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

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

Shield your home from energy loss with adequate insulation

By Anne Prince

Walls. Floors. Ceilings. Attic. These are some of the prime areas of a home that need insulation in order for you to maximize energy efficiency. According to the Department of Energy (DOE), adding insulation to your home is a sound investment that is likely to quickly pay for itself in reduced utility bills. In fact, DOE estimates that you can reduce your heating and cooling needs up to 30 percent by properly insulating and weatherizing your home.

If your home is more than 20 years old and was not specifically constructed for energy efficiency, additional insulation can likely reduce your energy bills and increase the comfort level of your home. The actual amount of savings for each home depends upon several factors—the current level of insulation, your climate, efficiency of your heating/cooling system and your utility rates. On average, older homes have less insulation than homes built today, but even adding insulation to a newer home can pay for itself within a few years.

So, where do you start?

You first need to determine how much insulation you already have in your home and where it is located. If you need assistance, many electric cooperatives conduct energy efficiency audits for the home and will check insulation as a routine part of the assessment. For those with the DIY spirit, you can conduct an insulation audit yourself using TVA’s eScore self audit.

Here is what you will should be looking for:

  • Where your home is, isn’t, and/or should be insulated
  • The type of insulation in your home
  • The R-value and the thickness or depth (inches) of the insulation

A prime area that is chronically under-insulated is the attic. Whether you live in a cool or warm climate, attic insulation is essential to help keep warm air inside in the winter and prevent hot attic air from heating your living spaces in the summer. If you have R-19 or less insulation in your attic, consider bringing it up to R-38 in moderate climates and R-49 in cold climates. For flooring in cold climates, if you have R-11 or less insulation, consider bringing it up to R-25.

How does insulation work?

Heat flows naturally from a warmer space to a cooler space. During winter months, this means heat moves directly from heated living spaces to adjacent unheated attics, garages, basements and even outdoors. It can also travel indirectly through interior ceilings, walls and floors—wherever there is a difference in temperature. During summer months, the opposite happens—heat flows from the exterior to the interior of a home. Proper installation of insulation creates resistance to heat flow. Heat flow resistance is measured or rated in terms of its R-value—the higher the R-value, the greater the insulation’s effectiveness. The more heat flow resistance your insulation provides, the lower your heating and cooling costs will be.

Save green by going green

Today, you have choices when it comes to selecting insulation for the home, including an environmentally-friendly option made of recycled materials, such as scrap blue jeans. It looks similar to chopped up blue jeans and is treated for fire safety. With an insulating R-value similar to fiberglass insulation, this blue-jean insulation is a great option.

Get started and get saving

While an older home will never be as efficient as a new home, an insulation upgrade will make a noticeable difference in your energy use and wallet. A well-insulated home is one of the most cost-effective means of saving energy and decreasing heating and cooling bills. For more information, contact your local electric cooperative.

 

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Anne Prince 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.

A cooperative day in YOUR life

Co-ops are all around us.

By Adam Schwartz

So how did you spend your day? Chances are cooperatives were a big part of it from dawn until bedtime. Take a moment to read this quick overview of how co-ops might be impacting you every day.

Your morning orange juice might have come from Florida’s Natural, a producer-owned cooperative based in – you guessed it – Florida, but distributing throughout the U.S. If your morning coffee came from Equal Exchange (www.equalexchange.coop), you get bonus points because they source their coffee from farmer-owned co-ops in developing countries, and they are a worker-owned co-op. If you like milk in your coffee or cereal, check this out: more than 86 percent of all fluid milk flows through a co-op!

The wheat in your muffin or toast was most likely processed through a farmer-owned grain elevator in the Midwest. If you had cranberries in that muffin, they likely came from Ocean Spray, or maybe you used Land O’Lakes Butter or Welch’s Concord Grape Jam – all producer-owned co-ops that make the products we love on our toast.

After that big co-op breakfast, it is time to start the day. Working parents might drop off their young children at one of the over 1,000 pre-school co-ops that operate throughout the U.S.

Perhaps this is the day to make some improvements to your home. Ace Hardware, True Value and Do It Best are all examples of purchasing co-ops. These are small businesses that come together to form a co-op so that they can compete with big box retailers that are not owned by people in the local community.

You might need to stop by the credit union for a loan or pick up some cash for that home project from one of their 25,000 ATMs in their network. More than 100 million people in the U.S. are members of a credit union, and yep, you guessed it, credit unions are co-ops.

On your way home, you may stop at one of the 300 community-owned cooperative grocery stores in the country. Many of the meat products and vegetables are also sourced from co-ops. If you are in a hurry, maybe you swing by KFC, Taco Bell or Pizza Hut to pick up dinner. The franchise owners of these fast food restaurants are all members of a purchasing co-op, just like the hardware stores above. So are the owners of Dunkin Donuts and many other franchises.

After dinner, perhaps you are watching TV from one of the more than 1,000 small cable companies that serve rural America that have come together to form a co-op that helps keep costs as low as possible. Or maybe you are surfing the Internet through services provided by your local telecommunications co-op.

Travel plans? If you are on a business trip or vacation and staying in a Best Western – that is also a purchasing co-op!

And when it’s time for “lights out,” you can flip that switch knowing you’re receiving safe, reliable electricity from one of Tennessee’s 23 electric cooperatives. From morning until night, you can have a very cooperative day.

Adam Schwartz is the founder of The Cooperative Way a consulting firm that helps co-ops succeed.  He is an author, speaker and a member-owner of the CDS Consulting Co-op.  You can follow him on Twitter @adamcooperative or email him at aschwartz@thecooperativeway.coop.

Don’t fall victim to energy scams

By T.J. Kirk

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

Phone scams

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

Email

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

Door to door

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

Product scams

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

Avoid energy scams with these tips:

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

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

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

Look up for hazards during harvest

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

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

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

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

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

Some additional safety tips from Safe Electricity include:

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

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

For more electrical safety information, visit SafeElectricity.org.

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

Magazine wins awards

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

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

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

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

Safe, reliable, affordable

Last September, Tennessee’s electric cooperatives were privileged to participate in the opening ceremony of the Tennessee State Fair in Nashville. And during the fair, we provided Tennessee residents the opportunity to share their concerns about the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Clean Power Plan.

A year later, we are again participating in the “lighting of the Midway,” and, yes, we are still having issues with the EPA.

The EPA recently released its final Clean Power Plan. This version of the rule calls for a 32-percent cut in greenhouse gases by 2030 (compared with 2005 emissions). The draft version of the plan called for a 30-percent reduction.

We’re concerned about the quality of the air we breathe and the impact carbon sources have on the environment. We’re concerned about the world we leave for our children and grandchildren. But we’re also concerned about the world we live in today — in particular, the reliability and affordability of the electricity on which we depend each day.

The Tennessee Valley Authority has significantly reduced carbon emissions from the coal-fired generating plants that help supply the electricity that powers our states. Before the Clean Power Plan even takes effect, TVA has already reduced carbon emissions by 30 percent from 2005 levels.

Some aspects of the final rule are still unknown. At more than 1,000 additional pages, it is still being analyzed for its impact on Tennessee and other parts of the country.

Our concerns are that the EPA rule could create reliability problems and unnecessarily drive up costs. States and regional power providers (like TVA) are best situated to control the generation and distribution of power. Utilities across the nation are incorporating renewable energy sources and making improvements that have vastly improved air quality.

“Safe, reliable and affordable” means something to us. We’ll keep you updated on the impact of the rule and how your co-op can speak up for your members.