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

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.

 

201509_DS_EFFICIENCY_Where_to_insulate_withbasement

 

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