NASHVILLE, Tenn. – More than $11 million of $19.7 million in broadband accessibility grants announced last week by the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development will go to Tennessee electric cooperatives. Ten of the 17 grant recipients were electric co-ops.

“One of my top priorities is ensuring the success of rural Tennessee. With the assistance of these grants, communities across 21 counties will now have access to broadband that will aid in that success,” Gov. Bill Lee said. “I applaud the efforts of these 17 broadband providers as they play a fundamental role in our efforts to boost rural communities throughout Tennessee.”

The grants come at a time when the need for rural broadband is clear.

“We’re excited about this investment in rural Tennessee,” says David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “The current COVID-19 crisis has confirmed what we’ve known for some time: Rural America needs reliable broadband. Education, healthcare and commerce rely on a dependable, high-speed connection to the internet. More than ever, we’re seeing how vital that connection to the rest of the world truly is.”

Electric co-ops receiving grants are:

  • Fayetteville Public Utilities: $1,750,000, serving parts of Lincoln County
  • Forked Deer Electric Cooperative: $719,921, serving parts of Haywood and Lauderdale counties
  • Gibson Electric Membership Corporation: $703,518, serving parts of Obion County
  • HolstonConnect LLC (Holston Electric Cooperative): $361,211, serving the Mooresburg community in Hamblen and Hawkins counties
  • Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative: $593,166, serving parts of south Perry County
  • PVECFiber (Powell Valley Electric Cooperative) and Scott County Telephone Cooperative: $1,908,811.24, serving part of Union County
  • SVEConnect (Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative): $1,654,882, serving the Battle Creek and South Pittsburg Mountain communities in Marion County
  • Southwest Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation: $1,768,686, serving parts near the Brownsville community in Haywood County
  • Tri-County Fiber Communications LLC (Tri-County Electric Membership Corporation): $501,811, serving parts of Trousdale County
  • United Communications (Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation): $1,331,504.80, serving the Eagleville community in rural Rutherford and Williamson counties

The broadband accessibility grant fund was created in 2017 as a key component of the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act – sweeping legislation designed to close the digital divide in Tennessee. In the years since, many of Tennessee’s electric co-ops have invested more than $187 million in broadband projects that will eventually bring high-speed internet access to more than 790,000 homes and businesses.

UPDATED | NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Recovery efforts continue across Middle Tennessee today following a strong tornado that ripped through the area early Tuesday morning.

Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation and Upper Cumberland Electric Membership Corporation suffered heavy damage to their systems. Storms also caused minor damage to Cumberland Electric Membership Corporation, Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative and Tri-County Electric Membership Corporation.

UCEMC’s Cookeville office

Today, MTEMC has fewer than 2,000 consumer-members without power. Crews have restored power to more than 45,000 since the storm originally hit. MTEMC estimates that more than 250 poles were broken during the storm. MTEMC is being assisted by crews from Caney Fork Electric Cooperative, Cumberland Electric Membership Corporation, Duck River Electric Cooperative and Fayetteville Public Utilities.

Upper Cumberland Electric Membership Corporation has approximately 2,200 consumer-members without power. More than 12,000 have had their power restored since the storm originally hit. UCEMC’s Cookeville district office was heavily damaged in the storm. Crews from Tri-County Electric Membership Corporation are assisting UCEMC today.

An employee of UCEMC and her husband were injured when the storm destroyed their home. The employee is recovering following surgery. Some MTEMC employees also lost homes and experienced property damage.

The Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association has established a fund to assist employees of electric co-ops who who were injured or experienced property damage during the storm. Visit tnelectric.org/give or contact Amy Jordan at TECA for more details.

In the midst of their own recovery efforts, employees from MTEMC had the co-op’s food truck, the Electric Griddle, in Mt. Juliet on Wednesday, preparing grilled cheese sandwiches for first responders, clean-up crews, volunteers and restoration crews.

MTEMC employee Tim Sudds serves hot food to first responders in Mt. Juliet following a major tornado in Tuesday morning.

“Many Tennessee communities experienced extreme damage and loss this week,” said David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “We have also seen co-ops rally to serve their communities and neighboring cooperatives. Co-op people are the best people, and it is an honor to watch these community servants do what they do best.”

JOHNSON COUNTY, Tenn. — A crew of Mountain Electric Cooperative lineworkers rescued a woman from her nearly-submerged vehicle after a rockslide pushed it into a swollen creek. 

After falling into the creek, the vehicle was washed about 300 yards downstream through turbulent waters and became lodged in the middle of a creek. With raging water on both sides, it quickly became apparent to local first responders that they had no equipment to make a swift-water rescue. Officials decided to request assistance from Mountain EC. Co-op employee Mollie Ingle had already stopped to help out, and she radioed additional crews for assistance.

Lineworkers Rick Courtner, Cody Bryant, Dakota Tester and Charlie Grindstaff rushed to the scene with a bucket truck, unsure of what they would find. “I was pushing it as hard as I could go,” Bryant said. “We had two or three hills we had to pull at like 20 miles per hour.”

The crew was able to set up the bucket truck along the edge of the water where the bucket would just barely reach the vehicle. Two linemen manned the bucket and were able to reach the vehicle and pull the frightened driver into the bucket and to safety.

“I started talking to her, asking her name,” Courtner said. “[We were] trying to keep her calm considering the situation because you could see the fear in her eyes.”

Ingle said, “When they got her in the bucket, she was clinging to Rick. She was so … everyone there was so happy.”

Courtner and Bryant don’t see themselves as heroes. “I knew the lady’s life was at risk, and we got her out,” Courtner said. “But as far as the mindset in us doing it, it’s something we do every day.”

“It is unclear how the lady would have been rescued if not for Mountain EC,” says Joe Thacker, manager of the cooperative. “It was a very serious situation, and emergency personnel had limited options due to raging water, so we’re glad we could help. Our lineworkers put themselves at risk every day to serve our communities. We are very proud of Rick, Cody, Dakota, Charlie and Mollie and their willingness to go above and beyond to help others in need. This is Mountain Electric at our best.”

Some reporting by WCYB News 5.

NASHVILLE – More than 200 electric co-op leaders from across Tennessee were in Nashville on Tuesday, Feb. 4, asking for commonsense rules to protect the state’s electric lineworkers. Over 100 individual meetings with legislators were scheduled during the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association’s 2020 Legislative Conference.

When not installed properly, generation sources such as solar panels, wind turbines and gas generators that feed power to the grid can pose a real threat to the safety of lineworkers, first responders and the general public. Co-ops asked lawmakers to support SB 1991 and HB 1923, legislation that would require property owners installing a generation source to notify their local utility, comply with basic electric safety codes and install a switch that would allow lineworkers and first responders to disconnect the generation source in an emergency. Tennessee is one of only three states that does not have similar requirements in place.

“The interest of safety demands that any interconnected generation be properly installed,” says Kevin Murphy, president of Southwest Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation and chairman of the TECA board of trustees. “This legislation is a simple and practical effort that will go a long way to protect lineworkers, first responders and the general public.”

In addition to the lineworker safety legislation, co-ops also discussed other important topics.

Lawmakers were asked to support legislation that would allow certain utility-owned vehicles to display the Powering Tennessee specialty license plate that was introduced by the state in 2019. Proceeds from the plates support the Tennessee Lineworker Lifeline Fund, a nonprofit organization established to support lineworkers and their families.

Co-op representatives also shared information on broadband projects and encouraged lawmakers to support additional funding for rural broadband expansion.

“Every day, legislators make decisions that can impact the important work we do,” said David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “Visits like these provide us with valuable opportunities to educate lawmakers about co-ops and our communities. We appreciate co-op consumer-members and employees who take time away from family and work to meet with their elected officials. They help us tell the co-op story.”

NASHVILLE – The 111th Tennessee General Assembly app gives Tennesseans interested in government and politics a powerful tool for connecting with lawmakers.

Tennessee legislators will return to Nashville on Jan. 14 for the second session of the 111th Tennessee General Assembly. During this year’s session lawmakers will consider legislation that can have an impact on Tennessee families and businesses. That makes it important to stay informed and, at times, reach out to your elected officials.

The 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. It 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. TECA has published an annual directory of the General Assembly for more than 50 years. “Each year, we collect and maintain information on legislators, and we believe that all Tennesseans should have easy access to this information for their lawmakers,” says David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “The app makes it easier than ever to connect with your elected representatives.” 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.

Proceeds from the plates to fund non-profit that supports lineworkers and their families following an injury or fatality

NASHVILLE – The state of Tennessee recently released a specialty license plate that honors the service and sacrifice of Tennessee’s electric lineworkers.

There are more than 3,500 electric lineworkers in Tennessee, and unless the power is out, we seldom think about the important work they do. Each day, they get out of bed, pull on their boots and work to make civilized life possible for the people who live in their communities. It is a dangerous job that frequently requires them to be away from their families.

To honor the contributions of Tennessee’s electric lineworkers, Tennessee’s electric cooperatives petitioned the General Assembly in 2019 to authorize the creation of a specialty license plate. The legislation was approved and signed by Gov. Lee in May.

“Tennessee’s more than 3,500 electric lineworkers power our state through their service and dedication,” said Gov. Bill Lee. “I am proud of this new Tennessee specialty license plate, and I thank the General Assembly for their support in honoring these valued individuals.”

The Powering Tennessee specialty license plate was supported by the Tennessee General Assembly and Gov. Bill Lee. (L–R) TECA Board President Kevin Murphy, TECA Vice President of Government Affairs Mike Knotts, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, TECA General Manager David Callis, TECA Board Vice President Dave Cross and TECA Board Secretary Steve Sanders

Even with lawmaker approval, the state required 1,000 preorders to put the Powering Tennessee specialty plates into production. Thanks to the overwhelming interest from lineworkers and others across the state, organizers collected 1,000 preorders in just six weeks.

Funds raised through specialty plate sales will benefit the Tennessee Lineworker Lifeline Fund, a nonprofit foundation created to assist lineworkers and their families in the event of a serious injury or fatality while on the job.

“In 2018, electrical lineworker was ranked as the 13th most dangerous job in the country – just behind law enforcement officers,” said David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “Safety is something we take seriously, but heights, high voltage, distracted drivers and other risks are always present. Each day lineworkers put their lives on the line for others, and the Powering Tennessee specialty license plates are a small way to honor these tough and dedicated community servants.”

The Powering Tennessee specialty license plate and the Tennessee Lineworker Lifeline Fund are supported by local utilities, the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association, Tennessee Municipal Electric Power Association, Tennessee Valley Public Power Association and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

Tennessee motorists don’t have to be lineworkers to show their appreciation for these brave men and women – anyone with a private vehicle registered in Tennessee can get the plate. Learn more about the plates and the Tennessee Lineworker Lifeline Fund by visiting poweringtennessee.org.

The Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association provides leadership, advocacy and support for Tennessee’s 23 electric cooperatives and publishes The Tennessee Magazine, the state’s most widely circulated periodical. Visit tnelectric.org or tnmagazine.org to learn more.

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FOR MORE INFORMATION
Trent Scott | Vice President of Corporate Strategy | 615.515.5534 | tscott@tnelectric.org

David Callis, executive vice president and general manager, TECA

You don’t have to look far to find news stories that speak to the decline of rural America: aging population, unemployment, opioids. It can be a depressing outlook. We see it firsthand; Tennessee ranks 46th in life expectancy as rural hospitals close their doors. Schools struggle to attract teachers and provide advanced academic opportunities. And we all know that high-speed in-ternet can be unreliable, expensive or totally unavailable.

But our co-ops are uniquely positioned to have a positive impact on the rural and suburban communities we serve. Co-ops invest more money in rural Tennessee than almost any other group. They manage more than $3 billion in assets and 106,000 miles of distribution lines that stretch from the suburbs of Nashville to some of the most rugged and remote areas of the state. This year alone, co-ops have invested more than $107 million in the distribution grid — investments focused on meeting the needs of Tennesseans today and far into the future.

We also deliver power to our residential members at a price that is 16 percent below the national average. And our co-ops have significantly less debt per consumer than the national average. These stats speak to decades of thoughtful decision-making and a deliberate focus on the well-being of co-op consumer-members.

Our purpose is greater than simply keeping the lights on. Co-ops make healthcare, education, commerce and manufacturing possible in the communities we serve, empowering our consumer-members.

A solid education removes barriers and opens the doors of opportunity. That is why co-ops have a long and proud history of investing in rural youth. We want to prepare young people to be the next generation of leaders and to be fully aware of the opportunities that exist in their hometowns. That is why programs like 4-H Electric Camp, the Youth Leadership Summit and Washington Youth Tour are so vitally important. Electric co-ops give young, rural Tennesseans the power to be smarter, better educated and more prepared for the future.

From Burlison to Bristol and Clarksville to Counce, the communities we serve are remarkable. They are unlike any other place in the world. They have distinct challenges, yet offer unique opportunities. It is important for electric co-ops to be advocates for these communities — to tell the story of rural and suburban Tennessee. Decisions made in Nashville and Washington, D.C., have a significant impact on co-ops and the people we serve. So it is critical that we engage with legislators and policymakers at the state and federal levels and shape a positive image for co-ops and rural Tennessee through our communications efforts. We give rural Tennesseans the power to be heard.

Tennessee’s electric co-ops are able to merge the opportunities found in our cities with the quality of life that is unique to rural and suburban Tennessee. Our cooperatives have a legacy of fundamentally changing the communities we serve, but we can’t rest on yesterday’s successes. Our communities have new needs, and Tennessee’s electric cooperatives are here to step up and create fresh solutions.

We do more than deliver power. We empower the people and communities we serve.

The House on Tuesday passed the RURAL Act, protecting more than 900 electric cooperatives throughout the nation from the risk of losing their tax-exempt status when they accept government grants for disaster relief, broadband service and other programs that benefit co-op members.

The Senate is poised to pass the bill later this week, and President Trump is expected to sign it into law.

The RURAL Act was NRECA’s top legislative priority for the year because of the profound threat to the business model of not-for-profit co-ops. Tens of thousands of co-op leaders, employees and members across the country rallied to advocate passage of the bill.

Lawmakers passed the popular bipartisan legislation in the final hours of the 2019 session as part of a larger tax and spending bill that funds the government through September 2020.

“We are grateful to members of the Tennessee delegation who supported this important legislation,” said David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “While these changes may seem subtle, they will have a meaningful impact on Tennessee co-ops and the people they serve – lowering costs, protecting rates and encouraging investment in rural infrastructure.”

The Tennessean published a guest editorial by TECA calling on lawmakers to support the Rural Act. The op-ed appeared online last week and in print today.

The bill’s passage fixes a problem created in 2017 when Congress passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which redefined government grants to co-ops as income rather than capital. That change made it difficult for many co-ops to abide by the 15% limit on non-member income to keep their tax-exempt status. The RURAL Act once again exempts grants from being counted as income and is retroactive to the 2018 tax year.

Without the fix, some co-ops would have had to start paying taxes this spring after receiving grants in 2018 or 2019 to repair storm damage, bring high-speed internet to rural communities or invest in renewable energy and energy-efficiency programs. Many co-op leaders feared they would have to raise rates for members to pay the new taxes.

The legislation attracted more than 300 co-sponsors in the 435-member House and more than half of the senators. The effort was led in the House by Reps. Terri Sewell, D-Ala., and Adrian Smith, R-Neb., and in the Senate by Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Tina Smith, D-Minn.

NRECA lobbyist Paul Gutierrez credited the victory to a collaborative campaign strategy that included co-ops’ grassroots efforts to alert their senators and representatives to the issue.

“This was an amazing NRECA team and membership effort, including co-op members at the end of the line,” he said. “We had great legislative champions in the House and Senate, and they worked tirelessly to get this included in the final tax package.”

State’s electric cooperatives gather in Nashville to explore the opportunities facing co-ops

NASHVILLE – The 78th annual meeting of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association was held Sunday, Nov. 24, through Tuesday, Nov. 26, in Nashville. Nearly 400 electric cooperative leaders from across the state attended the event where they discussed the significant impact co-ops have, challenged one another to meet the needs of their communities and learned more about emerging technology and power supply issues.

During an address to electric co-op leaders, Gov. Bill Lee commended co-ops for their service to rural Tennessee. “What you do is important to me, and it is critically important to Tennessee’s rural communities,” said Lee. “You bring not light but life to rural Tennessee.”

“Our co-ops are uniquely positioned to have a positive impact on the rural and suburban communities we serve,” says David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “From infrastructure to education to communications, co-ops invest more money in rural Tennessee than almost any other group. We know that these communities matter, and we have a vested interest in their success.”

Kevin Murphy, president of Southwest Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation in Brownsville, was elected president of the TECA board of trustees. Dave Cross, manager of Plateau Electric Cooperative in Onieda, was named vice president, and Steve Sanders, director for Gibson Electric Membership Corporation in Trenton, was named secretary.

Elections were also held for three positions on the association’s board of trustees. Keith Carnahan, CEO of Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative in Centerville; Albert Dicus, director from Caney Fork Electric in Madisonville; and Greg Williams, manager for Appalachain Electric Cooperative in new Market, were elected to four-year terms.

Mike Partin, CEO of South Pittsburg’s Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative, was also elected to serve as Tennessee’s representative on the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association board of directors.

“We congratulate those selected to serve in leadership positions,” says Callis. “We depend on our co-ops to provide guidance and counsel for the association, and we are grateful for their willingness to serve.”

The fifth annual TECA Top Tenn Communications Awards were presented during the event. Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative received an award for Best External Newsletter or Magazine Section; Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation, Best Internal Newsletter; Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative, Best Website; Southwest Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation, Best Use of Social Media; and Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation, Best Video. Duck River Electric Membership Corporation, Appalachian Electric Cooperative and Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative received Awards of Excellence in the Wild Card category, with Gibson Electric Membership Corporation, Duck River Electric Membership Corporation and Caney Fork Electric Cooperative earning Awards of Merit.

Four co-ops were presented with certifications from the Rural Electric Safety Achievement Program for 2019. Receiving certifications at this year’s event were Fort Loudoun Electric Cooperative, Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative, Tennessee Valley Electric Cooperative and Upper Cumberland Electric Membership Corporation.

“We believe that Tennesseans should not be constrained by where they choose to live, and we are committed to closing the gap between opportunities in places like Nashville and Chattanooga and the opportunities that exist in New Market, Centerville and hundreds of other rural and suburban communities,” says Callis. “The continued success of co-ops and the communities we serve depend on people choosing to live and raise their families here – not in spite of the limitations, but because of the abundant opportunities.”