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The Super Bowl only has one winner

So, the postgame conversation with my 8-year-old son went something like this:

Me: Why are you crying?
Son: The Panthers lost the Super Bowl. (sobbing)
Me: I’m sorry. But it’s just a game, you know.
Son: But the Panthers lost the Super Bowl. (sobbing louder)
Me: You’re not even a fan of either team. Wasn’t it fun to watch the game?
Son: No!
Me: When you play sports, do you win every game?
Son: How come every team I cheer for always loses? (crestfallen, his head falls into hands)

I live a lot of my life through the eyes of my four young sons. In this instance, a one-day infatuation with a football team ended up in sheer devastation for this sweet young boy. But this lesson is one of the many reasons we encourage our sons to play sports. The idea that “you don’t win them all” is much better taught on the baseball diamond or the basketball court than in a court of law.

In the world of politics, where I spend most of my professional life, that can be a tough pill to swallow. For instance, our nation is engaged in the process of selecting the next president of the United States. With more than 100 primary elections involving a dozen candidates and then the general election pitting one candidate from each party against each other, it is safe to say that we will be inundated with voices telling us who should be our next president. And yet, at the end of all the elections, there will only be one person to hold the highest office in the land.

Closer to home, one of your electric cooperative’s most dedicated champions in Congress, Stephen Fincher, has announced that he will not seek re-election. He is coming home to Frog Jump to run the family farm. While I am personally sad to see him leave public service, I’m heartened to know that his priorities are sound and he has truly put his family first. He will be missed in Congress, but he was just one man. And of the many people who will seek to assume the office he holds, only one will prevail.

But the founders of our nation didn’t rest power with just one man, did they? We are not a monarchy, where one person “wins” and everyone else loses. The real genius of our system of government is that your local, state and federal governments are made up of many individuals whose responsibility is to represent the many more people in their towns, districts or states. Further, our representative republic relies on the willingness of public servants to recognize that they won’t win every battle they undertake and, therefore, need to prioritize their efforts and work with others to get anything at all accomplished.

As someone whose job is to guide people through the complicated process of lawmaking, these are great reminders. Your local co-op has to take all these things into consideration as it works with elected officials in Nashville and Washington, D.C., to promote public policy goals. When we disagree with a particular stance taken by a particular lawmaker, it is important to remember that another decision will come very soon. And we sure hope that lawmaker will agree with us the next time.

The Super Bowl gave me a great teaching moment with my son. But, like much we do as parents, it was just as much a lesson for me. Thanks, William. I love you, buddy.

Can you drive a stick shift?

by Mike Knotts, director of government affairs
Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association

The first “car” I drove on a regular basis was a 1981 Ford F-100 pickup truck. I’m sure thousands of you probably see a Ford F-150 parked in your driveway right now, but this was not the same vehicle. The F-100 was the least expensive truck the Ford Motor Company manufactured at the time, and this particular model was outfitted with the absolute fewest options available.

My dad bought this truck to use at his construction business. Simply put, it was intended to be a work truck, through and through, and was intended to do two things: haul building materials to the job site and haul garbage away. The truck had no power steering, no power brakes, no air conditioning, manual windows, manual door locks and a manual transmission for which the gearshift was mounted on the steering column. This “three-on-the-tree” shifter was mated with the tightest clutch ever to come from Detroit.

When it came time for me to learn to drive, this truck was an excellent teacher. My skinny teenage body struggled with the tight clutch and lack of power brakes, and parking at my high school was sometimes a challenge while I slowly cranked the tires around. But I learned a lot about how a car operates and have wonderful memories to help me appreciate all of the “push-button comfort” I now enjoy in my modern truck.

Well, much like that Ford F-100, the small device on the side of your home or business that measures how much electricity you consume has, for more than 70 years, been a pretty basic instrument. There was little need to do anything more than measure the amount of juice flowing from the distribution lines in to your home. Some of you may even remember the times when you would record your own use and mail it into the co-op.

Today, it is more likely that a person drives to your home or business once per month, gets out of the car, walks to the side of the house, building or barn, writes down the number, walks back to the car, gets inside and drives to the next location where he or she does it all over again. At the end of the day, the numbers on the meter reader’s clipboard have to be transferred to the co-op to be entered into the billing system that determines how much you will owe on the next bill. It is a lengthy, expensive and sometimes error-prone process.

However, those simple, analog electromechanical induction meters are extremely durable. The meter that serves my home is more than 40 years old and continues to operate. These meters, though, do have a tendency to “slow down” over time and record less electricity use than is actually being consumed. Knowing this fact, I admit I might allow a small smile to come over my face when I pay my bill. But the truth of the matter is that every other member of the co-op has to pay my difference when someone’s meter is not recording accurately. So we owe it to each other to fairly record our consumption.

Additionally, the requirements to operate the electric grid are becoming increasingly more complicated. The energy you require to power your air conditioner, for instance, must be available at the exact instant that you demand it (this is called creating a load or demand for energy). It takes billions of dollars of manpower and machinery to make that possible. And while that fact has always been the case, the use of the electric grid is increasing every day with millions of new devices, appliances and machines “plugging in.” Any one of these new loads, if not managed properly, has the potential to bring the whole system down.

Modern technology is changing the way the electric grid is managed. Automation is reducing the amount of time you are without power during an outage by reducing the need for a human being to drive to a location and reconnect or reclose a large fuse, for instance. Improved technology is reducing the amount of energy that is lost as it moves along power lines, saving money and helping keep electric rates low.

To keep the lights on in the 21st century, information is becoming as important as machines. Without real-time data about the use of the electric system, we are doomed to a 20th century lifestyle. That means the 40-year-old meter on the side of my house will be replaced with a new digital meter soon. I’m excited about it. It will reduce the need for human beings to drive around just to read my meter, reduce the chance of human error inaccuracies on my bill and save my co-op millions of dollars that are spent on unnecessary activities. That is money I don’t have to pay for through my electric rate.

My dad’s old F-100 did its basic job well, and he definitely got his money’s worth out of it. Eventually, though, it was time for a new truck with some upgraded features. The next truck had an automatic transmission and air conditioning, and it was a huge improvement!

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.

Fill 'er up, please

by Mike Knotts
Director of Government Affairs
Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association

A few weeks ago, when I stopped at the gas station on my way to work to fill up, the math was pretty easy. Ten gallons of gas went in the tank, and the price was $2.50 per gallon. After handing the clerk $25, I drove away and didn’t give it another thought. Several days later, I stopped after midnight to get enough fuel to make it home at the end of a long trip. Once again, 10 gallons of regular unleaded went in, and $25 dollars came out of my wallet. Simple.

When you get gas, you are essentially prepaying for energy your car will use at some point in the future. And it’s easy to visualize what you are paying for because you can see, smell and touch it. A gallon is a familiar unit of measurement. How many gallon jugs of milk have you carried into your home over the years?

For most of us, we don’t put much more thought into paying our electric bill than I did filling up the truck. An envelope arrives in the mail, we open it, write a check and send it in. Or it could be even easier because you have agreed to allow a draft directly from your bank account. Some folks may take a quick look at more of the details that are printed on the bill, but how many fully understand what they’re paying for?

For many years, your co-op has worked very hard to make paying your bill as easy and painless as your trip to the pump. This is despite the fact that purchasing electricity is very different than buying gasoline. Here are three reasons why:

First, electricity is a bit of a mystery. We know it is there, despite being unable to touch, smell or even see it, because we can see the result of its existence. But, as the old adage goes, “Out of sight, out of mind.”

Second, do you know how much energy you are consuming at any given time? In your car, there is a gauge that shows how much fuel is in the tank and probably a display showing your current miles per gallon. But where is the same gauge in your house to show you how much electricity you have consumed? Most of us have very little idea of how much energy our refrigerators, air conditioners, water heaters, ovens, heaters and other major appliances use. So how do we know what it costs when we turn them on? When you open the envelope from your co-op and the bill says you used 1,652 kilowatt-hours of electricity last month, how many milk jugs does that even equate to?

Those are hard questions to answer — but not because there is no equipment that will help you monitor your use. Rather, the question is difficult because our society by and large doesn’t want to know the answer. We have become accustomed to having electric energy available on demand, without exception, at low cost. It’s testament to the hard work of tens of thousands of people whose mission never takes a day off. The luxury that universal electrification affords us as Tennesseans and Americans is not to be taken lightly and has changed the world in so many positive ways over the past 100 years. For that, we should be grateful.

Lastly, there is no practical way for you to purchase and store electricity to be used later (although this could change in the future — see the June 2015 column “Is the future here now?” at tnmagazine.org). When you flip the switch, the electricity you consume is being generated and transmitted to you at that exact same instant. Other common energy sources like wood, gasoline, diesel and even natural gas can be stored in large tanks in preparation for future needs. But to run your air conditioner on a hot July afternoon, you are relying on your electric utility to provide a seamless connection across hundreds of miles of wires to deliver that energy to you at the exact moment you need it — since electricity moves at the speed of light, 671 million miles per hour. This means the cost to generate this energy can be different depending upon the hour of the day, the time of year or even the activities of your neighbors or the factory down the street.

However, technology is advancing at such a rapid pace that the complexity of the electric grid is quickly becoming less of an impediment to the average person’s understanding of his or her own energy consumption. And it is also helping your co-op have a better understanding of how and when entire communities will require their energy — even though the members will continue to demand electricity in real time. With this new information will come better and more transparent methods of paying for our consumption, which I look forward to discussing in a future article.

Fill ‘er up, please

by Mike Knotts
Director of Government Affairs
Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association

A few weeks ago, when I stopped at the gas station on my way to work to fill up, the math was pretty easy. Ten gallons of gas went in the tank, and the price was $2.50 per gallon. After handing the clerk $25, I drove away and didn’t give it another thought. Several days later, I stopped after midnight to get enough fuel to make it home at the end of a long trip. Once again, 10 gallons of regular unleaded went in, and $25 dollars came out of my wallet. Simple.

When you get gas, you are essentially prepaying for energy your car will use at some point in the future. And it’s easy to visualize what you are paying for because you can see, smell and touch it. A gallon is a familiar unit of measurement. How many gallon jugs of milk have you carried into your home over the years?

For most of us, we don’t put much more thought into paying our electric bill than I did filling up the truck. An envelope arrives in the mail, we open it, write a check and send it in. Or it could be even easier because you have agreed to allow a draft directly from your bank account. Some folks may take a quick look at more of the details that are printed on the bill, but how many fully understand what they’re paying for?

For many years, your co-op has worked very hard to make paying your bill as easy and painless as your trip to the pump. This is despite the fact that purchasing electricity is very different than buying gasoline. Here are three reasons why:

First, electricity is a bit of a mystery. We know it is there, despite being unable to touch, smell or even see it, because we can see the result of its existence. But, as the old adage goes, “Out of sight, out of mind.”

Second, do you know how much energy you are consuming at any given time? In your car, there is a gauge that shows how much fuel is in the tank and probably a display showing your current miles per gallon. But where is the same gauge in your house to show you how much electricity you have consumed? Most of us have very little idea of how much energy our refrigerators, air conditioners, water heaters, ovens, heaters and other major appliances use. So how do we know what it costs when we turn them on? When you open the envelope from your co-op and the bill says you used 1,652 kilowatt-hours of electricity last month, how many milk jugs does that even equate to?

Those are hard questions to answer — but not because there is no equipment that will help you monitor your use. Rather, the question is difficult because our society by and large doesn’t want to know the answer. We have become accustomed to having electric energy available on demand, without exception, at low cost. It’s testament to the hard work of tens of thousands of people whose mission never takes a day off. The luxury that universal electrification affords us as Tennesseans and Americans is not to be taken lightly and has changed the world in so many positive ways over the past 100 years. For that, we should be grateful.

Lastly, there is no practical way for you to purchase and store electricity to be used later (although this could change in the future — see the June 2015 column “Is the future here now?” at tnmagazine.org). When you flip the switch, the electricity you consume is being generated and transmitted to you at that exact same instant. Other common energy sources like wood, gasoline, diesel and even natural gas can be stored in large tanks in preparation for future needs. But to run your air conditioner on a hot July afternoon, you are relying on your electric utility to provide a seamless connection across hundreds of miles of wires to deliver that energy to you at the exact moment you need it — since electricity moves at the speed of light, 671 million miles per hour. This means the cost to generate this energy can be different depending upon the hour of the day, the time of year or even the activities of your neighbors or the factory down the street.

However, technology is advancing at such a rapid pace that the complexity of the electric grid is quickly becoming less of an impediment to the average person’s understanding of his or her own energy consumption. And it is also helping your co-op have a better understanding of how and when entire communities will require their energy — even though the members will continue to demand electricity in real time. With this new information will come better and more transparent methods of paying for our consumption, which I look forward to discussing in a future article.

The apple is not rotten

By Mike Knotts, director of government affairs

I spend most of my days in contact with our elected officials in both Washington, D.C., and Nashville, so when the topic of the integrity of our government comes up for discussion, you might expect that I would want to tell you horror stories. That I would tell you the world is full of Frank Underwood-types (the lead character in Netflix’s “House of Cards”) who will stop at nothing to achieve their own selfish ambitions. That no politician really cares about serving as a steward of our great nation, only about serving himself or herself.

After all, it does seem to be the popular thing to express doubt and believe the worst when it comes to politics these days. How else can you explain the popularity of “The Daily Show,” a satirical television program fashioned as a fake news broadcast? It has grown from a late-1990s upstart aired on a cable channel most people had never heard of to one of the most prevalent sources of news information for those in the 18-to-34-year-old demographic.

The show bases its comedy on the real-life events that make up the news — mostly the current events surrounding politics and government — and generates laughter by assuming a cynical and skeptical tone about whomever is involved in the story. Common themes seem to involve a general lack of faith in the true intentions of just about anyone and everyone who is involved in public service, and, therefore, those same people and the decisions they make are deserving of ridicule. And this ridicule is deeply personal, typically targeted at a particular politician or public figure.

One would think that to enjoy this type of comedy, a person would have to understand the underlying events that the jokes are based on. In other words, if someone is not familiar with the topics the show lampoons, then he or she probably would not find it funny. But an interesting thing has happened. Many of the show’s biggest fans have skipped the first part, allowing the joke to become the vehicle by which they receive the information upon which the joke is based.

Mark Twain once said, “Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please.” In the case of “The Daily Show” audience, it seems to me as though the distortion (made for the purpose of eliciting humor) has become the most pleasing way to first get your facts — the joke is the news. One of my good friends, educated and opinionated, admitted to me recently that she had stopped watching any television news but rarely missed “The Daily Show.”

I offer these thoughts not as a critique of one particular television show but as an observation about our society in general. You can make your own judgments about whether the rise in popularity of satirical “news” is a good or bad thing. You can make your own judgments about our society’s desire to point the finger at someone else. But the popularity of this type of comedy today does have an effect upon the real-world actions of our political leaders. Many of them are eager to appear on these programs themselves, understanding the reality that so many people view this programming as “news.”

But let me offer some words of encouragement from my own first-hand experience. Frank Underwood is a wildly fictional character and is nowhere close to reality. The bitterness and divisive assumptions about politicians that cause us to laugh at Jon Stewart’s jokes, well, that attitude is not reflective of the reality I am a part of almost every day. I find myself surrounded by decent, hardworking people who face difficult decisions on a daily basis. They make those decisions based on a number of factors, guided by their own faith, morals and convictions.

Sometimes they get it right; sometimes they don’t. But whether they do or don’t, does it do you any good to deride and ridicule the person who made the decision? By all means, I encourage you to participate in the political process and support or oppose those who reflect your desires for public policy. But the deeply personal way in which our society criticizes politicians only seems to keep good people from choosing to serve. The void in leadership that is then left behind is filled by people whose misdeeds make it very easy to criticize. So what did the personal criticism really get us?

I try hard, often unsuccessfully, to fight off my own cynicism about the manner in which our country chooses to govern itself. Staying focused on affirming that which is good about our politics seems to be a more productive use of our time. It is true that nothing in this world will ever be perfect. And it is also true that our system of government really is the worst … except for every other one that’s ever been tried.

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.

Hometown Heroes

Mike Knotts, director of government affairs for the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association

Several months ago, I attended a speech given by U.S. Agriculture Secretary and former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack. While most of the speech was geared toward the federal government’s involvement in farm policy and agricultural interests, he quoted some statistics that have really stuck with me. He said that while only 16 percent of America’s current population lives in areas that are considered rural, more than 40 percent of our nation’s military personnel come from those rural areas. That disproportionate level of enlistment says a lot to me about the culture of America’s farms and small towns and the values that permeate those communities.

Don’t forget that this is the Volunteer State, a moniker that’s not just a nickname for sports teams at a certain university in Knoxville. We have a well-deserved reputation of providing huge numbers of recruits to fight our nation’s battles, especially in wartime. If you’ve visited the Alamo in Texas, you’ve seen the many state flags that commemorate the fallen from that famous battle. And it is the Tennessee flag that shows the highest price paid.

That tradition continues today. One of the most frequently deployed brigades in the Army calls Tennessee its home. The 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) is based at Fort Campbell, straddling the Tennessee and Kentucky state line. The “Rakkasans” have spent as much time on the other side of the planet pursuing their “Rendezvous with Destiny” over the past 10 years as they have spent training at Fort Campbell.

Many of you reading this page simply call these folks your neighbors, as Cumberland Electric Membership Corporation provides electric service to so many of these hometown heroes. Fort Campbell is not just home to the 101st but also to numerous other Army and even some Air Force assets. So while we may just think of them as our neighbors, these men and women do some pretty awe-inspiring things.

Few are as impressive as the Night Stalkers, the best helicopter pilots in the world. I have loved aviation since I was a kid and have some experience flying small aircraft in daytime, visual conditions. However, helicopter-flying requires a level of skill I have not mastered. The warriors of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR) fly the world’s most advanced helicopters, on the most dangerous missions, usually at night, often without lights, and always under the stress of battle. While the Navy SEALs may get the spotlight of the public’s admiration for high-profile missions (like the assault that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden), the Night Stalkers frequently give them their rides to and from work. I am in awe of what they do, and they are right here in our backyard.

So it was only fitting that Dr. Mark Green spoke to electric cooperative leaders in Nashville in early February about the important role that electric co-ops play in our communities. I will leave the details about the specific public policy and legislation that were discussed that day to a future column because I found his comments to be more inspiring.

Dr. Green’s path to politics is different from that of any elected official I’ve met. A medical doctor who was raised in rural Mississippi and graduated from West Point, Dr. Green came to Tennessee after being assigned to Fort Campbell as a special operations flight surgeon in the 160th SOAR. He examined Saddam Hussein the night he was captured, and during his speech to co-op officials, Dr. Green spoke of that experience as well as the personal relationships he had with many of his fellow Night Stalkers who perished in the mission now immortalized by the book and movie “Lone Survivor.” He noted from firsthand experience that those in the special operations community pay an especially high price for their service.

When Dr. Green’s time in the Army ended, he found Tennessee to be the place he wanted to start a business and raise his children. Now, he is further serving his community by representing them in the legislature as a state senator from Clarksville. In just his first term in the Senate, he serves as vice-chair of the Committee on Commerce and Labor.

The men and women Dr. Green described in such detail serve with dignity and have asked precious little of us in return. They simply feel a duty to make the world, this country and their local communities better. It is my hope that by reading these words you and I may live each day in such a way that we honor the sacrifices they have made for us. God bless them.

Welcome back to Nashville

By Mike Knotts, Director of Government Affairs

One of the things that makes your cooperative different from “a regular old power company” is that it is owned and controlled by its individual members. Good people like you take time out of their lives and put themselves up for election to serve on the board of directors at your co-op. They are your neighbors, and that local connection is what makes a tremendous difference in the priorities that guide their work. While you might hear other utilities owned by huge, multinational corporations talk the talk about things like commitment to community, your electric co-op walks the walk simply because the co-op is your community.

This commitment to serving your community is the reason we devote a lot of effort to communicating with elected officials and why this page is so frequently dedicated to those concerns. We want to ensure that lawmakers understand the important things your co-op does to power our modern lifestyle. Whether in Nashville or Washington, D.C., your co-op has made a commitment to work with lawmakers to ensure that public policy does not impede our ability to provide the reliable and affordable electric service on which you and your family depend.

As the Tennessee General Assembly has recently returned to Nashville to begin its business of considering new laws, I thought I would share with you some of the big issues we believe will take the lion’s share of your state representative’s and senator’s time in Nashville this year. The following summary was prepared by our excellent partner in these efforts, the law firm of Bass, Berry & Sims. And see page 28 to learn how you can contact your elected representatives using our General Assembly app.

Several bills from last session await further consideration by the legislature. The wine-in-grocery-stores bill is a prime example. Both Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and Speaker Beth Harwell have said that the time has come for wine in grocery stores and that last year’s bill to allow voters to decide the issue by referendum will likely be resurrected from the House Local Government Subcommittee where it died last session after a surprise “nay” vote by Chairman Matthew Hill (R-Johnson City).

Several Republican members may attempt to restore a bill that would prohibit the state from taking advantage of the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion. The Senate Commerce Committee amended this bill last session to simply require legislative approval for expansion. That amendment could be stripped in the Senate Finance Committee or on the Senate floor to return the original prohibition language to the bill. Any attempt to do so, however, will be opposed by hospitals and business groups that support expansion.

Another issue from last session that the legislature is likely to revisit involves a moratorium on adversarial municipal annexations. In December, the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations recommended that the moratorium be extended for a year. The original moratorium resulted from legislation sponsored by Rep. Mike Carter (R-Ooltewah) and Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Bo Watson (R-Hixson) that required public referendum votes on nonconsensual residential and farm annexations within urban growth boundaries. Rep. Carter intends to push the issue by filing a similar bill in 2014.

A bill requiring prescriptions for products containing pseudoephedrine may get more traction in 2014 than in previous years. A Vanderbilt University poll indicates that 65 percent of registered voters would accept prescriptions to fight illegal methamphetamine production. Law enforcement officials likely will attempt to capitalize on this momentum while the pharmaceutical industry and other retail and business groups will oppose the prescription requirement.

On the education front, the legislature will consider legislation challenging Common Core standards for K-12 schools, giving state entities the power to authorize charter schools, establishing a statewide school voucher program and reviewing the Tennessee Textbook Commission. Higher education initiatives also are expected to be a focus of Gov. Bill Haslam’s legislative agenda for 2014 and include his Drive to 55 effort to encourage more Tennesseans to earn a certificate or degree beyond high school.

The state’s 2014-15 budget will be the toughest yet for Haslam. In recent years, the legislature has eliminated, reduced or phased out taxes such as the gift tax, inheritance tax, unprepared food tax and the Hall income tax on investment earnings. With revenues expected to be down $123 million at the end of the current fiscal year, additional tax cuts and reforms are unlikely in 2014. After the 2014 elections, however, potential areas for legislative action include the franchise and excise tax and the gasoline tax.

With re-election being top of mind, legislators will be inclined to introduce bills that will be popular with their voting bases back in the districts — so stay tuned for bills that may make for interesting late-night entertainment fodder!

What’s under the hood

By Mike Knotts, Director of Government Affairs

My first car was a 1965 Ford Mustang. My parents bought it for me, even though they were actually buying the same car for a second time. It had been purchased for my older sister, then eventually found itself parked in her driveway and needing work. We agreed to undertake a restoration, Mom and Dad signed what must have been a very bittersweet check, and I began pouring what little money I had into updates and upgrades for every part of the car.

I had the keys to a classic machine and was anxious to make the car shine. And every now and then, maybe just make that big block engine roar. And roar it did. Unlike most of today’s cars, the engine underneath my Mustang’s hood was pretty simple to understand. There was plenty of room to work, and replacing the original carburetor with a new and more efficient model was a simple task. While the car may have been 30 years old, it continued to serve its purpose well, and sensible improvements actually made it better than new. I wish I still had it.

Much like an engine powers the drivetrain of a car, electric power plants provide the horsepower that drives today’s complex and real-time American economy. I don’t believe it is hyperbole to suggest that the massive increase in life expectancy and quality of life across the planet over the past 100 years is directly related to the expansion and use of central-station electric service. The benefits to society provided by power plants are unquestionable, if most certainly under-appreciated.

When power plants are built, they are designed to operate for 50 years or more and cost huge sums of money to construct. The biggest decision is what fuel will power the plant. It’s a huge decision with lots of ramifications. It is not taken lightly by anyone involved.

That decision affects you directly. Approximately 80 cents of every dollar you pay to your cooperative flows directly to the Tennessee Valley Authority, which owns and operates a fleet of power plants. Much like a good stock portfolio, TVA’s plants use a diversified mix of fuels — hydro, nuclear, coal, natural gas, wind, solar and even landfill gas are converted into the electricity you use every minute of every day. This “all-of-the-above” fuel strategy has served us well. Tennesseans enjoy relatively low rates, 99.999 percent reliability and some of the most beautiful landscapes God has blessed us with here on earth.

President Obama has stated that he agrees with this type of strategy. He said as much in a speech on March 15, 2012, in Maryland where he outlined his priorities on energy policy. “We need an energy strategy for the future,” said the president, “an all-of-the-above strategy for the 21st century that develops every source of American-made energy.” We agreed with him then, and this statement appears on the website of the White House to this day.

That is why Tennessee’s electric cooperatives are so disappointed that the president’s administration has abandoned this strategy and replaced it with an “all-but-one” approach that effectively removes coal from the nation’s fuel mix. This is being done by creating standards for carbon dioxide emissions from power plants that are impossible to meet with current technology.

This is not the first time that Washington has sought to pick winners and losers. In 1978, Congress passed a law outlawing the use of natural gas for power generation. The result was that utilities across the country had little choice but to build more coal-fired generation, as they were being encouraged to do by President Carter. Many of these plants are being upgraded and working hard to serve their purpose. Like a restored classic car, the engines are performing well, and many are better than new. Now, these same plants are at risk of being closed by the new regulations even though they may only be halfway through their useful lives.

Join with us and encourage Washington to stick to an “all-of the above” energy policy. Please go to action.coop today take two minutes to share a message with the Environmental Protection Agency. America’s energy infrastructure is just too important and much too expensive to allow history to repeat itself.