When it comes to customer satisfaction, Tennessee’s electric cooperatives outperform other utilities, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI). Based on 2013 ACSI benchmark findings, Tennessee’s electric co-ops’ satisfaction rating of 82 on a 100 point scale is significantly better than the energy utilities national average of 76. Tennessee cooperatives are even further ahead when compared with investor-owned and municipal utilities, whose customer satisfaction scores were 75 and 76 respectively.

More than 1,000 co-op members from 15 co-ops across the state were interviewed as a part of a regional member satisfaction research project conducted by the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association in 2013. The ACSI reviewed the research findings and assigned the score earlier this year.

“This research helps us understand the needs of our members and identify areas where we are can improve,” says David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “The opinions of our members are important. As member-owned cooperatives, there is no greater measure of our success than our owners satisfaction.”

The Tennessee findings are in line with national trends, with electric co-ops averaging an ACSI of 81. “These scores validate the cooperative difference,” said National Rural Electric Cooperative Association CEO Jo Ann Emerson. “Member-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives put members first and these numbers show why this business model has succeeded and why cooperatives continue to thrive even in uncertain economic times,” Emerson said.

The ACSI reaches across industries, allowing Tennessee cooperatives to make comparisons to other home service providers. The co-op group’s 82 ACSI score is significantly higher than Time Warner Cable’s 60, Comcast’s 63, Charter Communication’s 64 and AT&T’s 71.

The American Customer Satisfaction Index is a national economic indicator of customer evaluations of the quality of products and services available to household consumers in the United States. The overall ACSI score factors in scores from more than 225 companies in 47 industries and from government agencies over the previous four quarters. The Index was founded at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business and is produced by ACSI LLC. ACSI can be found on the Web at www.theacsi.org.

The Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association is a trade group representing the interests of Tennessee’s 23 electric distribution cooperatives and the 1.1 million consumers they serve. The association publishes The Tennessee Magazine and provides legislative and support services to Tennessee’s electric cooperatives.

More than 100 Tennesseans joined more than 2,500 co-op leaders from across the nation to participate in the NRECA Legislative Conference on May 4-6 in Washington, D.C. The conference provided CEOs, directors and co-op staffers with insights from Washington insiders and briefings from NRECA lobbyists to use during meetings with lawmakers.

Tennessee co-op leaders met with Senators Alexander and Corker as well as Representatives Black, Blackburn, DesJarlais, Duncan, Fincher, Fleischmann and Roe.

A number of issues important to electric co-ops were discussed during the legislative visits, including

“People will know that Co-op Nation is here,” NRECA CEO Jo Ann Emerson said at the first conference session May 5 at the Hyatt Regency Washington on Capitol Hill. “You do this because you know how important relationships are with your legislators and with your regulatory officials.”

View photos from the legislative conference here.

May is National Electrical Safety Month, and Tennessee’s electric cooperatives are joining with the Electrical Safety Foundation International to raise awareness about potential home electrical hazards and the importance of electrical safety. This year’s campaign, “Back to the Basics,” challenges consumers to make home electrical safety assessments a priority.

According to the Consumer Electronics Association, the average home today has a minimum of three televisions, two DVD players, at least one digital camera, one desktop computer, and two cell phones.

“Modern homes run on electricity, but if you don’t properly maintain your electrical products they can create hazards,” warns Trent Scott, director of corporate strategy with the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “The good news is that eliminating electrical hazards from your home doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive.”

Many homes and their electrical systems were built before most modern-day home electronics and appliances were even invented. Today’s increased demand for energy can overburden an older home’s electrical system.

Tennessee’s electric cooperatives offer the following tips to help identify and eliminate electrical hazards to protect yourself, your family, and your home:

  • Make sure entertainment centers and computer equipment have plenty of space around them for ventilation.
  • Use extension cords as a temporary solution, and never as a permanent power supply.
  • Do not place extension cords in high traffic areas, under carpets, or across walkways, where they pose a potential tripping hazard.
  • Use a surge protector to protect your computer and other electronic equipment from damage caused by voltage changes.
  • Heavy reliance on power strips is an indication that you have too few outlets to address your needs. Have additional outlets installed by a qualified, licensed electrician.
  • Keep liquids, including drinks, away from electrical items such as televisions and computers.

Electrical safety awareness and education among consumers, families, employees, and communities will prevent electrical fires, injuries, and fatalities.

The Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) sponsors National Electrical Safety Month each May to increase public awareness of the electrical hazards around us at home, work, school, and play. ESFI is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated exclusively to promoting electrical safety. For more information about ESFI and electrical safety, visit www.electrical-safety.org.

By B. Denise Hawkins

Location, location, location is the mantra in real estate, but it also applies to your yard this time of year when the search is on to lower energy bills and create curb appeal.  Positioning the right combination of plants and trees can yield shade, beautify, and unearth energy savings.  Such smart or energy-efficient landscaping, claims the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), can on average, provide enough energy savings to see a return on your initial investment in less than eight years.

Again, think location.  Carefully positioned trees can reduce a household’s energy consumption for heating and cooling by up to 25 percent. Using computer models, the DOE determined that proper placement of only three trees on your property can save an average household between $100 and $250 in yearly energy costs. This spring, make your yard work for you. Just a few simple landscaping considerations can make a big difference in your home’s comfort and in the efficiency of your heating and cooling systems:

  • Use trees and plants to shade a window air conditioner. Having shade can increase its efficiency by as much as 10 percent. For good airflow and access, position plants more than three feet from the air conditioner.
  • Shrubs and trees can form windbreaks or protective walls that keep wind chill away from a home. That’s important because wind speed lowers outside air temperatures, and ultimately saves on higher heating costs. Common turf grass and other low-growing plants are ideal barriers. So are evergreens, especially when combined with a wall or fence to deflect or even lift wind over a home. For best protection, plan on leaving between two to five times the mature height of the trees or shrubs between the windbreak and the protected home.

Made in the Shade

Indoors, you may be protected from the sun’s rays, but your energy bill can rise as your air conditioner works harder to keep your house cool and comfortable. Planting shade trees can add to your comfort at home by dropping the surrounding air temperature by as much as nine degrees Fahrenheit.  But choosing just the right tree may require a compass and patience while they grow to work for you:

  • When selecting shade trees, keep in mind the mature height of the tree and the shape of its shade canopy in relation to the height of your home. These factors are important because they should influence how far from the house you decide to plant a tree. Always avoid planting near underground utility lines.
  • Shading takes time—a 6-foot to 8-foot deciduous tree planted near a house will begin shading windows in a year. Depending on the species and the home, the tree will shade the roof in five to 10 years.
  • Make planting shade trees due west of west-facing windows your first priority.
  • Select a tree that can be planted within 20 feet of the window and that will grow at least 10 feet taller than that window. If you have the space, use as many trees as needed to create a continuous row along all major west-and east-facing windows.
  • Contrary to intuition, the least energy efficient place for a tree is to the south of a house.

Different trees can serve a variety of purposes. To block summer heat while letting sun filter through in the winter months, use deciduous trees or those that lose their leaves seasonally. Evergreens and shrubs, on the other hand, are ideal for providing continuous shade and blocking heavy winds. Also, keep in mind that not all shade plants are tall. Shrubs and sturdy groundcover plants also provide good shade by reducing heat radiation and cooling air before it reaches your home’s walls and windows.

Start planting savings and let your yard do all the work—a well-placed tree, shrub, or vine can deliver effective shade, act as a windbreak, and reduce your energy bills.

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.

Sources: U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and Energy.gov

By B. Denise Hawkins

Just because it’s hot outside, you don’t have to stay out of the kitchen. Think beyond the backyard grill. And don’t limit your summer fare to tossed salad and cold sandwiches when you want to keep the indoors comfortable, the oven off and energy costs down. With a little time, creativity and a few small appliances, you can save on your utility bill and still stay cool.

The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that cooking alone accounts for 4 percent of total home energy use; and this figure doesn’t include the energy costs associated with refrigeration, hot water heating and dishwashing.

While the thought of turning on the oven in July can be enough to make you sweat, electric ones can be an advantage during the summer months. Many professional cooks prefer electric ovens to gas for their ability to hold more even heat. Electric stoves are also more energy efficient because they don’t introduce extra moisture into your home when turned on, which can make your air conditioner work harder to cool and drive up energy use and cost.

In winter, the heat and humidity that builds up when cooking in the kitchen can also warm other parts of the home while reducing the heating load on your furnace or heat pump. During the summer months, though, there are still ways to use your oven more efficiently. When baking bread, cakes or any foods that require browning and rising, consider limiting the time spent on pre-heating. If your oven comes with a display that counts down the pre-heating time, use it.

Try these other kitchen tools and energy saving tips to keep you cool:

  • Turn on the microwave. They can provide the most efficient way to cook single food items without the heat. They also use lower wattage to operate and can cut cook time in half.
  • Reach for small appliances. Don’t forget about some of summer’s best go-to kitchen appliances: toaster ovens, crock pots/slow cookers and pressure cookers. These handy appliances use less energy and generate less heat than a standard oven.
  • Use fans. Ceiling fans can be useful in the kitchen. They can reduce thermostat settings by 4°F and use much less energy than air conditioning. Even placing a ceiling fan in an adjoining dining area will help circulate the air and keep you more comfortable. But for maximum cooling using a fan, consider installing a whole-house fan or attic fan to keep the hot air moving up and out of your house.
  • Hours of cooling. In most parts of the country, summer provides a little reprieve in the early morning and late evening. Take advantage of the lower temperatures or a summer breeze during these times to cook, bake, turn on the stove and to run the dishwasher.
  • Regulate the dishwasher. When your summer meal is done and it’s time for cleanup, it’s fine to run the dishwasher. Did you know that it uses less water than washing dishes by hand? You can save even more money and energy by removing the dishes after the wash cycle and letting them air-dry and by running the dishwasher later in the evening during off-peak hours.

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.



by David Callis, executive vice-president and general manager

If you use the word “midterm” in a conversation with high school or college students, they’ll likely frown about exams they aren’t completely prepared to take. If you mention “midterm” to political junkies, the meaning is quite a bit different. You’d better be prepared to spend some time listening to their concerns and about the importance of the upcoming midterm elections.

Even if you don’t pay attention to politics (and you really should), by now you’ve noticed that elections are coming up in the next few months. Every vacant lot and busy corner is filled with campaign signs for every elected office — from county commission to the U.S. Senate.

You shouldn’t try to read all of those signs while you’re driving. Distracted driving isn’t conducive to good health and long life. You shouldn’t ignore voting in the midterms, either. These elections could have long-term effects on you and your town, county, state and nation. And, it really doesn’t matter your political viewpoint; it’s just not good practice to allow a minority of the population to select our leaders. That’s the problem, so the analysts say, with the midterms.

What exactly is a midterm election? Elections are held for the U.S. Senate every six years, providing for gradual change in the makeup of that body. Elections are held for president every four years and for the entire House of Representatives every two years. House elections held without a corresponding presidential election are commonly called the midterms.

Americans don’t exactly take home the gold when it comes to election participation, and midterms lag behind the averages. We typically turn out in numbers averaging around 55 percent. That percentage of eligible voters has held constant for the past four decades. Even in the high turnout year of 2008, about 62 percent of eligible voters elected our president and the Congress for the next two years.

You’ve heard pundits argue, “What’s the bigger problem: ignorance or apathy?” The answer, with tongue firmly in cheek, is, “I don’t know, and I don’t care.” From the statistics on voting, it looks as though four of every 10 people let a lack of knowledge or enthusiasm keep them from exercising their constitutional right.

This year, we have the opportunity to elect 33 percent of the Senate and 100 percent of the 435 members of the House of Representatives. That’s a significant portion of Congress, enough to make a difference on a variety of legislative issues. Seems like a pretty worthy reason to shake off the lethargy and exercise your right to vote.

To begin the process, go to www.tn.gov/sos/election. You can find details on national and state elections as well as your voting status and information on county elections.

Please take advantage of your right to vote. Electing your leaders is as much an obligation as it is an opportunity. All it takes is a little knowledge — we’ve pointed you in the right direction — and a little effort to actually cast your vote.

While you’re in the voting mood, there is a local opportunity where your vote actually counts a little more than in national elections. You’re a member-owner of an electric cooperative. You can elect directors and vote on bylaws and other issues. Your electric co-op holds an annual meeting every year, usually promoted in The Tennessee Magazine, where the leadership reports to you about your co-op’s financial condition.

Voting is important, whether it’s for a co-op director or a U.S. senator. Lyndon Baines Johnson, our 36th president who also helped found an electric co-op, recognized the need to stay involved. He said, “The vote is the most powerful instrument ever devised by man for breaking down injustice and destroying the terrible walls which imprison men because they are different from other men.”

by Mike Knotts, director of government affairs

Have you ever wondered where the phrases “the buck stops here” or “pass the buck” actually came from? In January 1953, President Harry S. Truman said, “The president — whoever he is — has to decide. He can’t pass the buck to anybody. No one else can do the deciding for him. That’s his job.” More recently, President George W. Bush agreed with this sentiment and referred to himself as the “decider-in-chief.” I’m sure many of you will recognize the iconic image of the sign on President Truman’s desk in the late 1940s that told anyone in sight of it who was in charge. The modern-day connotation of this famous phrase is about an individual taking ultimate responsibility for an action, as the quote from President Truman shows. But I never understood the full meaning because I was confused about the word “buck.”

I recently learned that the phrase originated from an action that took place while deciding who should deal the next hand in a game of poker. In this case, “buck” is not another word for money, like I have always incorrectly assumed, but instead refers to a buckhorn knife that was placed on the table, pointed toward the person whose turn it was to deal. If a player didn’t want to be the dealer, he would “pass the buck” to the next player. He literally would move a knife across a table. My mental image of Wild West cowboys passing money back and forth across a saloon table now seems a bit silly. Armed with this knowledge, I have a new appreciation for these common expressions.

This year, our lawmakers made a decision that changes exactly where the buck will stop on something that has a very tangible impact on many rural and not-so-rural Tennesseans. For nearly 60 years, Tennessee’s cities have been able to expand their borders and incorporate new tracts of land simply by the city council taking a vote. Approval of the annexation of the previously unincorporated land came through an ordinance.

The problem? The citizens most impacted by the decision, those who were not residents of the city prior to annexation, had little ability to influence the outcome of the council’s vote. That’s because only residents of the city elect the members of the city council. And, therefore, those council members represent and respond only to citizens of the city and not those who live outside the city. At the moment the vote is taken, those to be annexed had no representation on the governing body that decided whether their property would become part of the city. This system is referred to as forced annexation or annexation by ordinance. As has been done in most other states, it is now a thing of the past.

The General Assembly overwhelmingly passed legislation sponsored by Sen. Bo Watson (R-Hixson) and Rep. Mike Carter (R-Ooltewah) that bans forced annexations. Now, approval must come through a referendum of those individuals who are to be annexed. This should give residents of the county a direct voice and choice over whether they will be included in the city. An important exception, however, applies to agricultural land. Only the written permission of the specific property owner(s) is required in these cases.

When it comes to annexation, the buck used to stop at the mayor’s office, but now the buck stops with you. As I see it, the most important result of this change will be increased communication among counties and cities as they perform the nuts and bolts of local government. Planning of urban growth boundaries, extension of services, determining boundaries of school systems and other similar projects will likely require more coordination among city councils and county commissions to ensure the will of the entire public is adhered to. Communities will have to cooperate with each other to achieve common objectives.

Let’s see, then: If we have more communication, better coordination and cooperation among ourselves, I think that is a good thing. Wouldn’t you agree?