if the grain you grow or the milk your cows produce had to instantly go from harvest to consumption. Lastly, imagine that the demand for your product never stops and varies wildly throughout the day, but you always had to produce the exact right amount with no shortages or overages. That’s what electric cooperatives do every day to keep the lights on.

To meet this challenge, power companies rely on a complex and interconnected electric grid to deliver power to homes and businesses across America the instant that it’s needed. The electricity powering the lamp that you’re using to read this article was generated a fraction of a second before it was delivered to your home – most likely at a power plant far away from where you live.

These same challenges are true for people who want to generate electricity at their homes or businesses through technologies such as solar panels, small wind turbines and manure digesters that produce methane.

It’s unlikely that the amount of available sunshine, wind or manure is always perfectly matched to your immediate energy needs. Sometimes the sun is shining brightly when nobody is home, but most people still want electricity after the sun goes down. That’s where the electric grid comes into play.

By staying connected to the electric grid, your home is part of a larger system. You can usually feed extra energy back into it when you don’t need it, but more importantly, the grid is there to make sure you always have enough power when you need it.

In addition, the interconnected nature of the grid means that when there’s a problem with a generator on the system – whether that’s a homeowner’s rooftop solar array or a large power plant supplying energy to hundreds of thousands – there are plenty of other generation resources available to step in and quickly meet the need.

In some ways, the electric grid is the ultimate example of a cooperative. Every power company, from electric co-ops to investor-owned utilities to government-run systems, must work together across state lines to ensure there is always enough energy to power our lives.

Electric cooperatives are leaders in the renewable energy revolution. Three of the top four solar utilities in America are electric cooperatives. The vast majority of wind turbines in this country are built in rural areas served by cooperatives. In fact, America’s electric cooperatives support an entire team of researchers who work on issues related to renewable energy, power reliability and future technology.

Great leaders always look to the future but remain grounded in practical reality. Great leaders look out for everybody they serve and strive to ensure their actions will serve the greater good. These are the same qualities that make electric cooperatives special. Though our nation’s energy future is uncertain, there’s no doubt that America’s electric cooperatives are helping to write it – and doing so with our members’ best interests driving every action we take.

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.

FPU’s telecom customer growth holding steady

With rate changes due to annual programming cost increases, Fayetteville Public Utilities’ (FPU) Telecom Department continues to show steady growth and sustainability in customer retention.

“The cable and Internet industries receive a lot of “churn” due to cable or satellite dish contracts and customers’ relocations, but what continues to be FPU’s best-selling point is the quality of service we provide our customers 24 hours a day,” says FPU’s CEO and General Manager Britt Dye. “We work with residential and commercial customers every day to offer the best solutions for their telecom needs.”

Because FPU has a unique position in the industry of providing multiple utility services, customers who apply for new utilities and live in a serviceable area for the utility’s telecom services are most likely to choose FPU as their cable, Internet, and phone service provider above other competitors.

FPU’s Telecom Department continues to plan for future telecom expansions in rural county areas in order to reach residents who do not have access to high-speed Internet service. In many of these areas, FPU is able to offer fiber-to-the-home service. FPU also continues to expand its EPON (Ethernet Passive Optical Network) service to local commercial and industrial customers to offer greater bandwidth for business applications.

Co-op leaders meet with White House officials on efficiency and renewables

(ARLINGTON, VA.) — David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of TECA, was joined by Appalachian Electric Cooperative Manager Greg Williams and North Georgia Electric Membership Corporation Manager Katheryn West today in a meeting with White House officials in Washington, D.C., to discuss recent progress and potential collaboration on efficiency and renewable energy development. The Tennessee co-ops were among 30 cooperatives invited to attend the meeting with officials from the White House Rural Council and the USDA’s Rural Utilities Service.

“We had a productive conversation about how we can build the value of current federal programs and find more opportunities to bring the benefits of new efficiency and renewable energy technologies to our members,” said Callis.

Nationwide co-ops have been rapidly adding renewable energy capacity to the rural electric grid.  The nation’s more than 900 co-ops own or purchase about 16.5 gigawatts of renewable capacity and plan to add 2 GW of capacity in the near future. Cooperatives lead the nation in the development of community solar energy.

In addition to renewable energy development, co-ops are pursuing energy efficiency programs and innovations to help members reduce their bills. TECA is working with its member co-ops to develop a loan program to assist low-income homeowners with efficiency improvements. Tennessee co-ops view efficiency as a key component in a broader strategy to meet the challenges of growing electricity demand and rising costs.

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

2015 E&O Conference

TECA and the Kentucky Association of Electric Cooperatives jointly hosted the 2015 Engineering, Operations, and District Managers Conference at the Music Road Hotel and Resort in Pigeon Forge on Thursday and Friday, July 16 and 17. In attendance were 40 Tennessee co-op employees, 38 Kentucky co-op employees and 23 exhibitors. The conference was kicked off by a welcome from Holston Electric Cooperative’s General Manager Jimmy Sandlin. Attendees received industry updates from the Rural Utility Service, Job, Training and Safety, the Kentucky Association of Electric Cooperatives and the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association.  The West Tennessee fiber network, solar power, building and facility security ArcFlash protection and OSHA regulations were also discussed.

“Attending the E&O meeting is important to stay update on rapidly changing and advancing technology that enhances operations of an electric utility, safety issues and regulations,” said Loyd Muncy, Manager of Finance and Administration for Chickasaw Electric Cooperative. “It is a great opportunity to make connections with knowledgeable peers who may one day help me solve issues at my co-op. “

2015 E&O Conference

TECA and the Kentucky Association of Electric Cooperatives jointly hosted the 2015 Engineering, Operations, and District Managers Conference at the Music Road Hotel and Resort in Pigeon Forge on Thursday and Friday, July 16 and 17. In attendance were 40 Tennessee co-op employees, 38 Kentucky co-op employees and 23 exhibitors. The conference was kicked off by a welcome from Holston Electric Cooperative’s General Manager Jimmy Sandlin. Attendees received industry updates from the Rural Utility Service, Job, Training and Safety, the Kentucky Association of Electric Cooperatives and the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association.  The West Tennessee fiber network, solar power, building and facility security ArcFlash protection and OSHA regulations were also discussed.

“Attending the E&O meeting is important to stay update on rapidly changing and advancing technology that enhances operations of an electric utility, safety issues and regulations,” said Loyd Muncy, Manager of Finance and Administration for Chickasaw Electric Cooperative. “It is a great opportunity to make connections with knowledgeable peers who may one day help me solve issues at my co-op. “