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Watching wind grow

Wind energy development in the United States is rushing past recent growth records. For example, 6,819 megawatts of generating capacity were installed in 2011; in 2012, that figure jumped to more than 13,000 MW, according to the American Wind Energy Association. In total, the U.S. has more than 60,000 MW of installed wind power capacity.

Since 1 MW powers 750 to 1,000 average homes, more than 45 million American residences could be powered by wind. I say “could be” because wind doesn’t blow constantly. In fact, in our part of the country, there are very few places where the wind blows consistently enough for it to be a reliable power source. While we can’t rely on wind 24/7, it is one tool to have as part of a balanced generation fuel mix.

The industry boomed thanks to federal subsidies for construction of wind farms, sharp drops in production costs and rural economic development projects. Construction of the turbines themselves, however, is not the full cost associated with installing wind production on the electric grid.

Across the country, 50 electric co-ops either own wind turbines or buy output from wind farms, amounting to 4.3 gigawatts, or about 9 percent of the U.S. wind generating capacity. Of course, states in the Upper Midwest and Great Plains enjoy more opportunities for wind power than most others.

The Tennessee Valley Authority’s wind power site is on Buffalo Mountain near Oak Ridge. In 2004, TVA greatly expanded its wind-generating capacity by adding 15 very large turbines to the three original smaller ones at the site.

The newer turbines expanded the capacity of the Buffalo Mountain site to 29 MW of generation, or enough to power about 3,780 homes, according to TVA. The turbines are about 260 feet tall, and the blades are 135 feet long. They have a capacity of 1.8 MW each. The three original turbines, with a capacity of 660 kilowatts each, are 213 feet tall, and their blades are 75 feet long. Generally, the higher the tower, the better the access to the wind.

The primary federal subsidy for wind power project development — federal production tax credits — is available only to for-profit electric utilities. That means not-for-profit electric cooperatives can’t take advantage of the subsidies. Extension of the production tax credit is a hot topic in Washington, D.C., and the credit is likely to end soon.

To get competitive prices, electric co-ops and their wholesale power providers must sign agreements to buy electricity from private-sector wind projects or arrange long-term leasing agreements with a developer who qualifies for the federal incentives, rather than developing wind projects on their own. This would include the expense of transmitting the power from the Midwest to Tennessee.

While the idea of generating electricity from the wind seems to be a no-brainer — the fuel is free, after all — its costs rob wind power of some of its luster. If your cooperative were to rely upon wind generation to power your home, the utility would also require some form of backup power source to combat the intermittency of the wind. In essence, the utility must have redundant sources of generation. And that is very expensive.

Electric cooperatives are no strangers to innovation. As technology continues to advance, we will work hard to provide you with affordable, reliable electric power in a way that makes the most sense for your community.
To learn about other ways we’re looking out for you, visit www.tnelectric.org.

Warm weather brings out more than flowers

Late spring/early summer is absolutely one of the most beautiful times to live in Tennessee. The mild temperatures and brilliant blue skies just call out for a little extra time listening to the birds from the backyard hammock. In my case, it’s listening to the kids play, but undoubtedly this is a time of year to get outside and enjoy nature’s beauty. As one of my favorite musicians sings, “Life’s way too short to waste it all inside.”

The great weather this time of year does more than just inspire us to spend more time outdoors, though. As winter fades away, it is inevitable that you’ll see neighbors starting yard projects, road builders paving new highways and your local electric cooperative’s lineworkers busy with projects to keep the power flowing.

As the temperature outside rises, so does the amount of time your air conditioner will run to keep the inside of your home cool. That means higher electric bills, sure, but most would agree it is a small price to pay for the comforts of modern society — right? Well, there are some people who hope to use the increased activity outside and your higher electric bill to their advantage so they can separate you from your money.

This is the time of year that I start to hear about scams and attempts to steal from you, using your electric service as a cover story. Please be aware of these real-life schemes so you will not fall victim:

Phone calls asking for payments

You receive a phone call from someone who claims to work at the cooperative offering a friendly reminder that your electric bill is past due. The caller ID may even display the name of the co-op. The caller tells you that you can avoid late fees or having your service disconnected if you make a payment over the phone by giving them a credit card, prepaid debit card or checking account number.

This is a common type of scam called “phishing,” and it works just the same via email. There are lots of variations, but a phishing scam uses common, publicly available information to trick you into believing you are talking to a legitimate individual or institution. Scammers then try to convince you to give up important information like Social Security numbers, bank account numbers or credit card information.

Never provide your private financial information to someone who calls you directly. Many cooperatives offer pay-by-phone options and may even call to tell you that your bill is past-due. But your co-op will never call you to initiate a payment. Make the phone call yourself. And be sure you are calling the phone number provided to you by the co-op. If you ask that same “friendly voice” who dialed you in the first place for a number to call back, the scammer will gladly provide you with his or her own number.

A knock at the door

Two men knock on your front door after parking a large white truck in front of your house. They tell you that they are employees of (or contractors working for) your local cooperative and need to perform some work on the poles along the road. They unload some tools and walk around your property. After a quick trip to the store, you discover the men are gone and your lawnmower and television are missing.

This is an unfortunate but true story that happened to a cooperative member here in Tennessee. Thankfully, the culprits were only interested in stealing property and not in any other more serious crimes. However, it is important to note that if your co-op needs to access your property to perform work, authorized individuals will be driving marked vehicles and carrying identification.

If you have any doubts at all about the legitimacy of the individuals, call the co-op directly to confirm their identity and ask if any work is scheduled at your address.

The “magic” black box

The advertisement you recently saw in a magazine or on the Internet claims that an “amazing new device” will lower your power bill by 30 percent just by plugging it into an outlet. The ad says the device is so effective that “power companies will hate this.”

While I am just as hopeful and excited as you might be for new scientific discoveries, an old adage applies here: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” One of these products, advertised heavily on the Internet, is simply two wires buried in a plastic container of sand.

You will see a lot of these advertisements at the end of the summer and winter but rarely in the spring or fall. Why is that? If you buy this magic box in the first week of September, plug it in and wait for your next electric bill, chances are your bill will, in fact, be dramatically lower. Why? Because temperatures are cooler, your air conditioner is no longer running nonstop, and you used less electricity. But, by the time you figure out the scam, the “money-back guarantee” will have expired — and your wallet will be just a bit thinner.

Make it a great day

Mike Knotts, director of government affairs

One of the really interesting things about working around and with the great people who bring you The Tennessee Magazine is that I get to hear about a lot of really awe-inspiring people, places and things here in our great state. I particularly enjoy the features Bill Carey, the Tennessee History Guy, regularly brings to these pages. Take the time to read these and you just might learn something exciting about that dusty building or marble monument that you never really noticed on your way to work each day.

However, it took a couple of guys from South Dakota to teach me about another way Tennessee touches the world. The Southwestern Corporation is based in Tennessee, and while it has a number of companies under its umbrella, its primary business is teaching college students how to sell books door-to-door. In doing so, these young salesmen can earn enough money to pay their college tuition. But what they really learn are the skills and, more importantly, the attitude to become successful in whatever field they choose.

This army of salesmen is drawn from every state and around the world. This diverse group comes to Nashville at the beginning and end of each summer to train and complete the administrative tasks necessary to earn their commissions. I have personally seen the throngs of young men and women, full of energy and vigor, as they begin and end their summertime journey. It’s inspiring to hear the stories of some of their successes and the lessons learned through some of their failures.

But the most important lesson they learn, in my opinion, is the concept of volition. I have no idea if it is described to them in so many words, but it is clear through the actions of the many, many Southwestern “alumni” who have achieved great things in different occupations and endeavors that this concept is a unifying factor among them.

Volition:
1. an act of making a choice or decision
2. the power of choosing or determining
Source: Merriam-Webster Dictionary

“Volition” was brought front-and-center to my attention during the recent annual meeting of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. During this time of work, we often pause and take a moment to hear a message from someone who might bring a different perspective to our discussions.

This year we were privileged to hear an inspiring keynote address from Maj. Dan Rooney, a retired F-16 fighter pilot and PGA golf professional (I joked with Maj. Rooney that he is living BOTH of my dreams!). So it’s only fitting that his pilot call sign and nickname is “Noonan” after the main character from the classic golf comedy “Caddyshack.” Having served three tours of duty in Iraq as well as having experience in building, owning and operating a golf course, he could have spent his time wowing us with his abilities to accomplish many very difficult tasks — and accomplish them well. His presentation contained loud videos demonstrating the awesome power and speed inherent in the F-16 fighter jet, and he could have bragged about the very small and select fraternity of highly trained American fighter pilots of which he is a member.

But his passion in life is the organization he created: the Folds of Honor Foundation, built to provide college scholarships for the survivors of those heroes who have been killed or disabled in service to our country. You see, in the middle of marking off the many tremendous personal accomplishments in his own life, Rooney realized that his time and efforts had a greater purpose. He realized his life could have an impact. He realized that it wasn’t all about him.

Today, Folds of Honor is a tremendous success. Its main event, Patriot Golf Day, is now a Labor Day weekend tradition in which golfers add $1 to their greens fees at participating courses. That simple act has raised more than $13 million and counting for scholarships for these most deserving Americans. Dan exercised his volition — he made a conscious decision to do something impactful for the sake of others, regardless of how hard it might be.

Just like Maj. Rooney, so many Southwestern alumni learned about the importance of making their own choice. “When I awake today, what will I choose to be?” Happy or sad? Optimistic or sullen? “When I awake today, what will I choose to do?” Work hard toward my goals and aspirations? Or resign myself to an unknown fate?

Attitude is a choice, and we all have been given the gift to decide how we will conduct ourselves. As we start a new year, I challenge you to make an impact. It doesn’t have to be as dramatic and large as Maj. Rooney, but you can make a difference in your community. All it takes is a decision on your part to do it.

Independence forever!

Mike Knotts, Director of Government Affairs for the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association

“It will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward evermore.”
— John Adams, second letter to Abigail Adams, July 3, 1776

In my opinion, no single act has shaped modern human history as much as the Continental Congress declaring the United States of America to be a free and independent nation. The ripples of this audacious decision have been felt across the globe ever since. However, as you might remember from history classes, the struggle to realize this declaration took another five years of bloodshed and two more years of negotiation. The Treaty of Paris, which granted formal independence to the American colonies, was signed in September 1783. This was nearly two years after Gen. Charles Cornwallis surrendered the British army at Yorktown, Va.

The courage that was required by the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence was astounding. They surely knew that by affixing their names they would be labeled as traitors to the British crown, the most powerful nation in the world, and likely be signing their own execution papers. Yet they did it anyway, John Hancock boldly making sure his signature was large and clearly seen.

Yet, despite the amount of time that lapsed from the day Hancock famously affixed his signature to the date of actual independence, we continue to celebrate July 4 as the birth of our country. And rightfully so. I hope you will take some time and heed the suggestions of John Adams. Attend a parade, host a picnic for friends and family, play a game with your kids and cheer loudly as the fireworks explode overhead.

The courage of our founders greatly inspires me. Almost every time I travel to Washington, D.C., I take time out of my schedule to visit the National Archives and view the original copy of the Declaration of Independence. I take some time to look at the old and weathered document and think about what those men must have been feeling as they signed away their lives. Was it pure joy, apprehension — or both? I also typically take a moment to pray and thank God for their bravery. We live in the most prosperous nation in the history of the world and are showered with unprecedented blessings because of our founders’ actions.

Your local electric cooperative is keenly aware of these blessings and takes a lot of pride in providing you with the energy required to enjoy so many of them. While I might celebrate July 4 with a day on the lake or perhaps by enjoying a quiet morning at home, many of the men and women of your co-op will be hard at work ensuring the flow of power remains uninterrupted and your events go off without a hitch. These dedicated employees are devoted to protecting your way of life, providing the necessities we take for granted and the luxuries we freely enjoy. They are willing to sacrifice their own time and fortunes to ensure the blessings of others. Maybe that work is not as glamorous as signing the Declaration of Independence, but I think it’s pretty darned inspiring, too.

Another way your cooperative shares the blessings of our liberty is by providing a way for young people in your community to experience American history first-hand. You will read in the pages of this magazine next month about the annual Washington Youth Tour, sponsored by your local cooperative and the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association, but I hope you are fortunate enough to hear the story directly from the young people your cooperative sponsored this year. As you read this article, they will have just returned from Washington, D.C., and their experiences will be fresh. I assure you these young men and women will be full of enthusiasm — phrases like “trip of a lifetime” and “awe-inspiring” will likely fill their explanations to you.

And once ignited, the enthusiasm these young people feel for the “Great American Experiment” is hard to extinguish. Nearly 50 years after penning his prediction about how Americans would commemorate our “day of deliverance,” Adams was asked to suggest a toast be made to his name. He replied: “It is my living sentiment, and by the blessing of God, it shall be my dying sentiment: Independence now and Independence forever.” Four days later, he lay on his deathbed and could hear cannons firing outside. In what might have been among his last words, he very simply shouted, “Independence forever!” The day was July 4.

General Assembly adjourns

On May 1, the 107th Tennessee General Assembly adjourned its second session and brought to a close legislative business for the year – it’s earliest finish since 1998. The TECA Bill Tracker is finalized, and available by clicking the links below.

A $31.5 B budget for the state government was approved, which is a a $400 M reduction over last year’s $31.9 B budget. Even with the reductions, state employees will receive a two-and-a-half percent increase in their base pay and there will be a 0.25% reduction in the state sales tax levied on food. The state’s inheritance tax will phased out over a six-year period, and the gift tax will be eliminated entirely. A great deal of attention was paid to Governor Haslam’s proposal to modernize the State’s employment policies, also known as civil service. Ultimately, after some contention over the issue, the Tennessee State Employee Association supported the measure and it passed by large, bi-partisan majorities.

Another successful initiative of the Governor was to alter the make-up of the Tennessee Regulatory Authority from four full-time directors to a traditional five-member Board of Directors who would serve part-time.  A new Executive Director, initially appointed by the Governor and subsequently appointed by the Board of Directors, will manage the day to day operations of the TRA.  The final version of the bill contains a requirement that TRA submit an annual report to the Governor comparing the rates of regulated and non-regulated utilities (including electric utilities).  While the comparison of electric rates is not germane to TRA, as they do not regulate cooperative or municipally-owned utilities, TECA staff will pay close attention to these reports to ensure accuracy and relevance of any information included.

Upon the conclusion of the session, all bills not passed by both chamber and signed by the Governor are now officially “dead.”  When newly elected Legislators return to Nashville in January 2013, all bills and resolutions must be filed anew.

Final TECA Bill Summary

Electric cooperative interests were well protected throughout the session, as the entirety of TECA’s legislative agenda was resolved satisfactorily.  The bills of greatest importance included:

Trespasser Liability (Sen. Brian Kelsey/Rep. Vance Dennis)
By codifying the common law that a property owner owes no duty of care to a trespasser, electric cooperatives will see an increase in its protection against liability from copper thieves and other criminal activities on cooperative property.

Board Meeting Access (Sen. Delores Gresham/Rep. Vance Dennis) – The general subcommittee of the House State and Local Government committee unanimously agreed with our position that access to electric cooperative board meetings is best determined by electric cooperative members, rather than the legislature.

Pole Attachments (Sen. Brian Kelsey and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey/Rep. Debra Maggart) – This perennial issue saw much more legislative attention, due to the co-sponsorship of Lt. Gov. Ramsey and several committee hearings that included testimony on the bill.  Ultimately, electric cooperative member-owners owe a debt of gratitude to the Lieutenant Governor and the members of the Senate Commerce Committee who failed to make a motion that would bring the bill to a vote. This is a very unusual event in the senate, and sent a strong message to the cable industry about the depth of support enjoyed by electric cooperatives in Tennessee.

 

What is important

The week of March 12 was an eventful one in Nashville, to say the least. More than 200 devoted directors and employees from Tennessee’s electric cooperatives were in the state capital to participate in the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association’s annual Legislative Conference, Day on the Hill and Legislative Reception. Taking time away from their busy schedules, these individuals heard from and talked with some of Tennessee’s most powerful governmental officials about the key issues impacting your local community — and your member-owned electric co-op. I had the privilege of coordinating these two very full days, but fortunately I was unable complete all of the activities myself. I’ll get to that in a minute.

The events began when Gov. Bill Haslam addressed the group. “It is an honor to travel around the state and meet people who really do care about their communities, and you all represent businesses that do that,” said Gov. Haslam. “You really are trying your best to provide a service that people need at the lowest possible cost. I am grateful for what you are doing.”

Rather than merely speaking to the conference attendees, the governor asked a pretty simple question: What do we think his job is? Or, stated differently, what should he be doing to best perform his job as the chief executive of state government? Answers to his question spawned discussion about job recruitment, energy policy, environmental protections and the role and function of state government. Haslam discussed his initiatives to modernize state government, especially its employment practices, in order to provide the best services for the lowest cost.

At the conclusion of his time, it was our honor to present the governor a special copy of “Barns of Tennessee,” a popular book that features photos — most of which were submitted by the readers of this magazine — of some of Tennessee’s most picturesque farms and barns.

During the conference, TECA staff explained to co-op directors and employees how this year’s redrawing of House and Senate districts is impacting the representation of rural and suburban Tennessee in both the State Legislature and Congress. Because growth in urban areas of the state has been greater than that of rural regions, the balance of power in the General Assembly is shifting due to these demographic changes. We stressed that it is important to recognize these changes and be proactive in our efforts to ensure that your co-op remains strong for the future.

State Sen. Jack Johnson of Franklin provided an update on the priorities of the Senate, specifically the activities of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Labor and Agriculture. Sen. Johnson is the chairman of this very important committee, which has broad jurisdiction over many issues, including most that impact the operations of your local cooperative. He approaches his duty very seriously and is responsible for maintaining the civility and fairness of the debates that take place in the committee. We believe he does an excellent job running the committee and appreciate his willingness to answer the tough questions.

Attendees were also briefed on pending legislation that would impact Tennessee’s electric cooperatives. The common theme among all the bills that were discussed is the unique way in which your cooperative operates — through you, the owner. Our association becomes concerned when legislation would limit a board’s ability to act in the best interests of its members. We believe that our cooperative governance structure provides the most effective way to operate a nonprofit business because you elect the directors who set the cooperative’s policies. Cooperative members are best served when these local policies are made by local board members elected to run the co-op. This locally controlled business model nearly eliminates the need for the state or federal government to be involved in the cooperative’s affairs.

Armed with this information, the attendees then set out to meet with their legislators to help them better understand electric cooperatives and the specific pending legislation that impacts our ability to provide safe, reliable, affordable energy.

The primary issue facing electric cooperatives this year is nothing new — pole attachments. Electric utilities charge cable TV and telephone providers when they attach their wires to electric poles. Think of this like rent — your cooperative owns a house, but the cable and telephone company wants to rent out a room in the house. However, renting a room makes the cost of living in the house higher because that additional renter uses more of the house’s resources (electricity, heating and cooling, water, etc). You might even have to get a bigger house just to accommodate all the extra renters.

Cable and telephone companies believe that government should mandate that this “rent” be lower. Much lower. But co-ops know they charge fair rates that are based on the actual cost of buying, installing and maintaining a pole. These costs are then spread out among everybody who is sharing the pole. Pretty simple, huh?

Thankfully, the members of Tennessee’s legislature have seen the efforts to regulate pole attachments for what they are: an attempt to get a free ride. During this year’s Legislative Conference, our attendees were able to see presentations from both sides of this issue given to Chairman Johnson and the Senate Commerce Committee during a committee session. While no vote was taken that day, the result was clear: Electric cooperatives and their locally elected boards are doing what is right for their communities.

I wasn’t there to help present the arguments to the Senate Commerce Committee. And as I mentioned at the beginning of this column, I’m thankful I wasn’t. Just an hour or two before the presentation began, I was at Baptist Hospital with my wife, welcoming our fourth son into the world. Mom and baby Drew are doing great. God has blessed me with a great job, but an even better family.

Patience is a virtue

Mike Knotts, Director of Government Affairs for the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association

For years, I’ve heard the saying, “Patience is a virtue.” I’m not sure I’ve ever really thought about what that means. Have you? I just hear it, reflexively agree with it and move on to the next thing. Just another cliché, something that people say.

According to Wikipedia, “A virtue is a positive trait or quality subjectively deemed to be morally excellent and thus is valued as a foundation of principle and good moral being.” I know Wikipedia might not be the most authoritative source, but I think this entry passes the smell test. So, if I actually believe that definition, do I live in such a way that demonstrates patience? After all, actions speak louder than words — as we’ve always been told. Does our society really value patience?

In my opinion, it is undeniable that we are an instant-gratification nation. Fast food, ATMs, disposable diapers, digital cameras — all are incredible luxuries that have without doubt shortened our attention spans. I work in an industry that literally changed the world — but where patience is defined in milliseconds. Our margin for error is so slim. When you flip the switch, you expect the lights to come on. If the power stops flowing for just a second, all those digital clocks start blinking “12:00,” and the phone calls start pouring in to your co-op.

And these were only 20th century changes. The Internet has exponentially increased our ability to demand more and more information in less and less time.

For example, I am a voracious consumer of news. I have a need to stay connected to current events but see very little of it on television anymore. The 5 o’clock news has not been a part of my routine since I was in high school. I might read the newspaper to learn more detail of a major story, but almost never do I learn about it for the first time in the pages of my local daily. Most of my news comes to me now in near-real time through websites, email updates and social media like Twitter.

These advancements are not bad things; they are just changes. It’s hard to argue against the value of societal advancement. Take the automobile, for instance. Just because we’ve been trained to expect to cross the state in a matter of hours instead of days doesn’t mean we are impatient. We might be getting less patient in some of the ways we live our lives, but those changes by in large have enriched us and made us a more comfortable and prosperous people.

But what about those things that still require us to exercise patience? Parenthood has certainly put me to the test. I have three young sons, including 4-year-old twins, so there has been no shortage of opportunities to demonstrate my patience. Or, more appropriately, my lack thereof. I have to constantly remind myself that I can’t expect my boys to perfect a new task the first time, and I can’t expect them to grow without a lot of stumbles along the way.

When I arrive at the office, I again face the same struggles. It is my job to get involved in the details of how your elected representatives write the law. And the legislative process can sometimes be slow and arduous, it can sometimes be quick and haphazard, but it always requires careful diligence. However, it can be easy to sometimes jump to premature conclusions and not do the hard work that is necessary to make good decisions and accurate judgments.

Case in point: As a lobbyist, there are some lawmakers on whom you just come to rely. Experience has shown you time and time again that they are supportive of your organization and what it stands for, and when it comes time to cast a vote, they usually make the right decision. So what do you do when they suddenly reverse course and do something that could be incredibly harmful to the things you care about?

This happened to me recently. I could not believe the name when I read it at the top of the page. Someone I had come to rely upon suddenly appeared to be in opposition to the interests of electric cooperatives. Why? My first reaction was to take decisive action. Fire up the engines, and let’s head off to battle.

But wait a minute: Why would someone change their position when the circumstances surrounding that issue have not changed? Why would someone embrace a multimillion-dollar impact to our industry that would cause electric bills for almost all Tennesseans to unnecessarily rise? There had to be a reason. So I made a decision that flies in the face of our impatient, 24-hour news cycle culture. I decided to wait until I could actually talk to the person and determine what their motives might be.

So far, that decision has been a good one — both for my virtue and the interests of the member-owners of Tennessee’s electric cooperatives. There was a reason, and my first reaction would have made the situation much worse. So don’t forget: If patience truly is a virtue, then it just stands to reason that good things come to those who wait!

Decennial decisions

Mike Knotts, Director of Government Affairs for the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association

One man. One vote. It doesn’t get much simpler than that. Every citizen in the U.S. has the right to equal representation.

We may take this principle for granted, but it is one of the cornerstones of our form of government, a representative republic. What makes our system of government different from a democracy, however, is that our votes are cast in order to elect an individual who will represent us in a legislative body that deliberates and decides the people’s business. Our own vote does not directly decide the issue being debated.

So that means every American has a number of elected officials who represent them. At the federal level you are represented by two U.S. senators who are elected by the citizens of an entire state.You are also represented by one U.S. representative (frequently referred to as a congressman), who is elected to represent one of 435 geographical districts across the nation.These districts are apportioned in such a way that each district contains approximately the same number of citizens.

At the state level, you are represented by one state senator and one state representative. These individuals each represent differing geographic districts that contain a proportional number of the state’s citizens. Local governments are organized in a similar fashion, although there are differing methods by which they operate depending on the makeup of individual counties and cities.

While the news media today tends to pay lots of attention to the president of the United States or the goings- on of the Congress, the fact that state legislatures have the responsibility of determining how the representative districts are drawn is sometimes overlooked. Every 10 years, after completion of the U.S. Census, state representatives and senators take on the task of reapportioning the districts to guarantee equal representation for the people. They determine the boundaries for the U.S. House of Representatives districts in their states in addition to the State Senate and House lines.

While every district must be proportional in population to the other districts, are there a number of different ways to draw the lines to come up with an equal result?You bet. Does that mean politics may influence the outcome?You bet! Is that a bad thing? Well, assuming equal representation is achieved, no, I don’t believe so.

The General Assembly recently completed the process of redistricting the nine Congressional districts, 33 State Senate districts and 99 State House districts in Tennessee. This reapportionment was different, as it was the first time in history that the Republican Party has controlled the state Legislature during the process. However, the timing of the process was very similar to previous reapportionments.

There were certainly some winners and losers in the design of the districts. House Republican Leader Gerald McCormick told tnreport.com, “Any time you have 99 politicians carving up anything, you’re going to have some controversy, so I expect there will be some creative tension.” It would be impossible to please everyone’s wishes for how to draw the lines, and some in our state were indeed not happy. As former Speaker of the House Jimmy Naifeh was quoted (I can only assume tongue-in-cheek), “Just because I did it doesn’t make it right.” Well, like it or not, politics is a part of our governing process, and the party in control will certainly choose alternatives that benefit its vision for governance.

As an organization whose interests are primarily rural and suburban, we at the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association are very interested in how these new districts will impact our ability to promote policies that keep your cooperative strong. Tennessee’s population has changed over the past 10 years, and the population growth in urban areas has been faster than that of our rural communities. Will this demographic shift make it more difficult to advocate for our electric co-op member- owners? Time will tell for sure, but an objective analysis shows that the maps appear to be drawn fairly and with an attempt to group together communities of like interest. Will some of our strongest supporters be impacted by these changes? Your votes at the ballot box will determine the answer to that question.

Because the new districts will take effect upon the conclusion of — not before — the November 2012 election, I encourage you learn what districts you live in.Maps are available on our website, www.tnelectric.org.

So what does all of this mean to you? This is an election year, and this fall when you go to the polls to vote (you are registered to vote, right?), you may very well find that you live in a new district or the person you are accustomed to representing you will be changing.

Spreading Mayberry ideals on Capitol Hill

Mike Knotts, Director of Government Affairs for the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association

I love “The Andy Griffith Show.” That’s not exactly breaking news, I know. It’s only one of the most popular television shows in history. And I suppose having a father whose name is Don Knotts may have helped pique my interest many years ago. But few can disagree that there is just something about that program that resonates with people across America.

While my father was not the actor who played the iconic Barney Fife, I do relish the thought of life in Mayberry. Life was simple, doors were not locked, people helped one another during hard times, Aunt Bee’s cooking was the best (except for those pickles!) And occasionally the Darlings rolled into town to pick a song or two.

Over the past couple of years I have enjoyed exposing my three young boys to Andy and Opie and the rest of the characters. Sometimes they get a history lesson. “Dad, why does Barney have to ask Sarah to call the diner? Why doesn’t he just use his iPhone?” Sometimes they learn a great moral lesson about telling the truth or the consequences of unethical or unlawful behavior. Sometimes they see how important it is to serve others — can you think of a single episode where Andy Taylor does anything for his own gain? And sometimes they just laugh at Barney’s wide-eyed look of frustration when something else didn’t work the way he planned.

Yes, I love “The Andy Griffith Show.”

And while I readily admit that the world we live in is much different than Mayberry, couldn’t we all learn a little bit from it? I think so. Honesty, integrity and selflessness are not character traits that we readily associate with our political leaders of late, but I can tell you that those qualities still exist — and in great supply. But then again, maybe our world isn’t that different from Mayberry. For real fans of the show, you might recall that Mayor Stoner had a hard time respecting the separation of powers between the mayor and sheriff — that is, until a black bear and ornery bull taught him otherwise.

I’ve been involved in politics and government for more than 15 years now, and my experience has ranged from stuffing envelopes for political candidates to serving on the staff of a member of Congress as well as being appointed by the president of the United States to a position in his administration. I’ve seen a lot of good people working very hard for the future of this country and, yes, even a Mayor Stoner or two.

So when I came to work for the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association a little less than one year ago, I was given the responsibility of protecting the interests of Tennessee’s electric cooperatives before both the state and federal governments — no small task, but one I have readily accepted.

As a member-owner of an electric cooperative, you share a unique experience with about 1 million other rural and suburban Tennesseans. You don’t just buy your power from your local co-op; you own your local co-op! The reality of that statement is that you are an owner of a business that is critical to our modern society, is technically complex, requires lots of money to build and operate and is a vital part of our communities. Oh, and the product you sell can kill you if not handled properly. This is serious business!

So it is only natural that the activities of your cooperative are frequently the subject of proposed new laws or government regulations. As these changes are proposed and debated in Washington, D.C., and Nashville, we will always advocate positions that keep your cooperative strong and able to provide safe, reliable and affordable energy to your home and business. And we will do what it takes to ensure that the millions of voices of our association are both heard and respected.

As I have been telling electric cooperative employees across the state, we have a unique responsibility to help guide our lawmakers to sound energy policies. Our association takes this responsibility seriously. I look forward to using this column as well as our website at www.tnelectric.org over the years to come to keep you informed about these issues.

Hopefully our editorial oversight will better than the Mayberry Sun, Opie’s newspaper that focused on Mayberry gossip.