Move Over

In 2011, following efforts by Tennessee’s electric cooperatives and municipal utilities, the state’s Move Over law was revised to not only include police, firefighters and other first responders, but utility workers as well. Unfortunately, motorists do not always heed the law.

The requirements of the law are simple. On a four lane road, if safety and traffic conditions allow, a driver approaching a utility vehicle with flashing lights should move into the far lane. On a two lane road or when changing lanes is not possible, a driver should reduce their speed.

The infographic below is designed to help motorists understand their requirements when behind the wheel.

 

moveoverinfographic

The cooperative difference

I don’t think we realize how much we benefit from the internet and the communications services it provides. Not that many years ago, companies debated whether they should invest in having an online presence. I know that because I was involved in those conversations.

Today, you can go online to change your mobile phone’s data plan or increase the number of channels you receive from your broadband provider. You can start or stop services, and you can easily order everything from cat food to diapers — all conveniently delivered to your home in a few days (or even hours). Quite often, if you go to a company’s website, a dialogue box will pop up and allow you to order goods and services or make transactions in a chat exchange with an agent. Companies boast about how much they care about their customers, so they will go to any length to make things easier.

But have you ever tried to cancel any of those offerings?

Recently, I needed to cancel a couple of communications-related services. Unfortunately, neither of the two companies’ websites had an easy link for customers. I simply could not do this by email, text or chat. The only option was a voice conversation. Sounds easy enough, but they involved very lengthy conversations punctuated by long periods of time on hold. All told, I invested well over an hour of my time.

So much for making things easier for customers — though I was a departing customer.

I can appreciate that some actions require a conversation and many companies prefer a more personal interaction with their customers. Yet, this process seemed to be more about trying to convince me to change my mind or make it so painful that I would give up.

At cooperatives, we look at customers a bit differently. To begin with, we view you as what you truly are — member-owners and not customers. It is one of our founding principles, and it colors how we do our jobs. We’re happy to see you join the cooperative and sad to see you leave should you move away.

The American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) is a measure of customer satisfaction. It is a well-respected national survey of the quality of products and services offered by foreign and domestic firms. It measures customer satisfaction on a scale of 0 to 100.

Electric cooperatives across the nation are evaluated by the ACSI and, quite frankly, we score very well. For years, we have been near the top of the rankings. Electric cooperatives led the energy sector in 2014-15 with a score of 81. (For comparison, Apple scored an 80.)

According to ACSI, “Across all 43 industries measured by the ACSI, electric co-ops have the 10th highest customer satisfaction score.”

It makes a difference when you’re treated like a member-owner and not just a customer. The lineman, the engineer and the member service representative view you as much more than a source of revenue. They work for you. The cooperative difference shows up in their commitment to their jobs, and it shows in how cooperative members rate them.

How do the communications companies I dealt with compare? I won’t “name names,” but their 2015 ACSI scores were near the bottom of nationally known companies. Their individual scores were 68 and 69.

From my personal experience, I think their survey scores might have been overly generous.

Member, not customer

Many businesses use the word “member” to describe their customers. Places like Sam’s Club or Costco and even American Express like to refer to their customers as members. You pay a fee to buy their goods and services, but that is really all you get for the “membership.” No right to vote for the Board of Directors or to participate in any meaningful way in the organization.

For Tennessee’s electric cooperatives, membership really does mean something more than just the right to buy electricity. Co-ops of all types are founded on seven cooperative principles that give us guidance and strategic direction. Membership also gives you rights as an owner of the co-op.

Brett Fairbairn is the director of the Center for the Study of Co-operatives at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada. He makes the case that member relations is not just part of what co-ops should be doing, but in fact is the fundamental core business of the cooperative.

He further lays out the three strategic concepts that any co-op must get right in order to survive and thrive:

Economic linkage

Co-ops are connected to you. There is a business relationship that serves you (the member) and the co-op. Since co-ops are solely owned by people in the community, they have a mutual interest to ensure that both the co-op and the member do well and prosper.

Transparency

As an owner of the co-op, you have a right to know how it operates and how decisions are made that directly impact you. If the co-op is transparent and combines this trait with integrity and fairness, it will build trust with the members.

Cognition

In this case, cognition is best defined as how your co-op thinks. It includes the current and historical identity, the mission and the sense of shared values with co-op members. Research, education and training are critical functions that co-ops must conduct on an ongoing basis to ensure that we always have the best information to make decisions.

The cooperative business model is the best one on earth, but like any enterprise, it is up to the human beings who work at the co-op, who serve on the board and the members like you to ensure that the principles and values do not fade over time.

First and foremost, Tennessee’s cooperatives strive to be thought of as member-owned, and that gives you the best value of any utility. If we succeed, our community thrives and you will always value being a member – not a customer.

Adam Schwartz is the founder of The Cooperative Way a consulting firm that helps co-ops succeed. He is an author, speaker and member-owner of the CDS Consulting Co-op. You can follow him on Twitter @adamcooperative or email him at aschwartz@thecooperativeway.coop.

Meaningful accomplishments

Have you noticed how news programs use the phrase “Breaking News?” I’ve always believed that label should mean a significant, unexpected event is underway and the reporters involved are relaying information in real time. But these days every cable news channel story is seemingly labeled as late-breaking and treated as urgent. Because of this, it is often hard to see the big picture through this dense fog of arguing pundits and so-called breaking news.

With the priority being to report on the immediate and instantaneous, we often miss out on stories of significance that take place over a longer period of time. One such story took place this year, and while it is rooted in partisan politics, I urge you to look past the party labels and focus on the incredible accomplishment.

On April 22, the Tennessee General Assembly completed its work for the year and adjourned. Standing at the front of the Senate to bring down the final gavel was Ron Ramsey. As a state senator, speaker of the Senate and lieutenant governor, his presence was no surprise. However, this stroke of the gavel may have been his favorite.

The story began almost a quarter-century ago when Ramsey was first elected to the State House of Representatives. As a member of the legislature in his first term, he was pretty well assured of one thing: His first day as a legislator would neither result in any accomplishments nor change the course of the state’s history. In 1992, Ramsey’s political party held very little clout in the General Assembly. And by very little, I really mean none. Republicans had not held a majority in the legislature since just after the Civil War. No Republican had served as lieutenant governor since 1869.

The five-hour drive from Blountville to Nashville must have seemed a lot longer in those first years, even after being elected to the State Senate in 1996. For many in the political world at that time, the perpetual minority status of Republicans was perceived to be permanent. But little in this world is truly permanent, and Ramsey spent the next 10 years working toward an accomplishment that very few ever thought possible.

In January 2007, the political winds had shifted, and Ron Ramsey was elected speaker of the Senate and lieutenant governor. The story of how this was accomplished could take up several pages of this publication, but that’s not the accomplishment I want to share with you. Ramsey then led a virtual revolution in the political makeup of the General Assembly, resulting in Republicans holding supermajorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. But that is not the accomplishment I find remarkable.

What I find so refreshing about this story is how it ends. It does not end the way all too many do — with a scandal or an electoral defeat. When Ron Ramsey gaveled the Senate to a close at the end of April, he was at the peak of his political career with near-unlimited ability to wield his influence. Very few politicians will ever achieve the level of power that Ron Ramsey enjoyed at that moment. And like so many politicians, he desired a new position with a new title.

For Ramsey, though, that new title is “Papaw.” While his position in Tennessee history is timeless, his position as a grandfather is not. So he did what few powerful politicians do, stepping aside on his own and relinquishing the leadership position he’d earned.

Thank you, Ron, for demonstrating to me that no matter what our professional passions might be, our priorities should always start with the people closest to our hearts. That is an accomplishment with lasting meaning.

2016 Legislative Fly-In media release

Tennessee electric cooperatives visit D.C. lawmakers

[CO-OP HEADQUARTERS CITY] – Members from [CO-OP NAME] visited with [CONGRESSMAN NAME] on Thursday, June 23, in Washington, D.C. They joined more than 40 co-op leaders from across the state meeting with Tennessee’s Congressional delegation.

“An important part of our mission to provide affordable and reliable energy is educating our elected officials about co-ops,” says [CO-OP DIRECTOR NAME], a director with [CO-OP NAME]. “These visits help them better understand the issues that concern co-ops and co-op members.”

“Elected representatives make decisions and pass laws that have serious consequences for Tennessee’s electric cooperatives and their members,” says David Callis, executive vice president of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “It is important that we tell the electric cooperative story and inform Members of Congress of the impact of proposed legislation.”

Co-op members discussed environmental and power supply issues with Members of Congress during their visits. “It is important that we communicate with how legislation affects rates and reliability for everyday Tennesseans,” says Callis.

[LOCAL CO-OP BOILERPLATE]

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. The association publishes The Tennessee Magazine and provides legislative and support services to Tennessee’s electric cooperatives. Learn more at tnelectric.org.

#  #  #

Contact:

[LOCAL CO-OP CONTACT INFO]

Trent Scott | Vice President of Corporate Strategy
Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association
tscott@tnelectric.org | 731.608.1519

Photo:

http://www.tnelectric.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/capvisits.jpg

Cutline: Electric cooperative leaders Jimmy Sandlin and Michael Watson discuss energy issues with Sen. Bob Corker in Washington, D.C., on June 23.

 

Tennessee electric cooperatives visit D.C. lawmakers

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – Members from Tennessee’s electric cooperatives visited with Tennessee’s Congressional delegation on Thursday, June 23, in Washington, D.C. They joined more than 40 co-op leaders from across the state in the nation’s capital to discuss issues important to co-ops and co-op members.

“Elected representatives make decisions and pass laws that have serious consequences for Tennessee’s electric cooperatives and their members,” says David Callis, executive vice president of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “It is important that we tell the electric cooperative story and inform Members of Congress of the impact of proposed legislation.”

Co-op members discussed environmental and power supply issues with Members of Congress during their visits. “It is important that we communicate with how legislation affects rates and reliability for everyday Tennesseans,” says Callis.

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. The association publishes The Tennessee Magazine and provides legislative and support services to Tennessee’s electric cooperatives.

 

Comcast pays delinquent pole fees to DREMC

[SHELBYVILLE] – No interruption of service will occur for more than 7,000 Comcast cable TV and Internet subscribers in Franklin and Moore counties after the company paid delinquent pole attachment rental fees owed to Duck River Electric Membership Corporation (DREMC).

Earlier this month, DREMC put Comcast on notice that rental fees for using space on co-op utility poles would have to be paid by June 24 to avoid disconnection of power supplies and detachment of cable, fiber optics and other equipment. The delinquency dated back to 2015.

Almost a week of negotiation preceded Comcast’s decision to pay the past-due amount. During this time, Comcast customers were asked to contact corporate officials to urge that they act to keep service uninterrupted.

“Our contention was that Comcast should pay for the right to use our utility poles, that our electric co-op members should not be subsidizing their business or corporate profits. The majority of our members don’t have access to service from Comcast or other cable television and broadband providers. It is not fair that they should be providing a free ride for any company using our poles,” said DREMC President and CEO Michael Watson.

He noted that DREMC faced the same issue with Comcast in 2014.

“I am glad we were able to resolve this problem without affecting those subscribers of Comcast who have been paying their cable and Internet bills all along.”

Watson also thanked state lawmakers and federal elected officials who became involved so that Comcast customers would not be penalized by loss of service.

“They worked behind the scenes on behalf of their constituents, and we certainly appreciate their willingness to help,” he said.

Duck River EMC, a Touchstone Energy® cooperative, is a not-for-profit, member owned utility providing electric and other services to more than 73,000 homes and businesses in southern Middle Tennessee. Duck River EMC serves an area of approximately 2,500 square miles in Bedford, Cannon, Coffee, Franklin, Giles, Grundy, Hickman, Lawrence, Lewis, Lincoln, Marion, Marshall, Maury, Moore, Rutherford, and Williamson counties.

Touchstone Energy to sponsor 2016 Super Pull of the South

Tennessee’s Touchstone Energy Cooperatives will be sponsoring the Chapel Hill Lion’s Club Super Pull of the South on Friday and Saturday, July 22 and 23.

“We are excited about the platform that this event provides us to tell the story of Tennessee’s Touchstone Energy Cooperatives,” says Trent Scott, vice president of corporate strategy for the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “The partnerships between Touchstone Energy, participating co-ops and TECA allow us to have a presence and reach our members in ways that no single co-op can.” All 10 Touchstone Energy cooperatives in Tennessee are participating in this year’s event.

The Touchstone Energy hot air balloon team will be giving tethered rides and lifting the American flag over the stands each night during the opening ceremony. Co-op members visiting the Touchstone Energy booth will learn about electric safety and quick and effective ways to save energy. “We are pleased to have TVA joining us this year,” says Scott. “We will be telling members about the eScore program and handing out caulk, LED light bulbs and receptacle gaskets.” Members will also have the opportunity to win a riding lawn mower and other prizes.

Co-op members attending the event are encouraged to visit the Touchstone Energy Cooperatives of Tennessee booth just outside the entrance to the stands.

 

Touchstone Energy On Tour visited the event in 2015, and the footage they filmed became a part of their latest national advertising campaign.

Move Over Tennessee

Five years after the Tennessee’s Move Over Law was expanded to include utility workers, lineman continue to face roadside hazards

[NASHVILLE] – In 2011, following efforts by Tennessee’s electric cooperatives and municipal utilities, the state’s Move Over law was revised to not only include police, firefighters and other first responders, but utility workers as well. Unfortunately, motorists do not always heed the law.

“We have had cars come through at high rates of speed, hitting the cones we have set up and clipping the outriggers that we have down to support the trucks,” says Greg Bryant, a lineforeman with Gibson EMC. “I think people care, they just don’t pay attention like they should.”

The requirements of the law are simple. On a four lane road, if safety and traffic conditions allow, a driver approaching a utility vehicle with flashing lights should move into the far lane. On a two lane road or when changing lanes is not possible, a driver should reduce their speed.

Electric co-op vehicles aren’t the only utility vehicles covered; service vehicles used by municipal electric systems, telephone companies and utility districts are also protected by the law.

“July marks the 5th anniversary of the expansion of the law, but most motorists are still not aware of it,” says David Callis, CEO of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “Our lineman perform an important job for our community. Changing lanes or slowing down to give them a little space is a simple courtesy that could save a life.”

More information about the law is available at moveovertennessee.org. Bumper stickers are available to help your co-op spread the word about the law. Co-ops can use discount code “moveoverco-ops” when ordering bumper stickers for their fleet.

 

2016 Washington Youth Tour

Nearly 140 high school seniors from across Tennessee returned last week from the 2016 Washington Youth Tour.

The popular event included sightseeing, visits with elected officials and lots of fun meeting peers from across Tennessee and the nation. Delegates earned their spots on the Youth Tour for writing winning short stories titled “Electric Cooperatives: Powering Everyday Life.” In their winning entries, the talented young writers described how member-owned, nonprofit electric co-ops strengthen their local communities and improve lives across their service areas while providing safe, reliable, affordable energy.

“We take great pride in recognizing the best and brightest from across the state,” said Todd Blocker, director of member relations for the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association and tour director. “By recognizing their accomplishments through programs like the Washington Youth Tour, we show these leaders of tomorrow that their hometown electric co-op is more than a utility provider; these students are active members of their community and fully invested in its prosperity.”

For more than 50 years, the Washington Youth Tour has taken students from electric co-op service areas to our nation’s capital to learn more about our country and the cooperative business model. The annual event is coordinated by local electric cooperatives, the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association and National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA). This year’s Youth Tour involved 1,700 students from 43 states.

“Young Americans given the opportunity to come to Washington, D.C., by their electric cooperatives experience a life-changing event,” said NRECA Interim CEO Jeffrey Connor. “They talk to their elected officials in person, connect to our nation’s rich history and have a hands-on experience with democracy. Youth Tour enriches their understanding of the political process and the vital importance of direct engagement. As a result, they return to their communities with a deeper commitment to the communities they represent.”

On their 2016 visit, Tennessee’s Youth Tour delegates saw the White House and memorials to past presidents Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Delano Roosevelt as well as monuments honoring the sacrifices of veterans of World War II and the Vietnam and Korean Wars. During visits to the museums of the Smithsonian Institution, the touring Tennesseans saw and experienced natural, historical and artistic treasures. Other fun stops included historic homes of former presidents — George Washington’s Mount Vernon and Jefferson’s Monticello — as well as Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, the Hard Rock Cafe and a boat cruise down the Potomac River. Among other Youth Tour highlights were a solemn and sobering visit to Arlington National Cemetery where the group laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns and a stirring Sunset Parade performance by the U.S. Marine Drum and Bugle Corps and Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon.

The group was welcomed to the U.S. Capitol by Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker and members of the Tennessee Congressional delegation who posed for photos and answered questions.

Hope Kelley from Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative, Katie Torrance from Volunteer Energy Cooperative and Kaitlyn Springer from Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative were awarded $3,000, $2,000 and $1,000 Robert McCarty Memorial Scholarships for having the first, second and third place papers of the more than 10,000 papers submitted across the state. McCarty was an employee of Volunteer Energy Cooperative and long-time chaperone on the annual youth tour. McCarty lost a battle with cancer in 2015, and sponsoring cooperatives renamed the scholarship in honor of his love for young people.

Megan Lewis, a senior from Tri-State Electric Membership Corporation, was awarded the $10,000 Cooperative Youth Ambassador Scholarship. Lewis was a 2015 delegate of the Washington Youth Tour. In the year following the tour, delegates who remained engaged with their sponsoring cooperative and completed certain community service requirements were eligible for the scholarship. Lewis’s name was randomly selected from among the 70 delegates from across the state who completed the requirements.

“Our commitment to community is what sets cooperatives apart from other businesses,” said David Callis, CEO of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “The Washington Youth Tour is one way we show the youth of our service area that their co-op is more than their electricity provider. We genuinely care about the prosperity of our communities, and that includes providing special opportunities for these exceptional students and preparing them for future success.”