Snow, sleet, ice and bitterly cold weather set the stage for a rough week for co-ops across Tennessee. More than 50,000 members were without power at the peak of the event on Tuesday, Feb. 17. Many of our systems took to social media to get information to their members in a timely manner. Below are a few of our favorite posts from the week. Take an extra few minutes to read the supportive comments from co-op members.


More than 250 members and employees from Tennessee’s electric cooperatives were in Nashville on Monday and Tuesday, Feb. 9 and 10, for the 2015 Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association Legislative Conference. Attendees met with their legislators on Capitol Hill to help them better understand electric cooperatives and the issues that impact rural and suburban Tennessee.

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. “We are here to represent rural Tennesseans,” says David Callis, general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association.

“Our legislators make decisions and pass laws that can have serious consequences for Tennessee’s electric cooperatives and the members that rely on them. It is important that we tell the electric cooperative story and inform and educate legislators on the impacts of proposed legislation.” Attendees reminded legislators that co-ops are not-for-profit, member-owned and –regulated private businesses that impact their communities in many ways.

The primary goal during visits with representatives was to share an opinion by Tennessee’s Attorney General stating that the Tennessee Valley Authority’s regulatory authority extends to pole attachment rates, effectively ending years of debate at the Capitol on a contentious issue. Representatives were asked to support legislation that will limit co-op liability in cases of inverse condemnation. Co-op members also encouraged representatives to back a resolution supporting TVA’s license application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for Watts Bar Unit 2.

More than 100 visits were made with members of the House and Senate during the conference. “We discussed important topics that will impact every members’ wallet,” says Mike Knotts, director of government affairs with TECA. “Educated and informed legislators are a key component of low-cost, reliable power, and our members make a powerful impression when they come to Nashville.”


48,000 Tennessee electric cooperative members with out power following winter storm

Electric cooperatives across southern Tennessee continue to assess damage to their systems following a significant icing event Sunday and Monday, Feb. 15 and 16. More than 48,000 members remain without power Tuesday morning, Feb. 17. Crews from Tennessee co-ops and neighboring states are assisting in the recovery.

“This is a serious situation. We expect dangerously cold weather to remain in Tennessee for several days, so it is important that we restore power as quickly as possible,” says David Callis, executive vice president of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “These lineworkers are going out into some harsh conditions to serve their communities, and they are to be commended.”

Below is a summary of outage counts and assisting crews as of this morning. We expect these details to change rapidly, and we will be posting updates on Facebook and Twitter throughout the day.

3,232 members out | Six crews assisting: two from Holston EC; two, Jackson Energy (KY); one, Cumberland RECC (KY); one, South Kentucky RECC (KY)

8,000 members out | Two crews assisting: one from Plateau EC; one, Tri-County EMC

3,079 members out | Nine crews assisting: three from Sequachee Valley EC; one, Fayetteville PU; one, Tri-County EMC; one, Middle Tennessee EMC; two, Joe Wheeler EC (AL), one, Black Warrior EC (AL)

16,000 members out | Six crews assisting from Central EC (AL)

1,600 members out | 11 crews assisting: five from Gibson EMC; two, Southwest Tennessee EMC; four, Boliver EA

1,000 members out

5,865 members out | One crew assisting from North Georgia EMC

Another colder-than-normal winter is predicted for much of the country this year. Frigid temperatures can cause heating systems to work over time, and since heating and cooling can make up nearly half of your electric bill, you may experience sticker shock when you open that bill. Instead of waiting until after a potentially high bill is in your mailbox, be proactive. There are things you can do now to help ensure you are managing your energy use and spending less.

These simple steps can help you manage your use:

  • Wrap exposed pipes and water heaters that are in unconditioned spaces.
  • Make sure to change your air filter once a month.
  • Keep drapes closed at night and keep those that don’t get direct sunlight closed during the day, too.
  • Keep the fireplace damper closed when it is not in use. Keeping it open can bring cold air into the room.
  • Caulk around the fireplace hearth, and caulk or weather strip around doors and windows.
  • Monitor your electric use. If we’ve had a few days of frigid temperatures, see how you can try to save on days that are milder.
  • Dress for the weather, even if you are inside. Wearing proper clothing like long sleeves and pants, or wrapping up in a cozy blanket will help combat the temptation of bumping up the thermostat.

So, when temperatures fall this winter and you hear your weatherman talking about bringing in pets and plants, take the steps above to help manage your use.

Using the tips above can certainly help you manage your energy use, but your bill may still be higher than normal in winter months. Why?

  • The weather makes a big impact on electric bills, accounting for nearly half of your bill.
  • Even those with the most efficient HVAC systems will see more use in extreme weather.
  • When extreme cold temperatures hit, our heaters work overtime.
  • For example, even if you set your thermostat to our recommended 68 degrees in the winter, when it is 19 degrees outside, your system has to work hard to make up that 49-degree difference.
  • Your heater works harder and cycles on and off more often, making your use much higher. That means your bill will be much higher.
  • Remember, there is value in comfort. For us to be comfortable in our homes, our heaters are going to work harder, but it may be worth the additional cost to you.

Additional tips:

  • Call your local co-op to see what options might be right for you.
  • Speak to one of our energy efficiency experts. They can help you understand how weather and your use patterns affect your bill.

April Lollar writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Arlington, Va.-based service organization for the nation’s 900-plus consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives.

“… this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

— Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln, Nov. 19, 1863

Like you, I first read the Gettysburg Address in grade school. Over the years, I have so often associated it with optimism and determination because of the strength and power of its final phrase. Its brevity leads us to examine each and every word. And what richness of meaning these words provide. I wish I had memorized it like my father did; to this day, he can still recite its entire text.

So it’s sometimes hard to fathom that this immortal speech was given at what was most certainly a very solemn affair: the dedication of a cemetery. It was given, too, at a time when the future of the United States of America was very much in doubt. The souls interred to their resting places had endured awful carnage at the hands of their fellow Americans. No one knew how the Civil War might end. But I believe this last phrase of the speech stands today as a stark reminder of what defines our country’s very special place in this world.

Given that we live in a country that is governed “by the people, for the people,” I thought I would introduce you to just a few of your fellow Tennesseans who have just begun their first days at the Capitol in Nashville. There are 23 of these newly elected state senators and representatives, many of whom will significantly impact your life and the future of rural and suburban Tennessee.

Senator Paul Bailey — While Sen. Bailey may not be new to the legislature (he was a one-year appointed member of the House while he completed the term of longtime co-op friend Charles Curtiss), he is new to the Senate. The owner of small trucking company based in Sparta, Sen. Bailey has already brought attention and new ideas to the problem of how to pay for highway projects during a time of declining federal funding for road work. He frequently speaks on issues important to rural Tennessee.

Senator Ed Jackson — Living in the town that shares his last name, Sen. Jackson will quickly become a key player in the politics of rural West Tennessee. His district stretches from the crossroads of Jackson all the way to the Missouri border in Lake County.

Senator Kerry Roberts — Members of Cumberland Electric Membership Corporation were previously represented by Sen. Roberts, a certified public accountant and farmer, but after the effects of the 2010 census altered the district, he was elected again and now makes his return to Nashville. His new district now includes the northern portions of Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative’s service area.

Senator Jeff Yarbro — The phrase “big shoes to fill” certainly applies in this case. Senator Yarbro is replacing Douglas Henry, who first served in the Tennessee House of Representatives in 1954 and was known as a consummate gentleman and legislative powerhouse during his many years of service. Senator Yarbro is an attorney from Nashville. His abilities to advocate will quickly be put to the test, as he is already the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate; however, Democrats hold only five of 33 total seats, a historic low.

Representative David “Coach” Byrd — A well-known basketball coach and high school principal from Wayne County, Coach Byrd will ensure the House of Representatives continues to have a Republican member with the moniker of “Coach” (Dennis “Coach” Roach was defeated in a close primary last fall). Perhaps he will retain his whistle and detention roster when he arrives to the sometimes unruly goings-on of the Legislature?

Representative Kevin Dunlap — Representative Dunlap will quickly become a go-to member of the Legislature on education issues because, in addition to being a fifth-generation farmer, he will be the only member of the General Assembly who is a current and active school teacher.

Representative Dan Howell — Known by many in the Chattanooga area because of his former career as a television broadcaster, Rep. Howell had more recently served as deputy to the Bradley County mayor.

Representative Sabi (Doc) Kumar — Over the past several years, the ranks of the state Senate have swelled to include as many doctors and pharmacists as lawyers. Not to be outdone, Dr. Kumar (a surgeon from Springfield) joins the House representing a district that is largely rural. His experience as a practicing physician, inventor, business owner and staple (and sometimes stapler!) of the community should be unique among his peers.

Representative Leigh Wilburn — At 31, Rep. Wilburn may be the youngest member of the General Assembly, but the same drive that pushed her to earn two graduate degrees and start her own real estate law practice makes her one to watch. Her southwest Tennessee district grows cotton and is home to the best named town in America — Finger.

It’s more than just the numbers.

By Zuraidah Hoffman

These days, NRECA International is helping more than 42,000 people in Haiti, 7,000 in Tanzania, four million in the Philippines and more than half a million in Uganda. And hundreds of thousands more thanks to our electric co-op volunteers, donors and supporters. Behind these numbers are families and communities who are beginning a better life. Streets are made safer by streetlights; reading isn’t limited to daytime; doctors have more medicine thanks to refrigeration; and crops are being irrigated not just by Mother Nature, but with the help of powered water pumps. These are simple – yet critical – examples of how strong communities are created and brighter futures are launched.

Over the last 50 years, 110 million women, men and children in 42 developing countries have gained access to safe, reliable and affordable electricity. Over these five decades, the NRECA International team and its partners have developed meaningful relationships in these countries with government officials, community leaders, business owners and families. It’s a critical part in building solid foundations to ensure families and communities have electricity that will last generations.

Today and into the future, the NRECA International team of engineers, economists, country directors, volunteers and donors continue to make these important connections. Relationships are fostered not only to understand energy needs, but what communities must have to step out of subsistence living and be on a more equal playing field with the rest of the world.

Here’s a snapshot of the numbers, and the people behind them:

Haiti: More than 42,000 people

About 36,000 people live and work in northern towns in Haiti where they now have affordable and reliable access to 24/7 electricity, which was not the case two years ago. Today, a new power plant, a more effective distribution grid and power lines, and an established private utility—all managed by NRECA International—provide power to the towns of Caracol, Trou Du Nord, Terrier Rouge, Saint Suzanne and Limonade—and more towns will be added soon. In south Haiti, a new electric co-op was recently born. In early 2013, NRECA International helped establish Coopérative Electrique de l’Arrondissement des Coteaux. Groups of co-op volunteers from NRECA member cooperatives have begun traveling to Coteaux to help more than 6,000 residents benefit from 33 miles of new or upgraded power lines, powered by a solar-diesel hybrid power system.

Tanzania: 7,000 people

Work is underway to bring electricity to thousands of people in Tanzania—many for the first time. Partnering with Tanzania’s Rural Energy Agency (REA), our team is designing two pilot projects that could reduce electrification costs by as much as 50 percent. This means power for more people. And we hope to do more. NRECA International recently completed assessing the potential for rural energy expansion to more off-grid areas and provided recommendations to USAID on how they can work with the REA to make it happen.

Philippines: Four million people

Last year NRECA International began implementing the Philippines Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) project. Working with the country’s National Electrification Administration, the project will teach seven electric co-ops how to choose, invest in and use smart grid technology. How will this help? The next time a typhoon wipes out power in remote areas, co-ops will be able to respond efficiently to outages, resulting in more reliable power for the consumers.

Uganda: More than 500,000 people

For the last five years, NRECA International has worked with Uganda’s Rural Electrification Agency to develop a new national strategy to expand electric service to rural households and businesses. Recently, a detailed report was completed with recommendations on how it should be done, including off-grid solar energy solutions for people who live in far-flung areas.

How many people are electric co-ops helping? Hundreds of thousands.

With the electrification of rural America, we are living proof that it starts with power. Power leads to better education, better healthcare, safer streets and economic development. Rural electric co-ops and their volunteers are sharing their knowledge and making lasting connections with communities. Among them are:

  • In November 2014, groups of volunteer linemen traveled to Haiti and Guatemala to build or upgrade power lines. They work for electric co-ops from Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Washington, Wisconsin, South Dakota, Montana, Kentucky, Texas, Minnesota and Utah. And more may be added in the months to come!
  • Chippewa Valley Electric in Cornell, Wis., recently donated 165 transformers to the Power for Progress Program in the Philippines.
  • FEM Electric in Ipswich, S.D. donated a variety of line materials to the electric municipal in Ixcan, Guatemala.
  • Four volunteers from Coweta-Fayette EMC in Palmetto, Ga. traveled to Costa Rica in September to support their sister electric co-op, Coopeguanacaste.

To learn more about how NRECA International improves the quality of life for people around the world, visit

Zuraidah Hoffman writes on international consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Arlington, Va.-based service arm of the nations 900-plus consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives.

Water heating is the second largest use of energy in homes, accounting for approximately 14 to 18 percent of residential energy consumption. In addition to wrapping water heaters and pipes in insulation, there are many technologies in this market to help lower energy consumption and save consumers money. These technologies include heat pump water heaters (HPWH), CO2 heat pump water heaters, and point-of-use (POU) water heaters.

Heat pump water heaters

The heat pump water heater is not a new technology, but it is experiencing a revival. A handful of small companies produced units in the 1980s and 1990s, but random failures soured utilities and consumers on the technology. Today, however, some of the major manufacturers of water heaters and other appliances have entered the market, offering a new generation of heat pump water heaters.

There are two types. One, the more expensive option, replaces an existing electric water heater with a new, “integrated” unit combining a heat pump with a water tank. The second type adds a heat pump unit to an existing water heater. The heat pump in both versions circulates a refrigerant, which absorbs heat from the surrounding air and then passes through a compressor to maximize the heat output, which is transferred into the tank’s water. The heat pump can produce most of the heat needed by the water heater. A backup electric resistance element in the tank is called upon when the ambient air is too cold for heat pump operation or additional amounts of hot water are needed. Because the units use both heat pump technology and electric resistance for backup, the units are referred to as “hybrid” heat pump water heaters.

Heat pump water heaters use roughly half the electricity of a conventional electric water heater, but this efficiency comes with a higher price tag and potential trade-offs in effectiveness for participation in load control programs. Integrated units are selling for about twice the cost of a standard tank heater. Depending on the retail cost of electricity and the installed cost of the heat pump water heater, including any financial incentives, the payback period can be as little as three years. In areas with low electricity rates and limited financial incentives, however, the payback period can be much longer.

A heat pump water heater can generally be installed in a conditioned or unconditioned space. However, the space must be at least 10 square feet to ensure adequate air exchange for the heat pump. An open basement, a utility area or—in some climates—a garage is appropriate. The cool exhaust air can be released into the area where the heat pump water heater is located, cooling and dehumidifying the surrounding air, or it can be ducted outside.

Heat pump water heaters are not a universal option. Heat pump water heaters are most efficient in warm and damp climates. Homes in those climates will also benefit from the water heater’s cooling and dehumidifying features. However, residents in colder climates will see decreased performance during colder months. In the northern areas, for instance, if the heat pump is designed to work at ambient air temperatures of 45degrees Fahrenheit or higher, the water heater’s electric element will operate whenever the air temperature drops below that level, reducing energy savings.

CO2 heat pump water heaters

Another emerging water heater technology is the CO2 heat pump water heater. These water heaters are unique because they use CO2 as the refrigerant. Using CO2 is beneficial because other commonly used refrigerants are ozone-depleters or have greater impacts on global warming. In addition to their environmentally friendly chemistry, these heaters can output much hotter water. However, these types of water heaters are still in the early stages of adoption in North America (they are more common in Japan and the European Union) and are much more expensive than conventional water heaters.

Point-of-use water heaters

Depending on where your water heater is located, you will lose some amount of heat as your hot water travels to the faucet. One technology to help reduce this loss is the point-of-use water heater (POU). These water heaters are located near to the water’s end use, for example, near the sink or shower. This option can be more efficient than raising the temperature of the main water heater. However, POUs cannot act as a back-up heater to intermittent units like solar or geothermal water heaters because they are not powerful enough to support a household’s entire water heating load.

Before purchasing a new water heater, be sure to check if any incentives are offered by your local electric cooperative for a particular type. Your co-op can also offer advice on which water heaters work well for your area, as well as other energy-saving tips.

Thomas Kirk is a technical research analyst specializing in energy efficiency and renewable energy for the Cooperative Research Network (CRN), a service of the Arlington, Va.-based National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

by David Callis
Executive Vice President and General Manager

“Education is learning what you didn’t even know you didn’t know.” This quote from historian Daniel Boorstin sums up a challenge we face in the electric utility industry.

As we get older, we (hopefully) become fairly well educated and consider ourselves to have a wider breadth and depth of knowledge. We tend to have reasonably good knowledge of our jobs and perhaps a few other areas. But it’s a big world, and it’s difficult to be an expert in every field.

I have — at best — a cursory knowledge of farming. In fact, if we were dependent on my farming skills to feed us, there’s a good chance we’d all go hungry. Recently, a friend and colleague of mine told me about an innovation he was using at his farm. He began using large grain bags as temporary corn storage. He tells me that this technique is used in other countries but isn’t common in the United States. His farm uses specialized equipment that attaches to a tractor to provide the power source for an auger that fills the bags. Each plastic bag is 10 feet wide by 300 feet long, holds 12,000 to 13,000 bushels and is not reusable. He described them as “Hefty bags on steroids.”

The point of the story is that this is something I never knew existed, but this temporary storage can help make the difference in his farming operation being successful and grain being available when needed. That’s important. I now know something that I didn’t know I didn’t know.

Everyone knows how to use electricity — you flip a switch or plug in an appliance. Even a child learns early on how to turn the lights on and off. However, it takes caring parents and adults to educate that child on how to use caution around electricity. Until they’re educated about safety, they didn’t know what they didn’t know.

As an adult, you know (or should know) how to safely use electricity. However, you might not be aware of how that electricity is made and delivered to your home or business.

That’s where we come in. Our task is to educate you on the challenges we face in keeping the electricity flowing. Tennessee’s co-ops deliver electricity generated by the Tennessee Valley Authority. For more than 80 years, this regional partnership has electrified the Southeast.

TVA and your local electric cooperative are dedicated to delivering power to you at the lowest possible cost. That’s the duty imposed on TVA by Congress, and it’s our promise to you.

By its very nature, electricity is charged — positively or negatively. Unfortunately, energy policy has become politically charged. That’s not something of our choosing, but it’s the reality we face. That hasn’t always been the case, but it has certainly taken center stage over the past few years.

The challenge for us is to cooperate with our regulatory agencies as we operate and maintain the grid and to keep you informed about the decisions we make. We have a variety of choices when it comes to power sources: renewable energy, hydro power, nuclear power and coal-fired generation. As I’ve stated previously, each has its benefits and shortcomings. We have to make decisions that allow us to continue to provide power to you — now and into the future.

Our pledge to you is to provide you with facts — not opinions. We want you to know what you don’t know you don’t know.

Flickr photo by Bill Erickson

Can you imagine working a job that requires you to lift heavy equipment and perform detailed tasks near deadly high voltage? Now imagine doing this 40 feet in the air, and sometimes, in extreme weather. This is the life of a lineman.

These brave men, and women, answer when called – and they do so to ensure that you are provided with safe, reliable electric service. But how do they stay safe when working in these conditions? Tennessee electric cooperative linemen are required to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) at all times when on the job to keep them safe.

Let’s take a look at a lineman’s PPE.

Fire resistant (FR) clothing. While our linemen do everything possible to prevent them, unexpected fires can happen. Fires typically occur with an arc flash – an explosion that results from a low-impedance connection to a ground phase in an electrical system. FR clothing will self-extinguish, thus limiting injury due to burn.

Insulated gloves. Linemen must wear insulated rubber gloves when working on any type of electrical line. These gloves provide protection against electrical shock and burn, and are tested at 30,000 volts. Protective gloves, usually made of leather, are worn over the insulated gloves to protect the rubber from punctures and cuts.

Hard hat. No matter how tough or “hardheaded” our linemen are, they still need protection. Insulated hard hats are worn at all times to protect them from blows and falling objects.

Steel toe boots. These heavy-duty boots are typically 16 inches tall and designed with extra support in mind. The height of the boot shields linemen from gouges, and serrated heels provide a better grip when climbing poles. The steel toe provides sturdier support and protects from objects that could potentially pierce the feet. .

Safety goggles. Linemen must wear protective goggles or glasses, whether working on electrical lines or clearing rights-of-way. This protects them from loose debris and other hazards.

These items make up a lineman’s basic PPE. While working on electrical lines, they also may be required to wear equipment belts, tool pouches, safety straps and other types of equipment. A lineman’s gear usually weighs about 50 pounds – that’s a lot of extra weight when working in hazardous conditions.

So, the next time you see a lineman – be sure to thank him or her for keeping the lights on. But more importantly, thank them for the hard – and often times dangerous – work they do, day in and day out.

Abby Berry 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.

In 1965, fourteen high school juniors loaded left Nashville for Washington, DC. The purpose of the trip was twofold – to educate them about rural electrification and how their government operates.

Fifty years later, Tennessee’s Washington Youth Tour program is still going strong. This year, we will send 150 students and 40 chaperones on the Tour. More than any other state!

For some of these students, the trip marks a number of firsts; their first trip out of state, their first time on a plane, and their first visit to our Nation’s capital. They are given the opportunity to see a larger perspective on their world and their future.

The trip lasts a week; the impact lasts a lifetime. For many students, the trip will begin a journey that charts the rest of their lives. Past participants have become CEOs, educators, and legislators.

This past year, two students from Southwest Tennessee Electric will continue to make an impact in their communities and far beyond.

Kai Starmer, from Munford High School, has been accepted into the Naval Academy in Annapolis. Josh Owen, from Covington High School, has been accepted into the Citadel Military College in South Carolina.

Marilyn Means, marketing coordinator at Southwest Tennessee Electric, said it best:

“We should be very proud of these two students who represented STEMC in DC this past June. Despite of all the ‘bad’ we hear about the youth of today, I have had the opportunity to witness exceptional youth as I go into our schools and share the cooperative story and to appreciate their leadership abilities as we travel to DC each year. I have been blessed to see students grow in leadership roles during and after our trip. I am so thankful that STEMC allows me to ‘pay it forward’ to the youth in our service area. It makes me proud to work for the electric cooperative.”

Hairstyles and fashion may have changed a lot since 1965. The commitment of Tennessee’s electric cooperatives to our youth and our communities has only grown stronger.