The 111th General Assembly completed its final order of business for the year in the early morning hours Friday, June 19after a marathon through-the-night session. The final hours were marked with plenty of disagreement between political parties and the two chambers. 

The final act was headlined by a $39.4 billion budget that replaced and further trimmed one the legislature approved in March. The scaled back spending plan anticipates a $1 billion shortfall in fiscal year 2021 and, following a “stalemate” between the two chambers, eventually cleared the impasse in a conference committee. 

The new budget closely resembled the one proposed by the governor and approved by the senate last week, reducing expenses for a number of priorities initially proposed by Governor Lee. That, of course, was before the state was physically and financially rocked by two devastating tornadoes and the COVID-19 pandemic. Below are a few notable cuts to the administration’s original list of priorities: 

  • reducing the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Grant Fund from $25 million to $15 million; 
  • eliminating pay raises for teachers, state employees and legislators; and 
  • reducing funding for capital maintenance projects for state-owned properties and higher education, including $37 million worth of projects at the University of Tennessee and $9 million at the University of Memphis.

“Safe Harbor and Recovery Act” Stalls

A bill designed to encourage and stimulate economic activity, by increasing civil liability protection against coronavirus lawsuits against essential businesses and others that reopen amid COVID-19 uncertainty, stalled in the early hours Friday.  Despite support from a broad coalition of interests representing business, healthcare, and education industry, the “Tennessee Recovery and Safe Harbor Act” ultimately failed because republicans in the two chambers vehemently disagreed on the legislation’s effective date.   

Senate Republicans and industry supporters favored retroactive application of the legislation that dated back to early March. House members and opponents, including the Tennessee Trial Lawyers Association, fought hard against retroactivity and questioned the provision’s constitutionality. Notably, both sides relied on a 2010 opinion by former Tennessee Supreme Court Justice William Koch that addressed the constitutionality of retrospective laws in Tennessee. 

Ultimately, Republicans in the two chambers held their ground following a conference committee that adopted the senate version. After a bipartisan attack on the bill’s retroactive application, the house fell four votes short of approving the conference committee report. 

Co-op Priority Passes Both Chambers

Despite the last minute budget changes and acrimony caused by controversial legislation, the General Assembly did pass legislation clarifying that electric cooperatives may purchase the Powering Tennessee specialty license plate. Sponsored by Rep. Gary Hicks (R-Rogersville) and Sen Becky Massey (R-Knoxville), the bill was passed unanimously by both the House and Senate. Effective immediately upon the Governor’s signature (which is expected in the coming days), the law ensures that electric co-op vehicles weighing less that 9000 pounds and used for the purpose of passenger transport are eligible to purchase the plate. Proceeds benefit the Tennessee Lineworker Lifeline Fund, and each plate driving on Tennessee roads increases awareness of the important work performed by Tennessee’s 3,500 lineworkers. 

Centerville, TN – Concern for Community is one of the Seven Cooperative Principles by which Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative operates. Recently, it partnered with the Tennessee Valley Authority on a fifty-fifty matching grant to contribute $30,000 to community agencies supporting local residents during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. Six-thousand was awarded in each MLEC served county to non-profit organizations.

“Our hometowns continue to deal with the impact of COVID-19, and many are facing challenges they’ve never faced before. We see the community hurting and want to help lighten their burden,” says MLEC President and CEO Keith Carnahan. “By working with organizations as they support local families with groceries, education, pay rent and other expenses, we can stretch their resources to help more people.”

Hickman County – The Hickman County Board of Education received $5000 to help equip some buses with Wi-Fi, making them mobile hot-spots students and the community can use for internet access. Hickman County Senior Citizens Center and Helping Hands of Hickman County each received $500 to help those they serve pay utilities and purchase pantry and other items.

Houston County – Bethesda Community Mission, Inc. received $6000 to assist additional families facing job loss with utilities, rent, groceries and other expenses.

Humphreys County – United Way of Humphreys County established a COVID-19 Family Support Fund and will use its $6000 grant to help with rent, utilities and basic financial needs.

Lewis County – Two non-profits each received $3000. Lewis County Food Bank will purchase additional food for their increased demand brought on by more families facing unemployment due to COVID-19. Lewis County Senior Citizens will prepare the center to reopen and cover the related expenses of masks, thermometers, and cleaning supplies, as well as serve member and non-member needs.

Perry County – Perry County School Nutrition received $6000 to help offset the hardship of COVID-19.  Extra food and labor costs, as well as required changes to their operating procedures, created unexpected expenses as they as they continued to feed children nutritious meals during the pandemic.

“In the spirit of public power, we are honored to partner with local power companies like MLEC to address the unprecedented challenges facing those we serve,” says Jeannette Mills, TVA executive vice president and chief external relations officer. “TVA has a mission of service to make life better for the people of the Valley, and providing these funds to address immediate needs is one way we can help.”

For additional information about MLEC, see For additional information about TVA, see

Trenton, Tenn. – Gibson Electric Membership Corporation in partnership with the Tennessee Valley Authority and CoBank will contribute a total of $45,000 over the months of April, May, June and July to the food banks that serve Gibson EMC’s members and communities. Already, Gibson EMC has donated $20,000 to our local foodbanks.  TVA has agreed to contribute $15,000 and CoBank has agreed to contribute $10,000.

“One of the unexpected blessings of the COVID-19 pandemic has been an outpouring of goodwill,” says Dan Rodamaker, Gibson EMC and Gibson Connect President and CEO.  “During this time Gibson EMC sought out opportunities to serve.  And after speaking with our local leaders about the needs within our communities, we were encouraged to work with our local food banks.”

“We have been thrilled and very thankful that both TVA, our wholesale power supplier, and CoBank, a national cooperative bank that annually provides ‘Sharing Success’ grants to improve the quality of life for our communities, shared our vision for meeting the critical need of food during the pandemic,” Rodamaker said.

The donations will be distributed among more than a dozen food banks, with donation amounts based on the number of Gibson EMC members in each of the areas.

“We are strong because we care about the people around us,” Rodamaker continued.  “Regardless of the challenges we face, we can be confident that the people of Northwestern Tennessee and Western Kentucky will find ways to adapt, demonstrate compassion and, above all, power on,” he said.

Gibson EMC is a local, not-for-profit, member-owned and member-controlled electric cooperative serving almost 39,000 homes and businesses in eight west Tennessee counties (Crockett, Dyer, Gibson, Haywood, Lake, Obion, Madison and Weakley) and four west Kentucky counties (Carlisle, Fulton, Graves and Hickman).  Gibson Connect is a wholly-owned, not-for-profit subsidiary of Gibson EMC, working to provide high-speed, fiber-based broadband service access to all of the cooperative’s eligible members.

Volunteers distribute food through a mobile food pantry in Alamo, Tennessee on Saturday, June 6.

MURFREESBORO, TN – The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) has approved the proposed merger between the Murfreesboro Electric Department (MED) and Middle Tennessee Electric (MTE), it was announced today.

“This represents the coming together of two excellent electric utilities that have coexisted very well in Murfreesboro for the past 80 years. We’re confident the result will be an even stronger entity with increased effectiveness for strengthening our mission of providing safe, reliable and low-cost services to all customers,” said Chris Jones, MTE’s president and CEO. “We would like to thank the City of Murfreesboro, its mayor and city council, the city management team, and our colleagues at Murfreesboro Electric for all of the collaboration and support. And we thank TVA for its very thorough examination and analysis of this opportunity.”

While MTE and the City will work to sign closing documents in the coming days, TVA’s regulatory review and approval was the last step needed to finalize the merger. The regulatory review process was required to determine if the transaction created value for all ratepayers, since TVA supplies wholesale electric power to both not-for-profit distributors and has oversight over such transactions, Jones said.

“The review concluded that this transaction is in the best interest of the affected ratepayers, and upholds our mission to serve the people of the Valley,” said Dan Pratt, TVA vice president of customer delivery. “It aligns with the values and principles of the Valley Public Power Model and reinforces our primary Regulatory role in protecting Valley ratepayers.”

As previously reported, MTE will pay $245 million for MED. With interest, the total payment will be $302 million over 15 years.

“MTE is an exceptional organization with incredibly strong leadership. The future benefits of the combined electric system to the ratepayers and the citizens of Murfreesboro are tremendous,” said Mayor Shane McFarland.

On again, off again talks of a possible merger were renewed in late 2018 when the city approached MTE about the possibility. Throughout last year, efforts to move toward that end culminated in the fall with a series of City Council workshops and listening sessions, meetings with employees and other stakeholders, a citywide open house, and a series of council votes ending in approval by the city in January of this year. Following unanimous approval from the MTE board, the paperwork for the TVA regulatory review was sent, also in January.

About Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation (MTE)

Founded in 1936, Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation is the largest electric co-op in the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) region and among the five largest in the U.S., serving more than 500,000 Tennesseans via 236,000+ accounts covering 2,100 square miles in 11 Middle Tennessee counties, primarily Rutherford, Cannon, Williamson, and Wilson counties. Municipalities served include Franklin, Smyrna, Lavergne, Lebanon and Mt. Juliet. MTE employs 420 people in 6 local offices and its Murfreesboro corporate headquarters.

About the Murfreesboro Electric Department (MED)

The Murfreesboro Electric Department has served the city and the surrounding area since 1939, covering approximately 55 square miles via 67,000 accounts and an estimated 136,000 residents.  Like MTE, MED operates under a contract with The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), a corporate agency of the federal government. The TVA provides all electricity distributed by MED to its 67,000 customers. The Electric Department has approximately 90 employees, all located in downtown Murfreesboro.

Get your power outage emergency kit ready now

Power outages can occur at any time of the year, whether a result of ice on power lines in the winter, spring storms that bring down trees on lines, car crashes that break poles or an errant squirrel that meets an untimely end. Power at the flick of a switch is something we take for granted, and we may be surprised how much our daily lives depend on a steady flow of electricity if the power goes out.

It’s always a good plan to have an emergency preparedness kit on hand, stocked with necessities that will help you make it through an extended power outage as safely and comfortably as possible. Especially if you know ahead of time that a power outage may be coming your way, such as when ice storms or tornadoes are predicted, don’t wait until the last minute to stock up on the essentials.

Some items to consider are water for drinking, cooking and sanitary needs; food that doesn’t need to be cooked or that can be prepared on a camp stove or grill outside with proper ventilation; a manual can opener; an adequate supply of necessary medications and first aid supplies; flashlights with batteries; candles and matches (keeping in mind that you will need to practice the necessary safety precautions when using open flames); plenty of warm clothing, coverings and perhaps sleeping bags if it’s winter; and radios or TVs that are battery powered or powered by other means such as solar or hand crank. It is also important to keep your cell phones and power banks charged.

If you have a back-up generator, be sure that it is installed and operated properly. For details on how to operate a generator safely, read the guidelines provided by the U.S. Department of Energy:

One item you might not think of but that will be handy to have at the ready is the manufacturer’s instructions on how to open your garage door manually. While it’s understandable to want to protect your vehicle from damaging weather, you will also need to be able to get the car out if an emergency arises. Also, make sure your vehicle’s gas tank is full in advance.

For more suggestions of items to include in an emergency preparedness kit, check out the listing from the American Red Cross at, or contact your local electric cooperative.

Each year, electrical malfunctions account for thousands of home fires, injuries, death and property damage. The average American home was built in 1977, and many existing homes simply can’t handle the demands of today’s electrical appliances and devices. Keep safety in mind with these helpful tips from the Electrical Safety Foundation International.

Learn the warning signs of an overloaded electrical system:

  • Frequent tripping of circuit breakers or blowing of fuses
  • Dimming of lights when other devices are tuned on
  • Buzzing sound from switches or outlets
  • Discolored outlets
  • Appliances that seem underpowered

How to avoid overloading circuits:

  • Label your circuit breakers to understand the different circuits in your home.
  • Have your home inspected by a qualified electrician if older than 40 years or if you’ve had a major appliance installed.
  • Have a qualified electrician install new circuits for high energy use devices.
  • Reduce your electrical load by using energy efficient appliances and lighting.

Working from home? Follow these electrical safety tips to keep you and your home safe from electrical hazards.

  • Avoid overloading outlets.
  • Unplug appliances when not in use to save energy and minimize the risk of shock or fire.
  • Regularly inspect electrical cords and extension cords for damage.
  • Extension cords should only be used on a temporary basis.
  • Never plug a space heater or fan into an extension cord or power strip.
  • Never run cords under rugs, carpets, doors or windows.
  • Make sure cords do not become tripping hazards.
  • Keep papers and other potential combustibles at least three feet away from heat sources.
  • Make sure you use proper wattage for lamps and lighting.
  • Make sure your home as smoke alarms. Test them monthly, change batteries annually and replace the unit every 10 years.

As we’re nearing the midpoint of 2020, I think everyone is ready for this year to just be over or for a “do-over.” It seems that we have veered from one calamity to the next; tornadoes to a derecho, topped off with a pandemic. We know that this year has been catastrophic in rural communities. Unfortunately, we can’t turn back the clock; we have to deal with the reality of today.

David Callis, executive vice president and general manager, TECA

Our electric cooperatives are not immune to the challenges. From the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, they’ve taken measures to protect their employees so they could keep the lights on, which is critically important for our homes, businesses, and hospitals. Given the damage from storms this year, it’s been challenging to repair and rebuild the grid while properly protecting workers. We’ve gotten the job done because, first and foremost, we exist to help our communities.

That assistance hasn’t ended at keeping the electricity flowing. Cooperatives across the state have provided assistance to help consumer-owners who have been hit hard by the economic collapse. Whether it is providing assistance with bills or making contributions to local charities, we’re committed to our communities. We’ve been working with TVA, state government and Congress, sending the message that electric co-ops need flexibility and relief to meet these community needs and ensure the delivery of affordable, reliable electricity.

Backing up those co-ops is the staff here at The Tennessee Magazine and Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. Our staff is dedicated to supporting Tennessee’s electric cooperatives in a variety of ways: youth programs, safety training, employee education, communications, community outreach, government relations and economic development — anything that helps your cooperative help you and your community.

Our staff, based primarily in Nashville, last met as a group on March 16 for lunch — properly separated from each other in the early days of the pandemic. From that point, we worked mostly from home over the next two months, keeping in touch remotely with our co-ops, elected officials and each other.

They are great co-workers. I appreciate the work they do and their ability to adjust to this new reality we’re all facing. But mostly, I admire their dedication to the job they do every day — doing anything and everything they can for Tennessee’s rural communities.

The good rapport and cooperative attitude of our staff is evident in their smiles during a recent Zoom video conference. We work hard for the people in our service areas, but we have a good time doing it.

Tennessee electric co-ops provide energy to 2.5 million Tennesseans in 84 of the state’s 95 counties. To keep the power on, we maintain 86,000 miles of power lines. Lined up end to end, our lines would stretch from Nashville to London, England, 20 times.

Keeping these powerlines maintained and functional is not an inexpensive undertaking. We invest more than $28 million each month maintaining the power grid. It may surprise you that one of our largest expenses on average is not poles or wire, but trimming trees.

Reliable energy is important to the co-op and to the homes and businesses we serve. Keeping trees and other vegetation safely away from power lines is a crucial part of our ongoing system maintenance. While some power outages are out of our control – things such as car accidents or lightning – many outages can be prevented by making sure trees and other vegetation are kept well away from the lines.

Each year co-ops and our tree-trimming contractors clear limbs and brush and in some cases remove entire trees that are too close to the lines or near other electrical equipment. They carefully follow guidelines and best practices provided by the International Society of Arboriculture.

“It’s pretty simple,” says Matt Kirk, right-of-way coordinator for Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative in Centerville. “When trees and other vegetation get too close to the lines, it will result in a power outage. One tree could knock out the power for a hundred homes. Keeping them away from the lines is necessary to keep the lights on.”

Proper right-of-way maintenance is a good investment that keeps the lights on for our consumer-members. “To keep everyone in our community safe, our distribution system is designed to cut the power when it detects a contact with the power line,” says Kirk. “We can’t tell if the contact is from a child flying a kite, a car accident or a limb brushing against the line. This means that trees and limbs can knock out the power even if they don’t actually break the lines. If they do break the lines, the outage can last even longer. That’s why it is so important to keep vegetation away from the lines.”

Co-op members can help maintain a reliable flow of electricity in your community by reporting any potential problems you see. It’s also important to be understanding when tree trimming crews are working on or near your property. The work they are doing impacts both you and your neighbors. While most co-ops have the right to inspect and maintain power lines without the consent of property owners, they make every effort to meet with property owners to discuss the work ahead of time.

From homes to hospitals and farms to factories, much of our lives depend on reliable energy. Power is essential to maintain health, safety, comfort, productivity and connection, and Tennessee’s electric co-ops are passionate about fulfilling our responsibility and meeting your expectations.