The Evolution of Safe Electricity

Working on electric lines has always been serious business, but in the early years of the 20th century, it could be downright scary. A lack of standards and safety protocols led to far too many injuries and fatalities.

Something had to be done. In August 1914—the same month World War I began in Europe—the U.S. government’s National Bureau of Standards, under the direction of Congress, established the National Electrical Safety Code.

A century later, in a very different world, the code still plays a critical role in electrical system safety with standards that have been widely adopted across the United States and even abroad. But as it celebrates its 100th birthday, the NESC, as it’s known in the industry, is in a process of revision aimed at the future.

“The NESC committee is taking a serious look at what the next hundred years need to be,” says Sue Vogel, who has the responsibility for the code as a senior manager at the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Standards Association.

Electric co-ops have a big stake in that process.

“Our members expect our systems to be reliable, cost effective and as safe as they can be, and going by the NESC is one of the best ways to make sure all that is happening,” says Robert Harris, engineering principal at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and a member of the NESC main committee that oversees the code.

NESC’s history

In the beginning, NESC standards principally dealt with worker safety, but they have since expanded to include the installation, operation and maintenance of overhead and underground lines, substations, grounding and communications equipment.

The standards mean that linemen or other workers are less likely to face unpleasant surprises when working on parts of a system they haven’t seen before. Establishing standards was vitally important in the early days of electricity, when electrical systems were isolated and varied significantly in construction.

But Harris says they remain relevant today, particularly when co-ops or other power suppliers send employees to help with disasters or emergency situations.

“It means they’re not going to be getting into something that’s completely foreign to them,” he says.

Tomorrow’s code

The NESC Main Committee, which has authority for approving the NESC, adopts revisions every five years to keep it up to date. Revisions currently under consideration will go into effect in the 2017 edition of the code.

Mike Hyland, chair of the NESC executive committee, says the process is based on consensus, and the committee invites comments from anyone in the industry with an interest in the code.

“An engineer, a lineman, meter readers, construction folks, consultants – they should all be active in this debate,” says Hyland, a senior vice president at the American Public Power Association, the trade organization for the nation’s municipal electric utility systems.

One proposed revision includes better defining where communications equipment and other equipment, such as photovoltaic panels, can be placed on poles, and aligning NESC’s work rules with new Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requirements that were published in April 2014.

A broader debate

All these matters have been addressed in the revisions. But there is also a broader debate underway about the future of the NESC. The question is whether the code should largely remain focused on the areas it has covered for decades or whether it should expand to take into account the rapidly changing face of the power industry.

“The electrical system is being asked to do things that it wasn’t asked to do back then,” Hyland says. “We didn’t have wind farms. We didn’t have rooftop solar. We didn’t have community solar. We didn’t have this overlay called the ‘smart grid system.’ Electric utilities are having to adapt and plan for all these changes going forward.”

If the NESC doesn’t expand to include some of these new technologies in its standards, some committee members worry it will lose its relevancy.

For example, the code so far has not really dealt much with distributed generation and renewable energy. But Harris says a representative from a company involved in large-scale solar generation joined the NESC committee last year, and an NESC member has attended solar industry events to make sure the committee is staying abreast of issues in that area.

With today’s pace of change, Hyland thinks it may be necessary to consider revising the code more often than every five years, possibly updating some sections every two years or so. He points out that the National Electrical Code, which is administered by the National Fire Protection Association and applies to in-home wiring, is updated every three years.

“Things get done very quickly in today’s world,” Hyland says. “We can’t sit back and say, ‘I had a great idea; I’ll put it in the next cycle, and maybe it’ll get into the code in 2022.’ That’s not going to fly, especially with the younger generation in the industry.”

He thinks the future may include developing apps or other digital systems to allow users to more easily access relevant parts of the code. The NESC is already used as a reference in about 100 countries, but Hyland believes expanding its use in other parts of the world could help bring standardized, safe power delivery to countries where that is still a challenge.

Protecting people

When you look at the history of the code in the U.S., its record of bringing safer practices to the industry is clear, Vogel says.

“If you go back to when the code was started, it was actually pretty graphic in that the editions listed what the deaths were and where,” she says. “There was a real need to put in safety rules to keep people from being killed.”

Harris believes the code also may have played a role in the spread of electrification across the nation. “There would have been a lot more injuries and fatalities and a lot more property damage without the NESC. Both workers and the public would have been at greater risk,” he says. “If people had had the perception that electricity is just too dangerous, that may well have put the brakes on electrification across the country.”

From the 1940s to the 1970s, the code underwent relatively few significant changes, Harris says, reflecting an industry that continued to operate much as it had for several decades. The changes have been more frequent since the industry began a period of change.

With all that, Vogel says there are some things about the NESC that haven’t changed. “Everybody who works on the code is very conscious of it being about protecting people and being a safety code,” she says. “That’s the theme that was there in the beginning, and that still exists to this day.”

Reed Karaim 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.

NRECA Summer Internship

Do you know of any rising college Juniors or Seniors in your community who might be interested in an exciting summer internship opportunity in our nation’s capital?

NRECA is looking for candidates for our 2015 summer internship program. The program is 12 weeks long starting May 19 and going through August 8. Along with gaining invaluable professional experience, candidates will get a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to live and work in Washington, DC while helping to make an impact in their local co-op community. The internships are full time (40 hours per week) and include a wide range of disciplines, such as communications; accounting and finance; government relations and regulatory affairs; compliance; and marketing. Those hired will receive $18.50 per hour.

In order to qualify, students must:

  • Complete the internship application on NRECA’s Jobs website.
  • Provide NRECA with a resume
  • Provide college transcripts
  • Provide two professional letters of recommendation
  • Be a rising Junior or Senior
  • Have a 3.0 GPA or higher (no academic or disciplinary action on record)

*Note: This program does not provide housing to interns

Pickwick EC leads national solar rankings

California and Tennessee Utilities Lead in SEPA’s 2014 Top 10 Rankings

SAN DIEGO – Pacific Gas & Electric claimed the top spot in the Solar Electric Power Association’s (SEPA’s) Top 10 rankings of U.S. utilities that put the most megawatts of solar on the grid in 2014. Meanwhile, the Pickwick Electric Cooperative of Selmer, Tenn., was named No. 1 in the rankings for adding the most solar watts per customer.

The eighth annual Top 10 rankings, announced April 29 at SEPA’s Utility Solar Conference in San Diego, are part of the educational nonprofit’s 2014 Utility Solar Market Snapshot report.

The full report, also released at the conference, identifies key industry trends, including:

  • Utility-scale solar’s ongoing importance as a main driver of market growth,
  • The emergence of dynamic solar markets outside California and Arizona
  • The impact of the industry’s continuing focus on cutting nonhardware “soft” costs, along with utilities’ efforts to improve their interconnection processes

Utilities ranking in this year’s Top 10 accounted for 72 percent of all new solar interconnections on the grid in 2014. California’s other two investor-owned utilities — Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric — were No. 2 and 3, respectively, behind PG&E on the Top 10 list for solar megawatts added in 2014.

“We are 100 percent committed to solar energy and its role in California’s energy future,” said Laurie Giammona, PG&E’s Senior Vice President and Chief Customer Officer. “Together with our customers and partners, we have worked to shorten connection times and help solar grow in our state. SEPA’s recognition shows this collaboration is paying off.”

On the watts-per-customer list, the Farmers Electric Cooperative of Kalona, Iowa and the City of St. George Energy Services Department in Utah, held down the No. 2 and 3 spots, behind the Pickwick Co-op.

“We saw it as an economic development engine for us,” Karl Dudley, Pickwick’s recently retired general manager, said of the two 16-megawatt solar installations that helped the co-op clinch the No. 1 ranking in watts per customer. “It made a statement: our utility is in the 21st century.”

“The achievements of small cooperatives such as Pickwick underline solar energy’s momentum across the United States. The market is no longer confined to California or a few other states,” said Julia Hamm, SEPA’s President and CEO. “Our Solar Market Snapshot also shows the leadership that utilities are providing as the industry works toward creating the new business models and regulatory frameworks needed to ensure a clean, affordable and sustainable energy future for all.”

The 2014 Utility Solar Market Snapshot, with full Top 10 listings, can be found at www.sepatop10.org.

 

 

National Electrical Safety Month

It’s May – and Tennessee’s electric cooperatives are celebrating National Electrical Safety Month. While safety for our members is top priority year-round, Electrical Safety Month is a time to acknowledge the importance of safety excellence.

This year, we’re focusing on electrical safety in the home. Electricity is the cause of over 140,000 fires each year, resulting in more than 500 deaths, 4,000 injuries and 1.6 billion in property damage, according to Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI).

There are many measures you can take to ensure the safety of your loved ones. Use these helpful tips from ESFI to safeguard your home.

In the kitchen

  • Vacuum refrigerator coils every three months to eliminate dirt buildup that can reduce efficiency and create fire hazards.
  • Ensure all countertop appliances are located away from the sink.
  • All appliance cords should be placed away from hot surfaces. Pay particular attention to cords around toasters, ovens and ranges. Cords can be damaged by excess heat.
  • The top and the area above the cooking range should be free of combustibles, such as potholders and plastic utensils. Storing these items on or near the range may result in fires or burns.

Light the way to safety

  • The wattage of the bulbs you use in your home should match the wattage indicated on the light fixture. Overheated fixtures can lead to a fire.
  • Check lamp cords to make sure they are in good condition – not damaged or cracked. Do not attempt to repair damaged cords yourself. Take any item with a damaged power cord to an authorized repair center.
  • Extension cords should not be used to provide power on a long-term or permanent basis. Have additional receptacles installed by a professional to provide power where needed.

Be prepared

  • Nearly two-thirds of fire deaths result from fires in homes without working smoke alarms. Smoke alarms should be located on every level of your home, inside each bedroom and outside each sleeping area.
  • Test smoke alarms every month. Batteries should be replaced at least once a year – or sooner if indicated in the manufacturers’ instructions. All smoke alarms should be replaced at least every 10 years.
  • Talk to your family about an emergency plan in the event of a fire in your home. If you have small children, include them in planning an emergency escape route – they are more likely to remember the plan if they’re involved in creating it.

Electrical safety awareness and education can save lives. For more tips and information about electrical safety, click here or visit www.esfi.org.

Carnahan to follow Womble at MLEC

(April 30, 2015) — The Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative Board of Directors named Keith Carnahan as the cooperative’s new Chief Executive Officer on April 28. Carnahan will step into the new role when Hal Womble retires in July after 16 years of leading the cooperative.

“Keith Carnahan will bring a unique perspective, business knowledge, skills, and management style to MLEC. The next decade promises many changes for our industry. It is the desire of this board that Keith work closely with each district, our dedicated staff and employees, the communities we serve, and the member owners to meet those challenges,” says MLEC Board Chair Johnnie Ruth Elrod. “We appreciate Keith’s enthusiasm and vision for MLEC and congratulate him as he takes on this new role to lead MLEC in the continued good service and the delivery of safe, reliable, and affordable electric service for our members.”

Carnahan is a graduate of Tennessee Technological University with a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering and received his MBA from Bethel University. He has been an employee of E.I. DuPont for the past 27 years serving in several engineering and management positions and was most recently the Site Engineering Manager for the New Johnsonville Plant.  During his tenure at DuPont, he led numerous improvement programs that helped the New Johnsonville Plant become a world class producer of Titanium Dioxide. Also, for the last 5 years he has served on the Board of Directors for MLEC representing Humphreys County.

“Being only the fifth leader in 75 years is a great honor and responsibility,” says Carnahan. “I look forward to serving MLEC and its members and leading the cooperative as it evolves in the years to come.”

Carnahan and Lisa, his wife of 28 years, make their home in Waverly, Tennessee. They have three daughters – Alyssa, Ashton and Allie. His hobbies include duck hunting, golf, and cycling.

Womble announced his retirement in the September 2014 issue of The Tennessee Magazine. “My years at MLEC have been rewarding, and I’d like to think we’ve accomplished a lot together,” says Womble. “New substations, reliable electricity, new programs for the members, and getting our fiber network off the ground – and hopefully one day to our members – are some of the things I’m most proud of during my tenure.”

Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative, a Touchstone Energy® cooperative, is a non-profit organization offering reliable, low-cost electricity to over 33,500 members in Hickman, Houston, Humphreys, Lewis and Perry counties. Member – electric power companies of Middle Tennessee. Remember to play it safe around electricity.

 

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Co-op members take powerful message to D.C.

NASHVILLE – Members from the state’s rural electric cooperatives spent Thursday, April 29, in Washington, D.C., meeting with Tennessee’s Congressional delegation.

“Elected representatives make decisions and pass laws that have serious consequences for Tennessee’s electric cooperatives and their members,” says David Callis, executive vice president of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “It is important that we tell the electric cooperative story and inform Members of Congress of the impact of proposed legislation.”

“Educating our representatives about co-ops – who we are and what we do – is an important part of our mission to provide affordable and reliable energy to our members,” says Tommy Whittaker, a director with Cumberland Electric Membership Corporation and one of more than 40 co-op members who traveled to Washington, D.C. “These visits help them clearly understand the issues that concern co-ops and co-op members.”

Co-op members discussed environmental and power-supply issues with Members of Congress during their visits. “It is important that we communicate with how legislation affects rates and reliability for everyday Tennesseans,” says Callis.

A second group of Tennessee co-op representatives traveled to Washington, D.C., on Monday and Tuesday, May 4 and 5, to meet with Senator Corker and participate in the NRECA Legislative Conference.

Scheduling conflicts made it necessary to stretch the meetings out over two weeks.

FPU expands

Fayetteville Public Utilities (FPU) is moving forward with plans for facility renovations and expansion at the current office location to better serve utility customers.

“During this process, utility rates will not increase,” says FPU’s CEO and General Manager Britt Dye, “and we do not have plans to borrow funds for construction. The decision to expand and renovate our office follows many years of planning and setting aside reserve funds for the construction.”

“For years, we have needed additional office space and improved facilities to better serve the customers of Fayetteville Public Utilities,” Dye adds. “The 2002 utility consolidation successfully streamlined customer service and utility operations, and since then, we have managed to use every available space at our existing location for offices, meeting rooms, storage areas and department operations.”

Among the many concerns of FPU’s current situation is the need to improve security for customer confidentiality. Dye explains that current office space does not adequately accommodate customer privacy or other administrative concerns under the Identity Theft Policy adopted in 2008 to protect all manner of customer account information.

Due to the utility’s limited space for its customer service area, some FPU employees work in open-cubicle offices that offer little or no privacy for handling customer account and financial data. More private office space will allow employees to obtain and discuss sensitive utility account information with FPU customers under the guidelines of the Identity Theft Policy.

Other FPU office employees work in areas originally designed and used for material and file storage and for telecom headend operations. Construction and renovation plans include relocation of these offices and for a dedicated room for Channel 6 productions which FPU currently does not have.

“FPU’s Channel 6 is a vital information resource for our community,” says Dye. “Each day Channel 6 brings the community local programming and educational information as well as promotes and highlights community events. With the proper facilities for interviews and program editing, we can improve the quality of local programming you deserve and depend on from FPU’s Channel 6.”

FPU is also in need of additional storage space for office supplies and materials. Because there is limited storage available now, office forms and materials are currently stored in FPU’s minimally temperature-controlled warehouse facility along with utility construction materials.

FPU’s preliminary building and renovation plans will provide for the needed office space, improve security and customer confidentiality, add temperature-controlled storage areas for supplies and materials and will include an employee meeting area large enough to accommodate all 108 employees at one time for training and all-employee meetings. FPU also plans to make the meeting area available to the community for meetings and training.

“Our opportunity to purchase the two adjoining property lots on Market Street near FPU’s main office helped put our plans in motion,” says Dye. “Since that time, we have envisioned ways to better serve our customers. Our board is very supportive of the building plans, and we are working together to improve FPU and provide for future growth of the utility and the services we offer.”

“Having the necessary tools and equipment to perform our jobs is important to our success,” he adds. “We strive to be leaders in the utility industry and in our community. Our goals are to offer additional services to our customers like advanced technology, more payment options, improved communications, improved customer account security and faster, more convenient customer service.  But in order to offer these enhanced services, we need the facilities that will support all that we are capable of offering and all that our customers deserve from their utility provider.”

FPU estimates the construction phase will take a year or longer to complete once a design is approved and construction begins.

A large part of the existing Fayetteville Public Utilities’ building at 408 West College Street was built in the early 1940s. The FPU facility has undergone a handful of additions over the past few decades as the utility has evolved with the most recent being the 2007 expansion of the drive-thru payment area and customer parking lot. Prior to that, FPU’s last administration building renovation and addition was in 1988-1989 when the existing administration and customer service offices were built.

TVA's Johnson meets with co-op

TVA President Bill Johnson met with Caney Fork EC directors and staff on Thursday, April 2. Johnson shared his background and vision for TVA –  controlling costs to provide efficient, affordable power for the Valley. He answered questions about the coal ash cleanup project at Kingston Fossil Plant and economic development.

TVA-Visit-3“We value our relationship with TVA, and we appreciate Mr. Johnson’s willingness to meet with us,” says Bill Rogers, general manager of Caney Fork EC. “TVA shares our commitment to public power, and our members are best served when Caney Fork and TVA work together to provide them with affordable and reliable service.”

Following his visit to Caney Fork EC, Johnson spoke to the McMinnville Rotary Club.

 

TVA’s Johnson meets with co-op

TVA President Bill Johnson met with Caney Fork EC directors and staff on Thursday, April 2. Johnson shared his background and vision for TVA –  controlling costs to provide efficient, affordable power for the Valley. He answered questions about the coal ash cleanup project at Kingston Fossil Plant and economic development.

TVA-Visit-3“We value our relationship with TVA, and we appreciate Mr. Johnson’s willingness to meet with us,” says Bill Rogers, general manager of Caney Fork EC. “TVA shares our commitment to public power, and our members are best served when Caney Fork and TVA work together to provide them with affordable and reliable service.”

Following his visit to Caney Fork EC, Johnson spoke to the McMinnville Rotary Club.

 

Lineman Appreciation Day

NASHVILLE – The electric cooperatives of Tennessee are recognizing Monday, April 13, as National Lineman Appreciation Day to honor the hardworking men and women who keep the power on and protect the public’s safety. There are more than 700 electric co-op linemen in Tennessee.

“Today we honor the dedicated service of these courageous workers and recognize the critical roles they play in keeping the lights on,” said David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “Our communities depend on reliable energy, and Tennessee’s electric lineworkers place themselves in harm’s way to power our everyday lives.”

“These are special people who are passionate about their jobs and the communities they serve,” says Callis. “They go above and beyond, and all of us in this industry are honored to work with them.”

You can help Tennessee’s electric cooperatives honor lineman by posting on Facebook or Twitter with the hashtag #ThankAlinemanTN. The Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association will share these messages with co-op linemen across the state.

The Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association is a trade group representing the interests of Tennessee’s 23 electric distribution cooperatives and the 1.1 million consumers they serve. The association publishes The Tennessee Magazine and provides legislative and support services to Tennessee’s electric cooperatives. Learn more at tnelectric.org.

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Contact:
Trent Scott | tscott@tnelectric.org | 731.608.1519