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.

Statement on Clean Power Plan

NASHVILLE, Aug. 3, 2015 – The Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association, an organization representing Tennessee’s not-for-profit, member-owned electric cooperatives and the more than 1.1 million homes, farms and businesses they serve, made the following statement about the Environmental Protection Agency’s final Clean Power Plan rule.

“We are disappointed that the EPA continues to ignore the burden these regulations will have on Tennessee families and businesses,” says David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “We will continue to advocate for a solution that strikes a balance between a healthy environment and a healthy economy.”

“The EPA rule fails to consider the impact to electric rates and reliability. That’s a risky move,” says Callis. “Affordable and reliable energy is critical to Tennessee’s economy, and any regulation that overlooks that fact is incomplete and ill–advised.”

“The modifications to the Clean Power Plan accelerate the pace of emissions reductions and discounts the efforts that have already been made,” says Callis.

In 2014 Tennessee’s electric cooperatives coordinated a grassroots campaign calling on the EPA to ensure that affordable and reliable energy was protected. More than 14,000 electric consumers in Tennessee responded during the EPA’s comment period on the Clean Power Plan.

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.

UPDATE – TECA has learned that the EPA will allow TVA to count new generation from Watts Bar nuclear plant toward state CO2 emission reduction requirements. TECA and NRECA will continue to monitor the plan and evaluate the impact it will have on Tennessee co-op members.

 

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Contact:
Trent Scott | Director of Corporate Strategy | tscott@tnelectric.org | 731.608.1519

A Change for the Better

It’s the little things

When it comes to energy efficiency in the home, sometimes small changes can make a big impact. A small, unglamorous task like changing the filters on your HVAC system makes your unit run more efficiently – keeping your house cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. It also saves money. And the savings gained from having your system run more efficiently can be applied to more fun or entertaining pursuits that your family can enjoy together.

The lowdown on dirt

As you move around your home, you drive dust into the air from carpets, furniture and drapes. Regardless of where it comes from, dust and dirt trapped in a system’s air filter leads to several problems, including:

  • Reduced air flow in the home and up to 15 percent higher operating costs
  • Costly duct cleaning or replacement
  • Lowered system efficiency

Making the switch

Now, that you know the facts, it’s time to get busy changing or cleaning the air filter in your heating/cooling system. Many HVAC professionals recommend that you clean or change the filter on your air conditioner or furnace monthly. It’s simple and easy, and in many cases, it only takes a few minutes.

Filters are available in a variety of types and efficiencies, rated by a Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV). MERV, a method developed by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, tests filter effectiveness. The higher the MERV number, the higher the filter’s effectiveness at keeping dust out of your system. While most types of filters must be replaced, some filters are reusable. And don’t forget about the winter months. Your heating system needs to work as efficiently as possible to keep you warm (and your loved one feeling snuggly), and a clean air filter helps it do just that.

Heating and cooling professionals recommend turning your system off before changing the air filter. Make sure that the arrow on the filter – which indicates the direction of the airflow – is pointing toward the blower motor. When you’ve made the change, turn your system back on.

A teachable moment

Beyond saving money and improving the air quality in your home, changing your air filter is a great opportunity to teach your family more about energy efficiency. Consider getting everyone involved, and the entire family will learn how simple changes can make a big difference.

For other tips on how to save, visit tnelectric.org/efficiency, or call the efficiency experts at your local electric co-op.

 

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.

Winning means using less

America is a competitive country. Fast cars, backboard shattering dunks and upper deck home runs get our adrenaline pumping. We even turn eating into a competition. So why not turn energy efficiency into a competitive effort?

Most people agree that using energy wisely is a smart decision. It’s good for your wallet, and it’s good for the planet. But let’s be honest – it can be pretty boring. Dancing with the Stars turned ballroom dancing into something exciting, so the same can be done with energy efficiency.

Several utilities have used the concept of energy challenges to turn energy efficiency into something that gets people excited, and it’s easy to recreate this friendly form of competition. All you need are two groups or even just one family to turn finding energy hogs into a fun activity that saves money.

So, how can you get in on the fun? You will want to compare your energy use this month to the same month last year. This will give a more accurate account of your use. If you don’t want to compare to the same month as last year, you can also do a month-to-month or even week-to-week comparison. Just use data that you can easily access – and remember, this is meant to be fun.

Let’s use an energy competition between two neighbors as an example. Both neighbors will need to know what their baseline energy use is (contact your utility provider if you do not have this information handy). Ideally, use the month from the prior year. This is the number that you will be competing against. The goal of the competition is to have the greatest percentage reduction for the month against that baseline. Now the fun starts. Simply figure out ways to reduce your energy use by the largest amount without spending more than $50. The goal is fun and easy. You shouldn’t have to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on improvements to make a positive impact.

The secret weapon to winning will be to use your kids, since they are amazingly creative and have a unique way of looking at things. Here are some of their suggestions for winning strategies:

  • Go camping outside for a few days instead of living inside the house
  • Cook meals on a grill instead of the kitchen
  • Watch less TV, disconnect the video game system or turn off the computer (Please be aware that these tips may lead to family bonding time.)
  • Unscrew some light bulbs
  • Unplug battery and cell phone chargers
  • Cut down on washing by using washing machines and dishwashers only when they are truly full
  • “Fine” family members (usually the husband or kids) for leaving the lights on in an empty room or a door to the outside open

Once the competition starts, engage everyone in your home to brainstorm ideas to reduce energy use. Challenge everyone in your home to develop a list of things to do. The person with the longest list could win a candy bar. Then do them. Equip the kids with caulk guns to shoot the energy leaks or weather stripping to reinforce the windows. Try to turn everything into a game or a race.

What does the winner of the competition get? In this sort of competition, everyone wins because they are saving energy and saving money. But the prize can be as simple as a pizza party for the winner. Several colleges have tried energy competitions among their dorms. It is amazing what college students will do to earn a free pizza party.

How much energy can you save doing a competition like this? Electric co-ops that have engaged their members in these sorts of competitions have reported energy savings ranging from 9 to 58 percent. Those that saved the most made more drastic changes, such as grilling or camping. The energy savings do go down once the competition ends. But co-ops have found that even when the competition is over, those who played the game are still using less energy than before the competition, and some of the easier behaviors like only running a full dishwasher or unscrewing light bulbs stick.

These ideas can be fun for all who compete, but making a long-lasting impact on home energy savings is the best prize of all!

 

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.

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.