Co-ops issue statement on state broadband study

NASHVILLE, July 19, 2016 – Tennessee’s electric cooperatives are encouraged by the findings and recommendations released earlier today by the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development concerning broadband availability across the state.

The report states that current regulatory barriers restrict investment and competition, specifically mentioning a law that prevents the state’s member-owned electric cooperatives from providing broadband access. Electric cooperatives serve 71 percent of the state’s landmass, including a majority of the rural and economically disadvantaged regions identified in the study as areas of greatest need.

“Limited access to broadband has serious consequences for rural Tennessee, and co-ops are uniquely positioned to provide real solutions,” says David Callis, CEO of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “Co-ops have a legacy of expanding critical services beyond the city limits. A generation ago, the issue was power; today it is broadband. “

“Tennessee’s electric cooperatives appreciate Governor Haslam and Commissioner Boyd for their leadership on this important issue,“ says Callis. “This study should serve as a roadmap to the legislature to remove restrictions and foster competition. Co-ops are committed to working with the state to identify real solutions that will benefit rural and suburban Tennessee.”

A copy of the report is available here.

The Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association provides legislative and communications 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.

 

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

 

Nine Hundred Words

The Washington Youth Tour essay contest rules are specific. Rule number 3 states:

The short story should be no more than 900 words in length (including articles of speech); 800 to 900 words will make your paper competitive.

One of the last things a high school student wants to do is write an essay. It takes more effort than a multiple choice exam and the odds of doing it correctly are lower than that of a True/False quiz. It requires some thought and creativity, but the payoff is incredible.

The students are also eligible for up to $16,000 in college scholarships and the opportunity to serve on the national Youth Leadership Council.

Tennessee sends the largest group each year. This year, 130 students from across the state were selected to attend along with 60 teachers and cooperative employees. About 1,700 students from across the nation were part of the Tour this year.

For the Washington Youth Tour to be as successful as it has been, it takes a commitment from our local cooperative boards and the dedicated cooperative employees that spend a long, tiring week chaperoning those students.

With almost $3 billion invested in our statewide utility infrastructure, we spend millions of dollars each year maintaining and improving the electric grid. The thousands spent to send high school students to Washington pales in comparison. As an investment, it isn’t something that provides an immediate payoff. However, as a long-term investment, nothing we do provides a lifetime of positive returns as does this investment in our future.

The results – years later – are tangible. Former Youth Tour participants turn up everywhere. We can’t track of all of them, but some are teachers, legislators or electric utility executives. You’ve likely heard of one former Youth Tour participant from Alabama, who is the current CEO of Apple – Tim Cook.

To quote one of the students, “I never realized how life changing a combination of 900 words could be until I won the short story competition.”

Cyber counter-attack

About 3:30 in the afternoon last December 23, operators at three electric utilities halfway around the world in western Ukraine found themselves not to be solely in control of their computer terminals. Someone from outside the utilities had taken over the controls and started opening circuit breakers at more than 27 substations, cutting power to more than 200,000 customers. Thousands of fake calls clogged utility switchboards, preventing people from phoning in to get information about the outage. Utility workers switched to manual operations, and it took three hours to restore power.

That’s not a movie plot. And if you missed or forgot about that news report from last year, people who run electric utilities have not. Attention to cyber security at electric utilities has been growing fast in the past few years, and the Ukraine attack pushed that trend into overdrive.

“It’s garnered a lot of attention from the federal government and throughout the industry,” says Barry Lawson, Associate Director of Power Delivery and Reliability for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA).

A big part of Lawson’s job is helping the nearly 1,000 electric co-ops in the country understand digital-age dangers, and ensuring that they know how to protect and secure the power supply, electric grid, and co-op members and employees from Internet mischief.

Electric co-ops are showing they do understand the importance of cyber security, says Cynthia Hsu, Cyber Security Program Manager for Business and Technology Strategies at NRECA.

“Electric co-ops were the first utilities to test and use the U.S. Department of Energy’s cyber security self-assessment tool,” says Hsu. “They are often on the cutting edge of implementing best practices to improve their cyber security capabilities.”

While the Ukraine cyber attack has been studied in-depth by U.S. utilities and the Federal Department of Homeland Security, most analysts see a large-scale attack by hackers as unlikely to succeed in this country. The reports characterize the Ukraine attack as extremely well planned and coordinated, but not technically sophisticated.

The Ukraine incident actually started as early as March of last year, when utility workers received e-mails with Microsoft Office documents, such as an Excel spreadsheet, from the Ukrainian parliament. But the emails were not from the Ukrainian parliament. When workers followed the email instructions asking them to click on a link to “enable macros,” malicious malware embedded in the documents––called BlackEnergy 3––secretly infected the system. Among other capabilities, BlackEnergy 3 can enable an adversary to observe and copy all the keystrokes made on the infected computers, giving hackers passwords and other login information needed to access the utility’s operations control systems.

Defenses against that kind of attack are pretty basic, and you’ve probably even heard the warnings yourself—don’t click on any links or attachments unless you were expecting the message to be sent to you. Utilities are increasing their efforts to enhance and formalize their security plans, processes and controls. New cyber security standards require upgraded levels of training for utility operators, multiple layers of security to shield operational and control systems from the Internet and even stricter procedures for visitor access (physical and electronic) to control rooms. These utilities are regularly audited for cyber security compliance, and regulators, such as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), can levy strict penalties for not following standards.

NRECA’s Lawson describes an example of one type of security technology, a security token—a physical device an operator would carry with them that changes their password every 30 seconds.

NRECA has also worked with the Department of Energy to develop software called Essence, which constantly monitors a utility’s system for even a microsecond of irregularity that might indicate some kind of hacking attempt or malware is interfering with the system.

With all that attention to keeping the electricity flowing, Lawson says there’s another major cyber-threat receiving high-priority attention from electric co-ops—protecting data and critical utility information to avoid identity theft of members’ information. He says some co-ops hire firms to periodically try to hack into their computer systems, so the co-op can identify and fix the holes in their security.

Lawson describes a scary world of cyber terrorists, organized crime, issue-oriented groups or just kids in their basement seeing what kind of trouble they can cause on the Internet. At the same time, he compares those high-tech threats to risks posed by hurricanes or the everyday need for paying attention to safety at the electric cooperative. Co-ops regularly use risk assessment and management practices to balance a wide range of threats to their systems.

“Physical security and cyber security are becoming just another cost of doing business,” says Lawson. “You’ll never be 100 percent secure, and all you can do is try your best to keep up with the bad guys. It’s a fact of life in these days and times we’re living in.”

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.

Use caution near co-op equipment

As you find yourself spending more time outdoors this summer, Tennessee’s electric cooperatives remind you to exercise caution near electrical equipment maintained by the co-op.

Substations and power lines carry extremely high voltages, and if contact is accidentally made, the results can be dangerous––or even deadly.

Never climb trees near power lines. If you make contact with a tree that is touching a power line, your body could become the path of electricity from the line to the ground. If you encounter an animal trapped in a tree near power lines or inside a substation, do not attempt to remove it––no matter how furry and cute! Call your local co-op for assistance.

These days, we are seeing more remote-controlled toys, like drones and airplanes, which can be a great way to have fun outdoors. But these gadgets also bring new safety concerns. Remote-controlled toys should never be flown near power lines, substations or other electrical equipment.

Remember these safety tips when flying a remote-controlled toy:

  • Keep a safe distance from electrical equipment when you fly. If contact is accidentally made with a power line or a transformer inside a substation, many members of your community could be left without electricity.
  • Keep the remote-controlled toy in sight at all times.
  • Avoid flying if weather conditions are unfavorable. High winds could cause you to lose control of the remote-controlled toy.

Your safety is important to your co-op. We hope you will share the message of electrical safety so that you and others can enjoy plenty of summer days filled with fun! Visit everydaysafe.org for more electrical safety tips.

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

The cooperative difference

I don’t think we realize how much we benefit from the internet and the communications services it provides. Not that many years ago, companies debated whether they should invest in having an online presence. I know that because I was involved in those conversations.

Today, you can go online to change your mobile phone’s data plan or increase the number of channels you receive from your broadband provider. You can start or stop services, and you can easily order everything from cat food to diapers — all conveniently delivered to your home in a few days (or even hours). Quite often, if you go to a company’s website, a dialogue box will pop up and allow you to order goods and services or make transactions in a chat exchange with an agent. Companies boast about how much they care about their customers, so they will go to any length to make things easier.

But have you ever tried to cancel any of those offerings?

Recently, I needed to cancel a couple of communications-related services. Unfortunately, neither of the two companies’ websites had an easy link for customers. I simply could not do this by email, text or chat. The only option was a voice conversation. Sounds easy enough, but they involved very lengthy conversations punctuated by long periods of time on hold. All told, I invested well over an hour of my time.

So much for making things easier for customers — though I was a departing customer.

I can appreciate that some actions require a conversation and many companies prefer a more personal interaction with their customers. Yet, this process seemed to be more about trying to convince me to change my mind or make it so painful that I would give up.

At cooperatives, we look at customers a bit differently. To begin with, we view you as what you truly are — member-owners and not customers. It is one of our founding principles, and it colors how we do our jobs. We’re happy to see you join the cooperative and sad to see you leave should you move away.

The American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) is a measure of customer satisfaction. It is a well-respected national survey of the quality of products and services offered by foreign and domestic firms. It measures customer satisfaction on a scale of 0 to 100.

Electric cooperatives across the nation are evaluated by the ACSI and, quite frankly, we score very well. For years, we have been near the top of the rankings. Electric cooperatives led the energy sector in 2014-15 with a score of 81. (For comparison, Apple scored an 80.)

According to ACSI, “Across all 43 industries measured by the ACSI, electric co-ops have the 10th highest customer satisfaction score.”

It makes a difference when you’re treated like a member-owner and not just a customer. The lineman, the engineer and the member service representative view you as much more than a source of revenue. They work for you. The cooperative difference shows up in their commitment to their jobs, and it shows in how cooperative members rate them.

How do the communications companies I dealt with compare? I won’t “name names,” but their 2015 ACSI scores were near the bottom of nationally known companies. Their individual scores were 68 and 69.

From my personal experience, I think their survey scores might have been overly generous.

Member, not customer

Many businesses use the word “member” to describe their customers. Places like Sam’s Club or Costco and even American Express like to refer to their customers as members. You pay a fee to buy their goods and services, but that is really all you get for the “membership.” No right to vote for the Board of Directors or to participate in any meaningful way in the organization.

For Tennessee’s electric cooperatives, membership really does mean something more than just the right to buy electricity. Co-ops of all types are founded on seven cooperative principles that give us guidance and strategic direction. Membership also gives you rights as an owner of the co-op.

Brett Fairbairn is the director of the Center for the Study of Co-operatives at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada. He makes the case that member relations is not just part of what co-ops should be doing, but in fact is the fundamental core business of the cooperative.

He further lays out the three strategic concepts that any co-op must get right in order to survive and thrive:

Economic linkage

Co-ops are connected to you. There is a business relationship that serves you (the member) and the co-op. Since co-ops are solely owned by people in the community, they have a mutual interest to ensure that both the co-op and the member do well and prosper.

Transparency

As an owner of the co-op, you have a right to know how it operates and how decisions are made that directly impact you. If the co-op is transparent and combines this trait with integrity and fairness, it will build trust with the members.

Cognition

In this case, cognition is best defined as how your co-op thinks. It includes the current and historical identity, the mission and the sense of shared values with co-op members. Research, education and training are critical functions that co-ops must conduct on an ongoing basis to ensure that we always have the best information to make decisions.

The cooperative business model is the best one on earth, but like any enterprise, it is up to the human beings who work at the co-op, who serve on the board and the members like you to ensure that the principles and values do not fade over time.

First and foremost, Tennessee’s cooperatives strive to be thought of as member-owned, and that gives you the best value of any utility. If we succeed, our community thrives and you will always value being a member – not a customer.

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.

Meaningful accomplishments

Have you noticed how news programs use the phrase “Breaking News?” I’ve always believed that label should mean a significant, unexpected event is underway and the reporters involved are relaying information in real time. But these days every cable news channel story is seemingly labeled as late-breaking and treated as urgent. Because of this, it is often hard to see the big picture through this dense fog of arguing pundits and so-called breaking news.

With the priority being to report on the immediate and instantaneous, we often miss out on stories of significance that take place over a longer period of time. One such story took place this year, and while it is rooted in partisan politics, I urge you to look past the party labels and focus on the incredible accomplishment.

On April 22, the Tennessee General Assembly completed its work for the year and adjourned. Standing at the front of the Senate to bring down the final gavel was Ron Ramsey. As a state senator, speaker of the Senate and lieutenant governor, his presence was no surprise. However, this stroke of the gavel may have been his favorite.

The story began almost a quarter-century ago when Ramsey was first elected to the State House of Representatives. As a member of the legislature in his first term, he was pretty well assured of one thing: His first day as a legislator would neither result in any accomplishments nor change the course of the state’s history. In 1992, Ramsey’s political party held very little clout in the General Assembly. And by very little, I really mean none. Republicans had not held a majority in the legislature since just after the Civil War. No Republican had served as lieutenant governor since 1869.

The five-hour drive from Blountville to Nashville must have seemed a lot longer in those first years, even after being elected to the State Senate in 1996. For many in the political world at that time, the perpetual minority status of Republicans was perceived to be permanent. But little in this world is truly permanent, and Ramsey spent the next 10 years working toward an accomplishment that very few ever thought possible.

In January 2007, the political winds had shifted, and Ron Ramsey was elected speaker of the Senate and lieutenant governor. The story of how this was accomplished could take up several pages of this publication, but that’s not the accomplishment I want to share with you. Ramsey then led a virtual revolution in the political makeup of the General Assembly, resulting in Republicans holding supermajorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. But that is not the accomplishment I find remarkable.

What I find so refreshing about this story is how it ends. It does not end the way all too many do — with a scandal or an electoral defeat. When Ron Ramsey gaveled the Senate to a close at the end of April, he was at the peak of his political career with near-unlimited ability to wield his influence. Very few politicians will ever achieve the level of power that Ron Ramsey enjoyed at that moment. And like so many politicians, he desired a new position with a new title.

For Ramsey, though, that new title is “Papaw.” While his position in Tennessee history is timeless, his position as a grandfather is not. So he did what few powerful politicians do, stepping aside on his own and relinquishing the leadership position he’d earned.

Thank you, Ron, for demonstrating to me that no matter what our professional passions might be, our priorities should always start with the people closest to our hearts. That is an accomplishment with lasting meaning.

2016 Legislative Fly-In media release

Tennessee electric cooperatives visit D.C. lawmakers

[CO-OP HEADQUARTERS CITY] – Members from [CO-OP NAME] visited with [CONGRESSMAN NAME] on Thursday, June 23, in Washington, D.C. They joined more than 40 co-op leaders from across the state meeting with Tennessee’s Congressional delegation.

“An important part of our mission to provide affordable and reliable energy is educating our elected officials about co-ops,” says [CO-OP DIRECTOR NAME], a director with [CO-OP NAME]. “These visits help them better understand the issues that concern co-ops and co-op members.”

“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.”

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.

[LOCAL CO-OP BOILERPLATE]

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:

[LOCAL CO-OP CONTACT INFO]

Trent Scott | Vice President of Corporate Strategy
Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association
tscott@tnelectric.org | 731.608.1519

Photo:

http://www.tnelectric.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/capvisits.jpg

Cutline: Electric cooperative leaders Jimmy Sandlin and Michael Watson discuss energy issues with Sen. Bob Corker in Washington, D.C., on June 23.

 

Tennessee electric cooperatives visit D.C. lawmakers

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – Members from Tennessee’s electric cooperatives visited with Tennessee’s Congressional delegation on Thursday, June 23, in Washington, D.C. They joined more than 40 co-op leaders from across the state in the nation’s capital to discuss issues important to co-ops and co-op members.

“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.”

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.

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.