2015 TECA Accountants’ Conference recap

The Hilton Garden Inn in Gatlinburg was the site for the 2015 Accountants’ Conference on April 22-24.  Twenty-nine accountants from seventeen cooperatives and TVA met for an informative 1 ½ day conference.

Presentations were made from Barry Murphy, Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury; Jennifer Brogdon, TVA; Carl Wilson, RUS; and Rod Crile, NRUCFC.  Additional updates from Bill LaDuca, CoBank; Ty Harrell, NRUCFC; David Callis, TECA; and Jon Anderson, NRECA were all extremely relevant to the electric cooperative industry.

Shelia Orrell, Director of Financial Services with Duck River EMC, gave a presentation on Community Solar Projects.  DREMC started their solar farm in 2012 and have experience positive community response through various education opportunities.

The final speaker, Vincent Phipps, presented attendees with the opportunity to refine communication skills.  He conducted three group experiments on listening skills, asking clear yes or no questions and written communication.

2015 TECA Employment Law and HR Conference recap

By Amy Jordan, Accountant

Thirteen human resource managers representing 10 cooperatives attended the 2015 Employment Law and Human Resources conference at the Sheraton Read House in Chattanooga on April 9–10.

Kim Vance, Shareholder with Baker Donelson Bearman Caldwell & Berkowitz PC had a full agenda:
·      State employment law changes,
·      Supreme Court Employment-Related Cases,
·      EEOC – Pregnancy Discrimination Guidance and Trends,
·      Discussion of the potential changes recommended in the Presidents memorandum to the Secretary of Labor to “modernize” and “simplify” the white collar exemption regulations
·      The Abercrombie Case Study
·      Employee Handbook—Legal Compliance Issues for 2015, including no-gossip policies. (really?!)

In his presentation, Doug Fiero, Regional Field Manager with NRECA encouraged us to use the PIRC resources that are readily available.

Day two started with a lively roundtable discussion which covered subjects of interest and concern that are common to all co-op systems. The feedback from the group allowed us to hear other options to solve problems or issues at our own systems.

For the last two sessions, we joined with the TECA Administrative Professionals Conference. Randy Pendergrass gave a great presentation on defensive eating. He is a cancer survivor, personal trainer, and physical therapist. He encouraged everyone to start now—to eat better and exercise!

Vincent Phipps, the final speaker gave a robust presentation on how to “Amplify Your Professional Attitude.”   He provided attendees with positive motivation, points of clarity in communication and ways to impact others.

Engineering success

There are a number of constants in the electric utility industry: keeping a watchful eye on the weather, a 24/7 readiness to respond to weather emergencies, innovation, intensive investment and poking fun at engineers.

OK, the last one isn’t work-related, but it is a constant. Engineers often don’t understand why we would joke about them, but those of us who aren’t engineers make fun of their people skills. For example: How do you tell an introvert engineer from an extrovert? Well, the introvert engineer stares at his shoes; the extrovert engineer stares at yours.

There are many more, but I’ll spare you. Granted, not all engineers are “socially challenged.” I’m certain I’ll hear from the more communicative engineers.

Truth be told, our daily lives would be far less productive and much more difficult were it not for the creative minds of engineers. Being a well-known engineer even aided the political rise of President Herbert Hoover. Long before he served as secretary of commerce, Hoover was known as “the great engineer” for his work around the globe, first in mining and then public service. His methodical organizational skills aided relief efforts for thousands in war-ravaged Europe and victims of flooding in the Mississippi Delta.

In the electric utility industry, where vice president of engineering is a common executive-level position, engineers are critical to our success. Each day, engineers painstakingly design the substations and electric distribution network that make up the electric grid. They have to map out the locations for the lines to best serve today’s members while allowing for growth. Their everyday work involves complex calculations and reviewing lots of data to ensure that we have enough electricity to power our homes and businesses.

There may be a good reason that engineers seem, well, preoccupied. It takes a special mind to be able to visualize solutions to difficult problems. It takes a lot of concentration and an ability to organize those thoughts into real-world solutions. Engineers make it look easy, so it’s only fair that we give them some relief for any lack in communications skills.
Here’s to the engineers who make our lives better. If those minds weren’t solving problems, we would be living in a far different world.

The Evolution of Safe Electricity

Working on electric lines has always been serious business, but in the early years of the 20th century, it could be downright scary. A lack of standards and safety protocols led to far too many injuries and fatalities.

Something had to be done. In August 1914—the same month World War I began in Europe—the U.S. government’s National Bureau of Standards, under the direction of Congress, established the National Electrical Safety Code.

A century later, in a very different world, the code still plays a critical role in electrical system safety with standards that have been widely adopted across the United States and even abroad. But as it celebrates its 100th birthday, the NESC, as it’s known in the industry, is in a process of revision aimed at the future.

“The NESC committee is taking a serious look at what the next hundred years need to be,” says Sue Vogel, who has the responsibility for the code as a senior manager at the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Standards Association.

Electric co-ops have a big stake in that process.

“Our members expect our systems to be reliable, cost effective and as safe as they can be, and going by the NESC is one of the best ways to make sure all that is happening,” says Robert Harris, engineering principal at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and a member of the NESC main committee that oversees the code.

NESC’s history

In the beginning, NESC standards principally dealt with worker safety, but they have since expanded to include the installation, operation and maintenance of overhead and underground lines, substations, grounding and communications equipment.

The standards mean that linemen or other workers are less likely to face unpleasant surprises when working on parts of a system they haven’t seen before. Establishing standards was vitally important in the early days of electricity, when electrical systems were isolated and varied significantly in construction.

But Harris says they remain relevant today, particularly when co-ops or other power suppliers send employees to help with disasters or emergency situations.

“It means they’re not going to be getting into something that’s completely foreign to them,” he says.

Tomorrow’s code

The NESC Main Committee, which has authority for approving the NESC, adopts revisions every five years to keep it up to date. Revisions currently under consideration will go into effect in the 2017 edition of the code.

Mike Hyland, chair of the NESC executive committee, says the process is based on consensus, and the committee invites comments from anyone in the industry with an interest in the code.

“An engineer, a lineman, meter readers, construction folks, consultants – they should all be active in this debate,” says Hyland, a senior vice president at the American Public Power Association, the trade organization for the nation’s municipal electric utility systems.

One proposed revision includes better defining where communications equipment and other equipment, such as photovoltaic panels, can be placed on poles, and aligning NESC’s work rules with new Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requirements that were published in April 2014.

A broader debate

All these matters have been addressed in the revisions. But there is also a broader debate underway about the future of the NESC. The question is whether the code should largely remain focused on the areas it has covered for decades or whether it should expand to take into account the rapidly changing face of the power industry.

“The electrical system is being asked to do things that it wasn’t asked to do back then,” Hyland says. “We didn’t have wind farms. We didn’t have rooftop solar. We didn’t have community solar. We didn’t have this overlay called the ‘smart grid system.’ Electric utilities are having to adapt and plan for all these changes going forward.”

If the NESC doesn’t expand to include some of these new technologies in its standards, some committee members worry it will lose its relevancy.

For example, the code so far has not really dealt much with distributed generation and renewable energy. But Harris says a representative from a company involved in large-scale solar generation joined the NESC committee last year, and an NESC member has attended solar industry events to make sure the committee is staying abreast of issues in that area.

With today’s pace of change, Hyland thinks it may be necessary to consider revising the code more often than every five years, possibly updating some sections every two years or so. He points out that the National Electrical Code, which is administered by the National Fire Protection Association and applies to in-home wiring, is updated every three years.

“Things get done very quickly in today’s world,” Hyland says. “We can’t sit back and say, ‘I had a great idea; I’ll put it in the next cycle, and maybe it’ll get into the code in 2022.’ That’s not going to fly, especially with the younger generation in the industry.”

He thinks the future may include developing apps or other digital systems to allow users to more easily access relevant parts of the code. The NESC is already used as a reference in about 100 countries, but Hyland believes expanding its use in other parts of the world could help bring standardized, safe power delivery to countries where that is still a challenge.

Protecting people

When you look at the history of the code in the U.S., its record of bringing safer practices to the industry is clear, Vogel says.

“If you go back to when the code was started, it was actually pretty graphic in that the editions listed what the deaths were and where,” she says. “There was a real need to put in safety rules to keep people from being killed.”

Harris believes the code also may have played a role in the spread of electrification across the nation. “There would have been a lot more injuries and fatalities and a lot more property damage without the NESC. Both workers and the public would have been at greater risk,” he says. “If people had had the perception that electricity is just too dangerous, that may well have put the brakes on electrification across the country.”

From the 1940s to the 1970s, the code underwent relatively few significant changes, Harris says, reflecting an industry that continued to operate much as it had for several decades. The changes have been more frequent since the industry began a period of change.

With all that, Vogel says there are some things about the NESC that haven’t changed. “Everybody who works on the code is very conscious of it being about protecting people and being a safety code,” she says. “That’s the theme that was there in the beginning, and that still exists to this day.”

Reed Karaim 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.

NRECA Summer Internship

Do you know of any rising college Juniors or Seniors in your community who might be interested in an exciting summer internship opportunity in our nation’s capital?

NRECA is looking for candidates for our 2015 summer internship program. The program is 12 weeks long starting May 19 and going through August 8. Along with gaining invaluable professional experience, candidates will get a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to live and work in Washington, DC while helping to make an impact in their local co-op community. The internships are full time (40 hours per week) and include a wide range of disciplines, such as communications; accounting and finance; government relations and regulatory affairs; compliance; and marketing. Those hired will receive $18.50 per hour.

In order to qualify, students must:

  • Complete the internship application on NRECA’s Jobs website.
  • Provide NRECA with a resume
  • Provide college transcripts
  • Provide two professional letters of recommendation
  • Be a rising Junior or Senior
  • Have a 3.0 GPA or higher (no academic or disciplinary action on record)

*Note: This program does not provide housing to interns

Pickwick EC leads national solar rankings

California and Tennessee Utilities Lead in SEPA’s 2014 Top 10 Rankings

SAN DIEGO – Pacific Gas & Electric claimed the top spot in the Solar Electric Power Association’s (SEPA’s) Top 10 rankings of U.S. utilities that put the most megawatts of solar on the grid in 2014. Meanwhile, the Pickwick Electric Cooperative of Selmer, Tenn., was named No. 1 in the rankings for adding the most solar watts per customer.

The eighth annual Top 10 rankings, announced April 29 at SEPA’s Utility Solar Conference in San Diego, are part of the educational nonprofit’s 2014 Utility Solar Market Snapshot report.

The full report, also released at the conference, identifies key industry trends, including:

  • Utility-scale solar’s ongoing importance as a main driver of market growth,
  • The emergence of dynamic solar markets outside California and Arizona
  • The impact of the industry’s continuing focus on cutting nonhardware “soft” costs, along with utilities’ efforts to improve their interconnection processes

Utilities ranking in this year’s Top 10 accounted for 72 percent of all new solar interconnections on the grid in 2014. California’s other two investor-owned utilities — Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric — were No. 2 and 3, respectively, behind PG&E on the Top 10 list for solar megawatts added in 2014.

“We are 100 percent committed to solar energy and its role in California’s energy future,” said Laurie Giammona, PG&E’s Senior Vice President and Chief Customer Officer. “Together with our customers and partners, we have worked to shorten connection times and help solar grow in our state. SEPA’s recognition shows this collaboration is paying off.”

On the watts-per-customer list, the Farmers Electric Cooperative of Kalona, Iowa and the City of St. George Energy Services Department in Utah, held down the No. 2 and 3 spots, behind the Pickwick Co-op.

“We saw it as an economic development engine for us,” Karl Dudley, Pickwick’s recently retired general manager, said of the two 16-megawatt solar installations that helped the co-op clinch the No. 1 ranking in watts per customer. “It made a statement: our utility is in the 21st century.”

“The achievements of small cooperatives such as Pickwick underline solar energy’s momentum across the United States. The market is no longer confined to California or a few other states,” said Julia Hamm, SEPA’s President and CEO. “Our Solar Market Snapshot also shows the leadership that utilities are providing as the industry works toward creating the new business models and regulatory frameworks needed to ensure a clean, affordable and sustainable energy future for all.”

The 2014 Utility Solar Market Snapshot, with full Top 10 listings, can be found at www.sepatop10.org.

 

 

National Electrical Safety Month

It’s May – and Tennessee’s electric cooperatives are celebrating National Electrical Safety Month. While safety for our members is top priority year-round, Electrical Safety Month is a time to acknowledge the importance of safety excellence.

This year, we’re focusing on electrical safety in the home. Electricity is the cause of over 140,000 fires each year, resulting in more than 500 deaths, 4,000 injuries and 1.6 billion in property damage, according to Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI).

There are many measures you can take to ensure the safety of your loved ones. Use these helpful tips from ESFI to safeguard your home.

In the kitchen

  • Vacuum refrigerator coils every three months to eliminate dirt buildup that can reduce efficiency and create fire hazards.
  • Ensure all countertop appliances are located away from the sink.
  • All appliance cords should be placed away from hot surfaces. Pay particular attention to cords around toasters, ovens and ranges. Cords can be damaged by excess heat.
  • The top and the area above the cooking range should be free of combustibles, such as potholders and plastic utensils. Storing these items on or near the range may result in fires or burns.

Light the way to safety

  • The wattage of the bulbs you use in your home should match the wattage indicated on the light fixture. Overheated fixtures can lead to a fire.
  • Check lamp cords to make sure they are in good condition – not damaged or cracked. Do not attempt to repair damaged cords yourself. Take any item with a damaged power cord to an authorized repair center.
  • Extension cords should not be used to provide power on a long-term or permanent basis. Have additional receptacles installed by a professional to provide power where needed.

Be prepared

  • Nearly two-thirds of fire deaths result from fires in homes without working smoke alarms. Smoke alarms should be located on every level of your home, inside each bedroom and outside each sleeping area.
  • Test smoke alarms every month. Batteries should be replaced at least once a year – or sooner if indicated in the manufacturers’ instructions. All smoke alarms should be replaced at least every 10 years.
  • Talk to your family about an emergency plan in the event of a fire in your home. If you have small children, include them in planning an emergency escape route – they are more likely to remember the plan if they’re involved in creating it.

Electrical safety awareness and education can save lives. For more tips and information about electrical safety, click here or visit www.esfi.org.

Transforming power to you

By David Callis, executive vice president and general manager

Looking outside your home, you’ve probably noticed the transformer on the pole (or ground) that supplies your electricity. Transformers are remarkable pieces of equipment. Wires and electromagnetic fields efficiently “transform” 7,200 or 24,000 volts of electricity from transmission lines into the 240 volts that you need. It is deceptively simple.

Your electric cooperative makes power distribution seem much simpler than it actually is behind the scenes. We’ve communicated with you about the Clean Power Plan proposal from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Last year, thousands of you made the effort to communicate your concerns about “keeping the lights on.” Well, you’re not alone. Even though the public comment period ended a few months ago, evaluation of the proposal continues.

In March, a branch of the federal government held a hearing in St. Louis focused on the Clean Power Plan’s impact on the reliability of the electric grid. That hearing was one of a series that is being held throughout the country.

You heard that correctly: One branch of the government is looking into what another branch is doing.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is tasked with protecting “the reliability of the high-voltage interstate transmission system through mandatory reliability.” In short, the commission ensures that our nation’s electric grid can supply the electricity we need to keep the lights on. Its review covers how electricity is generated and transmitted throughout the nation. Part of its oversight responsibility is the impact the Clean Power Plan will have on our ability to keep those lights on. Electric cooperatives from the Midwest participated in the St. Louis hearing by providing testimony on how the plan would affect the reliability of the region’s electric power network.

That happens to be our concern each and every day: a reliable power supply.

To clarify, we’re talking about two aspects of reliability. Your local electric cooperative is concerned about keeping the lights on in your community. We don’t like for you to be in the dark for a single minute, and absent ice storms or tornadoes, we do a very good job of it. Even with storm outages factored into the equation, Tennessee’s electric cooperatives keep electricity flowing to your homes and businesses for all but a few minutes each year.

However, the commission is looking at the big picture: the power supply for the entire country. It’s tasked with asking questions to determine whether enough electricity is being generated throughout the year and if there are enough transmission lines available to safely and efficiently carry that energy where it is needed. Questions along those lines prompted the review of the Clean Power Plan, which could shutter needed power plants in various parts of the nation and could imperil our reliable power grid.

Just like the transformer outside of your home, the folks at your local electric cooperative make a complex and vital process look simple. There’s a lot going on in supplying safe, affordable and reliable electricity. And beyond your local cooperative, there’s even more activity. It doesn’t happen accidentally. It is a process that requires planning, coordination and attention to detail — from the Tennessee Valley Authority’s power plants, across the transmission lines, to the wires, poles and transformers that bring electricity into your home.

As the EPA Clean Power Plan continues its process, we’ll continue to monitor and keep you informed on regulatory action that impacts your everyday life.

As always, our goal is to keep the lights on.

For more information on FERC and the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, go to our website, www.tnelectric.org.

The apple is not rotten

By Mike Knotts, director of government affairs

I spend most of my days in contact with our elected officials in both Washington, D.C., and Nashville, so when the topic of the integrity of our government comes up for discussion, you might expect that I would want to tell you horror stories. That I would tell you the world is full of Frank Underwood-types (the lead character in Netflix’s “House of Cards”) who will stop at nothing to achieve their own selfish ambitions. That no politician really cares about serving as a steward of our great nation, only about serving himself or herself.

After all, it does seem to be the popular thing to express doubt and believe the worst when it comes to politics these days. How else can you explain the popularity of “The Daily Show,” a satirical television program fashioned as a fake news broadcast? It has grown from a late-1990s upstart aired on a cable channel most people had never heard of to one of the most prevalent sources of news information for those in the 18-to-34-year-old demographic.

The show bases its comedy on the real-life events that make up the news — mostly the current events surrounding politics and government — and generates laughter by assuming a cynical and skeptical tone about whomever is involved in the story. Common themes seem to involve a general lack of faith in the true intentions of just about anyone and everyone who is involved in public service, and, therefore, those same people and the decisions they make are deserving of ridicule. And this ridicule is deeply personal, typically targeted at a particular politician or public figure.

One would think that to enjoy this type of comedy, a person would have to understand the underlying events that the jokes are based on. In other words, if someone is not familiar with the topics the show lampoons, then he or she probably would not find it funny. But an interesting thing has happened. Many of the show’s biggest fans have skipped the first part, allowing the joke to become the vehicle by which they receive the information upon which the joke is based.

Mark Twain once said, “Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please.” In the case of “The Daily Show” audience, it seems to me as though the distortion (made for the purpose of eliciting humor) has become the most pleasing way to first get your facts — the joke is the news. One of my good friends, educated and opinionated, admitted to me recently that she had stopped watching any television news but rarely missed “The Daily Show.”

I offer these thoughts not as a critique of one particular television show but as an observation about our society in general. You can make your own judgments about whether the rise in popularity of satirical “news” is a good or bad thing. You can make your own judgments about our society’s desire to point the finger at someone else. But the popularity of this type of comedy today does have an effect upon the real-world actions of our political leaders. Many of them are eager to appear on these programs themselves, understanding the reality that so many people view this programming as “news.”

But let me offer some words of encouragement from my own first-hand experience. Frank Underwood is a wildly fictional character and is nowhere close to reality. The bitterness and divisive assumptions about politicians that cause us to laugh at Jon Stewart’s jokes, well, that attitude is not reflective of the reality I am a part of almost every day. I find myself surrounded by decent, hardworking people who face difficult decisions on a daily basis. They make those decisions based on a number of factors, guided by their own faith, morals and convictions.

Sometimes they get it right; sometimes they don’t. But whether they do or don’t, does it do you any good to deride and ridicule the person who made the decision? By all means, I encourage you to participate in the political process and support or oppose those who reflect your desires for public policy. But the deeply personal way in which our society criticizes politicians only seems to keep good people from choosing to serve. The void in leadership that is then left behind is filled by people whose misdeeds make it very easy to criticize. So what did the personal criticism really get us?

I try hard, often unsuccessfully, to fight off my own cynicism about the manner in which our country chooses to govern itself. Staying focused on affirming that which is good about our politics seems to be a more productive use of our time. It is true that nothing in this world will ever be perfect. And it is also true that our system of government really is the worst … except for every other one that’s ever been tried.

Carnahan to follow Womble at MLEC

(April 30, 2015) — The Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative Board of Directors named Keith Carnahan as the cooperative’s new Chief Executive Officer on April 28. Carnahan will step into the new role when Hal Womble retires in July after 16 years of leading the cooperative.

“Keith Carnahan will bring a unique perspective, business knowledge, skills, and management style to MLEC. The next decade promises many changes for our industry. It is the desire of this board that Keith work closely with each district, our dedicated staff and employees, the communities we serve, and the member owners to meet those challenges,” says MLEC Board Chair Johnnie Ruth Elrod. “We appreciate Keith’s enthusiasm and vision for MLEC and congratulate him as he takes on this new role to lead MLEC in the continued good service and the delivery of safe, reliable, and affordable electric service for our members.”

Carnahan is a graduate of Tennessee Technological University with a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering and received his MBA from Bethel University. He has been an employee of E.I. DuPont for the past 27 years serving in several engineering and management positions and was most recently the Site Engineering Manager for the New Johnsonville Plant.  During his tenure at DuPont, he led numerous improvement programs that helped the New Johnsonville Plant become a world class producer of Titanium Dioxide. Also, for the last 5 years he has served on the Board of Directors for MLEC representing Humphreys County.

“Being only the fifth leader in 75 years is a great honor and responsibility,” says Carnahan. “I look forward to serving MLEC and its members and leading the cooperative as it evolves in the years to come.”

Carnahan and Lisa, his wife of 28 years, make their home in Waverly, Tennessee. They have three daughters – Alyssa, Ashton and Allie. His hobbies include duck hunting, golf, and cycling.

Womble announced his retirement in the September 2014 issue of The Tennessee Magazine. “My years at MLEC have been rewarding, and I’d like to think we’ve accomplished a lot together,” says Womble. “New substations, reliable electricity, new programs for the members, and getting our fiber network off the ground – and hopefully one day to our members – are some of the things I’m most proud of during my tenure.”

Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative, a Touchstone Energy® cooperative, is a non-profit organization offering reliable, low-cost electricity to over 33,500 members in Hickman, Houston, Humphreys, Lewis and Perry counties. Member – electric power companies of Middle Tennessee. Remember to play it safe around electricity.

 

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