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.

NASHVILLE – While most Tennesseans enjoyed a long Labor Day weekend, several lineworkers from Tennessee’s electric co-ops were heading to Georgia and North Carolina to assist with Hurricane Dorian recovery efforts. Twenty-two lineworkers – ten from Southwest Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation in Brownsville and 12 from Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative in South Pittsburg – are traveling to the coast to restore power to areas affected by Hurricane Dorian. The powerful storm is expected to impact coastal areas of Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas later this week.

“Lineworkers have a desire to serve others,” says David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “It always impresses me how quickly our crews volunteer to help, even without knowing the conditions they will face or how long they will be away from their families.”

The uncertainty of Dorian’s track has made preparations far more difficult than usual. If the storm ultimately makes landfall along the South and North Carolina coast, Tennessee may be asked to send additional crews.

Statewide trade associations like the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association coordinate mutual aid assistance for co-ops in their respective states. When a state determines that it needs assistance, requests are made to surrounding states. The statewide organizations in those states work with their local co-ops to organize crews and make arrangements for lodging and food. Working out details ahead of time allows crews to respond quickly when a need arises.

NASHVILLE – 185 students, teachers and co-op chaperones have returned from a week in our nation’s capital as delegates of the 2019 Washington Youth Tour. The annual event, sponsored by the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association and the state’s 23 electric co-ops, provides young leaders with an opportunity to explore the nation’s capital, learn about government and cooperatives and develop their leadership skills. Students were selected for the trip by writing short stories titled “Electric Cooperatives – Connecting Communities” that explain how co-ops provide communities with much more than electric power.

“We take great pride in recognizing the best and brightest from across Tennessee,” said Todd Blocker, vice president of member relations for the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association and tour director. “By honoring their accomplishments through programs like the Washington Youth Tour, we show these future leaders that their co-op cares about the future. We want these young people to come home with a better understanding of their nation and new passion to serve their community.”

Tennessee’s Youth Tour delegates saw the White House and memorials to past presidents Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Delano Roosevelt as well as monuments honoring the sacrifices of veterans of World War II and the Vietnam and Korean Wars. During visits to the museums of the Smithsonian Institution, the touring Tennesseans saw and experienced natural, historical and artistic treasures. Other fun stops included historic homes of former presidents — George Washington’s Mount Vernon and Jefferson’s Monticello — as well as Ford’s Theater and a boat cruise down the Potomac River. The group also paid a solemn and sobering visit to Arlington National Cemetery where the delegtes laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

For many, the highlight of the trip was hearing from Holocaust survivor Ms. Esther Starobin at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Her advice to the delegates was, “Don’t be a bystander in this world. You have to know history and pay attention to it. Get involved and learn as much as you can with more than a single viewpoint.”

The group was welcomed to the U.S. Capitol by Sens. Lamar Alexander and Marsha Blackburn and members of the Tennessee congressional delegation who posed for photos and answered questions.

While in D.C., winners were announced in the statewide competition for the Robert McCarty Memorial Scholarships. Jacob Coble from Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative, Alyssa Hampton from Fayetteville Public Utilities and Melanie Garcia from Appalachian Electric Cooperative were awarded $3,000, $2,000 and $1,000 Robert McCarty Memorial Scholarships for having the first, second and third place papers of the more than 10,000 papers submitted across the state.

McCarty was an employee of Volunteer Energy Cooperative and longtime chaperone on the annual Youth Tour. McCarty lost a battle with cancer in 2015, and sponsoring cooperatives renamed the scholarships in honor of his love for young people.

Keslin Moore, a senior from Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative was awarded a $10,000 Cooperative Youth Ambassador Scholarship. Moore was a 2018 delegate of the Washington Youth Tour. In the year following the tour, delegates who remain engaged with their sponsoring cooperative and complete certain community service requirements are eligible for the scholarship. Moore’s name was randomly selected from among the 50 delegates from across the state who completed the requirements.

“An investment in these young people is also an investment in the communities we serve,” said David Callis, CEO of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “These are exceptional students, and our hope is that their youth tour experience empowers them to return home and make a difference in their communities.”

President Lyndon Johnson inspired the Washington Youth Tour in 1957 when he encouraged electric cooperatives to send youngsters to the nation’s capital. In the years since, more than 6,000 young Tennesseans have been delegates on the Washington Youth Tour.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Tennessee’s electric cooperatives awarded $16,000 in scholarships to Washington Youth Tour delegates on Tuesday evening, June 18, in Washington, D.C.

Keslin Moore, a senior from Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative was awarded a $10,000 Cooperative Youth Ambassador Scholarship. Moore was a 2018 delegate of the Washington Youth Tour. In the year following the tour, delegates who remain engaged with their sponsoring cooperative and complete certain community service requirements are eligible for the scholarship. Moore’s name was randomly selected from among the 50 delegates from across the state who completed the requirements.

2018 Washington Youth Tour delegate and $10,000 Cooperative Youth Ambassador scholarship winner Keslin Moore and Sequachee Valley EC employee Cathy Black.

Jacob Coble from Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative, Alyssa Hampton from Fayetteville Public Utilities and Melanie Garcia from Appalachian Electric Cooperative were awarded $3,000, $2,000 and $1,000 Robert McCarty Memorial Scholarships for having the first, second and third place papers of the more than 10,000 papers submitted across the state.

McCarty was an employee of Volunteer Energy Cooperative and long-time chaperone on the annual youth tour. McCarty lost a battle with cancer in 2015, and sponsoring cooperatives renamed the scholarship in honor of his love for young people.

More than 135 high school Juniors from across the state are in the nation’s capital this week for the 2019 Washington Youth Tour. The annual event teaches students about public policy, history, leadership and electric cooperatives. The tour is coordinated by local electric cooperatives, the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

“An investment in these young people is also an investment in the communities we serve,” said David Callis, CEO of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “These are exceptional students, and our hope is that their youth tour experience empowers them to return home and make a difference in their communities.”

Delegates will return home on Thursday, June 20, but they have already experienced a great deal on this year’s trip. For many, the highlight of the trip was hearing from Holocaust survivor Ms. Esther Starobin at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Her advice to the delegates was, “Don’t be a bystander in this world. You have to know history and pay attention to it. Get involved and learn as much as you can with more than a single viewpoint.” Learn more about Ms. Starobin’s story on the Holocaust Memorial Museum website.

NASHVILLE – More than 135 students from across Tennessee are headed to Washington, D.C., as a part of the 2019 Washington Youth Tour. The annual event, which begins on Friday, June 14, provides young leaders with an opportunity to explore the nation’s capital, learn about government and develop their leadership skills.

The Washington Youth Tour is sponsored by the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association and local electric cooperatives from across the state. Students were selected for the trip by writing a short story titled “Electric Cooperatives – Connecting Communities” that explains how co-ops provide communities with much more than electric power.

Delegates on this year’s trip will visit museums and monuments, including the White House and the Capitol Building. The group is also scheduled to meet with Sens. Alexander and Blackburn as well as other members of Tennessee’s Congressional delegation.

“Each year Tennessee co-ops provide education, leadership and scholarship opportunities to hundreds of students from across Tennessee,” said David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “Today’s young people are tomorrow’s teachers, Senators, doctors and entrepreneurs, and we’re investing in a brighter future for these young leaders and the communities we serve. Youth tour gives these students the opportunity to experience history and democracy up-close, and we hope they return with a deeper appreciation of America and a desire to serve their communities.”

President Lyndon Johnson inspired the tour in 1957 when he encouraged electric cooperatives to send youngsters to the nation’s capital. In the years since, more than 6,000 young Tennesseans have been delegates for the Washington Youth Tour.  Politicians, business leaders, authors and athletes are Washington Youth Tour alumni, including Apple CEO Tim Cook.

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.