Why co-ops plan outages

Have you ever received a notification from the folks here at your local electric cooperative informing you of a “planned outage?” You may have wondered, “what is a planned outage?” and “why does my electric utility need to perform one?” Occasionally, the equipment we use to bring power to your home needs to be replaced, repaired or updated. When this happens, as a way to keep our crews and you safe, we plan an interruption to electric service.

We do our best to plan these outages during times when you will be least inconvenienced, so we often perform planned outages during school and business hours. We also try to avoid planning these outages during winter or summer months. We understand these are peak times of the year when you depend on running your heating and cooling units the most.

While they may sound slightly inconvenient, planned outages are actually beneficial to you, our members. Regular system upgrades are necessary for optimal performance, and they increase reliability. Repairing and upgrading our equipment is also critical to maintaining public safety. If older lines need to be replaced, we plan for it, repair or replace it, and that keeps everyone safe.

Planned outages also allow us to keep you informed of when and how long you will be without power. We can notify you long before an outage, so you can be prepared. We also keep you aware of when line crews will be working in your area.

Tennessee’s electric cooperatives want to make sure we are doing everything we can to keep you safe and to keep our systems running smoothly. So, the next time you hear about a planned outage, know that it is one of the best ways we can provide you with quality electric service.

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.

Saving energy in the kitchen

The holidays are upon us, which means most of us will be spending a lot of time in the kitchen. Whether you are considering replacing an appliance or simply looking for small ways to be more efficient, here are some tips to help you save energy – and money!

It sits in the kitchen, quietly humming away to keep your food cold. Most people don’t think about their refrigerator that often – as long as it’s working. A refrigerator typically runs for several years without any problems – but that doesn’t mean it’s performing to its optimal capacity. Older refrigerators use more energy. Upgrading this appliance can bring a major return on your investment.

According to Energy Star, if your refrigerator is from the 1980s, replacing it with a new model could cut your electric bill by $100 a year. If you bought your refrigerator in the 1970s, the savings could be as much as $200 a year.

Cooking can also be a big energy expender – in more ways than one! But there are a few ways to save energy while cooking. Placing the lid on a pot of boiling water will trap heat and cause the water to come to a boil faster. And there is no need to preheat the oven when cooking a large piece of meat, like a turkey or ham (you do need to preheat when baking or cooking smaller dishes). And, if you are planning on using the oven for a long period of time – for instance, when you are cooking one of those large pieces of meat – you might be able to turn down your home’s thermostat. The simple act of cooking will add warmth to the home because the heat from the oven can raise the temperature in the kitchen and surrounding rooms. This is especially true if you are hosting a party. Once your home begins to fill with people, the temperature will quickly begin to rise.

Even after the meal is over, there are still ways for you to save energy. The first is to make sure that your dishwasher is full before it’s started. Next, make sure you are using the right setting on your dishwasher. Many newer dishwashers have sensors that detect how clean your dishes are. When these auto cycles are used, they will get dishes clean without wasting energy or water. The sanitize setting should rarely be used since it is energy intensive. It is also a good idea to make sure the filter at the bottom of the wash-tub is cleaned. This will help the washer work at its optimal level.

One of the cheapest and easiest ways to save energy in the kitchen is to replace existing lights with LEDs. Not only do they use less energy – you don’t have to replace them nearly as often. Plus, their costs have come down in recent years, making them far more affordable to install. (Note: if you currently have linear fluorescent lamps, converting to LEDs may be too expensive to justify).

As you can see, there are many different ways to practice efficiency in the kitchen, and who knows – you could even save enough money to treat the family to dinner out a couple of times a year.

Brian Sloboda is a senior program manager specializing in energy efficiency for the Cooperative Research Network, a service of the Arlington, Va.-based National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. The Cooperative Research Network monitors, evaluates, and applies technologies that help electric cooperatives control costs, increase productivity, and enhance service to their consumers. Additional content provided by ESource.

Singleness of purpose

What is the single purpose we have in running an electric cooperative? Serving our members by keeping the lights on and the rates low. You’ve heard us repeat that refrain for years. It doesn’t seem long enough for a mission statement, and it isn’t really a motto. It seems so simple and direct.

And, it is absolutely true. Just ask our members.

A number of years ago, an electric cooperative (not in Tennessee) hired a new general manager who promised to change the status quo. He did. His initial contact with the cooperative was as an outside consultant hired to review the organization and suggest changes that would revitalize and “improve” the business. Once hired, the manager immediately began to reorganize departments, change titles and revamp the entire cooperative. The changes he enacted were innovative and quite a bit different.

The changes — and the manager — didn’t last long. I remember that when he left, he made a statement to the effect that he was “good at tearing down walls and not so good at building and maintaining them.” There were a number of failures, but the core failure was that the changes became the focus. Instead of focusing on the one purpose of the cooperative, the focus was placed on the cleverness of the changes.

That doesn’t mean that change is a bad thing. But change for change itself isn’t necessarily good. Change that loses sight of our reason for existence is doomed to fail. It will fail the cooperative, the employees and the members.

The current political environment is one of the more intriguing in recent history. The U.S. Senate is on a different page than the House of Representatives, and both are on different pages than the administration. As I write this, the House itself is a house in disarray — facing significant difficulty in selecting a speaker. The nation’s foreign policy is in a transitional period in which it is difficult to differentiate between our traditional friends and enemies.

As if contending with those issues weren’t enough, we have one of the most, shall we say, “interesting” presidential primaries ever. It’s a banner year for the news media and political pundits and a ratings bonanza for talk shows.

For the rest of us — for most of us — it’s more than enough to cause concern about the future. We prefer our government to govern, not entertain.

I’ve attended a number of electric cooperative annual meetings this year where the members celebrated the co-op’s 75th year of existence. Over those seven and a half decades, these member-owned corporations have weathered ups and downs — from economic recessions to multiple natural disasters. Over their existence, these cooperatives have seen hundreds of directors and thousands of employees come and go, each contributing to the leadership and productivity of the utility.

Through the years and all the challenges, one thing has remained constant: the focus on keeping the lights on and rates low.

As long as we do that one thing correctly, other avenues open up for us to continue to improve and invest in the communities we serve. Countless other things are vitally important to our members: economic development, great customer service, effective communications and many other needs. But if we fail in our single purpose, it’s time to refocus on the one thing.

Here’s to 75 years of maintaining a singleness of purpose that has transformed a nation.

Can you drive a stick shift?

by Mike Knotts, director of government affairs
Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association

The first “car” I drove on a regular basis was a 1981 Ford F-100 pickup truck. I’m sure thousands of you probably see a Ford F-150 parked in your driveway right now, but this was not the same vehicle. The F-100 was the least expensive truck the Ford Motor Company manufactured at the time, and this particular model was outfitted with the absolute fewest options available.

My dad bought this truck to use at his construction business. Simply put, it was intended to be a work truck, through and through, and was intended to do two things: haul building materials to the job site and haul garbage away. The truck had no power steering, no power brakes, no air conditioning, manual windows, manual door locks and a manual transmission for which the gearshift was mounted on the steering column. This “three-on-the-tree” shifter was mated with the tightest clutch ever to come from Detroit.

When it came time for me to learn to drive, this truck was an excellent teacher. My skinny teenage body struggled with the tight clutch and lack of power brakes, and parking at my high school was sometimes a challenge while I slowly cranked the tires around. But I learned a lot about how a car operates and have wonderful memories to help me appreciate all of the “push-button comfort” I now enjoy in my modern truck.

Well, much like that Ford F-100, the small device on the side of your home or business that measures how much electricity you consume has, for more than 70 years, been a pretty basic instrument. There was little need to do anything more than measure the amount of juice flowing from the distribution lines in to your home. Some of you may even remember the times when you would record your own use and mail it into the co-op.

Today, it is more likely that a person drives to your home or business once per month, gets out of the car, walks to the side of the house, building or barn, writes down the number, walks back to the car, gets inside and drives to the next location where he or she does it all over again. At the end of the day, the numbers on the meter reader’s clipboard have to be transferred to the co-op to be entered into the billing system that determines how much you will owe on the next bill. It is a lengthy, expensive and sometimes error-prone process.

However, those simple, analog electromechanical induction meters are extremely durable. The meter that serves my home is more than 40 years old and continues to operate. These meters, though, do have a tendency to “slow down” over time and record less electricity use than is actually being consumed. Knowing this fact, I admit I might allow a small smile to come over my face when I pay my bill. But the truth of the matter is that every other member of the co-op has to pay my difference when someone’s meter is not recording accurately. So we owe it to each other to fairly record our consumption.

Additionally, the requirements to operate the electric grid are becoming increasingly more complicated. The energy you require to power your air conditioner, for instance, must be available at the exact instant that you demand it (this is called creating a load or demand for energy). It takes billions of dollars of manpower and machinery to make that possible. And while that fact has always been the case, the use of the electric grid is increasing every day with millions of new devices, appliances and machines “plugging in.” Any one of these new loads, if not managed properly, has the potential to bring the whole system down.

Modern technology is changing the way the electric grid is managed. Automation is reducing the amount of time you are without power during an outage by reducing the need for a human being to drive to a location and reconnect or reclose a large fuse, for instance. Improved technology is reducing the amount of energy that is lost as it moves along power lines, saving money and helping keep electric rates low.

To keep the lights on in the 21st century, information is becoming as important as machines. Without real-time data about the use of the electric system, we are doomed to a 20th century lifestyle. That means the 40-year-old meter on the side of my house will be replaced with a new digital meter soon. I’m excited about it. It will reduce the need for human beings to drive around just to read my meter, reduce the chance of human error inaccuracies on my bill and save my co-op millions of dollars that are spent on unnecessary activities. That is money I don’t have to pay for through my electric rate.

My dad’s old F-100 did its basic job well, and he definitely got his money’s worth out of it. Eventually, though, it was time for a new truck with some upgraded features. The next truck had an automatic transmission and air conditioning, and it was a huge improvement!

Singleness of Purpose

What is the single purpose we have in running an electric cooperative? Serving our members by keeping the lights on and the rates low. You’ve heard – or said – that refrain for years. It is simple, direct and resonates with employees and members.

And, it is absolutely true. Just ask the members we serve.

A number of years ago, an electric cooperative (not in Tennessee) hired a new general manager who promised to change the status quo. He did. His initial contact with the cooperative was as an outside consultant hired to review the organization and suggest changes that would revitalize and “improve” the business. Once hired, the manager immediately began to reorganize departments, change titles and revamp the entire cooperative. The changes he enacted were innovative and quite a bit different.

The changes — and the manager — didn’t last long. I remember that when he left, he made a statement to the effect that he was “good at tearing down walls and not so good at building and maintaining them.” There were a number of failures, but the core failure was that the changes became the focus. Instead of focusing on the one purpose of the cooperative, the focus was placed on the cleverness of the changes.

That doesn’t mean that change is a bad thing. But, change for change itself isn’t always a good thing. Change that loses sight of our reason for existence is doomed to fail. It will fail the cooperative, the employees and the members.

As long as we do that one thing correctly, other avenues open up for us to continue to improve and invest in the communities we serve. Countless other things are vitally important to our members: economic development, great customer service, effective communications and many other needs. But if we fail in our single purpose, it’s time to refocus on the one thing.

Fayetteville PU constructs water treatment plant

Construction of Fayetteville Public Utilities’ (FPU) new water treatment plant is progressing as major components of the facility have been constructed and installed over recent months.

“The new water treatment plant has not only been a long-awaited vision for FPU, but also a necessity for the community,” says FPU’s CEO and General Manager Britt Dye. “As regulations and testing requirements become more demanding, we must be able to meet those guidelines by producing an even higher quality of water. The new water treatment facility will help us continue doing that now and for years to follow.”

FPU began construction of its new water treatment plant in 2014. Before construction of the plant facility itself began, FPU had to secure the membrane filtration system around which the new plant is being constructed. The new filtration system will improve water quality and availability for FPU customers and will serve projected growth of the community for the next several decades.

Earlier this year, the flash mix, flocculation, sedimentation and equalization basins were completed. As water is taken from the Elk River, it must first be pretreated with coagulants and other chemicals to aid in the subsequent treatment processes. This structure contains a 16-inch static mixer and chemical feed equipment to accomplish this first step in the process. The new plant has redundant trains for the flocculation and sedimentation processes which allow for maintenance and cleaning without a plant shutdown. Each train consists of two flocculation basins followed by a sedimentation basin and an equalization basin. A splitter box has also been constructed and will use large gates to allow operators to adjust flows between the two trains as needed.

IMG_0983In September 2015, the infrastructure for the membrane filtration system arrived and is being installed. Photos of the piping necessary to support the filtration operation show the complexity of FPU’s new filtration system.

The membrane filtration building floor contains extensive underground piping. Inside the filtration part of the new plant facility, racks of piping support the membrane filter cartridges and their components. This piping will carry water to and from the membranes as it is filtered.

The new water treatment plant will include a state-of-the-art SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) system. Power and control wiring in the thousands of feet will be required to energize and control the membrane filters, pumps and instruments. In addition to conventional copper wiring, fiber optic cable will also be used to provide secure and reliable connectivity.

The existing plant continues to operate during the new plant construction. FPU’s new water treatment plant is expected to be complete in early 2016.

Resiliency

David Callis
Executive Vice President and General Manager

“Safe, reliable and affordable.” That’s a phrase you hear from us quite a bit. It accurately describes the commitment we make to you every day. We make every effort to ensure that the power you need is safely and reliably delivered to your homes and businesses. And we do so as cost-effectively as possible.

Here’s another term you don’t hear as much but that’s just as important — if not more so:

Resiliency.

Ten years ago, a large hurricane hit the Gulf Coast. By most measures, it was the most devastating storm to strike the United States. Hurricane Katrina killed nearly 2,000 people. With the widespread damage from the storm and subsequent flooding, it impacted some 90,000 square miles along the Gulf of Mexico.

More than 75 percent of New Orleans was underwater at one point in time. Hundreds of thousands of people were evacuated. Homes and businesses were submerged, and the areas that weren’t flooded had no electricity.

Entergy, an investor-owned utility, serves the city of New Orleans. Much of the surrounding area along the coast is served by electric cooperatives. For several weeks, linemen from utilities across the nation left their homes to help restore and rebuild the critical infrastructure.

The massive coordination effort to rebuild thousands of miles of wire and replace tens of thousands of poles required Herculean efforts by electric utilities. You can’t plan for a disaster of that magnitude. We can, and do, prepare for emergencies, but we can’t outguess Mother Nature. Even with the best forecasting, hurricanes, tornadoes and ice storms often make unpredictable, last-minute variations that defy the best-laid plans for disaster response. In fact, you might not recall that Hurricane Rita hit the Gulf Coast about a month after Katrina, causing damage to some of the same areas that were still recovering.

I was in New Orleans a few weeks before Katrina and later helped coordinate some of the relief efforts that Tennessee’s cooperatives mounted. I’ve returned to the Gulf several times over the past few years, including earlier this year. A full decade later, the impact is still apparent in many areas. Parts of New Orleans and other areas of the Gulf Coast are, unbelievably, still recovering from the devastation.

For someone who has worked for decades in the electric utility industry, two things stand out. First and foremost is the resiliency of the residents. Despite losing their homes and nearly losing their lives, they refuse to abandon their neighborhoods.

This type of courage is similar to a prizefighter who is battered by a bigger opponent but stubbornly refuses to go down. The men and women who survived Katrina continue to thrive and continue with their lives. They refuse to be defeated.

The same resiliency can be said about the electric grid and those who maintain it. Imagine building a structure that costs millions of dollars and takes years to complete. Then, in a matter of hours, you see it crumble to the ground under the force of a powerful storm.

How do you handle that type of challenge? If you’re a lineman, you pack a bag, say goodbye to your family and get to work rebuilding. It might take several days or even weeks, but you stay with it until the job is done.

The event could be a Hurricane Katrina, an EF-4 tornado or a midwinter ice storm. No matter what the challenge, the resiliency of the electric grid is as strong as the character of the men and women who build and maintain it.

It’s what we’ve done for the past 80 years and will continue to do well into the future.

Appalachian EC announces community solar project

Appalachian Electric Cooperative is proud to be leading the effort to help folks take advantage of the benefits of solar power and join with others who are supporters of clean, renewable energy.

Community-based solar power is an idea whose time has come, according to AEC General Manager Greg Williams: “It’s all about leveraging the economies of scale to improve affordability. Our ‘Co-op Community Solar’ program will make it possible for our residential and commercial members to reap all the benefits of solar generation—including both cost-effectiveness and environmental sustainability—without having to hassle with the challenges involved with installing photovoltaic panels and the ongoing maintenance costs required to keep them performing at maximum capacity. It’s also a powerful feeling to be a part of something with positive environmental impacts that extend much farther than those of any single individual.”

Construction work will begin this fall on a 1.373-megawatt community solar facility to be located on a seven-acre site adjacent to AEC’s New Market Substation, just off of Highway 11E. It will feature a total of 9,468 photovoltaic panels, each of which will be rated at 145 watts. The project is scheduled for completion in late 2016 and the facility is expected to generate 1,804,000 kilowatt-hours in the first year of operation. Based on average residential kWh use by members throughout AEC’s service area, Co-op Community Solar will produce enough clean, renewable energy to supply all the power needs of approximately 115 homes for an entire year.

The new initiative is made possible in part through a grant provided by the Tennessee Valley Authority, and is one of only two pilot programs to receive this funding in the entire Valley region. The Cooperative will be relying on Knoxville-based contractor ARiES Energy for project construction and will turn to the National Renewable Cooperative Organization to assist with project management.

Project costs will be fully funded through revenue generated via a purchased power agreement with TVA. There will be no impact to AEC’s retail rates as a result of Co-op Community Solar.

“This is one of those concepts that just makes so much sense on many different levels,” says Williams. “By coming together as a community of co-op members to support solar generation, cost per watt will be less than for an individual installation and energy output is maximized. Plus, the benefits of community solar are available to those who rent or homeowners whose properties are shaded or whose roofs are not well-suited for the installation of solar panels. Here at the co-op, we are really eager to bring this resource to these folks.”

During the first quarter of 2016, AEC will begin rolling out a marketing plan that will address participation costs and other specifics of how members will be able to take advantage of Co-op Community Solar. At that time, details will be provided so that interested members learn what’s involved in subscribing and how they can benefit.

TVA’s Renewable Energy Solutions Senior Manager Neil Placer said his team will be working with AEC to structure Co-op Community Solar in such a way as to engage AEC members: “Our goal is to support the kind of innovative approach to community solar generation that gives local people multiple ways to participate.”

An additional goal for the program—and it’s a very important one, according to Williams—is member education. “An area at the site will be dedicated to helping folks understand how solar power works and why renewable energy in general is such an important future generating source,” he says. “We’ll be partnering with local schools to develop a space that can be used to help educate the next generation of co-op members.”

Williams notes the significance of announcing the initiative at the co-op’s 75th annual meeting: “A milestone anniversary is naturally a time when you stop to reflect on the accomplishments of the past, and we certainly enjoyed celebrating AEC’s rich heritage. But there was something very special about being able to share this exciting news with our members. They’ve turned to us for safe, affordable, reliable electric power for three-quarters of a century. As we head toward the 100-year-mark, we’re fully committed to finding new ways to continue to add value to their lives.”

America rediscovers the cooperative difference

Your alarm goes off and you get out of bed. You go outside and grab the morning paper. You sit down at the kitchen table to read your paper while enjoying a glass of juice and some toast. After breakfast you head down to the local hardware store to pick up supplies to tackle your weekend to-do list.

For many Americans, that simple morning routine would bring them in contact with at least five different cooperatives.

That alarm could be powered by electricity from one of Tennessee’s 23 electric co-ops. The paper is likely filled with stories from the Associated Press. The juice might be Sunkist, Ocean Spray or Florida’s Natural. The butter on your toast could have been processed by one of several dairy co-ops, including Dairy Farmers of America or Land-O-Lakes. If the local hardware store is a True Value, Ace or Do-It-Best, then it’s part of a co-op, too.

If you’ve been a co-op member for long, you’ve probably heard these examples before. What you might not realize is that this time-tested business model has been rediscovered by a new generation of Americans who appreciate doing business with locally based organizations that put people ahead of profits.

Co-ops are experiencing a surge in popularity. Today, it is estimated that one in three Americans is a member of at least one cooperative. America’s electric cooperative network now serves 42 million Americans. In 2014, America’s credit unions surpassed 100 million members.

In addition to the growth of true cooperative organizations, there has been a surge in the popularity of other funding and business models that feature many of the same traits as cooperatives.

Websites like Kickstarter and GoFundMe allow large groups of people to pool small contributions to achieve a larger goal. Though groups raising money through these sites aren’t cooperatives, it’s clear that an increasing number of people are seeing the value of working together and pooling resources to improve their communities.

The benefits of being a member of your electric co-op go far beyond the warm fuzzy feeling we get from supporting a local business and keeping our dollars in our communities.

As a not-for-profit cooperative, our sole mission is to ensure you have safe, reliable and affordable electricity when you need it. We aren’t in business to make a profit, we aren’t trying to get elected to public office and we don’t have a hidden agenda. Our job is to look out for you and your fellow co-op members.

That’s important to keep in mind in as we go through an unprecedented period of transition in the energy industry.

The coming years are likely to bring many changes to the way our nation generates, delivers, stores, consumes and regulates energy.

When an industry goes through a change of this magnitude, there will be many interest groups vying to influence policy and advance their agendas. As that process unfolds, there will only be one group that’s truly acting as the voice of energy consumers, and that’s America’s electric cooperatives.

We don’t know exactly what the future holds, but you can rest assured knowing that your electric co-op – and more than 900 other not-for-profit electric cooperatives across the U.S. – will be working hard to ensure your voice is part of the conversation. And that’s the cooperative difference.

Tennessee's electric cooperatives celebrate National Co-op Month

October is National Cooperative Month, and Tennessee’s electric cooperatives – and all co-ops across the U.S. – are celebrating the benefits and values that cooperatives bring to their members and communities.

While co-ops operate in many industries and sectors of the economy, seven cooperative principles set us apart from other businesses: voluntary and open membership; democratic member control; member’s economic participation; autonomy and independence; education, training and information; cooperation among cooperatives; and concern for community.

“Today, people prefer options and alternatives to ‘big box’ businesses,” says David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “The co-op business model is unique and rooted in our local communities. Co-ops help us build a more participatory, sustainable, and resilient economy.”

America’s cooperative network includes more than 47,000 cooperative businesses, including 23 electric cooperatives here in Tennessee. Electric co-ops provide power for many more than 1.2 million homes, farms and businesses across rural and suburban Tennessee. Nationally, electric cooperatives serve 42 million people in 47 states.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam recently signed a proclamation naming October Cooperative Month. The proclamation reads in part, “Tennesseans are currently served by some 200 cooperatives through 6,000 employees working together to impact our state’s economy by more than $1 billion, supporting schools and local infrastructure through tax contributions, enhancing our commitment to and focus on rural economies, shaping and empowering our state’s future.”

 

proclamation