Co-ops Pull Together

Some 25,000 people attended the 2015 Lions’ Club Super Pull of the South in Chapel Hill on Friday and Saturday, July 24 and 25. The event was sponsored by the Touchstone Energy Cooperatives of Tennessee and TECA.

More than 70 volunteers from eight of Tennessee’s 10 Touchstone Energy Cooperatives volunteered to make the event a success. Each participating co-op as well as TECA and The Tennessee Magazine had displays set up and greeted co-op members from across the state. The Touchstone Energy hot air balloon team flew over the stands with the American flag during the opening ceremony and gave tethered rides each evening.

“The Chapel Hill Lions Club was extremely appreciative of Touchstone Energy and TECA sponsorships and the involvement of the electric co-ops. It was a record-setting event with huge crowds each night,” says Steve Oden, director of member services for Duck River EMC. “Thanks goes to the more than 70 employee volunteers from eight Touchstone electric cooperatives who helped make the brand shine.”

“It was great to see so many of our co-ops work together on this event,” says David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “The partnerships between Touchstone Energy, participating co-ops and TECA allowed us to have a presence and reach our members in ways that no single co-op could have done. We hope this is the first of many opportunities for co-ops to partner and tell our story.”

Touchstone Energy produced the video below as a part of their On Tour project. You can read more about their experience in Chapel Hill at ontour.touchstoneenergy.com.

The electric grid connects us all

The energy industry is in the midst of an unprecedented period of transition. As this energy revolution unfolds, a modern, interconnected and reliable electric grid has never been more important.

In April, Elon Musk, the charismatic billionaire CEO of Tesla, introduced a new lithium ion battery called the PowerWall. In typical fashion for this brash tech entrepreneur, Musk paints a rosy picture of a future where homeowners disconnect from the power grid and meet all their power needs through a combination of rooftop solar and battery storage.

It’s exciting to imagine a future where renewable energy systems will allow us to generate and store electricity in a reliable and cost-effective way. Though there are many working hard to realize that goal – including electric cooperatives – it is still a long way from reality.

Unlike gasoline or propane, electricity is a form of energy that is difficult to store in large quantities. Batteries can hold enough energy to power small devices for moderate amounts of time, but current battery technology cannot practically and economically store enough energy to power larger items like appliances and TVs for longer durations.

We don’t know when the cost, size, quality and reliability of battery storage will improve to the point that it becomes a viable option to help meet our energy needs. If/when that happens, it has the potential to transform countless aspects of our lives, from our smartphones to our cars to our electric system.

The lack of a viable option for large-scale energy storage creates another challenge for power companies. Electricity supply and demand must always be perfectly matched.

If you’re a farmer, imagine what your job would be like if you couldn’t store your product – not even for a short period of time until a truck could come to pick it up. Imagine if the grain you grow or the milk your cows produce had to instantly go from harvest to consumption. Lastly, imagine that the demand for your product never stops and varies wildly throughout the day, but you always had to produce the exact right amount with no shortages or overages. That’s what electric cooperatives do every day to keep the lights on.

To meet this challenge, power companies rely on a complex and interconnected electric grid to deliver power to homes and businesses across America the instant that it’s needed. The electricity powering the lamp that you’re using to read this article was generated a fraction of a second before it was delivered to your home – most likely at a power plant far away from where you live.

These same challenges are true for people who want to generate electricity at their homes or businesses through technologies such as solar panels, small wind turbines and manure digesters that produce methane.

It’s unlikely that the amount of available sunshine, wind or manure is always perfectly matched to your immediate energy needs. Sometimes the sun is shining brightly when nobody is home, but most people still want electricity after the sun goes down. That’s where the electric grid comes into play.

By staying connected to the electric grid, your home is part of a larger system. You can usually feed extra energy back into it when you don’t need it, but more importantly, the grid is there to make sure you always have enough power when you need it.

In addition, the interconnected nature of the grid means that when there’s a problem with a generator on the system – whether that’s a homeowner’s rooftop solar array or a large power plant supplying energy to hundreds of thousands – there are plenty of other generation resources available to step in and quickly meet the need.

In some ways, the electric grid is the ultimate example of a cooperative. Every power company, from electric co-ops to investor-owned utilities to government-run systems, must work together across state lines to ensure there is always enough energy to power our lives.

Electric cooperatives are leaders in the renewable energy revolution. Three of the top four solar utilities in America are electric cooperatives. The vast majority of wind turbines in this country are built in rural areas served by cooperatives. In fact, America’s electric cooperatives support an entire team of researchers who work on issues related to renewable energy, power reliability and future technology.

Great leaders always look to the future but remain grounded in practical reality. Great leaders look out for everybody they serve and strive to ensure their actions will serve the greater good. These are the same qualities that make electric cooperatives special. Though our nation’s energy future is uncertain, there’s no doubt that America’s electric cooperatives are helping to write it – and doing so with our members’ best interests driving every action we take.

Justin LaBerge 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.

Staying Power

David Callis, executive vice president and general manager

One early Friday morning this past June, four large tour buses pulled away from our office in Nashville. In a city filled with motor coaches, that’s not an unusual occurrence. However, instead of taking a band on a 20-city, multistate tour, these buses were filled with VIPs: high school seniors from across the state heading to our nation’s capital on a once-in-a-lifetime trip, each student a standout from his or her local high school.

This wasn’t the first time this scene played out, and it certainly won’t be the last. For the past 50 years, the electric cooperatives of Tennessee have been sending the youth from their communities on this weeklong trip that’s educational and, of course, a lot of fun. The Washington Youth Tour is a joint effort of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association and your local electric cooperative.

Past alumni include military and civic leaders, legislators and the occasional business leader. In fact, none other than Apple CEO Tim Cook took his first trip to Washington, D.C., compliments of his local electric cooperative.

In talking about his first visit to the center of our democracy, Cook said, “In the summer of 1977, I was 16 years old. At the end of my junior year of high school, I won an essay contest sponsored by the National Rural Electric Association. I remember very clearly writing it by hand, draft after draft after draft.” He mentions that his family was too poor to afford a typewriter.

Cook was one of two students from Baldwin County, Alabama, chosen to go to Washington along with hundreds of other kids from across the country (this year’s tour brought 1,700 students to D.C., Tennessee alone accounting for 10 percent of that number).

That same year, 1977, jazz guitarist George Benson recorded the song “The Greatest Love of All,” which begins with these lyrics:

“I believe the children are our future,
“Teach them well and let them lead the way.
“Show them all the beauty they possess inside.
“Give them a sense of pride to make it easier …”

Those words sum up how we view the Youth Tour. You might not think a one-week trip could make a difference in someone’s life, but you’d be wrong. A phrase that is often repeated from participants past and present is that this is “the trip of a lifetime.”

That’s the goal toward which we are aiming. Students learn about their government, our nation’s history and electric cooperatives (we are sponsoring the trip!), and they discover how to make a difference in their communities.

We invest millions of dollars each year in building and improving the electric infrastructure in our communities. We take investing in the future of our youth just as seriously. Wires and poles, hearts and minds — all are critical for our communities to thrive.

Who could have predicted that a poor high school kid from Alabama would someday be CEO of the world’s largest company? We don’t know what leaders may come out of this year’s class, but it’s an investment we’ve been making for the past half-century and one we’ll continue to make.

You never know just how great a return you’ll receive.

Play Ball

Mike Knotts, director of government affairs

Thinking back to high school, there were two words that every student always dreaded to hear. These two words struck fear into hearts, exposed students who failed to complete their overnight studies and often lowered grade point averages of the unprepared: Pop quiz.

Well, I have a pop quiz of my own for you: What are the two most powerful words in the English language?

Usually your first thought is the best. I’d love to read your answers, so please email them to thetennmag@tnelectric.org. I’ll include some of the best responses in a future column.

I think I am going to ask my four young sons this same question soon, and I sure hope they’ve been taught enough respect and good manners to answer with the words “thank you.” There is no doubt in my mind that a polite and respectful attitude toward others is a huge advantage in this world. And simply saying “thank you” is a great start toward that kind of attitude. As the old adage goes, “You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.”

More seriously, I’m reminded of one of my pastor’s favorite teachings. He will often ask, rhetorically, “How many people do you know who came to faith because someone else scolded them about their shortcomings?” Something about glass houses almost always comes to mind when I hear that question.

Yes, I’d like to instill kind spirits and grateful hearts in my boys. But let’s be honest. At this stage of their lives, I know what their answers will be. Their answers will be about the one thing that gets them up in the morning, keeps them up late at night and occupies most of their dreams and aspirations. It is why they know every word to a John Fogerty song. So, I’m pretty certain that when I ask them the two-most-powerful-words question, each, without hesitation, will answer, “Play ball!”

While I know that many of you are already preparing for football season, just know that you don’t have to wait for a weekend in the fall to enjoy a beautiful Tennessee experience outside with your family and friends. There are nine professional baseball teams across the state, and their fun-filled games don’t require a second mortgage to pay for field-level seats and a great hot dog. A love for the game is all that’s needed to ensure a great experience.

Northeast Tennessee offers four teams, all within an hour’s drive of each other and all competing in the Appalachian League of Professional Baseball Clubs. As one of the first stops for players who sign contracts after the major league draft in June, you never know which of tomorrow’s big-league All-Stars you may catch suiting up for their first professional baseball games. The Kingsport Mets, Johnson City Cardinals, Greeneville Astros and Elizabethon Twins make up four of the five teams in the Western Division, and each is affiliated with the major league counterpart that shares its mascot. It is exciting to see the vigor and enthusiasm of the players as they begin their journey.

There is great fun to be had, too, at either end of the state as Tennessee has three Double-A minor league teams competing in the Southern League. The Jackson Generals, part of the Seattle Mariners family, play in Pringles Park, conveniently located just off Interstate 40. As Chattanooga’s downtown has blossomed over the past few years, the Lookouts, a Minnesota Twins affiliate, have a built great home just up the hill from the Tennessee Aquarium. And on your next trip to Gatlinburg, don’t forget that the Tennessee Smokies (who play in Kodak, near Sevierville) currently are farming players for the Chicago Cubs.

While Tennessee may not boast a major league franchise just yet, two of the best places to watch a baseball game anywhere in America are right here in the Volunteer State. The Triple-A Memphis Redbirds are not just an affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals, one of the perennial powerhouses of Major League Baseball. The Memphis team is actually owned by the St. Louis franchise. Each play has a big-league feel because each player is only one phone call away from “The Show.” The Redbirds play home games right off historic Beale Street in downtown Memphis at AutoZone Park — quite possibly one of the finest minor league baseball stadiums ever built.

And the newest minor league ballpark in the country is in one of the hottest neighborhoods of one of America’s best boomtowns. First Tennessee Park is the home of the Nashville Sounds, and I’d be willing to bet that many of the players for Nashville’s big-league counterpart, the Oakland A’s, wish they could lace ’em up at a field as inviting as Nashville’s. With the iconic guitar-shaped scoreboard and a perfect view of the city skyline, there’s no doubt that Music City is a great place for baseball.

While my boys’ choice may not change the world, they are words that can change your outlook on what a great night in Tennessee could be. So when the umpire shouts, “Play ball!” I hope you experience America’s pastime and leave with your spirit just a bit more grateful for this great place we call home.

Photo courtesy of First Tennessee Park.

FPU’s telecom customer growth holding steady

With rate changes due to annual programming cost increases, Fayetteville Public Utilities’ (FPU) Telecom Department continues to show steady growth and sustainability in customer retention.

“The cable and Internet industries receive a lot of “churn” due to cable or satellite dish contracts and customers’ relocations, but what continues to be FPU’s best-selling point is the quality of service we provide our customers 24 hours a day,” says FPU’s CEO and General Manager Britt Dye. “We work with residential and commercial customers every day to offer the best solutions for their telecom needs.”

Because FPU has a unique position in the industry of providing multiple utility services, customers who apply for new utilities and live in a serviceable area for the utility’s telecom services are most likely to choose FPU as their cable, Internet, and phone service provider above other competitors.

FPU’s Telecom Department continues to plan for future telecom expansions in rural county areas in order to reach residents who do not have access to high-speed Internet service. In many of these areas, FPU is able to offer fiber-to-the-home service. FPU also continues to expand its EPON (Ethernet Passive Optical Network) service to local commercial and industrial customers to offer greater bandwidth for business applications.

Co-op leaders meet with White House officials on efficiency and renewables

(ARLINGTON, VA.) — David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of TECA, was joined by Appalachian Electric Cooperative Manager Greg Williams and North Georgia Electric Membership Corporation Manager Katheryn West today in a meeting with White House officials in Washington, D.C., to discuss recent progress and potential collaboration on efficiency and renewable energy development. The Tennessee co-ops were among 30 cooperatives invited to attend the meeting with officials from the White House Rural Council and the USDA’s Rural Utilities Service.

“We had a productive conversation about how we can build the value of current federal programs and find more opportunities to bring the benefits of new efficiency and renewable energy technologies to our members,” said Callis.

Nationwide co-ops have been rapidly adding renewable energy capacity to the rural electric grid.  The nation’s more than 900 co-ops own or purchase about 16.5 gigawatts of renewable capacity and plan to add 2 GW of capacity in the near future. Cooperatives lead the nation in the development of community solar energy.

In addition to renewable energy development, co-ops are pursuing energy efficiency programs and innovations to help members reduce their bills. TECA is working with its member co-ops to develop a loan program to assist low-income homeowners with efficiency improvements. Tennessee co-ops view efficiency as a key component in a broader strategy to meet the challenges of growing electricity demand and rising costs.

The Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association provides legislative and communication 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.

Staying Power

Another successful Washington Your Tour is the in books. All told, that makes 50 times that Tennessee has made this annual investment in our rural youth.

Past alumni include military and civic leaders, legislators, and the occasional business leader. In fact, none other than Apple CEO Tim Cook took his first trip to Washington, DC compliments of his local electric cooperative.

In talking about his first visit to the center of our democracy, Cook said, “In the summer of 1977, I was 16 years old. At the end of my junior year of high school, I won an essay contest sponsored by the National Rural Electric Association. I remember very clearly writing it by hand, draft after draft after draft.” He mentions that his family was too poor to afford a typewriter.

Cook was one of two students from Baldwin County, Alabama chosen to go to Washington, along with hundreds of other kids from across the country. This year’s Tour brought 1,700 students to DC. Tennessee alone accounts for 10% of that number.

You might not think that a one week trip could make a difference in someone’s life. But you would be wrong to think that. A phrase that I have heard from participants – past and present – is that this was the “trip of a lifetime.”

That’s the goal toward which we are aiming.

The students learn about their government, our nation’s history, electric cooperatives (we are sponsoring the trip!), and they learn how to make a difference in their community.

We invest millions of dollars each year into building and improving the electric infrastructure in our communities. We take investing in the future of our youth just as seriously. Wires and poles, hearts and minds – both are critical for our communities to thrive.

Who could have predicted that a poor high school kid from Alabama would someday be the CEO of the worlds’ largest company? We don’t know what leaders may come out of this year’s class, but it’s an investment we’ve been making for the past half century; and one that we’ll continue to make.

You never know just how great of a return you’ll receive.

2015 E&O Conference

TECA and the Kentucky Association of Electric Cooperatives jointly hosted the 2015 Engineering, Operations, and District Managers Conference at the Music Road Hotel and Resort in Pigeon Forge on Thursday and Friday, July 16 and 17. In attendance were 40 Tennessee co-op employees, 38 Kentucky co-op employees and 23 exhibitors. The conference was kicked off by a welcome from Holston Electric Cooperative’s General Manager Jimmy Sandlin. Attendees received industry updates from the Rural Utility Service, Job, Training and Safety, the Kentucky Association of Electric Cooperatives and the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association.  The West Tennessee fiber network, solar power, building and facility security ArcFlash protection and OSHA regulations were also discussed.

“Attending the E&O meeting is important to stay update on rapidly changing and advancing technology that enhances operations of an electric utility, safety issues and regulations,” said Loyd Muncy, Manager of Finance and Administration for Chickasaw Electric Cooperative. “It is a great opportunity to make connections with knowledgeable peers who may one day help me solve issues at my co-op. “

2015 E&O Conference

TECA and the Kentucky Association of Electric Cooperatives jointly hosted the 2015 Engineering, Operations, and District Managers Conference at the Music Road Hotel and Resort in Pigeon Forge on Thursday and Friday, July 16 and 17. In attendance were 40 Tennessee co-op employees, 38 Kentucky co-op employees and 23 exhibitors. The conference was kicked off by a welcome from Holston Electric Cooperative’s General Manager Jimmy Sandlin. Attendees received industry updates from the Rural Utility Service, Job, Training and Safety, the Kentucky Association of Electric Cooperatives and the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association.  The West Tennessee fiber network, solar power, building and facility security ArcFlash protection and OSHA regulations were also discussed.

“Attending the E&O meeting is important to stay update on rapidly changing and advancing technology that enhances operations of an electric utility, safety issues and regulations,” said Loyd Muncy, Manager of Finance and Administration for Chickasaw Electric Cooperative. “It is a great opportunity to make connections with knowledgeable peers who may one day help me solve issues at my co-op. “

4H Electric Camp

Three hundred rising seventh and eight graders from across the state of Tennessee are exploring the world of energy, electricity and the basic sciences at the 2015 4-H Electric Camp. While visiting the University of Tennessee, Knoxville campus, 4-H members will discover the world of electricity by participating in various camp learning centers. These learning centers will be taught on Wednesday and Thursday morning, July 8 and 9, from 8:00 a.m. to 11:55 a.m. These learning centers provide “hands-on” activities where 4-H’ers “learn by doing.” This year’s learning centers feature:

Trouble Light – This learning center will teach you some of the basic wiring techniques that are used by electricians every day. You will have the opportunity to demonstrate what you have learned by wiring up a trouble light which you can take with you to use in your home.

Home Energy Conservation – We use electricity to light our home, cook our food, play music, and operate televisions. But as we use more electricity in our homes, our electric bills rise. In this activity, you will learn how conserving electricity in your home not only helps to lower your electric bill, but also helps to conserve our environment.

STEM Learning Center – So what is STEM? This learning center will increase your knowledge of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) principles such as electricity, energy conservation, alternative energy sources, electronics, computer applications, robotics, electrical safety, engineering, and other basic sciences through “hands-on” learning activities.

Electric Vehicles – Campers will learn about batteries, DC current, and how DC current is used to propel electric vehicles. You will also demonstrate your driving skills by maneuvering an electric golf cart through an obstacle course.

Solar Energy – Renewable energy resources reduce the use of fossil fuels and negative impacts on our environment. In this activity, you will learn about how you can use the sun to power things that you use every day. Join us as you discover all about solar energy.

Electrical Safety – Electric power does a tremendous amount of work for us; but, because it is such a powerful force, we must be careful around it. This learning center will teach you how to play it safe around high voltage power lines.

The 4-H Electric Camp is a joint venture of The University of Tennessee Extension; Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association and Tennessee’s electric cooperatives; Tennessee Municipal Electric Power Association and its statewide municipal power systems; and TVA.