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Members take co-op message to legislators

NASHVILLE – More than 250 members and employees from Tennessee’s electric cooperatives were in Nashville on Monday and Tuesday, March 7 and 8, for the 2016 Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association’s Legislative Conference. Attendees met with their legislators on Capitol Hill to help them better understand electric cooperatives and the issues that impact rural and suburban Tennessee.

House Speaker Beth Harwell welcomed the group to Nashville. “You serve 71 percent of our state and 2.5 million Tennesseans,” she said. “We recognize the impact you have on our state.”

Tennessee’s electric cooperatives maintain a visible presence in Nashville and Washington, D.C., to protect the interests of co-op members. “We are here to give a voice to rural Tennesseans,” says David Callis, CEO of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association.

“Legislators consider bills that have serious consequences for co-ops and the communities they serve. We must tell the electric cooperative story and educate lawmakers about the impact of proposed legislation,” says Callis. Attendees reminded legislators that co-ops are not-for-profit, member-owned and –regulated private businesses that impact rural and suburban Tennessee in many ways.

Visits focused on specific legislation that impacts co-ops and the communities they serve. Co-op leaders expressed support for a bill that allows electric co-ops to provide broadband Internet service. “We serve the areas with the greatest need for broadband,” says Mike Knotts, Vice President of Government Affairs for the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “We have a role to play in bringing high-speed connectivity to rural Tennessee.” Co-ops also voiced their support of legislation that modernizes the tax code for co-ops and discussed the impact of the recent Supreme Court decision to halt implementation of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan.

“Educated and informed legislators are necessary for us to provide low-cost, reliable power, and our members make a powerful impression when they come to Nashville,” says Knotts. More than 100 legislative visits were made during the conference, and dozens of legislators from across the state attended a reception honoring members of the Tennessee General Assembly.

Legislative Conference brings co-ops to Nashville

More than 180 directors and employees from Tennessee’s electric cooperatives were in Nashville April 1 and 2 for the 2013 Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association Legislative Conference. Attendees met with their legislators on Capitol Hill to help them better understand electric cooperatives and the issues that impact them.

U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn also addressed the group, discussing in detail how the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is overstepping its boundaries and stifling job creation. “The EPA audits businesses looking for ways to fine them,” said Blackburn. “Their attitude is not helpful, and that is not what the Federal government is supposed to do.”

Tennessee’s electric cooperatives maintain an active presence in Nashville and Washington, D.C., to be certain that the interests of co-op members are protected. “Electric cooperatives are not-for-profit, member-owned and -regulated and accountable to their communities. These are important distinctions that legislators must understand,” says David Callis, general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “The decisions made by legislators can have enormous effects on our members’ electric bills, so our job is to inform and educate them on the impacts of proposed legislation.”

Most issues affecting co-ops this year revolve around local control. “We believe that our members are best served when local decisions are made by local board members elected to run the cooperative,” says Mike Knotts, director of government affairs with TECA. “We are concerned when legislation limits a board’s ability to act in the best interests of its members.”

“Educated and informed legislators are a key component of low-cost, reliable power in Tennessee,” says Knotts. “Co-op members make a powerful impression when they come to meet with their legislators.”

More than 90 legislative visits were made during the conference, and 63 house and senate members attended the co-ops’ legislative reception.