November 6, 2019 – Centerville, TN As of October 23, Meriwether Lewis Connect, is live with installations in each of the nine cities it targeted for Phase I.  Connected residents in Waverly, Hohenwald, Centerville, Erin, Tennessee Ridge, New Johnsonville, Linden, Lobelville and now McEwen are streaming high-speed, affordable, reliable broadband from the Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative subsidiary.

The first MLConnect customer was connected in March 2019, just seven months after MLEC announced its plans to make high-speed, fiber broadband and phone services an option for all its members. Construction for Phase II is now underway in rural Humphreys County.

I am pleased to announce that the board of directors has approved Phase II of the project to get high speed, reliable fiber broadband to all our members,” says MLEC President and CEO Keith Carnahan. “It includes the rural areas of Humphreys and Houston counties and utilizes a Tennessee Economic and Community Development grant received for rural Humphreys County to bring broadband.  The grant is time sensitive, and we need to complete this part of the project in a timely fashion. Phase 2 will span 15 months, while evaluation and preparation for Phases III and IV are ongoing.”

Carnahan reiterated MLEC and MLConnect’s commitment to make fiber broadband an option for all MLEC members, noting that it will take time to build such an expansive, reliable network. He also shared that they are pursuing grants for additional areas in other counties and will know if the applications are successful in April 2020.

“It isn’t a matter of ‘if’ MLConnect will be an option for every MLEC member but ‘when’,” says Carnahan. “When MLEC announced its broadband project in August 2018, we shared our goal to complete construction in all five counties by the end of 2022, realistically installations will still be ongoing past that because we just can’t be everywhere at once. However, obtaining grants can help us with the timelines and economic impact of reaching our goal.”

Preparations for Phases III and IV are constantly being evaluated and will include the rural areas of Hickman, Lewis and Perry counties. Updates will be available at a later date.

For now, MLConnect encourages MLEC members without service to sign up at www.mlconnect.com.  There is no obligation, and it gives them a way to contact you when installations begin in your area.

The electric grid has led to dramatic changes in our way of life, and as society continues to change, so does our nation’s grid.

The smart grid is the modern-day version of the traditional grid that has evolved with more advanced technologies that allow for two-way communication between the electric utility and the consumer. With all of the progress from developing technologies, the smart grid provides many advantages for both utilities and consumers.

The smart grid is made up of a variety of technologies that collectively help to make the grid smarter. A key feature is the smart meter, which provides two-way communication between the energy provider and the consumer. Smart meters help detect power outages and automate billing, which helps to improve reliability and efficiency. The smart meter is connected to smart distribution systems, smart substations and smart generation capabilities, which all work together to create a smart grid.

As research and innovation continues, additional technologies are becoming available. Advancements like machine learning, where electric utilities can forecast energy use using past data and patterns, and total automation, where power generation to distribution is completely automated are just a couple of examples of how the grid will be more efficient.

The smart grid provides many benefits, and one of the most important is providing electricity in a more reliable way. With all the new technology, problems in the grid are much easier to prevent early on, easier to identify and easier to fix. The smart grid also helps utilities plan for the future to reduce the likelihood of power blackouts and surges.

Another benefit to the consumer is more access to information and new ways to control and manage their energy use. Consumers now have the ability to view their daily energy use online or via app before they receive their monthly bill, which can lead to better energy efficiency habits.

Another benefit is that the grid will be better equipped to handle demand response programs to manage the electricity load, which can ultimately save money for the utility and consumers. Having the ability to strategically manage the energy load will also help the grid to better integrate renewable energy into the system. Consumer-owned renewable energy generation systems, such as rooftop solar panels, are also more easily integrated into the grid.

Considering all the benefits, it makes sense for utilities to invest in smart grid technologies. By investing now, they will help to reduce costs over the long run while also providing more reliable service to the consumers they serve.

Over the next decade, utilities are expected to invest $110 billion in smart grid technologies, and this value is likely to grow as new technologies continue to be developed. Many electric cooperatives across the U.S. have started initiatives within their service territory to deploy smart meters and other advanced grid infrastructure. These advancements and trends will continue as improving grid reliability remains a priority for electric utilities.

Maria Kanevsky is a program analyst for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the national trade association representing more than 900 local electric cooperatives. From growing suburbs to remote farming communities, electric co-ops serve as engines of economic development for 42 million Americans across 56 percent of the nation’s landscape.

HALLS, TENN. – U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Purdue presented the nation’s first ReConnect grant to Forked Deer Electric Cooperative today at an event in Halls, Tenn. The co-op will use the $2.8 million grant to build a fiber-to-the-home network and bring broadband to the electric co-op’s rural consumers.

The USDA’s Rural e-Connectivity loan and grant program, or ReConnect, was established to build modern broadband infrastructure in rural areas. The program was funded by an initial $600 million Congressional appropriation.

“There are a lot of advantages that electric co-ops have when it comes to broadband,” said Secretary Purdue while speaking at a grant ceremony today at Forked Deer Electric Cooperative in Halls. “You know your customers, you already have lines, you have an obligation to serve, and this fits right into your business model. I truly believe that broadband will bridge the rural/urban divide.”

“This is a big day for Forked Deer Electric Cooperative,” said the co-op’s CEO Jeff Newman. “High speed internet access is more than a convenience – it is absolutely necessary for education, healthcare and commerce. Our rural communities cannot be left behind. These funds will assist Forked Deer Electric Co-op in bringing modern connectivity to the communities we serve, and it is exciting to think of the impact that will have right here in Lauderdale County.”

“It is noteworthy that an electric co-op in Tennessee is the first recipient of a ReConnect grant,” says David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “Tennessee co-ops have demonstrated the ability to maximize state and federal funds. For every dollar of grant money received, Tennessee co-ops are investing $15 of their own money. This multiplier means that Tennessee electric co-ops are stretching grant funds further to have the greatest impact.”

NASHVILLE – More than 50 electric co-op leaders from Tennessee traveled to Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, April 30, to talk with members of the Tennessee congressional delegation about issues important to the state’s rural and suburban communities.

During meetings with lawmakers, co-op leaders discussed energy, connectivity and other topics, including:

  • highlighting the need for rural and suburban America to be included in future infrastructure investments
  • supporting legislation that protects the tax exempt status of co-ops receiving income from infrastructure grants or FEMA reimbursements. An unintended consequence of the recent Tax Cuts and Jobs Act changes the way co-ops account for such income, placing tax exemption at risk in some cases and increasing costs for ratepayers.
  • TVA rates and ownership of transmission assets owned by TVA and the Power Marketing Administrations.

Lawmakers were also invited to visit their local co-ops to meet employees, attend annual meetings and tour co-op facilities.

“We bring co-op leaders to Washington, D.C., to build relationships,” said David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “We want lawmakers to know and trust us, and we want them to think about us as they make decisions. Visits like this provide us with a valuable opportunity to educate lawmakers about co-ops and our communities.”

Photos from the event are available online.

Senator Todd Gardenhire (R – Chattanooga) has successfully moved Senate Bill 481 though the Senate. It passed by a vote of 27-5 on March 18. This legislation includes utility workers among other first responders and will subject offenders that commit assault against them to enhanced penalties.

The bill has also been approved by the House of Representatives. In a rare show of bi-partisan sponsorship in this General Assembly, Representative Darren Jernigan (D – Nashville) successfully shepherded the legislation with minimal opposition. Only Governor Lee’s signature remains for this change to become law.

“Linemen and other utility workers should certainly be counted among first responders in the communities they serve,” says Mike Knotts, vice president of government affairs for TECA. “This legislation shows the support that these community heroes have from their co-ops and from state lawmakers.”

The pace of activity in the 2019 General Assembly has peaked as many Committees have closed and bills are moving quickly toward the House and Senate floors. The focus of the legislature is shifting to formation of the state’s budget, and TECA will be working diligently to see that budget priorities that benefit electric co-ops are heard by the Finance committees.

Chief among them is funding of the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Grant Fund for which Governor Lee has proposed $20 million of new funds. In 2018, the Legislature increased Governor Haslam’s request by 50% in the final budget ($10 million proposed, $15 million funded). Key members of the Finance Committees have expressed interest in a similar increase for 2019, but additional funding is by no means assured.

TECA continues to track other important pieces of legislation moving through the 2019 General Assembly.

Increased Penalty for Illegal Drone Use

Senate Bill 306 by Senator Jon Lundberg (R – Bristol) and Representative Bud Hulsey (R – Kingsport) has been signed into law by Governor Bill Lee. 

This legislation increased the penalty to a Class E felony for operating a drone over a critical infrastructure facility without the consent of the owner. This makes a violation punishable by one to six years in prison and a fine of up to $3,000.

The law defines critical infrastructure facility to include “An electrical power generation system; electrical transmission system, either as a whole system or any individual component of the transmission system; or electrical distribution substation.”

It was previously a misdemeanor offense, which made enforcement of the violations a low priority of law enforcement. Should your cooperative feel the need to notify your local authorities of violations, you may now let the call center know that the crime is a felony and warrants dispatch of officers to investigate.

Cooperative Broadband Clarifications Passes House 81-8

Having already been passed by the Senate on a unanimous vote, House Bill 172 by Pat Marsh (R – Shelbyville) was considered by the House of Representatives on Monday, April 8. The bill clarifies elements of the Broadband Accessibility Act to encourage competition in co-op-served areas. After a brief discussion (Debate on the bill can be viewed here) the bill passed on a vote of 81–8.


NASHVILLE – Gov. Bill Lee announced Monday that five electric co-ops in Tennessee will receive more than $6.2 million in broadband accessibility grants. Electric co-ops received nearly half of $14.8 million in state grants awarded by the state.

“Rural and suburban Tennessee cannot grow and prosper without access to reliable, high-speed connectivity,” says David Callis, executive vice president and general manager for the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “Tennessee’s electric co-ops are responding to this need and making significant investments to bring this service to the homes and businesses they serve. The state’s broadband accessibility grant program speeds the process of expanding high-speed internet to communities that have no other options.”

“I am pleased to announce that we are getting our rural areas up to speed and expanding broadband in the areas that need it most,” said Lee. “I am committed to ensuring connectivity in every corner of our state as broadband impacts our goals for health care, education, economic development and beyond.”

According to the FCC’s 2018 Broadband Deployment Report, nearly one in four rural Tennesseans lack access to broadband. In addition to the $20 million included in Gov. Lee’s recommended budget for fiscal year 2020, these grants will continue to close the access gap ensuring rural Tennesseans have the tools needed for growth and prosperity.

The six Tennessee co-ops receiving a total of $6,296,177.61 in this round of state grants include:

  • Appalachian Electric Cooperative: $1,739,581 serving parts of Jefferson and Grainger Counties
  • Gibson Electric Membership Corporation: $588,974 serving the Gadsden Community in Crockett County and part of Gibson County
  • Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative: $1,832,728.16 serving part of Humphreys County
  • Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative: $817,406 serving the Griffith Creek community in Marion County
  • Volunteer Energy Cooperative: $1,317,488.45 serving the Spring Creek community in McMinn County

Learn more about electric co-op broadband in Tennessee on our Co-op Broadband page.

MLConnect making progress in project to service MLEC counties

Centerville, TN —  Ultra-fast, affordable, reliable broadband is getting closer for those receiving electricity from Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative.  The utility’s wholly-owned subsidiary, Meriwether Lewis Connect, LLC is preparing to serve its first customers.

Residents in and around the city of Waverly will be hearing from MLConnect by the end of March about firming orders and scheduling installations.

“We’re testing and working on processes to put our best technology and customer-care foot forward. We’re more interested in doing it right than hitting a deadline, so we aren’t announcing a live date at this time,” says MLEC President and CEO Keith Carnahan. “I can tell you this, though, it is exciting to be this close.”

Construction on the $60 million project began in Waverly in October 2018 and expects to be live with broadband and phone for all MLEC members by late 2022.  MLConnect’s Phase I includes more than 300 miles of main line fiber and helps secure a robust infrastructure is in place to serve the rural areas. 

Currently, construction continues in Hohenwald for a potential “go live” date in April.  By early March, construction crews will also be working in Centerville.  New Johnsonville, Erin, Tennessee Ridge, McEwen, Linden and Lobelville (in this order) are on schedule for service by the end of 2019.

When designing Phase II, construction costs, existing infrastructure, time constraints, etc. will be considered when selecting areas. Another factor is the amount of interest in each neighborhood (number of online registrations). This is why registering on www.mlconnect.com or at your local MLEC office is so important.

“Just as electricity did in 1939, MLConnect offering GIG services in our rural hometowns will bring unprecedented potential for education, healthcare, economic development and more,” says Carnahan.  “It’s proof you don’t have to live in a big city to be progressive.  MLConnect will offer world class broadband with hometown service, and we’re proud of that.”

To learn more, visit www.mlconnect.com or email customercare@mlconnect.com.

Gov. Bill Lee

NASHVILLE – On Wednesday, Gov. Bill Lee, in his first executive order, instructed all state agencies to examine and improve the way they serve Tennessee’s rural communities. The order emphasizes the need to coordinate efforts to better serve the state’s rural and economically disadvantaged counties.

In response to the executive order, David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association, made the following statement:

“Tennessee’s rural and suburban communities matter. Thirty-seven percent of the state’s population – some 2.4 million people – call rural Tennessee home, and these residents account for nearly 30 percent of personal incomes for the state. The contributions these families make to the overall success of Tennessee are significant. A healthy and vibrant rural economy is critical to the state’s overall growth and prosperity. Electric co-ops have deep roots in these communities, and we support the governor’s focus on issues that impact rural Tennessee.”

According to a release from the governor’s office, the executive order is the first step by the administration to accelerate plans to address 15 distressed counties, which are all rural. The order requires each executive department to submit, no later than May 31, 2019, a statement of rural impact explaining how the department serves rural Tennesseans. Departments must then provide recommendations for improving that service by June 30, 2019.

Tennessee’s electric cooperatives serve 71 percent of the state and more than 2.5 million consumers. The Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association provides leadership, advocacy and support for Tennessee’s 23 electric cooperatives. The association also publishes The Tennessee Magazine, the state’s most widely circulated periodical. Visit tnelectric.org or tnmagazine.org to learn more.

Last week, the 111th General Assembly of the state of Tennessee began its two-year session, and operative word for all Capitol-watchers is “new.” With so many first time members of the Legislature who are still learning about the legislative process and how best to represent their districts, Tennessee’s electric co-ops have work to do.

The upcoming TECA legislative conference, day on the hill, and legislative reception offer co-op Boards and staff a great opportunity to interact with legislators, both new and old, and engage in important public policy discussions. If your cooperative has not yet registered to attend, please do so. We look forward to seeing you there.

TECA’s public policy partner is the law firm of Bass, Berry, and Sims. They recently published a helpful and concise overview of the beginning of this General Assembly.

With the new session comes change not seen in Tennessee government in recent history, as over 30 new lawmakers were sworn in on the first day. Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) was again elected as Speaker of the Senate, and Glen Casada (R-Franklin) was elected to replace outgoing House Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville). Harwell served as Speaker of the House for eight years.

Governor-elect Bill Lee (R-Franklin) will be sworn in on January 19, 2019. Lee’s first major task of the start of his first year will be to finalize his commissioner appointments and present his budget. Lee is expected to give his first State of the State address and release his budget on March 4, 2019.

Tennessee House Committee Updates

As Lee begins his work he will be working with all new leadership in the House. In addition to the new Speaker, Majority Leader and Caucus Leader, the House has brand new committees and committee chairs. There is sure to be an extended learning curve this session with so many new legislators and committee chairs. The list of committees and committee chairs for the House can be found here.

Tennessee Senate Committee Updates

In the Senate, there were fewer changes. No new committees were created in the Senate, but there are five new chairs of committees. The list of committees and committee chairs for the Senate can be found here.

After the inauguration, the Senate will take an additional week to organize before returning to business on January 28, 2019. The House will return sooner to resume its business on January 23, 2019. The bill filing deadline will be the first week of February. House members will continue to have 15 bills unless they chair a committee. In that instance, a chairman will have an additional five bills that must be related to the subject matter of his or her committee.

111th General Assembly App

General Assembly App

The 111th Tennessee General Assembly app features a continually updated, searchable database of contact, staff and committee information as well as district maps, photos, leadership roles and social media profiles for members of the Tennessee House and Senate. The app also contains information on the governor and his cabinet and the Tennessee congressional delegation. The app was developed through a partnership between the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association and Bass, Berry & Sims PLC.

The free app is available for iPhone, iPad and Android devices and can be found by searching for “Tennessee General Assembly” in the Apple App Store or Google PLAY Marketplace.

NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association submitted feedback regarding the Rural Utilities Service’s e-Connectivity Pilot Program during a comment period provided by the RUS.

The e-Connectivity Pilot Program was was made possible by a $600 million appropriation from Congress in the Consolidated Budget Act of 2018. The USDA is working to create new funding and finance offerings through this pilot program to expand rural broadband in underserved rural and tribal areas.

Comments made by TECA to the RUS highlighted the successes of Tennessee’s electric co-ops in broadband and the need for additional funding to speed deployment. TECA affirmed comments made by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and requested consideration of seven additional suggestions:

  • Projects that achieve universal service inside a provider’s service territory should be incentivized over similar projects that leave significant gaps in coverage between communities
  • Projects that leverage additional investment in broadband infrastructure beyond the receipt of a grant itself should be incentivized over a similar project(s) that rely solely upon the program itself for its existence
  • Allow applicant(s) an opportunity to rebut any challenges of eligibility by third parties
  • Allow flexibility to award funds to any party participating in a partnership or other project that involves multiple eligible parties
  • Allow grants to be payable in multiple awards, rather than a single payment, if so desired by the recipient
  • Allow a small percentage of grants to be usable for start-up expenses of subsidiary entities
  • Provide loan products inside the pilot program at an interest rate below what is otherwise available by existing RUS programs, including FFB loans, or other more advantageous terms.

“We believe that the RUS’s e-Connectivity Pilot Program has the potential to have a meaningful impact on the expansion of broadband in rural Tennessee,” says Mike Knotts, vice president of government affairs with the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “We appreciate Secretary Purdue and the team at RUS for considering the input of Tennessee’s electric cooperatives.”

You can read TECA’s full comments below.

[pdf-embedder url=”https://www.tnelectric.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/TECA-RUS-e-Connectivity-Comments.pdf” title=”TECA RUS e-Connectivity Comments”]