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 – Forty-six high school juniors from across the state are attending the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association’s annual Youth Leadership Summit this week in Nashville.

Delegates to the annual event get a hands-on look at state government, build networking and leadership skills and develop a better understanding of energy generation and their local electric cooperative.

Delegates visited the State Capitol Building today to meet members of the Tennessee General Assembly. A house staff member explained the process required to pass legislation, and students debated and voted on a mock bill. Delegates also had an opportunity to sit in on committee hearings.

In addition to lawmakers, students also heard from Tennessee leaders like Christine Williamson, Ms. Tennessee 2018; Adam Hammond, anchor for Nashville’s NewsChannel5; and Trooper Jeffrey Buchanan with the Tennessee Executive Protection Detail.

Delegates to the Youth Leadership Summit are encouraged to be leaders and use their talents to improve rural Tennessee. “Electric co-ops want to see the places we serve grow and prosper, and these young people are important to their communities,” says Todd Blocker, vice president of member relations for the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association and director of the Youth Leadership Summit. “Small towns and rural communities need talented and engaged young people who are invested, and that is what we are doing with our Youth Leadership Summit delegates. We want them to leave this experience with a new appreciation for where they live, prepared to be the leaders of their generation.”

Each of Tennessee’s 23 electric co-ops sponsored two delegates to participate in this year’s Youth Leadership Summit.

NASHVILLE – Gov. Bill Lee stressed the importance of rural Tennessee while speaking with electric co-op leaders during the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association’s 2019 Legislative Conference on Tuesday evening, Feb. 12.

“I grew up in rural Tennessee, so rural issues matter a lot,” said Lee, a resident of Fernvale and member of Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation. “I think what happens in rural Tennessee should matter to every Tennessean. That’s why our first executive order was in fact to strengthen our rural communities and to require every department of state government to give an impact statement on how they impact rural communities.”

Gov. Bill Lee at the 2019 TECA Legislative Conference

Lee spent nearly an hour with co-op members and staff discussing the administration’s plans and policy positions and the role that co-ops play in the communities they serve. Broadband was a popular topic of discussion.

“In my own home we don’t have broadband,” said Lee. “I have first-hand experience what a challenge that can be. I don’t run my business out of my home and I am not educating children there, but I have a taste of how difficult that would be. It is really important that we continue to expand broadband service so that Tennesseans all across the state have access to it.”

More than 150 electric co-op members from across the state were in Nashville for the 2019 Legislative Conference to deliver an important message to lawmakers: electric co-ops are important to Tennessee.

The 2018 election brought seven new senators and 26 new representatives to this year’s General Assembly. Co-op members, directors and staff met with familiar faces and with many new ones during 100 separate meetings with lawmakers.

“While many of these freshman legislators know about co-ops, some do not,” says David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “It is important for us to tell the story of electric co-ops, and the co-op members who are with us today in Nashville are delivering a powerful message – rural and suburban Tennessee matters and electric co-ops are a big part of their growth and prosperity.”

“State lawmakers are often asked to make tough decisions that can impact electric co-ops and the lives of the 2.5 million consumers they serve,” says Mike Knotts, vice president of government affairs for TECA. “Electric co-ops maintain a presence in Nashville and Washington, D.C., to help lawmakers understand how legislation will impact the people back home.”

During visits, co-op members spoke to legislators about local governance, tax issues, broadband and other regulatory concerns that affect the ability of electric co-ops to provide affordable and reliable energy and other services that matter to rural and suburban communities.

Electric co-ops are best known for energy, but they have far reaching impacts on rural and suburban areas of the state. From economic development to youth programs to broadband expansion, electric co-ops enable many Tennessee communities to grow and prosper. Learn more at

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 – More than 400 electric co-op employees participated in the 2018 Tennessee Electric Cooperative Day of Service on Thursday, Oct. 18. Twenty-five individual service projects were completed across the state with 13 co-ops allowing 425 employees to volunteer more than 1,000 hours in service to their local communities.

“It’s amazing what giving hearts and willing hands can do!” says Vanessa Clayborn, manager of member services at Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative in Centerville, Tenn. “We had 53 employees participate in this year’s Day of Service, and the results are staggering and life-changing for those who participated and those we helped.”

“It is really incredible to see the passion that co-op employees have for their communities,” says Trent Scott, vice president of corporate strategy and organizer of the event. “We frequently talk about service to community, and this event puts words into action in very real and tangible ways.”

Service projects completed for this year’s event include four energy efficiency workshops or safety demonstrations, five parks and playgrounds cleaned and refurbished, seven food and clothing drives, four luncheons for local veterans or first responders and two home building projects.

This is the second Day of Service event conducted by Tennessee co-ops. In its two-year history, 756 employees have volunteered more than 2,000 hours in service to their communities.

Photos from the 2018 Day of Service event:

NASHVILLE – More than 180 volunteer lineworkers from 20 electric co-ops across Tennessee are heading to Georgia, Florida and North Carolina to assist with Hurricane Michael recovery efforts. This is the largest storm assistance effort made by Tennessee co-ops in recent years.

The dangerous Category 4 hurricane brought strong wind, significant rainfall and widespread power outages to the northern Gulf Coast. Tennessee co-op are assisting with efforts to reconstruct the severely damaged electric infrastructure in the region.

The Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association in Nashville coordinates requests for mutual aid and makes travel and lodging arrangements for crews who respond.

“Working on high-voltage lines on a sunny day is dangerous, but in disaster conditions the danger is exponentially greater,” says David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “Please keep these brave volunteers in your prayers.”

Below is the most up to date list of crews and their locations:

  • Appalachian Electric Cooperative – 11 lineworkers to Talquin Electric Cooperative in Quincy, Florida
  • Caney Fork Electric Cooperative – Nine lineworkers to United Energy in Statesboro, North Carolina
  • Chickasaw Electric Cooperative – Five lineworkers to Grady Diverse Power Cooperative in LaGrange, Georgia
  • Cumberland Electric Membership Corporation – nine lineworkers to Grady Electric Membership Corporation in Cairo, Georgia
  • Duck River Electric Membership Corporation – 14 lineworkers to Colquitt Electric Membership Corporation in Moultrie, Georgia
  • Fayetteville Public Utilities – eight lineworkers to Diverse Power Cooperative in LaGrange, Georgia
  • Fort Loudoun Electric Cooperative – eight lineworkers to Mitchell Electric Membership Corporation in Camilla, Georgia
  • Gibson Electric Membership Corporation – eight lineworkers to Carroll Electric Membership Corporation in Carrolton, Georgia
  • Holston Electric Cooperative – nine lineworkers to Talquin Electric Cooperative in Quincy, Florida
  • Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation – eight lineworkers to Excelsior Electric Membership Corporation in Statesboro, Georgia
  • Mountain Electric Cooperative – 12 lineworkers to Mitchell Electric Membership Corporation in Camilla, Georgia
  • Plateau Electric Cooperative – four lineworkers to Gulf Coast Electric Cooperative in Wewahitchka, Florida
  • Powell Valley Electric Cooperative – 12 lineworkers to Suwannee Valley Electric Cooperative in Live Oak, Florida
  • Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative – 10 lineworkers to Mitchell Electric Membership Corporation in Camilla, Georgia
  • Southwest Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation – 10 lineworkers to Grady Electric Membership Corporation in Cairo, Georgia
  • Tennessee Valley Electric Cooperative – 10 lineworkers to Mitchell Electric Membership Corporation in Camilla, Georgia
  • Tri-County Electric Cooperative – eight lineworkers to Diverse Power Cooperative in LaGrange, Georgia
  • Tri-State Electric Cooperative – five lineworkers to Mitchell Electric Membership Corporation in Camilla, Georgia
  • Upper Cumberland Electric Membership Corporation – 11 lineworkers to Flint Energies in Warner Robbins, Georgia
  • Volunteer Energy Cooperative  – 10 lineworkers to Sumpter EMC in Americus, GA

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.

TECA RUS e-Connectivity Comments

NASHVILLE – More than 140 lineworkers from 15 Tennessee electric cooperatives will soon be heading to North Carolina to assist with Hurricane Florence recovery efforts. The massive hurricane is expected to leave widespread damage across much of the Atlantic seaboard.

Tennessee electric co-op crews are planning to leave from multiple locations beginning on Wednesday morning. Most will ride out the storm in western or central North Carolina before heading further east once the storm passes through. It is unclear how long they will be in North Carolina.

“Our crews have a reputation for responding quickly, working safely and showing compassion to those who have been impacted by storms like this one,” says David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Associaiton. “We commend their desire to serve and wish them well in the days to come.”

Please keep the people of the Atlantic coast, as well as our volunteer lineworkers and their families, in your thoughts and prayers in the days ahead.

Below is a list of Tennessee co-ops providing assistance and the name and location of the co-op they will be helping. This information is likely to change as the storm nears the coast.

  • Appalachian Electric Cooperative in New Market, Tenn. – 12 lineworkers to Piedmont EMC in Hillsboro, North Carolina
  • Caney Fork Electric Cooperative in McMinnville, Tenn. – eight lineworkers to Pee Dee EC in Wadesboro, North Carolina
  • Chickasaw Electric Cooperative in Somerville, Tenn. – five lineworkers to Randolph EMC in Asheboro, North Carolina
  • Cumberland Electric Membership Corporation in Clarksville, Tenn. – 10 lineworkers to South River EMC in Fayetteville, North Carolina
  • Duck River Electric Membership Corporation in Shelbyville, Tenn. – nine lineworkers to Lumbee River EMC in Red Springs, North Carolina
  • Fayetteville Public Utilities in Fayetteville, Tenn. – eight lineworkers to Tri-County EMC in Dudley, North Carolina
  • Holston Electric Cooperative in Rogersville, Tenn. – eight lineworkers to Lumbee River EMC in Red Springs, North Carolina
  • Meriwether Lewis Electric Membership Corporation in Centerville, Tenn. – five lineworkers to Cape Hatteras Electric Cooperative in Buxton, North Carolina
  • Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation in Murfreesboro, Tenn. – 15 lineworkers to Carteret-Craven EC in Newport North Carolina
  • Plateau Electric Cooperative in Onieda, Tenn. – 13 lineworkers to South River EMC in Fayetteville, North Carolina
  • Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative in South Pittsburg, Tenn. – 10 lineworkers to Four County EMC in Burgaw, North Carolina
  • Southwest Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation in Brownsville, Tenn. – 10 lineworkers to Jones-Onslow EMC in Jacksonville, North Carolina
  • Tri-County Electric Membership Corporation in Lafayette, Tenn. – eight to Energy United in Statesville, North Carolina
  • Tennessee Valley Electric Cooperative in Savannah, Tenn. – 10 lineworkers to Central EMC in Sanford, North Carolina
  • Upper Cumberland Electric Membership Corporation in Carthage, Tenn. – 12 lineworkers to Four County EMC in Burgaw, North Carolina

NASHVILLE – Three Tennessee electric co-ops will receive almost $3 million to help expand broadband availability. Gibson Electric Membership Corporation, Holston Electric Cooperative and Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative each submitted winning bids in the most recent Federal Communications Commission Connect America Fund II (CAF II) reverse auction.

Over the next ten years, Gibson Connect, a subsidiary of Gibson EMC, will receive $1.22 million, Holston Connect, a subsidiary of Holston EC, will receive $530,000 and ML Connect, a subsidiary of Meriwether Lewis EC, will receive $1.18 million.

These three Tennessee co-ops were among 35 nationally that will receive $225 million to help defray the costs of deploying broadband in underserved areas. The CAF II auction marks the first time that the FCC allowed electric cooperatives to bid for funding as broadband service providers.

“We are pleased to see the FCC recognize that electric co-ops have a unique opportunity to bring broadband to rural and suburban America,” says David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “Tennessee’s electric co-ops have demonstrated our ability to successfully deliver broadband, and we will continue to seek out innovative funding sources and partnerships to make this happen.”

NASHVILLE – Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative lineman Nick Gipson flipped a ceremonial switch to light the midway at the 2018 Tennessee State Fair on Friday, Sept. 7, in Nashville.

Attendees of the opening ceremony heard from legislators and elected officials, including Nashville Mayor David Briley and David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association.

“The theme for this year’s fair is ‘The Heart of Tennessee,’ and over the next 10 days this will be a celebration of our state’s unique culture, art, music and food,” said Callis. “You can also find the heart of Tennessee in the 2,600 electric co-op employees across the state. Their work keeps the lights on, our cell phones charged and the computers running. Their time, effort and sacrifices make civilized life possible for the rest of us.”

“For more than 150 years, the fair has been a celebration of rural Tennessee life,” says David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “It is where World War I hero Sgt. Alvin York showed his prize Hereford and generations have marked the beginning of autumn. It is an honor for Tennessee’s electric co-ops to be a part of this great event.”