Five tips for space heater safety

As temperatures drop this winter, many will look for supplemental heating sources for their homes. Space heaters can be a good alternative for those who want to warm one area of their home without turning up the thermostat on the central heating system. However, space heaters are also responsible for 32 percent of house fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association. If you are planning to use a space heater in your home this winter, review these tips from Tennessee’s electric cooperatives to keep you, your family and your property safe.

Materials – What are the components of your space heater made of? Parts like metal grating can be hot to the touch and may burn anyone who gets too close. Make sure you purchase a heater that is cool to the touch and has guards over the coils just in case little fingers get too close.

Placement – While it can be tempting to place a small heater on a shelf so it is not in the way of pets and children, it is safest to leave the heater on a level floor on a nonflammable surface. Keeping the space heater on the floor can keep it from falling over, preventing fire hazards. Also, remember that space heaters and bathrooms are not a good combination, unless the heater is designed for bathroom use. Moisture can damage the heater.

The most important rule about space heater placement is the three-foot rule. Whether you are using the heater in the bedroom, living room or kitchen, space heaters should always be kept three feet away from flammable materials and out of the way of children and pets.

Special Features – Does your space heater have an auto shutoff function if tipped over? Auto shutoff can be a lifesaver. If you currently own a space heater without auto shutoff, consider purchasing a heater with this important safety feature.

Cords – You should never use an extension cord when plugging in a space heater as it can cause overheating. The space heater should be plugged directly into a wall outlet, and should be the only thing plugged in to the wall outlet. Also make sure cords aren’t in a high-traffic area so they are not a tripping hazard.

Use – Never leave a heater unattended while in use. If you are leaving your home or going to bed, make sure to unplug the heater.

Following these tips and making sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions can keep you safe this winter.

April Lollar writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Arlington, Va.-based service organization for the nation’s 900-plus consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives.

Electric co-ops effectively respond to disasters

In the summer of 2012, the derecho that swept hurricane-force winds from the Great Plains to the Atlantic seaboard knocked out power to more than four million people. The damage caused by this devastating storm cost the nation $2.9 billion.

Disasters, whether caused by nature, accidents or hostile acts, exact an enormous cost, both in economic and human terms. Electric cooperatives have a unique and effective approach to emergency management and disaster recovery: mutual assistance. Following a disaster, co-ops will rapidly deploy support staff and equipment to emergency and recovery zones to assist sister co-ops.

Because the national network of transmission and distribution infrastructure owned by electric cooperatives has been built to federal standards, line crews from any co-op in America can arrive on the scene ready to provide emergency support, secure in their knowledge of the system’s engineering.

We work closely with other first responders, state and local government and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to ensure an effective and coordinated response in the event of an emergency.

Since cooperatives are not-for-profit organizations, we are eligible for financial assistance from FEMA, which can fund a major portion of the cost of emergency work to restore power and the cost of repairing, restoring, rebuilding or replacing damaged facilities. This system gives electric cooperatives the ability to respond effectively and quickly in times of crisis and protects the financial interests of the cooperative members as the same time.

Unfortunately, with tighter budgets, securing FEMA reimbursements after a disaster has become more difficult. Following Superstorm Sandy, Congress changed the rules: FEMA now allocates funds for rebuilding based on an estimate of costs, not on the actual cost. If the estimate is higher than the actual cost, the excess funds must be used for FEMA-approved projects. But if the estimate is low, the co-op must pay the difference.

Electric cooperatives across the country learn from disasters. We learn how to protect our systems better, and we learn how to become more resilient. When it comes to resiliency, we have a good story to tell. We serve our member-consumers in the most rugged, remote terrain in the country. And we have learned how to restore power in extremely difficult circumstances.

Resolve to make your home more energy efficient

Happy New Year! This is the time of year when we often resolve to make changes of all types. Here’s an idea for you. Instead of focusing on the typical resolutions, such as losing weight and exercising more, why not resolve to make your home more energy efficient? And with winter in full swing, this is a good time to think about making energy-efficiency improvements to your home. Your thermostat is in full heating mode and generally, winter heating requirements cause us to spend more money than we do for cooling. This is because the laws of nature dictate how heat behaves on Earth. As a reminder, heat moves to cool.

On a cold winter day, the heat generated by a heating source is moving through building materials, cracks around doors and windows, unsealed holes created by electrical and plumbing penetrations and improperly installed and inadequate insulation. Furthermore, winter usually doles out a larger temperature difference between the indoor thermostat setting and the outdoor temperature. The greater the temperature difference, the more energy is required to maintain the desired temperature inside your home.

To be clear, not all homes are energy inefficient. So how does one know whether or not his/her manufactured or standard built home is energy efficient? Here is a simple way to do it, based on your average monthly utility usage. Simply multiply the square footage of your home by 10 cents. For instance, a 1,500-square-foot home multiplied by 10 cents (.10) equals $150.00. A 2,000-square-foot home multiplied by 10 (.10) cents equals $200. And so on.

Next, calculate your total electric bills for a one-year period. If you heat with natural gas or propane, be sure to add those bills into the total. Next, divide the total by 12 months to establish the monthly average. If your monthly average exceeds the square-footage multiplied by 10 cents (.10) calculation, you most likely have an opportunity to make some energy efficiency improvements.

Tennessee’s electric cooperatives can help identify and offer solutions for high bills and comfort issues. Contact your local cooperative or visit our efficiency archives for many energy savings ideas and solutions.

In the meantime, stay warm and start working on your energy efficiency resolution!

Bret Curry is the residential energy manager for Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corporation.

The power of policy impacts our members

It seems you can’t turn on a TV, listen to the radio or pick up a newspaper without hearing about ineffectiveness in government. It often seems that no matter what we do or who we vote for, we don’t feel truly represented in either our state or national governments.

Tennessee’s electric cooperatives understand how that feels, and we have been there ourselves. That feeling, along with a strong desire to take action, is the reason why we have dedicated staff that works to ensure our members’ interests are represented, and heard, by elected officials.

Members of our government relations and policy teams work tirelessly to tackle complicated regulatory and policy issues. They apply these issues to the ever-changing energy market and then evaluate how those issues impact our communities. They have a deep understanding of the needs of the communities we serve, and they use that knowledge to ensure that your needs are represented in major legislative decision-making.

The ability to impact change is a huge part of being a member of an electric co-op. We don’t lobby elected officials on behalf of investors with the aim to increase profit margins. We work with elected officials to make sure that your interests are being considered to ensure that you will always be provided with safe, reliable and affordable electric service. That is the cooperative difference.

But it isn’t just our government relations team that helps us affect policy and legislative change. Your voice makes a huge difference in how quickly and effectively we can drive change. Through our grassroots advocacy programs we encourage you to bring your ideas to the table and to make your voice heard. This is how we show state and national officials that we are acting in your best interest. Your collective voice shows that we represent communities and families, not corporate interests.

The next time you are feeling frustrated, the next time you want to be heard or the next time you want to make a change in your community, call your local power company. Find out what we are doing to represent your interests, and find out how you can help affect change in our communities.

Meghaan Evans 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.

Energy efficiency and the tiny house movement

A “tiny house movement” has gained attention nationally as a reaction to the increased construction of larger homes. Popularized by the documentary “Tiny,” a television show, and other media coverage, these homes typically measure less than 1,000 square feet – a far cry from the typical American home. In 1973, the average U.S. home measured 1,660 square feet. Since then, U.S. homes have grown by over 60 percent to reach an average size of 2,598 square feet in 2013 – despite a slight dip in 2008 through 2010. But do smaller homes actually use less energy? What are the factors that determine how much energy a house consumes?

As the size of homes increases, so do the energy demands on it. There’s additional space to be heated or cooled, more lighting is required, and it’s likely that the number of appliances will increase as well. Examining only a home’s size will show a strong positive correlation between the square footage of a home and its energy consumption. To look at an extreme case, homes that measure over 6,400 square feet (the top 1 percent of homes) use two and a half times as much electricity as home sized at 1,600 square feet; but this isn’t the whole story. Other factors such as the age of the home, climate, income and behavior influence energy consumption as well. Energy Information Administration (EIA) data shows that homes built after the year 2000 use only 2 percent more energy than homes built before 2000 even though the newer homes are on average 30 percent larger and contain more electronic appliances.

There are several reasons for this equilibrium in energy use despite the greater building size. First, homes are becoming more energy efficient. They are lit with CFLs and LEDs instead of incandescents and use more efficient appliances. For example, an older refrigerator can use about twice as much energy as a newer model of similar capacity. Second, homes are being built with more energy-efficient features. This includes better building shells, modern windows and more insulation. Larger homes in particular are more likely to include these types of energy-saving features. These changes are due not just to technological advances but policy changes that tightened building codes and raised the minimum energy efficiency standards for appliances. Programs such as EnergyStar have helped to educate consumers about the efficiency and cost-savings of their products. Lastly, more Americans are moving south to more moderate climates. This means that less energy is used on space heating, and although the southern migration has resulted in a 56 percent increase in energy used for air conditioning, it’s not enough to offset the space heating reduction.

What this ultimately means is that the amount of energy a home uses is not pre-determined by its size. While moving into a tiny home may not be practical or possible — they are often not allowed under current zoning regulations and only make up around 1 percent of homes – realize both large homes and small homes have the potential to be efficient or inefficient. Rather than moving into a tiny home to save energy, consider looking into energy-efficient retrofits – contact your local electric co-op for 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.

TVA Update Wardlaw

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NRECA Update Nolan

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NRECA Update Elkins

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Federated update

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Leadership

Leaders come from all walks of life. Some are thrust into leadership roles because of their family lineage — which sometimes doesn’t bode well for themselves or their followers. Some assume the role because of their skill or expertise, which hopefully provides a platform for developing into a leader. Some become leaders because they’ve been elected. Others are selected because they show some sparks of talent or commitment that convey their ability to lead.

One of the speakers at the TECA Annual Meeting was Sen. Bob Corker. The senator offered his assessment of the current Congress and the challenges facing our nation and state. Corker, whose prior service was as the mayor of Chattanooga, remarked that he believes there is “no greater service than someone serving their community on the local level.”

Some leaders fall in the category of “Subject Matter Experts”, such as NRECA’s John Novak and TVA’s John Myers. Their combined expertise covered numerous topics, from the legality of the Clean Power Plan to EPA allowing Watts Bar Unit 2 to count toward achieving Tennessee’s carbon reduction targets.

But you don’t have to have grey hair to be a leader or even be old enough to vote.

This year’s Youth Leadership Council winner was Denisha Patrick. Denisha is from Chickasaw Electric Cooperative in Somerville, who received the honor by being selected by her peers. If you heard her speak, you saw the leadership qualities she possessed.

All of these leaders have one thing in common: a desire to make life better in their local community. It’s a matter of commitment, ability, and desire. That’s what makes for a good leader and it’s what we have to exhibit every day as we lead Tennessee’s cooperatives.