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Cooperation among Cooperatives

Let’s just say it – we’re tired of cold weather.  This winter has brought us bitter cold, snow, and multiple rounds of ice. Statewide, our systems have experienced tremendous damage that has taken days – in some cases weeks – to repair.

The Cumberland Plateau was hit the hardest with an inch of ice. High winds compounded the strain, resulting in fallen tree limbs, downed power lines and broken poles.

Cumberland County Emergency Management officials called it the “worst natural disaster in the history of Cumberland County.” Veteran emergency responders said the damage was comparable to an EF-2 tornado ravaging the entire county. Clyde Jolley, longtime Volunteer Energy Cooperative employee, said, “In my 42 years with VEC, this is one of the worst weather events I’ve ever seen. We had more than 700 broken poles and an estimated $9.5 million in damage to the system.”

At the peak of the storm some 40,000 VEC members lost power. The Tennessee Valley Authority’s transmission line outages caused a loss of power to five VEC substations, and major breakers were lost at three other substations.

Nature can destroy in a few hours what took years to build. Before the storm left the area, VEC employees were already hard at work for their members, calling for assistance from neighboring cooperatives.

The hallowed cooperative principle of Cooperation among Cooperatives took center stage from the beginning of the storm until the last member was reconnected many days later.

VEC crews received assistance from crews from Appalachian Electric Cooperative, Athens Utility Board, Caney Fork Electric Cooperative, Cumberland Electric Membership Corporation, Fort Loudoun Electric Cooperative, Holston Electric Cooperative, Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation, Rockwood Electric Utilities, Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative and Upper Cumberland Electric Membership Corporation as well as contract crews from Davis Elliott, Galloway, MPS, Seelbach and Service Electric.

Co-op members, many of whom were without power for days, recognized the difficulty of the situation and the effort that VEC was making.

Rody Blevins said 650 people were on the scene working to restore power and were supported by dozens of other staff members. “We appreciate the hard work of our folks and the help we received from around the region,” Blevins said. “And we especially appreciate the patience and support from all our members who were affected by this devastating storm.

“This has been one of the most challenging weather events in the history of Volunteer Energy Cooperative, and we are very grateful for the cooperation, dedication and patience of everyone involved.”

The members of Volunteer Energy Cooperative can attest to the fact that Cooperation among Cooperatives isn’t just a mantra; it’s how we co-ops do business.

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Commitment to Community

In 1965, fourteen high school juniors loaded left Nashville for Washington, DC. The purpose of the trip was twofold – to educate them about rural electrification and how their government operates.

Fifty years later, Tennessee’s Washington Youth Tour program is still going strong. This year, we will send 150 students and 40 chaperones on the Tour. More than any other state!

For some of these students, the trip marks a number of firsts; their first trip out of state, their first time on a plane, and their first visit to our Nation’s capital. They are given the opportunity to see a larger perspective on their world and their future.

The trip lasts a week; the impact lasts a lifetime. For many students, the trip will begin a journey that charts the rest of their lives. Past participants have become CEOs, educators, and legislators.

This past year, two students from Southwest Tennessee Electric will continue to make an impact in their communities and far beyond.

Kai Starmer, from Munford High School, has been accepted into the Naval Academy in Annapolis. Josh Owen, from Covington High School, has been accepted into the Citadel Military College in South Carolina.

Marilyn Means, marketing coordinator at Southwest Tennessee Electric, said it best:

“We should be very proud of these two students who represented STEMC in DC this past June. Despite of all the ‘bad’ we hear about the youth of today, I have had the opportunity to witness exceptional youth as I go into our schools and share the cooperative story and to appreciate their leadership abilities as we travel to DC each year. I have been blessed to see students grow in leadership roles during and after our trip. I am so thankful that STEMC allows me to ‘pay it forward’ to the youth in our service area. It makes me proud to work for the electric cooperative.”

Hairstyles and fashion may have changed a lot since 1965. The commitment of Tennessee’s electric cooperatives to our youth and our communities has only grown stronger.

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.

Celebration of Rural Life

by David Callis, executive vice president and general manager

The Tennessee State Fair is a celebration of rural life. Recently we had the opportunity to help flip the switch and “light the midway” during the fair’s opening ceremony. It was only fitting that rural electric cooperatives were on hand to turn on the lights.

It was a perfect representation of what more than 2,600 electric co-op employees do each day across the state. The power we provide does more than chase away darkness – it powers the technology and innovation that connects us, it creates opportunity for jobs and commerce, and it ensures the safety, comfort and convenience that we often take for granted.

A lot goes on behind the scenes to get power to your home. There are people like John Spence, the Gibson EMC lineman who helped turn on the switch. There are engineers, member service representatives, foresters and communicators who work together to make a very complex job look easy.

Success means that the lights come on when our members flip the switch and their bill is affordable when it arrives in the mailbox.

Too often, our continued success is jeopardized by politicians and bureaucrats in Nashville or Washington. That is why our Take Action campaign is so important. If you have not already, please visit takeactionTN.com and submit your comments to the EPA on the Rule 111(D).

During the opening ceremony, we had a chance to meet Zoe, a young lady struggling with a serious medical condition. Her wish of being a princess came true as she proudly wore her tiara on stage with us. Her moment was made possible by the incredible efforts of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. I encourage you to learn more about their work at middletennessee.wish.org.

The rural roots we celebrated at the state fair are a part of our DNA as electric cooperatives. The self-sufficient character of rural residents is something you can’t really explain; you have to experience it.