What’s in it for “we?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Co-ops are prepared for summer storms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meghaan Evans writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Arlington, Va.-based service arm of the nation’s 900-plus consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives.

2016 Legislative Wrap Up

On Friday, April 22, after several hours of debates and disagreements between the House and the Senate over controversial amendments to bills, the second session of the 109th General Assembly adjourned for the year.

The final days of session often equate to the last days of school for students, and legislators begin to lose some of the normal decorum. One Representative sang a portion “Purple Rain” in honor of the passing of Prince, while another displayed a mixed martial arts belt, saying he brought it to the House chambers because he was “ready to rumble.” Finally, as legislators filed out of the Capitol after their last floor session of 2016, staff members clapped and cheered.

Nevertheless, the legislature had a productive year filled with the passage of legislation that will impact all Tennesseans. Among these include a plan to end the Hall income tax by 2022, approval of a property tax break for disabled veterans, creation of online voter registration and an increase in K-12 school funding of $223 million.

Other hotly debated topics included an attempt by the House to override Governor Haslam’s veto of the legislation making the Bible Tennessee’s official state book (failed), directing the attorney general to sue the federal government over its refugee resettlement program (passed), and defunding the University of Tennessee’s Diversity Office and using the money to pay for minority scholarships (passed).

TECA staff worked diligently this year to ensure that electric co-op interests were protected, and this session was a productive and successful one. Below is an update of the top priorities for TECA this year.

  • Ad Valorem Tax/Unclaimed Property: TECA supported an effort to delete an ad valorem tax exemption and update the unclaimed property process for electric co-ops passed unanimously in both the House (95-0) and Senate (33-0) Chambers. TECA staff is pleased with the smooth passage of this legislation and grateful to the sponsors, Representative Art Swann (R-Maryville) and Senator Ken Yager (R-Kingston), for carrying it on our behalf.
  • Drones Near Infrastructure Facilities: TECA supported a bill that creates a prohibition against using a drone to photograph or video critical infrastructure facilities, such as electric generation and transmission facilities, as well as distribution substations. The bill has passed the full Senate and House, and has been signed by the Governor.
  • Property Assessed Clean Energy Act (PACE): Allowed local governments to lend money to property owners to install distributed generation and energy efficiency improvements, with repayment of the loan being made through a special assessment against the property tax. The legislation was opposed by TECA and other organizations because it ignored the process and requirements of TVA for distributed generation and interconnection, and did not satisfactorily address safety concerns. The legislation was placed in a summer study, and TECA staff will monitor the progress of any study and keep you informed of the outcome.
  • Broadband: Three separate broadband bills were withdrawn this year due to lack of support by the House Business & Utilities Subcommittee. The Broadband Expansion Act, which would have provided electric co-ops retail authority and was supported by TECA, was the first proposal that would have recognized electric co-ops as potential broadband providers. Other failed bills included two that would have authorized municipal electric systems to expand broadband service outside of their service territory. Even though support from the committee was lacking for all three proposals TECA anticipates a compromise proposal to be introduced next year.

Throughout the summer, TECA staff will continue to monitor the progress of the studies being conducted by the Department of Economic and Community Development and the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations, and we remain hopeful that the outcome of the studies will bring Tennessee one step closer to solving the problem of rural broadband access.

Reliable electricity is becoming even more reliable

Your electricity is on almost all the time. You knew that.

But you might not know how much of the time it’s on. And that the amount of time it’s on has been getting better every year.

Electricity has become so reliable that the numbers for a typical American home sound crazy. For most people, the total amount of time without power (an outage) is less than two hours a year—that means their electricity is on 99.977169 percent of the time.

“You can’t have 100 percent reliability all the time on something as large as an electric distribution system,” says Tony Thomas, principal engineer at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. And although U.S. electric service on-time is just a decimal point from perfect, Thomas says, “Reliability has been getting much better.”

To understand the improvements in electric utility reliability, you need to be introduced to what Thomas says are known as “the three sisters:” the acronyms SAIDI, CAIDI and SAIFI.

Those stand for different ways to measure how power outages affect consumers. Here’s what they mean:

SAIDI shows how long an average customer goes without power during a year. It stands for System Average Interruption Duration Index. It’s calculated by dividing all of a utility’s power interruptions by the number of customers that utility serves. Analysts caution against citing a national average SAIDI because of the huge differences in utilities across the country and how data is collected. But a report from the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) puts the typical customer as being without power 115 minutes a year.

SAIDI numbers do not include extremely long or very short outages, since they could drastically skew the results among utilities and make the numbers less useful. Extremely long outages, like those caused by a major storm, can sometimes last more than a day. The short outages that are not included in SAIDI are, for example, cases like a utility circuit breaker quickly opening and closing.

SAIFI shows how often the power goes out for each customer. It stands for System Average Interruption Frequency Index. It’s calculated by dividing the number of customer interruptions by the number of customers.

CAIDI shows the average time it takes to restore power after an outage. It stands for Customer Average Interruption Duration Index. It’s calculated by dividing SAIDI by SAIFI.

All three of those reliability measures have been improving in the past few years, according to IEEE reports. The amount of time a utility customer was without electricity for the year (SAIDI) declined about 20 percent in the most recent four years of figures, from 143 minutes in 2011, to 115 minutes in 2014.

The number of outages per typical consumer in a year (SAIFI) went down from 1.16 to 1.07. And how long each of those outages lasted (CAIDI) declined from 117 minutes in 2011 to 104 minutes in 2014.

Thomas credits advances in utility technology for those improvements.

More and more mechanical electric meters are being replaced with automated smart meters that do more than just measure the bulk use of electricity coming to the meter at your house. They can also monitor whether electricity is delivered to your house at all, as well as the voltage quality of that electricity.

“With automated meters, utilities can know a consumer is out of power before the consumer knows it,” Thomas says.

Another step toward utilities spotting and solving outages faster is the more widespread adoption of high-tech monitoring systems. These SCADA systems (it stands for Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) are typically set up as several computer monitors in a control room, each showing a different view of the utility’s service area, including weather maps and detailed schematics of each power line, substation and home or business served.

“Prices have dropped for SCADA systems, just like for all software in the last few years,” Thomas says. “Utility technology has gotten a lot better in the last 10 years.”

Thomas credits electric cooperatives with making special use of technology to overcome the barriers of long distances between consumer-members. Outages and other routine changes in power flow can be more quickly and easily addressed remotely, without having to make a long drive to a home or substation.

“Rural electric co-ops have done an amazing job of adopting technology and putting it to use,” Thomas says. “And all this technology just translates into better operation of the electric system.”

Rise of Reliability

Rise of Reliability

Paul Wesslund writes on cooperative issues for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Arlington, Va.-based service arm of the nations 900-plus consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives.

Electric co-ops and a culture of safety

There is a children’s book titled Safety 1st, Safety Always. As you can imagine, it encompasses many of the traditional safety lessons parents should teach their children. We drill youngsters about safety from an early age because we know how important it is to protect ourselves and those we care about. In the spirit of May being National Electrical Safety Month, let’s take a look at how electric cooperatives have been stepping up to the plate when it comes to safety at the co-op.

Up until 2007, there was an alarming national trend among electric co-ops, which was the fact that the number of “lost time” accidents was increasing. Lost time is defined as anything resulting in an employee missing time at work; these accidents could range from a sprained ankle to the ultimate tragedy of a fatality.

This is why Federated Rural Electric Insurance Exchange, which insures the vast majority of electric co-ops nationwide, initiated a campaign called a “Culture of Safety.” It was designed to create a much greater awareness about safety issues at all electric co-ops.

Through the use of strategy labs across the country, Federated brought together co-op CEOs and general managers, operations supervisors, safety directors and linemen to better understand how each group viewed safety. In doing so, differences in perceptions regarding safety within cooperatives were identified, allowing for much needed conversations and evaluations of how to raise awareness and improve local safety cultures. The “Speak Up, Listen Up program is designed to empower anyone who sees a potentially unsafe situation to Speak Up and encourages everyone to Listen Up to their concerns. The results have been dramatic, with more than a 30 percent decline in the number of accidents over the past nine years.

As a member, you too have a role. If you see any potential dangerous situations or practices, you should report them as soon as possible to your local electric cooperative.

The implementation and success of the Culture of Safety program demonstrates a very important point. If we are intentional about our actions, we can indeed change the culture in our organizations. The same is true for our families, our teams and any groups we may belong to.

We also know that living our cooperative principles and values is equally important. We have the best business model because it puts you, the member-owner, at the center of our efforts.

We look forward to being your safe electricity provider and energy advisor long into the future. For more information about electric safety, visit everydaysafe.org.

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

Are you prepared for severe weather?

Tennessee’s electric cooperatives are carefully monitoring the tomorrow’s threat of severe weather. Electric co-op crews will be on standby to restore power if outages occur.

The American Red Cross recommends an emergency preparedness kit with these supplies in case of a prolonged or widespread power outage:

  • Water—one gallon per person, per day (3-day supply for evacuation, 2-week supply for home)
  • Food—non-perishable, easy-to-prepare items (3-day supply for evacuation, 2-week supply for home)
  • Flashlight (Do not use candles during a power outage due to the extreme risk of fire.)
  • Battery-powered or hand-crank radio (NOAA Weather Radio, if possible)
  • Extra batteries
  • First aid kit
  • Medications (7-day supply) and required medical items
  • Multi-purpose tool
  • Sanitation and personal hygiene items
  • Copies of personal documents (medication list and pertinent medical information, deed/lease to home, birth certificates, insurance policies)
  • Cell phone with chargers
  • Family and emergency contact information
  • Extra cash
  • If someone in your home is dependent on electric-powered, life-sustaining equipment, remember to include backup power in your evacuation plan
  • Keep a non-cordless telephone in your home. It is likely to work even when the power is out.
  • Keep your car’s gas tank full.


Tennessee’s electric cooperatives also remind members to stay away from downed wires or damaged electric equipment and to use caution when running a generator.

Click here to find contact information for your local electric cooperative.


On the Safe Side from Touchstone Energy Cooperatives on Vimeo.

James Baker Recalled as Co-op Giant

Former NRECA President James O. Baker Dead at 77

By Derrill Holly, ECT.coop

James O. Baker, a former NRECA president and longtime Tennessee co-op executive who helped shape the nation’s rural electric cooperative program for more than a generation, died April 11. He was 77.

Baker began his career at Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Cooperative in 1960 as a newly minted electrical engineer, fresh from Vanderbilt University. Over the years, he was an active and visionary champion of co-op issues in Tennessee and at the national level through NRECA.

“Co-op leaders often say that we are ‘standing on the shoulders of giants.’ Mr. Baker was truly one of those giants,” said David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “He was a servant and a leader who had great passion for the people of rural Tennessee.”

James O. Baker, NRECA President (left) and Martin Lowery, NRECA staff greet members during NRECA’s 1997 annual meeting. (Photo By: NRECA)

James O. Baker, NRECA President (left) and Martin Lowery, NRECA staff greet members during NRECA’s 1997 annual meeting. (Photo By: NRECA)

The Donelson, Tenn., native spent much of his life in Murfreesboro, where he worked 19 years in Middle Tennessee EMC’s engineering department before becoming assistant general manager in 1979. He assumed the co-op’s presidency the following year and held that post until his retirement in 2003.

“Mr. Baker’s leadership helped build one of the nation’s strongest electric systems to serve the members of Middle Tennessee Electric, and our cooperative continues to benefit as a result,” said Chris Jones, the current president and CEO of the Murfreesboro-based co-op. “Our thoughts and prayers are with Mr. Baker’s daughter, Connie; his son, Mark; and all of the family.”

Baker became Tennessee’s representative on the NRECA board in 1985, and was elected to numerous leadership posts in the 1990s, serving as president for two years beginning in 1997.

“Jim was a strong advocate of strategic planning and served as the chair of the NRECA board strategic planning committee prior to being elected to the officer ranks of NRECA,” said Martin Lowery, NRECA executive vice president, member and association relations. “I remember very clearly his perspective on planning in his often-used phrase, ‘What gets focused on gets done.’ ”

According to NRECA officials, Baker’s influence in strengthening the association’s resolutions process to provide guidance for member co-ops on critical policy issues was among his major achievements.

He was also the driving force behind the creation of NRECA’s transmission and distribution engineering committee in 1991, which continues to keep co-ops current with changing technology and helps the Rural Utilities Service maintain its support for engineering standards.

“Throughout his tenure on the NRECA board, Jim was always looked up to by his fellow board members as a soft-spoken leader and voice of unity,” Lowery said.

Become a Co-op Voter

When was the last time you voted?

As member-owned electric cooperatives, voting is already in our DNA. It’s how we maintain an electric utility which is responsive to the consumers it serves. But voting also plays a crucial part in our representative democracy. Federal, state and local elections offer an opportunity to exercise a civic responsibility — to select the best leaders for our communities.

Yet in places all over America, even those served by electric cooperatives, citizens aren’t exercising that right.

In the 2012 national elections, voter turnout dropped overall, but the decline in rural counties was 18 percent—twice that of the nation as a whole.

And when voters miss the chance to vote, they also lose the opportunity to communicate their concern to our leaders about the issues that matter to us, where we work, live, and raise families.

Reliable electricity, access to rural broadband and the quality of our healthcare system are just a few issues we all care about. Still, they only become priorities if enough people show elected officials that they are paying attention. Registering to vote and voting are the most effective ways to send this message.

When we go to the polls with the cooperative principle of “Concern for Community” in mind, we instantly improve our political system. It’s a system designed to produce a government “of the people, by the people and for the people.” People like you and me.

I’d like you to join me in a new initiative to get every eligible person registered to vote—you, me, our family and friends—and take the pledge to BECOME A CO-OP VOTER.

America’s electric cooperatives are launching a campaign to help get out the vote and insert issues important to co-ops into the public discussion. Called “Co-ops Vote,” this effort will help boost voter turnout in areas served by cooperatives across the country to ensure that our voices are heard loud and clear every day, and especially on Election Day.

Here’s what you can do to help. Visit the Co-ops Vote web site, WWW.VOTE.COOP, and take the pledge to BECOME A CO-OP VOTER to support your community and electric cooperative when casting your vote in 2016. The web site will give you information on your elected officials and candidates, the voter registration process, election dates and locations, and background about eight key co-op issues we want our elected leaders to understand: rural broadband access, hiring and honoring veterans, low-income energy assistance, cyber-security, water regulation, rural health care access, affordable and reliable energy, and renewable energy.

Co-ops Vote is a non-partisan program developed by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), the national service organization that represents the nation’s more than 900 private, not-for-profit, consumer-owned electric cooperatives. With 42 million members across the nation, electric co-ops are a powerful voice on national issues that have a local impact.

If you have any questions, please visit WWW.VOTE.COOP. I hope to see you at the polls!



Young Leaders Descend on State Capitol for Youth Leadership Summit

Speaker Beth Harwell today greeted students from across Tennessee attending the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association’s annual Youth Leadership Summit in Nashville. Harwell welcomed the young leaders to the House Chamber of the Tennessee State Capitol this morning and spent time explaining her role as speaker of the House and the process that is required to pass legislation.

Rep. Kevin Dunlap also addressed the group and encouraged them to stay active and involved. “You are already leaders or you would not be here today,” he said. “He also helped students understand the role electric cooperatives play in rural Tennessee. “The electric co-ops were created because there was a problem: rural Tennessee did not have the privilege of electricity,” said Dunlap. “Our leaders and citizens worked together to form the electric cooperatives and solve the problem.”

Senators Mike Bell, Richard Briggs and Ferrell Haile and Representatives Kent Calfee, Kevin Dunlap, Dan Howell, Jay Reedy and David Shepard joined Harwell and Dunlap for a town hall meeting with students in the House Chamber.

The theme of this year’s summit is “Small Towns, Big Ideas,” and attendees are encouraged to use their talents to improve rural Tennessee. “Local electric co-ops, school officials and guidance counselors chose these deserving students to attend the summit based on their interests in government and strong leadership abilities,” says Todd Blocker, vice president of member relations for the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “During this year’s Youth Leadership Summit, we hope to teach these exceptional students that advances in technology have created unique career opportunities in their hometowns. They will be the next generation of leaders in rural Tennessee, and we want to prepare them for the challenges and opportunities they will face.”

“We want these students to share our passion for rural Tennessee and help them appreciate the things that make our rural communities special,” said David Callis, CEO of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “Each year we plan to encourage these young leaders, but they always manage to turn the tables. We are the ones moved by their optimism and vision, and we can truly say that the future of rural Tennessee is bright. ”


Tennessee’s co-ops express concern over sale of TVA Bellefonte site

In a letter to Sherry Quirk, TVA executive vice president and general counsel, on Friday, March 18, TECA CEO David Callis expressed concern with the proposed sale of the TVA Bellefonte nuclear site.

“Our membership is concerned with the disposition of the Bellefonte Nuclear Plant Site,” said Callis. “We understand that Bellefonte isn’t needed in TVA’s current IRP. However, we are troubled that this valuable power asset could be sold as surplus property in a public auction.”

“Tennessee’s cooperatives believe this decision requires a thorough evaluation process that takes into consideration the full value of the site – both current and future needs,” said Callis. “While it may be two decades before TVA needs additional generation (potentially from the Bellefonte site), the value of TVA’s rights-of-way for high voltage transmission lines is too great to risk their loss. In today’s environment, securing paths and siting for new electric lines and substations is costly and time consuming.”

The letter also urged the TVA Board to consider additional input from TVA’s existing Public Advisory Councils and the Local Power Companies that depend on TVA.  Callis also expressed co-op support for the comments of the Tennessee Valley Public Power Association.

The Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association is the service association representing the interests of Tennessee’s 23 electric distribution cooperatives and the 2.5 million rural and suburban consumers they serve.