NASHVILLE, Tenn., Aug. 26, 2014 – The Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association, a trade group representing the interests of electric cooperative members across the state, announced today that Alex Perkerson joins the association as government affairs specialist. In this role, Perkerson will assist with the association’s legislative and grassroots efforts.

“Tennessee’s electric cooperatives work to inform and protect their members,” says Perkerson. “It is exciting to be a part of their mission to serve the people of rural and suburban Tennessee.”

A 2011 graduate of the University of Alabama with a degree in political science, Perkerson previously worked as a legislative assistant at the Tennessee General Assembly.

“We are thrilled to add Alex to our team,” says Mike Knotts, director of government affairs for TECA. “I am confident that she will make positive contributions on behalf of our members.”

About TECA

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.

A high-resolution photo is available here.


There are usually two sides to every story. Quite often more than two sides. That makes decision making a difficult task, whether it’s parenting, voting, or complex business decisions. If you’ve every separated quarreling siblings, you know it’s no simple task discovering who instigated the fight. You listen to both parties, check the facts, and dispense justice – or something close to it.

The Environmental Protection Agency Clean Power Plan would essentially restructure the way that electricity is generated – local decisions would be made in Washington. As the EPA unveiled the proposed rule, they also quoted statistics stating that the cost of electricity would be lower in 2030 if the rule were adopted.

If you only consider the information that the EPA provides, you wouldn’t really understand why anyone would oppose a plan that purports to lower usage and fight climate change.

Unless, of course, you looked at another side of the issue.

Over the past decades, electric cooperatives across the nation have invested billions in emissions technologies and renewable energy sources. We’ve also led the way in energy efficiency efforts; what other industry pays you to use less.

The rule essentially eliminates coal as a generation source. To the EPA and proponents of the rule, that’s great. Yet, there is another side to the “war on coal”.

At a recent EPA hearing in Denver, Colorado, Moffat County (CO) Commissioner John Kinkaid shared the impact that coal has on his county. He began by discussing the natural beauty of his county and the tourism and recreational options available.

And then he discussed the financial impact of the EPA rule. The coal-fired plant in his county provides a financial impact of over $428 million each year to the local economy. The very same coal fired plant that co-exists with the residents and the mountains.

Residents of the county don’t want it closed. They don’t want local residents to lose good jobs. They don’t want their school systems to struggle for funding. They want to control their destiny – making the decisions that impact their future.

Moffat County is only one of many counties and towns impacted by the plan. Tens of thousands of families could see their lives upended for a rule that, on its face, looks like a good idea.

It all depends on your perspective.

The online world can be a dangerous neighborhood. News of another huge data theft or malicious computer virus seems to arrive almost weekly. One study found that 740 million online records were hacked last year. Target, the giant retailer, revealed cyber-criminals had stolen information on as many as 70 million of its customers alone.

While it hasn’t received nearly as much publicity, cooperatives and other electric utilities haven’t been immune from this assault. Craig Miller, chief scientist for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), says there are thousands of probes, big and small, into utility systems. These threats to the security and stability of the nation’s grid are only expected to grow.

But an ambitious effort by the Cooperative Research Network (CRN), the research and development arm of NRECA, and several partners is underway to make sure the systems delivering your power remain safe and secure. It’s called “Essence” and through the project, researchers are developing the next generation of automated cybersecurity for the industry.

That’s particularly important for co-op members and other consumers, who not only count on the power being there when they need it, but also on their electricity provider protecting their privacy. “The success of Essence will improve the protections around their personal information and it will improve the reliability of their power systems,” says Miller.

Miller says most of the attempts to hack into utility systems have been efforts to grab personal data or business information. Consumers obviously want to be sure bank account information, social security numbers or other personal data don’t fall into the hands of identity thieves.

But there have also been more ominous attacks that should concern any U.S. citizen. “There have been attempts on control systems. They are much rarer because they require a much higher level of expertise, and there’s no potential monetary gain,” Miller says. “But people have done it.”

The assumption, he says, is that some of these efforts are by “state actors,” other nations probing for potential weaknesses. Defense analysts also believe a cyber-attack on the nation’s power grid could be attractive to terrorists for its potential to create widespread chaos.

The essence of Essence is to protect Americans from all these threats. There are existing software programs with the same goal, but it’s how Essence safeguards utility systems that makes it a major advance in cybersecurity.

Most computer systems are protected through firewalls, special software that blocks suspicious attempts to connect or upload software. But these programs largely depend on lists of known threats that have to be constantly updated. “One of the challenges is that these security systems require expert users who are hyper-diligent about staying current,” says Miller. “They also have the potential for human error. This creates vulnerabilities.”

But Essence changes the balance of power in this constant battle. “Instead of monitoring what’s going in and out of the network, it monitors the network itself and uses advanced algorithms (procedures) to determine what is normal,” explains Maurice Martin, CRN’s project manager for cyber security. “Essence looks for anomalies – stuff that shouldn’t be happening – and then raises a red flag when it sees something that’s amiss.”

This means Essence doesn’t have to depend on lists of the latest dangers out there, or on humans keeping it up-to-date. It doesn’t need to know exactly what hackers are up to because anything that’s not right with the system will get its attention.

All this is accomplished by an unassuming device, small enough to be held in one hand, which can be added to a utility system in key spots to unobtrusively monitor what’s happening on the network.

Project managers also have taken several steps, including using storage in the cloud and open software standards, to keep costs down and make sure Essence doesn’t require extensive expertise to manage. “It’s going to bring state-of-the-art cybersecurity to co-ops of every size, from the biggest to the smallest,” says Martin. “The philosophy is no co-op left behind. Everyone will be able to use this.”

Essence is being developed through a $4 million grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Energy to research next-generation cybersecurity devices. CRN has partnered with Carnegie Mellon University, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and the cyber security firm Cigital on the project. Several large corporations are also following the effort.

Researchers hope to have the first version of the Essence device in the field for tests early next year. If it’s as successful as expected, commercial partners will be brought in to produce the product, providing electric utilities with an affordable, automated cybersecurity system they can depend on.

That will be good news for consumers everywhere. As Martin notes, “Maintaining cybersecurity for your co-op or utility is a something that matters to anyone who’s on a power line.”

Reed Karaim 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.

Electricity is a dynamic power source. We live our lives surrounded by it, but sometimes we forget just how dangerous electricity can be. Many home electrical fires, injuries and electrocutions can be prevented when we understand and practice electrical safety. This is especially true for our youngest co-op members.

Throughout the year, not just in May during National Electrical Safety Month, Tennessee’s electric cooperatives offer many value-added benefits to help teach youngsters about electricity. But as your child’s first and most important teacher, perhaps it’s time to have a talk with your sons and daughters to reinforce those lessons.

Start at an early age, teaching them about the physical dangers associated with electrical components and how to handle electrical plugs, outlets, switches and other devices. Keep in mind, talking to your children about electrical safety should also include fun activities and facts about the basics—what is electricity, the need to respect its power and how to use it efficiently as they study, work and play.

As we all know, kids will be kids. Getting them to show interest in some of these lessons won’t be easy. Just remember that what your children learn from you today can be a lifesaver later when they encounter potential hazards like downed power lines in their path, play hide-and-seek behind those big metal electrical boxes in the neighborhood or are tempted to clamber up a utility pole.

Gather your youngsters around the kitchen table or on the front porch—some of the best teachable moments about electrical safety can happen in and around your home. Look around. There are plenty of opportunities to demonstrate safety that are as close as the electrical outlet on your living room wall. For example, show young children how plugs work, and let them know that even if they are curious about the slits of an electrical outlet, nothing else should be placed inside. Each year about 2,400 children end up in the emergency room after suffering injuries caused by inserting objects—paper clips, pens, screws, nails, forks, hair pins, coins and more—into electrical receptacles. That’s about seven children a day who sustain injuries ranging from electric shock to burns.

But this isn’t the only electrical mishap that impacts youngsters. Our reliance on electronics and gadgets have left both youngsters and their parents at risk when they overcrowd electrical outlets, continue to use frayed wires, place devices near liquids or leave electronics on for long periods of time. Some of the same guidelines co-ops offer to protect adults also help protect children. We should all set good examples for our youngsters.

Supplement your lessons at home with resources galore; including those provided by your local electric co-op. The Electrical Safety Foundational International ( is among the many national organizations offering free kits, videos and interactive online tools that make learning and practicing electrical safety fun for you and your children. And as they grow older, remember to keep teaching them about the power of electricity and how to use it safely.

By David Callis, executive vice-president, Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association

Despite a few high-profile scandals, I like to believe that most corporations abide by the law. Some do so because it’s the right thing to do. Others do so because of existing regulations and laws.

Along those lines, how do electric utilities respond when regulatory bodies force operational changes? If federal energy policy enacts changes that alter your strategy, sound business practice demands that you comply. Obeying the law ensures continued operation; doing the opposite invites fines, failure or possibly even incarceration.

It’s not an unusual happening in the energy industry. Our government is empowered to ensure that the economy functions well, and sound energy policy keeps the engine of industry running. Over the years, the federal government has taken action in a variety of ways: establishing and maintaining a Strategic Petroleum Reserve, restricting exports of fuels that are in short supply and even mandating that certain fuel sources be avoided.

That last point is a troubling one. Successful businesses plan for the future, doing their best to anticipate changing economic and market conditions. Most businesses plan strategically for the next two to three years; others take longer looks, three to five years and beyond, depending on their forecasting ability. In the electric utility business, routine planning for us means that we plan 20 to 30 years into the future.

The electric utility business is a very capital-intensive business. That simply means it costs a lot of money to build large electric generating plants and transformers and string wire. When you are constructing and maintaining a costly infrastructure, it requires meticulous long-term planning.

That’s particularly true for utilities such as the Tennessee Valley Authority that build facilities that generate electricity. In planning for the needs of our state and the surrounding area, TVA is currently in the midst of doing just that. Its Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) will be completed later this year.

Exploring the capital-intensive nature of our business, if a utility in, say, 1974, was planning for a 30-year future, one decision is what fuel to use. It needs to be a source that is abundantly available. The utility would make the best economic choice, taking into consideration the cost of the fuel, pollution standards and safety concerns.

What if one of those sources was taken off the table by regulators?

Around 1974, the 94th Congress passed S. 622, better known as the Energy Policy and Conservation Act. The law was signed by President Gerald Ford on Dec. 22, 1975. The official summary of the act reads: “Extends through June 30, 1977, the authority of the Administrator of the Federal Energy Administration under the Energy Supply and Environmental Coordination Act to issue orders prohibiting power plants and major fuel burning installations from using natural gas or petroleum products as fuel if they had been capable on June 22, 1974, of burning coal.” (emphasis mine)

The message delivered in 1975 was that burning natural gas is bad and burning coal is good. That’s a bit different than what we’re facing in 2014.

There were sound reasons for the decisions made in 1975, yet those decisions had consequences. We have a significant amount of coal-fired generation in this country that will be costly and difficult to replace.

Congressional action typically involves a thorough, deliberative process when setting energy policy. However, policy dictated by an agency without that process is subject to far less scrutiny.

As we’ve told you before, you have an opportunity to let your voice be heard. The Environmental Protection Agency is taking comments on its proposed Clean Power Plan until Oct. 16. TVA continues to invite comments on its IRP until Nov. 25.

Go to today and send a message. We need sensible solutions that provide for affordable and reliable power.

Stop. Look around your room. More than likely there is a programmable thermostat on the wall, a plug strip on the floor and a light bulb in your lamp. These are three of the most common products you can use to help reduce daily household energy costs. The trick is figuring out how to make them work for you.

With a little savvy consumer shopping and research, choosing and correctly using programmable thermostats, replacement bulbs and plug strips can be easy to do, says Brian Sloboda, a program manager specializing in energy efficiency for the Cooperative Research Network (CRN), the research and development arm of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

Programmable thermostats

Shopping for a programmable thermostat? There are plenty of brands and types to suit your home and lifestyle. But one thing you won’t find today is a programmable thermostat that carries the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) familiar blue Energy Star seal. The EPA dropped the label from these products in 2009. Why?

Programmable thermostats can potentially save buyers up to $180 a year on heating and cooling costs, according to, but many customers miss out on savings by failing to correctly install their new thermostats. “Most people failed to use the programmable capabilities. They didn’t know how or didn’t want to,” Sloboda says. This led to poor EPA consumer surveys, and ratings drops and the loss of the Energy Star seal for most products.

Enter smart thermostats, which are intended to be an easier-to-use alternative. They come with motion sensors that help do the work of detecting and setting the temperature in your home. Nest is one such brand of thermostats.

“Sensors will start to turn the thermostat up or down, depending on the season,” Sloboda says. . Within a few days of installing the device, he says the system will begin to learn your schedule, automatically dialing your thermostat back when you’re not home.

The addition of phone and iPad apps, are other smart thermostat features helping to make temperature control easy, Sloboda adds. “Using an app interface should be more intuitive than the old-fashioned programmable thermostat.”

So, what about energy savings?

“A thermostat will only save you money if you allow it to program,” Sloboda says.

Your co-op can also help you take control of your thermostat. If your smart thermostat is sponsored by your electric utility, it can be put under load control, Sloboda says. Controlling the load or demand for electricity can mean maximum savings for both the consumer-member and the co-op, especially during peak times when electric consumption reaches its highest point and is most expensive.

Residential interior lighting

By now you know that Thomas Edison’s incandescent light bulb has dimmed. January 2014 marked the end of the bulbs’ run under a federal provision to phase out and replace them with more energy efficient options starting this year. Currently, there are only three consumer choices—halogen-incandescents, CFLs and LEDs. But to get the energy savings and lower electric bills you want, you’ll have to pay more up front.

That includes LEDs, the equivalent of the 60-watt incandescent, the most widely used of the phased-out bulbs. And, Sloboda warns, buyers beware.  They are long-lasting, more energy-efficient and most will have the iconic look of the old incandescents.  Buts as a new generation of lighting technology evolvs, the brand you choose will matter.

“There is a whole lot of junk out there. You can buy name-brand LEDs for around $10 and more expensive ones from not-so-reputable companies,” he adds. But don’t take chances on your lighting or waste your money. Lighting experts recommend sticking with brands you know and trust.

GE and Sylvania have been longtime consumer lighting choices, but Sloboda says don’t overlook the lesser-known Cree lighting products. A 60-watt (800 lumens) Cree replacement bulb can cost about $10 at a big box store and is guaranteed to last at least a decade or more.  The Department of Energy and manufacturers are making it easy to make the transition from the old incandescent to the LED—no technology or science degree required to light up your home, just spend some time reading the “lighting facts” on the back of the bulb box, Sloboda urges. It will come in handy when you want to narrow your lighting choice by temperature and color, which has nothing to do with the wattage. It means whether you want your bulbs to have a warm or cool tone when lit or have the look of “daylight” or “soft white.”

If you’ve been light shopping lately, you’ve probably noticed that smart devices have even come to the light bulb aisle. Manufactures like LG, more known for their appliances, and light bulb giant Philips are among those turning out LEDs that can be controlled by your cell phone and change colors to suit your mood.

“Today’s lighting is really starting to become part of a home’s entertainment system,” Sloboda said. With smart lighting, many come with software packages, he added. “You can do things like create a party mode, a romantic mode, a reading mode, a mode for watching TV, all with the flip of a switch.”

Added features like these can make turning on the lights an experience. And over time, energy savings will add up. With new light bulb standards in place in the U.S., the Department of Energy estimates that consumers will save between $6 billion and $10 billion a year in lights costs.

Power strips

They are usually trapped behind a desk or your TV, but traditional power strips work hard to affordably expand the number of electrical outlets in your home. Unfortunately, their convenience can encourage you to leave electronics plugged in all the time – and many devices keep drawing power even when you’re not using them. This so-called phantom or vampire power drain can wastes electricity and be costly.

Continually unplugging household appliances and gadgets is one solution, but it’s not the best option for saving money, power or your time. Smart power strips can help. They’re bigger, color coded and designed to reduce usage by shutting down power to products that go into standby mode.

Most 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. With added occupancy sensors and timers, some smart power strips can be even more efficient. Costing about $20, these products can determine when to cut power to various devices. Sloboda says you can start to see a payback on your investment in about a year.

Take another look around. Energy savings at home can be easy with the help of smart power strips, thermostats and residential lighting—and a little savvy shopping.

By Mike Knotts, director of government affairs, Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association

One of the things I love about working for electric cooperatives is the opportunity I get to travel around the state and meet with the employees of your co-op. They are hardworking, dedicated folks who spend every day on the job focused on one thing — keeping the lights on. Whether engineers, billing clerks or accountants, they perform a service we all need, and not unlike the dedicated folks working at the fire station or the police department, they don’t often get a “thank you” for doing it. While I’m typically there to tell them about the things that are happening in Nashville or Washington, D.C., expressing some of my personal gratitude is usually on the agenda.

Gratitude is especially deserved for electric linemen. For years you have probably seen their photos in this magazine and maybe even grown accustomed enough to their image to skip right past and enjoy the next feature or article. Perhaps you only think about the work a lineman does when he knocks on your door to say that power will soon be restored. Or, similar to policemen or firemen, we only think of the risk they take just by doing their job on some special day of recognition or, even worse, when a tragedy occurs. That is a shame.

I’m thankful for their work every single day. As I sit at my desk and write these words, their work is evident in many things: in the lights in the ceiling that allow me see across the room, in the cool air blowing out of the vents that tempers the 90-plus-degree temperatures outside, in the telephones that I use to talk and text with friends all over the world, in the computer on which this article is being typed, saved, edited and prepared for publication. The list could be much longer because electricity affects nearly everything we do.

First and foremost, being an electric lineman is dangerous. Depending on the source, some say it is the third, fifth or eighth most dangerous job in America. We all teach our children not to stick their fingers in the socket, but these brave men and women deal with live electricity and “hot” lines every single day. In addition to working directly with bulk electricity delivery, their workplace can often be 50 feet in the air or in a confined underground space. The unfortunate reality is that someone’s first mistake could very well be the last. Accidents are rare, but the consequences are very serious.

That’s one reason why co-ops invest so much time, energy and money in safety training for our linemen. Here in Tennessee, electric cooperatives are proud to join together with our friends from municipally owned utilities to provide rigorous and relevant training to all of our linemen through the Job Training and Safety program. We are thankful that the state of Tennessee recognizes how important this is and incorporates this program in the College of Applied Technology at Murfreesboro.

Second, the work a lineman performs is physically difficult. They climb poles, lift heavy equipment, turn wrenches, etc. The old slogan about “neither rain, sleet, snow or storms will ever stop the U.S. Post Office” is just the starting point for a lineman. Think about when you have needed power restored the most; it is probably during a storm or some other type of severe weather. While we seek shelter, the lineman is often out in the elements.

Much has been and will continue to be said about the health of our nation because of our diet and lack of exercise. Though I won’t make any of those arguments in this article, human resource experts will tell you that it is becoming more difficult to recruit people who are willing to take on physical labor in their jobs. This is also true in the electric utility industry.

Third, becoming a lineman is a long, sometimes grueling process. On-the-job training through apprenticeship programs is required and takes years to complete. Besides requiring a lot of patience and determination to master the skills necessary to be safe on the job, linemen must know, understand and respect the engineering specifics of the electric system on which they are working.

For all of these reasons and more, say thanks the next time you see a lineman. Better yet, a thought just came to me. While on layovers at airports, I have occasionally anonymously paid for the meals of men or women in uniform as a way of thanking them for their service to our country. The next time you are buying a coffee at the gas station or eating at the local diner or your favorite lunch stop and you see one of your co-op’s big bucket trucks pull up, tell the waitress that one of the coffees or sandwiches is on you.