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.

#  #  #

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.”

David Callis, executive vice president and general manager, Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association

The Lewis and Clark expedition was, for the early 1800s, a “moon shot” of epic proportions. The United States was a young and growing country. President Thomas Jefferson had just brokered the Louisiana Purchase, doubling the size of the nation, and a thorough exploration was in order. Capts. William Clark and Meriwether Lewis led a party of 33 soldiers and guides. Not knowing the challenges they would face, they embarked on an 8,000-mile journey that would take well over two years.

Planning for the trip began months earlier. They made use of everything. The barrels in which they packed their provisions were lined with lead to keep things dry. When the barrel was empty, the lead could be fashioned into ammunition. The iron staves holding the barrels together were used to trade with the natives in the region.

Jack Uldrich, noted author and futurist, has written and taught extensively about Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery. In his book “Into the Unknown,” he writes, “How can we prepare for the future? What skills will we need? What tools? What equipment? Where do we even start? These are the very questions Louis and Clark asked themselves, and we could look to them for inspiration.”

There are lessons to be learned from Lewis and Clark in how we face an uncertain and changing future. In fact, we’ve been down this road before.

In 1935, when Congress created the Rural Electric Administration (REA), no one could imagine the transformation it would bring to rural America. Most rural residents were still living as their parents and grandparents had in the 1800s. There were visionaries like young Rep. Lyndon Johnson who championed the work of the REA. The idea that rural residents deserved the same “luxuries” as city-dwellers took hold, and change began. By the 1940s, rural America was well on its way to parity.

But it didn’t happen overnight, and it took a lot of planning. It took legislative changes, and it took dedication and commitment from those who would be served.

Before the REA would grant loans to cooperatives, residents who would be served were required to invest capital. Many were hesitant to get involved in the fledgling electric cooperative movement. It took the commitment of leaders in the community to get on board and convince their neighbors to also join. Johnson, himself, went door-to-door in the Texas Hill Country, encouraging farmers to pay $5 each to jumpstart Pedernales Electric Cooperative.

Today, Pedernales is still providing power and opportunity to the Hill Country. Johnson wrote in 1959, “I think of all the things I have ever done, nothing has ever given me as much satisfaction.”

Uldrich again: “The 21st century is a time of accelerating, almost exponential, change. Advances in computer electronics, telecommunications, and medicine are announced every day. Genomics, nano technology, wireless technologies, the Internet, fuel cells, solar cells, DNA analysis, the sequencing of the human genome, stem cell research, voice recognition technology, and even the advancement of knowledge itself are propelling us faster and faster downriver, and, like Lewis and Clark, we don’t know what’s around the next bend.”

In the electric cooperative community, we spend a lot of time preparing for the journey. As technology has advanced, we’ve changed with it. Over the years, the pace of change continues to accelerate.

Though we can’t anticipate what’s next on the horizon, we have the people, the resources and the dedication to continue to do what we’ve done since the beginning.

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 – Twenty-nine service projects were completed by electric co-op employees on or around Thursday, Oct. 17 thanks to the 2019 Tennessee Electric Co-op Day of Service. Thirteen co-ops allowed 480 employees to volunteer more than 1,000 hours in service to their local communities.

“It is no secret that electric co-op employees care about the communities where they live and work,” says Trent Scott, TECA’s vice president of corporate strategy and organizer of the event. “They give back to their communities each day by keeping the lights on for their friends and neighbors. The Day of Service is different – it is a unique opportunity to make our state and these individual communities better places. Each of the projects completed during this year’s event are important, but the impact is multiplied when co-ops across the state work together to improve everyday life for the people and places we serve.”

Service projects completed for this year’s event include volunteering at schools, nursing homes and food banks; serving meals to first responders and school bus drivers; collecting food, toys, clothing and other supplies for local pantries; and partnering with organizations like United Way, Second Harvest Food Bank, Friends of Radnor Lake and Habitat for Humanity.

Each employee who participated in this year’s event received a Day of Service t-shirt thanks to the generous support of sponsors Bass, Berry & Sims, CoBank, CT Consultants, LogicomUSA and The Tennessee Magazine.

This is the third Day of Service event conducted by Tennessee co-ops. In its three-year history, 1,236 employees have volunteered more than 3,100 hours to complete 75 individual projects in co-op communities across the state.

In the photo: TECA employees Tina Smith, Mallory Dunavan, Amy Jordan, Laura Beth Laden and Trent Scott volunteered to help with the construction of a new hiking trail at Radnor Lake State Natural Area near the association’s office in Nashville.

Middle Tennessee Electric selects Tesla battery to drive power savings

Murfreesboro – Middle Tennessee Electric (MTEMC) has teamed with Tesla, one of the most innovative technology companies in the energy industry, to test a new program intended to save its members money via a cutting-edge energy management process.

Middle Tennessee Electric has installed the latest Tesla Powerpack at one of their substations in Murfreesboro, TN. The Tesla Powerpack is a battery energy storage system (BESS) designed for a wide range of uses.  In this pilot program, it will be used to reduce MTEMC’s energy demand charges from the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and improve demand response time to its members when additional energy is needed. “We’re really excited about what the Tesla Powerpack allows us to do. It’s yet another asset we can use to improve the quality of our system while being financially responsible stewards of our members’ resources,” says Chris Jones, MTEMC President/CEO.

The BESS’s primary purpose will be to help reduce MTEMC’s monthly wholesale electricity purchases during peak demand hours, a change that should result in saving the cooperative tens of thousands of dollars annually. This is done through a process called energy time shift for distributed generation. The process allows the BESS to be charged when TVA rates are lower during low usage hours and is then discharged when energy demand costs are higher.  Middle Tennessee Electric members will benefit significantly because they will be billed based on the lower off-peak rates in effect when the BESS was being charged rather than the higher on-peak rates normally charged when the electricity is used during those peak hours.

In addition to saving the cooperative money, the Tesla Powerpack allows MTEMC to evaluate innovative energy technology and educate members about its Distributed Energy Resources (DER). “Education is another important benefit of the project. As with any new technology, there is a lot to learn as we educate our employees and members,” says Avery Ashby, an MTEMC electrical engineer. “A better understanding comes from owning, operating and maintaining new technology, so we can advise our members to make informed decisions as more distributed energy resources are adopted in our service area.”  MTEMC currently operates a subscription solar power program called Cooperative Solar as another part of its DER offerings to members.

Jones continues, “We exist to serve our members by making their lives better. As one of the largest electric cooperatives in the nation, we are constantly looking for new ways to improve the reliability and affordability of electricity for our members, and the Tesla Powerpack allows us to realize those goals. Members should be focused on living their lives, not on the system powering them.”

The deployment of Tesla technology is one of the latest innovations MTEMC has embraced in its role to be their members’ trusted energy advisor and provider. MTEMC provides electricity and community programs to more than 500,000 Tennessee residents through 230,000 metered accounts. The MTEMC service area covers more than 2,100 square miles and is served by more than 12,000 miles of electric line across parts of 11 Tennessee counties including Cannon, Rutherford, Williamson and Wilson counties.

NASHVILLE – Jamie Perrigo, operations superintendent for Tri-County Electric Membership Corporation in Lafayette, flipped the switch to light the midway and officially start the 2019 Tennessee State Fair on Friday, Sept. 6, in Nashville. Tennessee’s electric co-ops have sponsored the opening ceremony of the fair since 2014.

Attendees of the opening ceremony heard from legislators, elected officials and others, including Nashville Mayor David Briley and Trent Scott, vice president of corporate strategy for the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association.

“The fair is a celebration of life in Tennessee – specifically rural Tennessee,” said Scott. “There are exciting things happening here in Nashville, but it is important that we not overlook what happens out there – past the city limits signs in rural and suburban Tennessee. Rural Tennessee is home to 37 percent of the state’s population and 30 percent of personal incomes. What happens out there matters. It matters to the people who live there, but it should matter to everyone. Co-ops are proud to serve rural Tennessee and advocate for rural communities every day. We’re also proud to be here tonight to kick off the 2019 Tennessee State Fair.”

The fair runs Sept. 6 – 15 at the Fairgrounds in Nashville. Learn more at tnstatefair.org.