The Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association and the electric cooperatives of Tennessee oppose the cable lobby’s Freedom to Connect Act and support the Watson/Matlock bill (HB 1111/SB 1222), a true compromise and attempt to end ongoing legislative disputes.


The Freedom to Connect Act (HB 567/SB 1049) will hurt rural Tennesseans

The primary purpose of the Freedom to Connect Act is to lower the pole attachment cost to cable companies, increasing their net profit and value to shareholders. This bill will take millions of dollars each year from the pockets of rural Tennesseans and give it to out-of-state corporations.

The Freedom to Connect Act

  • deletes an existing law requiring cable companies to seek permission to use an electric utility’s property
  • takes the authority over a cooperative’s private property away from locally elected boards and gives it to an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) with limited understanding of the cooperative’s business, finances or membership
  • specifically instructs the ALJs to consider the $7 Federal Communications Commission rate established in 1978, but it does not require any other rate formulation to be considered

Passage of the Freedom to Connect Act would result in increased electric bills across Tennessee.

Tennessee’s electric cooperatives are not-for-profit, member-owned, private utilities. Pole attachment rates in Tennessee are set by local boards and are based on actual costs. Rates vary from co-op to co-op because they are set to recover the actual costs incurred, and the cost structure of each utility is different, with varying costs of capital, labor and materials.

The FCC rate was established to help cable companies grow, and it does not reflect actual costs. The rate applies only to for-profit utilities; not-for-profit cooperatives have always been exempt. The Tennessee Valley Authority regulates many aspects of electric co-ops at the federal level, including pole attachment rates.

The average cost of a pole attachment in Tennessee is $14 per pole annually.

Lower pole attachment rates found in other states are legally mandated and do not reflect the actual cost of the attachment. These rates are subsidized by electric ratepayers.

Cooperatives in Tennessee have more than 1 million telecom and cable attachments on their poles. Forcing electric utilities to use the subsidized FCC rate for all attachments would cost electric cooperative members $13 million annually.

Electric cooperatives support a true compromise, reflected in the Watson/Matlock bill (HB 1111/SB 1222)

The Watson/Matlock bill is based on good-faith efforts to compromise with cable in the past. The bill preserves a cooperative’s authority over its own property while giving attachers a clearly defined dispute resolution process and protection against legitimate abuse.

The compromise seeks to

  • develop better working relationships between pole owners and attachers and establish a set of best practices
  • provide a clear path for dispute resolution while respecting the important role of local control and local decision making
  • establish a first-ever avenue for judicial review of disputes
  • provide for the involvement of an Administrative Law Judge early in the process to make a determination of the maximum appropriate cost-based rate applicable to each utility. The local board’s final decision is then appealable to Chancery Court under the Administrative Procedures Act. A dispute resolution process has been previously unavailable.

Tennessee’s electric cooperatives support our rural communities, and we believe that broadband expansion is important to the economic prosperity of rural Tennessee.

Pole attachment rates do not stand in the way of broadband expansion. Legislation passed in 2008 requires Tennessee utilities to provide a significantly reduced attachment rate to providers expanding broadband into previously unserved areas. This rate has never been requested or utilized by a cable company in Tennessee. The rate is half of the 2008 rate, which averages less than $7 per pole, per year.

We are active in economic development, working with TVA, the Department of Economic and Community Development, regional economic development groups and local chambers of commerce to recruit jobs and investment to our communities.

Just as electricity did in the 1930s, we believe that broadband infrastructure will make rural America competitive and relevant in a global economy. Tennessee co-ops have provided mapping data and other resources to accelerate the expansion of broadband in Tennessee.

The Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association is a trade association representing the interests of Tennessee’s 23 rural and suburban, not-for-profit electric distribution cooperatives and the 1.1 million members they serve.

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Replace air filters regularly for efficient heating and cooling

Clogged air filters could add $82 to your electric bill every year. Checking, changing, or cleaning your filter once a month saves money and extends the life of your home’s heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system.

More than half of your monthly energy bill goes toward keeping your home comfortable. While air filters prevent pesky dust and annoying allergens from clogging your HVAC system, dirt, like aging arteries, builds up over time. If left unchecked, a dirty filter strains a home’s heart and forces the HVAC system to work harder to push conditioned air through tight spaces. This results in higher energy bills and—potentially—system failure.

Filter Facts

Air filters protect HVAC systems and perform double-duty by collecting some lose dirt from the air. These handy sieves live in duct system slots or in return grilles of central air conditioners, furnaces, and heat pumps.

Successful filters have a short lifespan—the better a filter catches dirt, the faster is gets clogged and must be cleaned or replaced. Leaving a dirty air filter in place cuts a home’s air quality and reduces HVAC system airflow.

While removing a clogged filter altogether relieves pressure on the system, the system can’t perform well without one. Unfiltered dust and grime accumulate on critical parts like the evaporator coil, causing unnecessary wear and tear.

Monthly Check-up

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) advises checking an air filter once a month and replacing it at least every three months. It’s critical to inspect and replace filters before seasons of heavy use like summer and winter.

If you have pets or smokers in the home, filters clog quickly. Remodeling projects or furniture sanding add more dirt than normal; a filter may need to be changed before the average three-month lifespan expires.

Turn your heating and cooling system off before checking your filter. Slide the filter out of your duct work, and look for layers of hair and dirt. Run a finger across the filter. If the finger comes away dirty or there’s a line left on the filter, it’s time for a change.

When replacing the filter, make sure the arrow on the filter indicating the direction of the airflow points toward the blower motor. To help schedule monthly check-ups, write the date on the side of the filter so you know when it needs to be checked again. Once you’ve made the change, turn your system back on.

Filtering Choices

Shopping for a new filter? Before you leave home, write down the size printed on the side of your current filter. If you get a filter that’s too small, dirt will get around the barrier and invade your system.

There are several different types of filters and levels of efficiency. Filters are either flat or pleated; pleated filters offer extra surface area to hold dirt, making them more efficient.

The most common filters use layered fiberglass fibers reinforced with metal grating. Some filters boost efficiency by using polyester fibers. Electrostatic filters are made from positively- and negatively-charged fibers and capture smaller debris—the charge actively pulls particles from the air like iron filings onto a magnet. No power connection is required, and the charge does not fade over time. The filters best able to capture small debris are high efficiency particulate arrestance (HEPA) filters, but these deluxe filters are mainly used in hospitals and office buildings, not in homes.

Air filters are rated by a Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV). Ranging from one to 20, this scale gauges a filter’s effectiveness at blocking debris. Low MERV-rated filters offer high airflow into a cooling or heating system, but only catch large air particles. A higher rating isn’t always better—those filters block more dirt but also reduce system airflow. Most experts recommend filters with a MERV 6 or higher.

Manufacturers are not required to post MERV on filter packaging. Brands like 3M’s Filtrete instead list levels of microparticle performance rating—higher numbers mean the filter catches more particles.  Home Depot’s Air Filter Performance Rating system ranks filters by good, better, best, and premium. No matter what system a store or manufacturer uses, better (and more expensive) filters mean higher MERV scores.

If a family member suffers from allergies, a high MERV filter keeps out excess dander, smoke, and other allergens. Ask a heating and cooling professional what type of filter works best for your home and family needs.

Once you find a filter that works well in your home, it’s a good idea to keep spare filters on hand. Basic filters cost anywhere from $2 to $10; electrostatic filters may range from $18 to $25.

More Efficiency Boosters

Before summer hits, clean cooling system coils inside and outside the home. Leaves, dirt, and other debris gather around a home’s air conditioner throughout fall and winter months. These intruders keep the coils from operating at top efficiency, both shortening the lifespan of the unit and ratcheting up summer cooling bills.

Just as clogged air filters force your system to work harder, blocked vents strain your system. Clean air registers, baseboard heaters, and radiators. Make sure air ducts are not blocked by furniture, rugs, or window treatments.

Want more ways to save? Take the home energy savings tour and see how little changes add up to big savings at

Sources: ENERGY STAR, U.S. Department of Energy, American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, Environmental Protection Agency, Home Depot, 3M, Permatron

Megan McKoy-Noe writes on energy efficiency issues for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Arlington, Va.-based service arm of the nation’s 900-plus consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives.

by David Callis, Executive Vice President and General Manager for the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association

By now we’ve all come to the realization that the Mayans were wrong. Or, more accurately stated, we were wrong about the Mayans. Just because their calendar ended on Dec. 21, 2012, didn’t mean civilization was going to end on that date. The lesson we all should have learned is that calendars just mark an arbitrary point in time.

It’s true that we tie a number of starting points to Jan. 1, but we do that out of simplicity, not because of some cosmic reasoning. In 2013, a number of things are much different than in 2012. Sadly, more than a few are still the same — like congressional budget fights.

For co-ops in Tennessee, we’re looking at a couple of significant changes: two new leaders as we start the new year. Bill Johnson is the new CEO at the Tennessee Valley Authority. (I wrote about him in the December 2012 issue of The Tennessee Magazine. He’s already more than a month into the job.) For electric cooperatives, we have a new leader for our national association, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), which represents more than 900 rural cooperatives — and their more than 42 million members — in 47 states.

Republican Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, who represents Missouri’s 8th Congressional District, will be NRECA’s fifth CEO upon her retirement from the House in February. She officially joins NRECA on Feb. 11 and assumes her duties as CEO on March 1. An association executive before joining Congress, where she has been a strong supporter of rural America, she is respected on “both sides of the aisle” and has a proven ability to bridge political and policy divides.

“We conducted an exhaustive search to identify the very best individual to lead a great association,” said NRECA Board President Mike Guidry. “We’re convinced we found that person in Jo Ann Emerson. Her background as a member of Congress and a trade association executive,―coupled with her extensive knowledge of the issues facing electric cooperatives and rural America,―make Jo Ann eminently qualified to lead NRECA and represent the interests of our members.”

The success of these new leaders will be critical to our success — and to your need for efficient and economical electric service. We’re blessed in Tennessee to have a robust, reliable electric grid. We need a strong and responsive TVA as our power supplier and regulator. Your cooperative and TVA work hand-in-hand to build and maintain that network. None of that just happens; it requires planning and cooperation.

NRECA, under Emerson’s leadership, will be leading the charge as we combat legislative efforts that could add to the regulatory minefield we already traverse. Her skills in working for the good of rural communities will be as useful as her years in Congress. Our cooperative goal is to continue to support the communities where our members live, work and play, maintaining and improving your quality of life.

Emerson said as much in a statement announcing her new position: “Energy has a direct relationship with the vitality of rural America. Without reliable, affordable electricity delivered by electric cooperatives serving thousands of communities, millions of Americans would be left without the energy that brings economic opportunity, unsurpassed quality of life and the promise of growth in the future.”

Here’s hoping that 2013 is successful for us, for our new leadership and, most importantly, for you.

Mike Knotts, director of government affairs

Believe it or not, spring planting season will soon be upon us. I try each year to add an item or two to my home’s landscaping. I was not blessed with a particularly green thumb, though, so it usually ends miserably. But this year is different and much more important. Because of some drainage problems, I was forced to regrade my entire lawn last fall, which included removing every single living shrub, flower or plant around my house.

So I find myself asking for advice. What can I plant that is attractive, inexpensive, hearty and requires the absolute least amount of maintenance? When is the proper time to plant? I know that if you plant too early, you run the risk of a late frost wiping out all the new seedlings. If you wait too long, the plants won’t have time to take root and be prepared to weather the hot Tennessee summer. Experienced gardeners know that without enough time and care to build a strong grassroots system, these new plants will never survive.

Good ideas aren’t really that much different. If a new proposal is presented too early, it may get lost in the shuffle. If you lobby for an idea that no one knows about — even something that would help all Tennesseans — it will wilt and die. If an idea is presented too late, all the good intentions in the world can’t catch up to Father Time.

So how do great ideas thrive? They need good timing, awareness and the action of those that can make it happen.

Part of your local electric cooperative’s mission is to make sure you have affordable, reliable and safe electricity. And because our industry is so complex, government plays an important role in that mission. Sometimes state or federal laws threaten this, however, so we lobby hard on your behalf. But without your support — and, more importantly, your voice — our ideas may not reach the right ears.

That is why in the December 2012 issue of this magazine, I asked you to consider getting more involved in helping us keep your electric rates low. To the thousands of you who responded by going to and signing up, thank you very much. We will do our best to keep you informed with timely information. If you have not had the time to do so, signing up only takes a minute or two. And the time is right, as Tennessee’s General Assembly has just returned to take up its work and make important decisions for our state.

This year, the legislature has an important decision to make that could have an impact on your electric bill for years to come. And much like the situation in my yard, this year’s legislative session and its impact on your electric cooperative will be different and very important.

As you have read in these pages over the years, we have fought efforts that would increase your electric bill or make it more difficult to deliver reliable power to your home or office. For instance, most of the poles along the roadside in your community are owned by your electric cooperative. Those poles may have many other lines attached to them, which could carry telephone, cable or other utilities. The electric cooperative board of directors, elected by you, is responsible for deciding how much each attaching utility should pay for its fair share of the pole. However, some would like to see the state government intervene in hopes of lowering their fees.

While a discussion about pole attachments may not carry the same type of front-page appeal as issues like the income tax or “guns in bars,” the potential impact to Tennesseans is very real. Last year, the bill introduced would have caused $15 million in higher electric rates all across the state. So we have always asked the members of the legislature to say “no” to these requests, and, with very few exceptions, Tennessee’s elected officials have agreed.

This year, however, there is an opportunity to support a lasting solution to this perennial debate — a solution that protects attaching companies from any potential abuse and provides the ability to go to court if things really go wrong. And this solution protects the most important special-interest group — you, the owner of your cooperative.

In the coming weeks, we will be asking our elected officials to say “YES” to this honest, genuine compromise. The timing is right, and we are doing our best to make Tennesseans aware of the complex nature of these relationships and how they can be improved. What is the last ingredient to make this great idea thrive? Your action.

And as for my landscaping, let’s hope I stick to politics and get some good advice!

Visit to find out how you can help us. Or call 615-515-5522.