Local before local was cool

Autonomy & Independence: One of the Seven Cooperative Principles that give all co-ops guidance

Whether you travel across the country or prefer to stay close to your hometown, one thing you may be noticing is the emphasis on “Buy Local” campaigns. This is based on one simple fact: It’s important to support businesses that support our community.

The Small Business Administration and the research firm Civic Economics estimate that dollars spent at a locally owned business stay in the community more than three times longer than money spent at “Big Box” stores, headquartered far away from your hometown. This means your community wealth is more likely to grow by shopping locally.

Consumer cooperatives, like Tennessee’s electric cooperatives, have known this forever. We were formed in the 1930s by people across the state to serve the people that work, worship and live in this community.

A common expression among cooperators is, “If you’ve seen one co-op, you’ve seen one co-op.”  While there are many similarities between co-ops, the fact that we are controlled locally, allowing us to serve your needs, is a critically important principle.

The fourth of our Seven Cooperative Principles is: Autonomy and Independence. And that is defined as follows: Cooperatives are autonomous, self-help organizations controlled by their members. If the co-op enters into agreements with other organizations or raises capital from external sources, it is done so based on terms that ensure democratic control by the members and maintain the cooperative’s autonomy.

This will allow us to continue to be the self-help organization envisioned by the founders of the modern cooperative movement.

In other words, for the co-op to stay a co-op it is vitally important we stay close to you, our members, to ensure we are continuing to respond to your needs. This could be through increasing energy-efficiency programs, offering renewable sources of energy and continuing our efforts to support other local businesses, schools and civic organizations.

You can be sure that electric cooperatives will not be moving operations to Mexico or China, as so many other corporations do. We began right here in Tennessee, and we plan on being here for a very long time. You can take that to the bank, or better yet, the credit union – as all credit unions are financial cooperatives. As always, we welcome your participation and suggestions about how we can improve our locally owned and controlled services.

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

Green gift-giving guide

Wondering what to buy for the person who has everything? How about a gift for an environment-friendly family member or friend? This holiday season, Tennessee’s electric cooperatives urge you to consider giving the gift of energy efficiency.

This doesn’t mean that you have to go out and replace your aunt’s refrigerator or your grandma’s washer and dryer – though you may be their favorite if you do. Giving the gift of energy efficiency can be as simple as filling their stockings, or creating a gift basket, with some of these helpful products.

LED light bulbs are the easiest way to increase efficiency in your home. From indoor bulbs for your lamps, recessed lighting and hanging fixtures to outdoor lighting, such as flood lamps and even decorative lighting strands – there’s an LED bulb for everyone.

LED lighting used to be deemed as prohibitively expensive, but prices have gone down significantly in recent years. Here are some top-rated options for energy-efficient lighting that makes everything bright!

  • GE Reveal 60 Watt Equivalent Bulb – This will run you around $18
  • Cree TW Series 60 Watt Equivalent Bulb – This will run you between $9 and $16
  • Sylvania’s Ultra HD floodlight-style bulb – This will run you between $22 and $35

Water-saving showerheads are also a great gift option. On average, Americans consume over 3 billion gallons of water daily. Switching to a water-saving showerhead could save a family of three up to $631 per year in costs and could reduce water consumption by over 2,600 gallons per year. Lack of water pressure can be a concern when giving this gift, so here are a few examples of showerheads that save water, but not at the expense of water pressure.

  • Glacier Bay 1-Spray Hand Shower – This will run you around $13
  • The Delta 1-Spray Water-Saving Showerhead – This will run you around $16
  • The Delta Arias 5-Spray Showerhead – This will run you around $37

Providing your family and friends with energy-efficiency tips along with a gift is also a great option. For example, did you know that one of the best ways to save energy in your home is to turn off all of your electronic devices? Try a TrickleStar Motion Sensor Power Strip, which costs around $30.

Supplement your gift with caulking supplies or weather strips, and before you know it, you will have the perfect energy-saving gift! All of these products are available online and at Big Box hardware stores, so get to shopping. From everyone at Tennessee’s electric cooperatives, have a happy, energy-efficient holiday!            

Meghaan Evans writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Arlington, Va.-based service arm of the nations 900-plus consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives.

Manufactured savings

How to boost efficiency of mobile homes

By Thomas Kirk

Manufactured homes, sometimes dubbed mobile homes, often log disproportionately higher energy bills than traditional wood-frame or modular homes.  But there are steps you can take to help manage energy costs and increase comfort.

The ways manufactured homes are designed, built, installed and operated help to explain why their levels of energy performance can be much lower than those seen in site-built homes. During construction, lower quality, less efficient materials may be used, or design specifications may not be met. Transporting a unit to a site and movement can disrupt the integrity of the original construction. Also, homes that sit on jack stands or blocks allow air to flow underneath, which compromises the structure.

Manufactured homes come in several configurations: singlewide, doublewide and triplewide. Doublewides and triplewides require a crossover duct to provide air flow between the sections—a major culprit in air leaks that contribute significantly to wasted energy.

There isn’t a magic bullet to lower the energy consumption of a manufactured home. It takes time and hard work to troubleshoot all of the possible causes of energy loss. The most common culprits and ways to remedy them are:

  • Belly board problems—In most manufactured homes, the belly board holds the insulation in place under the floor and serves as a vapor barrier.  Plumbing that runs under the floor is on the warm side of the insulation to keep it from freezing in winter. However, the belly board can be damaged by animals, deteriorate over time, or become torn, allowing the floor insulation to become moisture laden or to simply fall out, exposing ductwork and dramatically increasing energy losses. Often there is also long-term water damage from leaky pipes, toilets and showers that has compromised floor, insulation and belly board integrity. These problems must be addressed prior to basic weatherization. Replacing the belly board and repairing leaky plumbing should be the first things on your to do list.
  • Air leakage/infiltration—Infiltration of excessive outside air can be a major problem. Specific problems include deteriorated weather stripping; gaps in the “marriage wall” that joins multiple units making up the home; holes in the ends of ducts; gaps around wall registers and behind washers and dryers; and unsealed backing to the electrical panel. This is a dirty job and will require you to crawl under the home and into the attic looking for gaps. Gaps can be filled with weather stripping and insulation. You should consult your local hardware store for the exact type of insulation needed for the specific area of the home.
  • Crossover ducts—Sealing the ducts than run under the sections making up your mobile home will result in tremendous energy savings and increased comfort. Crossover ducts are often made of flexible tubing and are therefore prone to collapse and are easy for animals to chew or claw into. Crossover ducts made of thin sheet metal can leak heated or cooled air to the great outdoors, which is what happens when ductwork connections are made with duct tape. Repairs are generally easy, using either special duct sealant or metal tape that can be found at most home improvement stores. If you can afford the upgrade, consider replacing a flexible crossover duct with metal ductwork.
  • Lack of insulation—Insulation levels and associated R-values in walls, floors and ceilings in manufactured homes can be woefully inadequate. If it is easily accessible, adding additional insulation to ceiling and floors will help. However, adding insulation to walls will be a problem without major renovations that are often not cost justified.
  • Uninsulated ductwork—Ductwork itself may not be wrapped with insulation, allowing heating and cooling losses. Wrapping ductwork will lead to energy savings. You should be able to find insulation specifically made for ductwork at your local hardware store.
  • Single-glazed windows and uninsulated doors—Most manufactured homes come with single-glazed windows and uninsulated doors, which have a low R-value. That means the rate of heat transfer between finished interior spaces and the outdoors is higher than what’s ideal. Replacing the windows with double- or triple-glazed windows or adding storm windows will help make the home more comfortable. An insulated door will also help. However, these solutions can be very expensive. At a minimum, you should add weather stripping to doors and windows. Also, a window film kit is a cheap and easy-to-install upgrade that will help to keep winter winds out of the home.
  • Heat absorbing roof—In areas where you need to frequently run the AC unit, you can save by installing a white roof or cool roof coating.  These roofs reflect more sunlight to keep manufactured homes cooler.  Many cool roof coatings can be brushed or rolled on like paint and are easy to apply on metal roofs.  The cost of roof coatings varies depending on how reflective they are, and how long they will last- choose a coating that is appropriate for your climate.

It may take a couple of weekends and a few hundred dollars, but basic repairs can yield significant savings. Savings of up to 50 percent have been reported in manufactured homes that have been properly sealed and had old electric furnaces replaced with new electric heat pumps. The key is to get out there and start hunting for the savings lurking under, over and inside your manufactured home.

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

Who is your power company?

Each year, I go a number of electric cooperative annual meetings across the state. It’s always so nice to attend these gatherings and be reminded of just how important each co-op is to the communities it serves. It’s easy to see because the annual meeting is more than just a business session. Along with the important activities the co-op conducts during the formal meeting, your cooperative’s annual meeting of the members is a lot of other things.

It is part social hour where neighbors catch up about the high school football team and the new restaurant on the square. Hearing folks ask each other, “How’s your momma?” and “Where have you been all these years?!” is heartwarming and reassuring about how we treat one other in this increasingly impersonal society. The meeting is part grip-and-grin politics where candidates for the co-op’s board of directors smile and maybe even kiss a few babies in hopes of earning your vote. I’m sure Norman Rockwell would have loved painting one of those scenes. And it’s part outreach effort where the co-op educates its members about important issues or how it serves the public in some way. For instance, some co-ops might conduct heath fairs and offer flu shots to their members, invite community groups to set up displays to provide information about their organizations, conduct electrical safety demonstrations or provide meals and entertainment for folks to enjoy.

At some annual meetings, I will give a short speech about what is happening in Nashville or Washington, D.C., that affects your co-op. One of my favorite things to do is ask everyone in attendance a question or two. It usually goes something like this: After talking a bit about the difficulty of reliably providing electric power, I will say, “Raise your hand if you are here because you appreciate your power company.” Many hands will go up, and plenty of heads will nod in agreement. They don’t usually expect what comes next.

“Sorry, but you are all wrong. No one in this room gets their electricity from a power company.”

What in the world could I mean by that? I like to let my statement sit for just a moment of uncomfortable silence. Someone on the front row will inevitably turn their smile into a big frown. But, I quickly begin to explain by asking a few other questions: Did you vote to elect the board of directors for the company that supplies you with natural gas? How about the cable company? Your water provider? No. Your co-op is a lot different than all those other companies.

You see, my original question was actually a trick. You don’t have a power company that just sends you a bill at the end of the month. You and your neighbors own your local co-op, and that means that what is good for the co-op is good for you. You’re not a customer; you are an owner, and it’s our pleasure to serve you.

And while Tennessee’s cooperatives lead the pack in important indicators like customer satisfaction, overall value and low rates, it is crucial for the future that your co-op be more than just the best utility provider around. We want to make your life better.

One of the ways we do that is by participating in the process of crafting public policy and ensuring that the decisions your elected officials make are wise and beneficial for rural and suburban Tennessee. And unlike most utility providers, our lobbying efforts aren’t about increasing our profit margins. The advocacy efforts I have the pleasure of working on are for one central purpose: to ensure that your co-op can continue to power everyday life in your community. Period.

However, those efforts are moot if the energy we deliver is either unaffordable or unavailable. So we get involved in any legislative matter that may place unnecessary burdens on your electric bill. I spend my days and nights speaking to your state and federal elected officials about these important topics, and we are fortunate to have the vast majority of Tennessee’s elected officials standing up as strong supporters of electric cooperatives.

But to be successful when it really counts, we sometimes need you to speak up and tell your elected officials that a particular proposal would harm these goals. What is good for the co-op is good for you, but the reverse is also true. When someone proposes something that could harm your co-op, that damage is felt directly by you. Thankfully, your voices are strong and loud. And as we prepare for whatever 2015 may bring, it’s great to know that co-op members all across the U.S. are ready to stand side-by-side to protect this crucial part of your hometown.

2014 Annual Meeting

NASHVILLE – The 73rd annual meeting of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association was held Sunday – Tuesday, Nov. 23 – 25, at the Nashville Airport Marriott. The theme of the meeting was “Powering Everyday Life,” and Dan Rodamaker, president and CEO of Gibson Electric Membership Corporation and president of the TECA board of trustees, called the meeting to order.

Representatives from 23 member systems and one associate member were present for the business meeting. Rodamaker and TECA General Manager David Callis, the resolutions committee, TECA staff and representatives from the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative presented reports and updates.

Elections were held for four-year positions on the TECA board of trustees. John Collins, general manager of Chickasaw Electric Cooperative, was elected from Region I. Joe Mullins, Upper Cumberland Electric Membership Corporation board member, was elected from Region II. Joe Atwood, Mountain Electric Cooperative board member, was elected from Region III.

Jim Code, general manager of Cumberland Electric Membership Corporation, Johnnie Ruth Elrod, director at Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative and Randell Myers, CEO and general manager of Powell Valley Electric Cooperative, were elected to the TECA board of trustees.

“Congratulations to those who have been chosen for leadership roles,” said Callis. “We appreciate their service and are confident they will provide sound direction and represent Tennessee’s electric cooperatives with honor.”

Throughout the year, TECA presents training and education programs for cooperative directors. Recognized at this year’s annual meeting, board members receiving Credentialed Cooperative Director status were Lee Armstrong, Plateau EC; Brian Boyatt, Plateau EC; Ronnie Fisher, Forked Deer EC; Bobby Gravitt, Sequachee Valley EC; Joseph Miller, Tri-County EMC; Edward Oliver, Cumberland EMC; Tom Perkey, Middle Tennessee EMC; Andrew Porch, Meriwether Lewis EC; Angela Talent, Fort Loudoun EC; and Gerald Taylor, Tennessee Valley EC. Board members receiving the more involved Board Leadership certification were J. Steve Roller, Caney Fork EC; Michael Mason, Cumberland EMC; Joe Tucker, Duck River EMC; Janine Wilson, Fayetteville PU; James R. Pugh, Fort Loudoun EC; Keith Carnahan, Meriwether Lewis EC; Zach Hutchins, Meriwether Lewis EC; Brian Boyatt, Plateau EC; Dave Cross, Plateau EC; Walter Barnes, Sequachee Valley EC; Paul Jaggers, Tennessee Valley EC; Kevin Staggs, Tennessee Valley EC; Wilbur Storey, Tennessee Valley EC; Joseph Miller, Tri-County EC; and James West, Upper Cumberland EMC.

The Tennessee Magazine reception, featuring products made or produced in Tennessee, was held on Sunday evening, Nov. 23. Attendees to this year’s meeting also heard from Jack McCall, humorist and motivational speaker; Mark Aesch, business leader and writer; and Sen. Bob Corker.

The Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association is a trade group representing the interests of Tennessee’s 23 electric distribution cooperatives and the 1.1 million consumers they serve.

[button link=”http://teca.smugmug.com/TECA-Annual-Meeting/TECA-Annual-Meeting-2014/”]View photos from the meeting →[/button]

Tamper Resistant Receptacles

What are Tamper Resistant Receptacles (TRRs)?

They may look like standard outlets, but tamper resistant receptacles, or TRRs, are different. Their most distinguishable feature – a built-in shutter system that prevents foreign objects from being inserted – sets them apart. Only a plug that applies simultaneous, equal pressure to both slots will disengage the cover plates, allowing access to the contact points.  Without this synchronized pressure, the cover plates remain closed.

While a child’s curiosity knows no boundaries, it can sometimes put them in peril, especially when electricity is involved.  Located in practically every room of the house, electrical outlets and receptacles are fixtures, but they also represent potential hazards for children.

In recent years, more homes have been equipping their electrical outlets with TRRs, but in many public facilities, like hospital pediatric wards, these safeguards have been required for more than 20 years. Their efficiency also prompted the National Electrical Code to make TRRs standard in all new home construction. Existing homes can be easily retrofitted with TRRs using the same installation guidelines that apply to standard receptacles. TRRs should only be installed by a licensed electrician and should carry a label from a nationally recognized, independent testing lab such as UL, ETL, or CSA.

TRRs by the Numbers

  • Each year 2,400 children suffer severe shock and burns resulting from inserting objects into the slots of electrical receptacles. That’s nearly seven children a day.
  • It is estimated that 6-12 child fatalities result from children tampering electrical receptacles.
  • Installing a TRR in a newly constructed home is only about 50₵ more than a traditional receptacle.
  • Existing homes can be retrofitted with TRRs for as little as $2.00 per outlet.

For more information on TRRS, visit www.esfi.org.

Unwrap winter energy savings

by Amber Bentley

The holidays are upon us! It’s that special time of year when we spend a great deal of time with friends and family, either in the kitchen or out and about shopping for the perfect gift. As you find yourself wrapped up in the holiday excitement, Tennessee’s electric cooperatives remind you of a few ways to be energy efficient during this busy time of year.

Cooking efficiently

  • Be kind to your oven. Every time you open the oven door to check on that dish, the temperature inside is reduced by as much as 25 degrees. This forces the oven to use more energy in order to get back to the proper cooking temperature. Try keeping the door closed as much as possible. Also, remember to take advantage of residual heat for the last five to 10 minutes of baking time – this is another way to save energy use. If you’re using a ceramic or glass dish, you can typically set your oven 25 degrees lower than stated, since these items hold more heat than metal pans.
  • Give your burners some relief. The metal reflectors under your stovetop burners should always be clean. If not, this will prevent your stove from working as effectively as it should.
  • Utilize small appliances. During the holidays, the main appliances used are the oven and stovetop. Try using your slow cooker, microwave, toaster oven or warming plate more often. This will result in substantial energy savings.

Home efficiency

  • Take advantage of heat from the sun. Open your curtains during the day to allow sunlight to naturally heat your home, and close them at night to reduce the chill from cold windows.
  • Find and seal all air leaks. Check areas near pipes, gaps around chimneys, cracks near doors and windows and any unfinished places.
  • Maintain your heating system. Schedule services for your heating system before it gets too cold to find out what maintenance you may need to keep your system operating efficiently.
  • Eliminate “vampire energy” waste. When you are not using an appliance or an electronic, unplug it to save energy. Power strips are definitely a good investment for your home.

Efficient shopping

  • Purchase LED holiday lights. A string of traditional lights uses 36 watts of power and a string of LED lights only uses 5 watts. They can even last up to 10 times longer!
  • Ask for Energy Star-rated TVs and appliances. This will save you a lot of power use because the standby-mode is lower and the device will use less energy overall.
  • Combine errands to reduce the number of small trips. To-do lists seem to pile up around this time of the year. Believe it or not, several short trips in the winter can use twice as much fuel as one longer trip covering the same distance as all of the shorter ones.

Being energy efficient is usually not top priority when celebrating the holidays, and most of us don’t realize the lack of efficiency until the next bill comes in. Prevent your post-holiday shock this year by thinking creatively and remembering all of these tips!

Amber Bentley writes on energy efficiency issues for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Arlington, Va.-based service arm of the nations 900-plus consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives.

Holiday cooking safety tips

The kitchen is the heart of the home. Sadly, it’s also where two out of every five home fires start. Many home fires occur during what’s supposed to be the happiest time of the year – the holidays. Thanksgiving, Christmas and Christmas Eve hold a tradition of cooking, and safety should always be considered in the kitchen. As we embark on the holiday season, Tennessee’s Electric Cooperatives and the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) urge you to use these simple safety tips to identify and correct potential kitchen hazards:

  • Never leave cooking equipment unattended, and always remember to turn off burners if you have to leave the room.
  • Supervise the little ones closely in the kitchen. Make sure children stay at least three feet away from all cooking appliances.
  • Prevent potential fires by making sure your stovetop and oven are clean and free of grease, dust and spilled food.
  • Remember to clean the exhaust hood and duct over your stove on a regular basis.
  • Keep the cooking area around the stove and oven clear of combustibles, such as towels, napkins and potholders.
  • Always wear short or close-fitting sleeves when cooking. Loose clothing can catch fire.
  • To protect from spills and burns, use the back burners and turn the pot handles in, away from reaching hands.
  • Locate all appliances away from the sink.
  • Plug countertop appliances into ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI)-protected outlets.
  • Keep appliance cords away from hot surfaces like the range or toaster.
  • Unplug the toaster and other countertop appliances when not in use.
  • Be sure to turn off all appliances when cooking is completed.

For more important safety tips to keep you and your family safe this holiday season and throughout the year, visit www.esfi.org.

The Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) is a 501(c) (3) organization dedicated exclusively to promoting electrical safety in the home, school, and workplace. ESFI proudly engages in public education campaigns throughout the year to prevent electrical fires, injuries and fatalities.

 

safetytips

MLEC brings wireless internet to Hickman County

(October 20, 2014)MyMLEC Now, a free wireless hotspot offering by Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative, came to life Thursday, Oct. 16, for Hickman County. The service makes free wi-fi available at the Centerville River Park and Jerry Dixon Walking Trail.

The MyMLEC Now – connecting you wirelessly test model is an extension of MLEC’s fiber core network which connects the cooperative’s offices and substations in five counties. Security and safety filters are in place for the protection of users, and individual access time is currently limited to four hours a day.

“We’re excited to bring this to Centerville,” says MLEC President and CEO Hal Womble. “It is a way to give back to our members and promote technology in the area. Our goal is to use what we learn and create similar models for the other counties we serve.”

Lewis County Memorial Park in Hohenwald was the first test location and came on line in June. A search for test sites for the other counties served by MLEC is underway.

Meriwether Lewis Electric 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 – play it safe around electricity.

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We want you to know

Over the past few years, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of scams targeting our consumers’ pocketbooks. In one, a caller posing as a co-op employee threatens to shut off service unless the member provides immediate payment using a reloadable debit card, prepaid gift card or online payment service like PayPal. That’s not the way that we operate. Education and communication help reduce the number of victims, but some of our members still fall prey.

There are other schemes that fall into a category somewhere between outright scam and shady marketing. Many are legitimate products that truly help manage and lower energy usages; such as programmable thermostats, energy efficient appliances, timers, etc.

Unfortunately, many are not. When the first pitch is “What The Electric Companies Don’t Want You To Know“, there is a good chance that the product is questionable. The implication is that we are out to steal our members’ money.

Fact: We want our members to have lower electric bills. It’s just sometimes difficult to convince them of that fact.

As member-owned, non-profit cooperatives, we operate on margins that don’t include paying dividends to investors. We don’t have to generate record profits to increase our stock price. Every dollar taken in is used in running the system or re-invested back into the distribution system.

We encourage our members to use less electricity. What other business has that type of business plan?

When energy saving devices can cut electric bills – we want everyone to know about them. Electric cooperatives frequently gave away compact fluorescent or LED lights; we provide free advice on energy efficiency; we promote geothermal heating and cooling systems that can dramatically reduce your electricity consumption. We do everythiing we can to help our members use less electricity.

And despite what our members have been told, electric cooperatives and TVA encourage the use of renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar. We need coal, but that’s not all we’re about.

The bottom line is that we are concerned about our members’ bottom line. Our primary concern has always been keeping the lights on. That concern isn’t limited to keeping the power flowing, it also means keeping energy affordable.

So, the next time you see the phrase, “what your utility doesn’t want you to know,” tell your members to put their hand on your pocketbook. As we’re doing that, let’s make an extra effort to educate them on the measures that they can take to lower their bill – that’s something that we do want them to know.