David Callis, executive vice president and general manager

When we talk about our community, we’re usually referring to a town or neighborhood. The nation’s electric cooperatives have a somewhat different perspective on community. Our community is local yet it extends hundreds of miles away.

A good illustration of that concept involves a Virginia co-op aptly named Community Electric Cooperative. Tennessee line crews have worked there following two recent storms, providing emergency assistance. Community EC also sent crews north to aid with power restoration efforts in areas devastated by Hurricane Sandy. Those linemen, who had already worked several days maintaining and restoring electric service at their own co-op, packed their bags, loaded their trucks and headed north into New Jersey and New York.

Tennessee’s electric cooperatives have adopted “Community” as our theme for 2013. For us, it’s more than just a slogan. Our roots in the community go back to the farmhouses and meeting places where we were formed. Today, those community beginnings remain woven into the fabric of everything we do, and our electric cooperatives live out that commitment to our members every day. The work we do is for the benefit of the members we serve — not for shareholders, investors or faraway owners.

From the time the first lines were strung in our communities until today, it’s been a never-ending commitment. In the early days, keeping the lights on was enough. Yet as times change, new needs arise. Our co-ops are always there to meet the challenges and strengthen the bond between community and cooperative.

Today, our member-owned electric cooperatives are vital social and economic components of the communities we serve, providing much more than just keeping the lights on.

As I’ve mentioned before, we can’t control every aspect of what goes into determining the price of electricity. Another large and important part of our “community” is the Tennessee Valley Authority. At one time, most of the electricity we use was generated by TVA’s hydro and coal plants. Over the years, the percentage of hydro power has diminished, nuclear power came on the scene and coal-fired generation has declined. It’s a daunting task for TVA to generate the power that our communities need at a cost we can afford.

As energy prices have risen, we’ve emphasized energy efficiency and conservation. That’s a delicate balancing act as new ways of using electricity are introduced to our communities; think about the number of televisions, appliances and phones plugged in at your home. Our educational efforts also include safety, renewable energy solutions, economic investment and youth programs. Often, electric co-ops are among the largest taxpayers in the towns or counties we serve.

Innovation adds challenges to operating our systems, but it’s nothing we can’t handle. As we’ve done over the course of our existence, we’ll adapt and meet the changes of our communities.

As for those linemen from Community EC, they were joined in storm-ravaged areas by hundreds more from other states, including Tennessee. They were tired, and they needed rest. But while their co-ops back home were in good shape, there were others that were in need.

Even though those that were in need were hundreds of miles away, they were never really out of the reach of the cooperative community. You never really are.

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