I really missed the mark in my February column. While writing in early January that “little evidence is left of the record cold weather,” I had no doubt that winter’s cold wouldn’t last much longer. No one anticipated the Tennessee Valley Authority would set five of its top 10 record peak demands in the first few weeks of the year. Unfortunately, I was half-right: High bills continue to strain budgets throughout the region.

On those five coldest days, TVA and the local power companies generated and delivered 3,399 gigawatt-hours. Without delving into the math again (see inset), that’s enough energy to power Nashville for 10 months. Everything didn’t work to perfection, but the power stayed on. It’s quite an accomplishment to achieve once, but to meet the demand again and again is remarkable. And you don’t achieve the remarkable by accident.

Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, when discussing the dangers troops were encountering in Iraq, created some new classifications for problems: “There are known knowns … there are known unknowns … there are also unknown unknowns.”

When you lead — whether it’s troops into battle, hikers on an outdoors excursion or utility employees keeping the current flowing — you need a certain amount of technical expertise. Good leadership also knows a thing or two about failure. It’s good to learn early what doesn’t work. Some ideas that look great on paper just don’t turn out so well.

For example, in the early 1990s, many of us in the electric utility industry were certain that fuel cells would eventually allow us to serve remote loads efficiently and inexpensively. The technology was “just a few years away.” A couple of decades later, it’s still just a few years away.

That’s just a small example of how “experts” can miss the mark. With new technologies, it becomes even more challenging. Longtime utility workers may not know that wind turbines can’t operate below certain temperatures or in extremely high wind speeds. There simply aren’t any simple answers. The steady hands at the helm of our utilities have years of seasoned experience. If there were an easier, less-expensive way to do what we do, that’s how we would be doing it.

For our nation to have a workable energy policy, we need experts with true subject-matter knowledge and a few battle scars. What we don’t need is policy designed by people who don’t know what it takes to keep the lights on.

It seems the political leaders driving our nation’s energy policy are following that path. Many simply don’t know enough about our industry to be discussing energy policy — much less drafting it.

In the utility industry, we have our share of “known knowns” and “known unknowns.” We’ve learned to work through those. But building the next century’s energy policy with “unknown unknowns?” Designing the electricity grid that powers our lives shouldn’t be a training ground.

To lean more and become part of the conversation focused on a sensible, balanced approach to the Environmental Protection Agency’s planned new rules for power plants, go to takeactionTN.com.


More than 40 volunteers from five electric cooperatives to participate in power restoration effort following massive winter storm

NASHVILLE – Forty-one electric cooperative lineworkers from Tennessee are heading to South Carolina to help restore power to those affected by a powerful winter storm. Some crews are already en route and others will depart early Thursday morning.

“Tennessee crews and equipment are on the way to help South Carolina recover from this historic storm,” said David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “We are proud of these volunteers who are leaving their families to help others in need. This will be hard, dangerous work in difficult conditions.”

More than 50 additional lineworkers are on standby to leave Thursday afternoon should the need arise.

Electric cooperatives across the Southeast began planning earlier this week, and details have been adjusted as the exact path of the storm and the extent of the damage became more certain. Electric cooperatives utilize a common safety and construction standards that allow crews to safely and efficiently assist other systems.

Crews will be assisting Santee Electric Cooperative in Kingstree, S.C., approximately 30 miles west of Myrtle Beach.

Assisting in the recovery will be:

  • four lineworkers from Chickasaw Electric Cooperative, Somerville
  • eight from Cumberland Electric Membership Corporation, Clarksville
  • nine from Duck River Electric Membership Corporation, Shelbyville
  • 10 from Plateau Electric Cooperative, Oneida
  • 10 from Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative, South Pittsburg

“One day we will need help,” says Callis, “and when that tornado or ice storm arrives, we know that this assistance will be repaid. Cooperation is one of the founding principles of electric cooperatives. It is what makes us different from other utilities.”

The Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association is a trade group representing the interests of 23 electric distribution cooperatives and the 1.1 million members they serve across rural and suburban Tennessee.

#   #   #

Trent Scott | [email protected] | 731.608.1519

Media Advisory:
Crews from across the state will be departing Thursday morning. Please contact Trent Scott with the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association if your media outlet would like to schedule an interview or video or photo opportunity.

Download photo: http://tnelectric.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/CEC-Pax.jpg

Cutline: Lineworkers from Chickasaw Electric Cooperative, Somerville, Tenn., will leave for Kingstree, S.C., on Thursday morning to assist with electric power restoration following an historic winter storm. From left: Chris Huff, Chris Whittemore, Brett Bartholomew, and Hebert Green.

The TECA grassroots committee met on Monday, Feb. 3, during the annual legislative conference to discuss important cooperative issues and grassroots initiatives.

Led by chairman Mike Partin of Sequachee Valley EC, committee members shared their success in soliciting co-op employees and members to take action against the EPA’s proposed regulations. These regulations would virtually end coal-fired power production in the U.S.

Committee members are directing all cooperative stakeholders to www.action.coop where, in less than one minute, they can add to the cooperative voice against these misguided regulations.

The group went on to discuss the upcoming “Co-op Connect” events, to begin this summer. During these events, lawmakers will have the opportunity to tour the co-op, meet employees and become further invested in the cooperative model of business.

The committee expects to reconvene in the early spring. Look for messages from the TECA grassroots committee to appear in newsletters and The Tennessee Magazine.

Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative is a recipient of CoBank’s “Sharing Success” matching grant program. MLEC combined the $5000 grant with its existing Adopt-A-School grant program to award $10,000 to local schools.

“Our school grant program makes $1000 available annually in each of the five counties we serve,” says President and CEO Hal Womble. “However, with the help of our partners at CoBank, we are able to give $2000 in each county this year to help more educators and reach more students.”

Winning projects range from establishing reading libraries and science lab materials to electronic tablets and classroom equipment. With the awarding of this year’s grants, MLEC’s Adopt-A-School program reached $100,000 milestone in giving. Since 1991, MLEC has awarded 130 grants through its adopt-a-school program.

“Co Bank is pleased to offer our ‘Sharing Success’ matching grant program to assist our customers in supporting their local communities,” says William D. LaDuca of CoBank. “MLEC’s grant program is an excellent example of how we can assist the cooperative in its efforts to provide financial support for teachers and students in its service territory.”

Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative, a Touchstone Energy® cooperative, is a non-profit organization offering reliable, low-cost electricity to over 35,000 members in Hickman, Houston, Humphreys, Lewis and Perry counties. Member – electric power companies of Middle Tennessee. Remember to play it safe around electricity.

One voice can still make a difference, and more than 180 board members and employees representing electric cooperative member-owners across Tennessee spoke with one voice during the 2014 Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association Legislative Conference in Nashville on Monday and Tuesday, Feb. 3 and 4. Attendees met with their legislators on Capitol Hill to help them better understand electric cooperatives and the issues that impact delivering safe, reliable and affordable power to their communities.

Attendees reminded legislators that co-ops are not-for-profit, member-owned and -regulated private businesses. Legislators were told of the enormous impact co-ops have on their communities. Co-ops own and maintain more than $2.8 billion of infrastructure, including 86,000 miles of power lines, pay $63 million in taxes, employ more than 2,600 Tennesseans and have a payroll of $94 million. Tennessee’s electric co-ops kept the power on 99.96 percent of the time in 2013 and secured more than $4 million in economic development loans for their rural communities.

Attendees also shared the results of a recent member satisfaction study. Tennessee co-op members are extremely pleased with the efforts of their local co-op, giving them high marks for satisfaction, trust and loyalty.

“Educated and informed legislators are a key component of low-cost, reliable power in Tennessee,” says Mike Knotts, director of government affairs with TECA. “The collective voice of co-op members makes a powerful impression on Capitol Hill.”

The primary issue discussed with legislators this year was a bill requiring all electric co-ops to join the Tennessee One-Call system, a company that provides services to utilities that own and operate underground infrastructure. While many Tennessee co-ops do participate, a few have virtually no underground utilities, so the service would provide little to no benefit. Co-ops believe that the local board should decide if the co-op should join One Call, not Nashville bureaucrats.

“We believe that our members are best served when local decisions are made by local board members elected to run the cooperative,” says Knotts. “We are concerned when legislation limits a board’s ability to act in the best interests of its members.”

“Tennessee’s electric cooperatives maintain a visible presence in Nashville and Washington, D.C., to be certain that the interests of co-op members are protected,” says David Callis, TECA general manager. “We are here to protect rural Tennesseans. Our legislators make decisions and pass laws that can have serious consequences for Tennessee’s electric cooperatives and the members they serve. It is important that we tell the electric cooperative story and inform and educate legislators on the impacts of proposed legislation.”

[button link=”http://teca.smugmug.com/Legislative/Legislative-Day-2014/i-VNhhbZ3″]View Event Photos →[/button]

As children, most of us were told to turn off the TV when no one was in the room to keep from wasting energy. But with today’s televisions, turning off the set doesn’t save as much energy as you think. “Off” doesn’t really mean off anymore.

Lights, air conditioning, and heating use most of your home’s electricity. However, all of the TVs, computers, printers, phone chargers and other devices add up. Many gadgets use energy even when you are not using them. These devices are commonly referred to as “parasitic loads,” “phantom loads,” or “energy vampires”—consuming electricity even when switched off.  Phantom loads can be found in almost every room, but a favorite “coffin” is your entertainment center.

Most televisions slowly sip electricity while waiting for someone to press the “on” button. They use energy to remember channel lineups, language preferences, and the time. DVD players, DVRs, and cable or satellite boxes also use energy when we think they’re turned off.

In an average home, 5 percent to 8 percent of electricity consumption stems from small devices that drain energy even when no one is using them. To put that in perspective, the average North American household consumes roughly 10,800 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity per year. If you estimate that 6.5 percent of your total electricity consumption comes from phantom loads, the amount drained by these vampires equals about 700 kWh annually—or $70 every year.

So how can you tell which devices are okay to leave plugged in and which need to have a wooden stake driven through their hearts? Find plug parasites and use smart strips.

Identify Plug Parasites

Microwave ovens and alarm clocks, which use relatively small amounts of standby power, are acceptable to leave plugged in. A digital video recorder (DVR) uses a fairly significant amount of power when turned off, but if you record programs frequently you will want to leave it plugged in.

You don’t have to worry about unplugging items with mechanical on/off switches, such as lamps, hair dryers, or small kitchen appliances like toasters or mixers―they don’t draw any power when turned off.

How do you save energy on the other devices in your home? Try plugging household electronics like personal computers, monitors, printers, speakers, stereos, DVD and video game players, and cell phone chargers into power strips. Not only do power strips protect sensitive electronic components from power surges, you can quickly turn off several items at once. (Routers and modems also can be plugged into power strips, although they take longer to reactivate.)

Smart Strips = Easy Savings

Power strips, however, are often hidden behind entertainment centers or under desks and forgotten. A better solution may be found in “smart strips.”

Most smart strips feature three outlet colors, each with a unique task. The blue outlet serves as a control plug, and is ideal for a heavily used device like a TV or computer. Anything plugged into red outlets stays on—electricity to these receptacles never cuts off―making them perfect for satellite boxes or other appliances that need constant power.

The remaining outlets, generally neutral or green in color, are sensitive to current flowing through the blue outlet, so turning off the TV or computer cuts power to them as well. Some smart power strips can be made even smarter with timers or occupancy sensors that determine when to cut power to various devices.

Smart strips are available online or at specialty electronic retailers and online. Payback generally can be achieved in under one year, depending on the type of equipment the strips control and how often they are used.

Maybe our parents asked us to turn the TV off because vampires, phantoms, and parasites haunted their electric bills. These days, smart strips can chase these load monsters away from your home—and your pocketbook.

Brian Sloboda is a program manager specializing in energy efficiency for the Cooperative Research Network, a service of the Arlington, Va.-based National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. The Cooperative Research Network monitors, evaluates, and applies technologies that help electric cooperatives control costs, increase productivity, and enhance service to their consumers. Additional research provided by ESource.

Co-ops innovate to secure members’ digital data

Amidst continuing cyber threats from crafty computer hackers, electric cooperatives are mounting sturdy defenses to safeguard members’ digital data and ensure reliable power delivery.

Utilities are bulking up cyber security with tools from the Cooperative Research Network (CRN), the research arm of the Arlington, Va.-based National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA). CRN’s Guide to Developing a Risk Mitigation and Cyber Security Plan and supporting documents, released in 2011 with funding support from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), helps utilities of all types develop a process to shore up cyber defenses.

Three innovations promise to advance cyber security efforts: pattern recognition software, an update of CRN’s revolutionary Guide, and securing data.

Cyber Cooperation

Most home and business computer networks use a firewall— a virtual barrier or hardware—to protect linked computers from hackers, viruses, and other virtual invaders. Utilities use firewalls to secure systems, too. But sophisticated cyber threats make firewalls an aging technology.

“Firewalls are less able to provide the level of security we require,” shares CRN Program Manager Maurice Martin. “We want to make sure that our co-ops have the tools they need to work securely.”

To meet the challenge, CRN’s developing a way to replace firewalls with a security tool that monitors computer network traffic. The system memorizes the normal pattern of operation. When the system detects an abnormal pattern (a possible intrusion), it sounds an alarm.

A DOE grant of $3.6 million, with an additional $1.1 million from CRN and partner Honeywell Corp., funds the research. Allies such as Pacific Northwest National Laboratories, Carnegie Mellon University, and Cigital Inc. will work with CRN to develop the cyber security tool.

“We’ll combine high-level functionality with an easy-to-use platform,” predicts Craig Miller, chief scientist at CRN. “The system will simplify cyber security management for small utilities with limited resources.”

Evolving Guidance

CRN’s Guide to Developing a Risk Mitigation and Cyber Security Plan and accompanying template help utilities of all sizes craft a cyber-security plan. The cooperatively-developed resources, free for any utility, have been downloaded more than 8,000 times. Large and small utilities across America and in countries as far away as India and Italy use the Guide.

“The content and ideas were important to share,” explains Martin. The Guide and tools were developed as part of a $68 million DOE smart grid grant three years ago.

But responding to emerging cyber threats is not a one-time effort. It requires constant education, awareness, and vigilance.  New resources—products, services, and educational tools—are on the way. Expected early this year, an updated Guide will work in harmony with new cyber security initiatives from the DOE.

Securing Data

Threats to security—online and to the power grid—are real. Hackers take pride in undermining computer systems and finding a system’s Achilles’ heel. But thanks to innovative cloud computing, utilities are discovering ways to work together to strengthen co-op security and upgrade IT architecture.

“NRECA turned to the Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC) for its solid understanding of the smart grid marketplace and how new technologies can be used to benefit the consumer member at the end of the line,” explains Martin.

That project aims to shore up technologies that capture, store, and secure data and information. Once completed, this work will benefit both co-ops and their members. SAIC is producing a series of reports to help utilities fully implement the smart grid. The reports will evaluate IT developments (cloud computing, new types of databases, and more) with an eye toward how such developments can support the co-ops and even solve their needs. The goal? SAIC will map out an “IT architecture” to explain how the tools fit together to maximize reliability, customer service, and cyber security.

All utilities are vulnerable to digital invasions. But a continually evolving set of cyber security resources and innovations should help keep co-ops and their members a step ahead of the “bad guys.”

Sources: Cooperative Research Network

B. Denise Hawkins writes on consumer and cooperative affairs 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. Megan McKoy-Noe contributed to this article.  

What do birds, squirrels, and power outages have in common? Animals trigger 11 percent of power outages across the nation.

To ensure safe, reliable power delivery (and healthy wildlife), electric cooperatives go to great lengths to keep animals away from electricity.

Animal Attraction

Electricity seeks the fastest route to the ground. Utility pole insulators keep power flowing safely in your neighborhood, but unwitting squirrels offer high-voltage electricity a way around insulators. If a squirrel doesn’t jump far enough, a powerful electric current—up to 12,500 volts—makes the squirrel a conduit to the ground. The squirrel does not survive.

If a squirrel’s body falls to the ground, the power blinks but stays on. If it falls into equipment, like a transformer, safety measures shut off power. The cooperative must send a lineworker to remove the animal and restore power.

Squirrels are the main culprit, but they’re not alone. Opossums, raccoons, foxes, snakes, birds, and other animals trigger outages, too.

Animal attraction to power infrastructure hurts animals and leaves frustrated co-op members in the dark. Clean up, recovery, and restoring power costs utilities between $15 and $18 million a year, estimates Tyco Electronics, a utility equipment firm.

Grid Guardians

No one wants wildlife hurt. Eighty percent of electric co-ops, public power districts, and public utility districts install animal guards to protect equipment and wayward animals.

3M’s Electrostatic Animal Guard resembles a tarantula. A dozen metal rods arch like bent legs around an insulator, forming an electrostatic barrier. Errant wildlife receives a mild shock if they get too close; the guard acts as an electrified fence.

“Electric co-ops can minimize outages without injuring animals. Guards can be installed easily without de-energizing the circuit,” notes Jim Stanley, a product marketing manager in 3M’s Electrical Markets Division.

Alternatives such as the Rauckman Wildlife Shield™ and ZAPShield™ create a barrier to keep teething squirrels, rodents, snakes, and other animals away from dangerous parts of electrical infrastructure. Frisbee-sized plastic or metal discs guard equipment in substations, too.

Animal guards are not foolproof. But the measures help drive down the number of outages caused by animals. Another option is building habitats to help animals and power safely co-exist.

Osprey and other birds of prey don’t use power lines as highways. Instead, they’re attracted to poles as perches. Raptors often nest on top of utility poles—a dangerous spot. An osprey’s nearly five-foot wingspan can form a conduit between an energized power line and a neutral wire. Like squirrels, these birds may get hurt as high-voltage electricity looks for a path to the ground.

Some cooperatives encourage birds to settle on man-made nest platforms. The utility removes a dormant nest from electrical equipment and places the nesting material on a nearby raised platform (as tall or taller than the utility pole). When the birds return to the area, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service claims odds are good they’ll use the safer structure.

Sources: NRECA, Tyco Electronics, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Wood Quality Control

Megan McKoy-Noe writes on consumer and cooperative affairs 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.  B. Denise Hawkins contributed to this story.

Oven lights are handy. Curious if a casserole’s ready? Flip the switch; no need to open the oven and release heat to get a baking update. But be careful when replacing this little light. Never put a bulb in the oven that’s not built for high heat.

Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) use less energy than classic incandescent bulbs, but they’re not safe in extreme temperatures. Most lighting labels designate safe temperatures, but warnings may be in fine print. Need to replace your oven light? Look for appliance light bulbs. Found at Home Depot, Lowe’s, and other retailers, these bulbs are designed for extreme temperatures in ovens and refrigerators. The hardy bulbs are here to stay; 40-watt appliance bulbs are exempt from federal lighting efficiency standards.

Why won’t CFLs work? Instead of heating a filament until white-hot to produce light like an incandescent bulb, a fluorescent lamp contains a gas that produces (UV) ultraviolet light when excited by electricity. The UV light and the white coating inside the bulb result in visible light. Since CFLs don’t use heat to create light, they are 75 percent more energy efficient. But the technology that cuts energy use doesn’t stand a chance in an oven’s 400+ degree heat.

CFLs are good for the pocketbook but not perfect in every situation. Keep these tips in mind:

  1. Don’t dim unless it’s dimmable. Buy a specifically designed CFL for a dimmer switch application.
  2. Don’t flip too fast. CFLs work best if they are left on for more than 15 minutes each time they are turned on. Older bulbs take 30 seconds to three minutes to reach efficient operation. Frequently switching them on and off shortens bulb life. Newer CFLs feature an ‘Instant on’ capability; look for that on the lighting label if you expect frequent flipping.
  3. Give them air. CFLs may be used in enclosed fixtures as long as the enclosed fixture is not recessed. Totally enclosed recessed fixtures create temperatures too high for CFLs.
  4. Protect CFLs outside. Look at the package or bulb for temperature restrictions before using a CFL outdoors.
  5. Don’t shake. Don’t use CFLs in vibrating environments such as a ceiling fan or garage door opener.
  6. Do the twist. Always screw and unscrew the lamp by its base. Never forcefully twist the CFL into a light socket by the glass tubes.

To learn more about using and recycling CFLs, visit www.epa.gov/cfl.

Source: Empire Electric Association, U.S. Department of Energy

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!

By David Callis, Executive Vice President and General Manager

The ice has melted, and burst water lines are repaired. Little evidence is left of the record cold weather — other than high heating bills. As painful as the financial impact is, the alternative could have been much more uncomfortable.

The extreme temperatures pushed the Tennessee Valley Authority to a new record demand as we all tried to stay warm. With heating systems running nonstop, lines and substations were pushed to their limits. In a few instances, the strain caused temporary outages.

Occasionally, experts make harsh assessments about the condition of our electric grid. The fact is, TVA, a very reliable generation and transmission network, successfully handled this challenge.

How much energy?

As the polar vortex moved in on Monday, Jan. 6, consumers in the Tennessee Valley used 683 gigawatt-hours of electricity. The next day was even colder with an average temperature of 4 degrees. TVA reached a peak demand that day of 32,490 megawatts, its second-highest all-time peak. By the end of the day, we set a new use record — 703 gigawatt-hours.

A big number but exactly how much electricity is that? The average home uses about 1,200 kilowatt hours each month. In just 24 hours, we used 703,000,000 kilowatt hours. That’s enough electricity to power almost 50,000 homes for an entire year. That is a lot of power.

Where did TVA get the energy?

On that record-setting day, TVA got electricity from everywhere it could to meet the need. The mix included:

  • 28 percent from coal-fired plants
  • 21 percent from nuclear plants
  • 14 percent from combined cycle natural gas plants
  • 11 percent from hydroelectric dams
  • 10 percent from conventional gas turbines
  • 2 percent from renewables (wind)
  • 13 percent purchased off the competitive power market — and not at bargain-basement prices.

Under normal operations, TVA generates power as cheaply as possible. During periods of high demand, TVA generates or purchases power based on need — not efficiency, not economics. There are a number of responsibilities of an electric utility, and keeping the power on is pretty high on the list, especially during life-threatening temperature extremes.

How close did we come?

When major utilities near their limits of capacity, they’re required to notify the North American Energy Reliability Council (NERC). Nine utilities, including TVA, contacted NERC and declared that they were in an Energy Emergency Alert 2, which is the last step before they run out of energy. The area impacted reached from Texas to Florida to New York. Only South Carolina ultimately had to resort to rolling blackouts.

What lessons are to be learned?

First and foremost is this: It is critically important that we have every available weapon in our arsenal. If you remove coal completely from the energy portfolio, the outcome above is quite different. That’s not a theory; it’s simple math. Every energy source has benefits, limitations and drawbacks.

Second is that utilities are powered by dedicated people. When temperatures finally crested the freezing mark, dispatchers, linemen and plant operators breathed sighs of relief. Some were able to see their families for the first time in several days. But the ultimate praise is that millions of Tennesseans avoided having to experience outages.

Third, the vortex became a stark reminder of what we’ve said for years: By removing coal from the mix, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is doing the opposite of what is needed. Extremes emphasize the need for an all-of-the-above approach to generating electricity from nuclear, coal, natural gas, fuel oil and renewables.

We don’t know when the next polar vortex might arrive. Whenever it does, we’ll be prepared. But an unnecessary, manmade power vortex — created by the EPA — could leave us all in the cold.