Stories of how critters and co-ops care for each other

One Monday morning last summer, a young male brown bear climbed to the top of an electric co-op utility pole in Arizona—presumably to see what he could see.

But when two co-op employees spotted the creature, they knew it was nothing to joke about. His arms were draped between the crosspieces, paws resting on the pole’s neutral conductor, head next to an energized 7,200-volt line. “If he touched it, he would have been dead,” said one of the workers.

So, they de-energized the line and called in 18-year co-op veteran Werner Neubauer. It wasn’t his first rodeo, er, animal rescue. He’d also saved cats, raccoons and even a bobcat.

A co-op bucket truck hoisted Neubauer, 8-foot-long fiberglass hot stick in hand, to meet the bear. The bear tucked his face under his front arm, covering his eyes.

“Alright, little bear. Time to get off this pole,” Neubauer encouraged. The bear nipped and grabbed at the stick, but Neubauer finally nudged him down, where he ran off into the desert.

Out in the country, animals are everywhere.

Animal encounters are nothing new for electric co-ops. Getting their start in the 1930s to serve rural areas that had no electricity, they’ve always been close to the land, and its creatures. From bears to butterflies and sheep to seabirds, electric co-ops have a track record of showing they understand the importance of caring for wildlife.

Janelle Lemen, regulatory director for environmental policy at the National Rural Electric Association (NRECA), describes how co-ops across the country take actions like building nesting platforms for ospreys and falcons, and modifying electrical structures to reduce potential electrocutions of birds. Co-ops coordinate those efforts nationwide though NRECA’s membership, since 1989, in an organization called the Avian Power Line Interaction Committee.

Co-ops also regularly work with other state, local and federal wildlife agencies to come up with the best ways to coexist with wildlife.

Lemen says, “Electric co-ops have a long history of implementing conservation efforts to benefit America’s wildlife and other natural resources.”

One part of that history is an annual week-long Pollinator Power Party. Co-ops know a lot of us love butterflies and bees, and that both are essential to the ecosystems that pollinate plants. So, several electric co-ops have become part of a group called the Pollinator Partnership to increase awareness of bee and butterfly habitats.

Grazing under solar panels

A more direct interest between co-ops and wildlife comes in the form of protecting birds from high-voltage equipment, both for the birds’ own safety and to keep animal electrocutions from causing power outages.

Co-ops in several states have built platforms to keep ospreys and other birds from nesting on power lines. An electric co-op in Hawaii has even experimented with a laser fence system to keep seabirds from colliding with power lines.

And it’s not always the co-ops protecting animals. Sometimes the critters help out the co-ops.

As solar energy use grows across the country, some co-ops are getting the grass under photovoltaic panels trimmed by goats and sheep. Well, maybe not goats so much. With co-ops and other utilities finding economic and environmental benefits to grazing under and around solar panels, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory actually conducted a study called Solar Sheep and Voltaic Veggies: Uniting Solar Power and Agriculture. Among its conclusions: “Sheep have often proven to be the best tenants of the land. Horses can be picky about what they eat, cows are large and require a lot of space, and goats tend to chew on wires and climb on panels.”

Paul Wesslund writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the national trade association representing more than 900 local electric cooperatives.

The Hickman County Rescue Squad recently received support from Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative with a donation of $1,500 through its community involvement fund. Pictured from left: MLEC District Manager Matthew Chessor, MLEC Director Johnnie Ruth Elrod, Hickman County Rescue Squad’s Tim Jackson and Chief Toby Warren; MLEC President and CEO Keith Carnahan; and MLEC Directors Wayne Qualls and Dr. Zack Hutchens.

David Callis

NASHVILLE – During a board meeting on Thursday, June 2, David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association, announced that he would be retiring in March of 2023. Callis was appointed to this role in 2012.

“Under David’s leadership, TECA has continued its long tradition of advocating for rural communities and protecting the interests of Tennessee’s electric co-ops,” said Dave Cross, CEO of Plateau Electric Cooperative and chairman of TECA’s board of trustees. “He’s been a proponent for co-ops at the state and national levels, always highlighting the qualities that make co-ops unique – local ownership, local control and service to members. David believes in putting people first and leads with empathy. The Board thanks him for his service to the association and Tennessee’s rural and suburban communities, and we wish David and Amanda the very best in the years ahead.”

The TECA board of trustees has started a search to find a new leader for the association.

Robin Conover

Robin Conover, vice president of communications and editor of The Tennessee Magazine, also announced plans to retire in August of 2022. She joined the magazine team in 1988 and has served as editor since 2002.

“Hundreds of thousands of readers have been fortunate to experience Tennessee’s woods, waters and wildlife through the lens of Robin Conover’s camera,” says Callis. “She is the heart and soul of The Tennessee Magazine and has been rural Tennessee’s official storyteller for three decades. Her knowledge, skill and wisdom will be missed.”

Conover will remain an important freelance contributor to the magazine.

Dyersburg – Sen. Bill Hagerty met with Arkansas and Tennessee co-op leaders Monday at the ERMCO distribution transformer manufacturing plant in Dyersburg, Tenn., to discuss how global supply chain disruptions and labor shortages have impacted critical infrastructure.

Distribution transformers like the ones made by cooperative-owned ERMCO are an essential component to the power grid. Transformers convert high voltage power into something that can be safely managed inside a home or business. Every home, farm and business in Tennessee depends on transformers for the reliable and safe delivery of energy.

Global supply chain issues and labor shortages have created challenges for ERMCO to meet skyrocketing demand for their products. “Demand is simply outpacing our ability to manufacture transformers,” says Tim Mills, President and CEO of ERMCO. “2020 and 2021 were both record years in terms of production, but we are turning away about 40 percent of our orders because we don’t have the capacity to fulfill them.”

“Labor is our greatest need,” says Jeff Hammons, COO of ERMCO. “We have 70 unfilled positions on our production line now. We have space to add additional lines, but we are not confident that we could find qualified labor to run them.”

During his visit, Sen. Hagerty toured the ERMCO facility and participated in an extended conversation about supply chain issues and their impact on the power grid.

“As was made strikingly clear by my visit to ERMCO, stable supply chains are key to secure critical infrastructure, including electric distribution,” says Sen. Hagerty. “The gravity of the supply chain-electric distribution relationship affirms the need for legislative solutions that address today’s supply chain crisis and prevent new disruptions going forward.”

Thanks to the efforts of ERMCO and other suppliers, Tennessee’s electric co-ops have managed supply chain disruptions with limited impact to consumers. “We have been fortunate so far, but we are one ice storm or tornado outbreak away from real issues,” says Trent Scott, vice president of corporate strategy for the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association, “ It is a serious situation, and we appreciate Sen. Hagerty and our co-op partners at ERMCO for their efforts to develop meaningful solutions.”

SEATTLE – NRECA and the Council of Rural Electric Communicators recognized the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association this week with the Spotlight on Excellence Silver Award for Best Total Communications Program. The award for TECA’s Brighter Tennessee campaign was presented at NRECA’s Connect Conference in Seattle.

“The Brighter Tennessee campaign was developed to help co-op consumers and community leaders better understand the impact electric co-ops have on the people and places we serve,” says Trent Scott, vice president of corporate strategy for TECA. “Co-ops are making significant investments in Tennessee’s future, and the Brighter Tennessee campaign tells that story in a compelling way.”

“We are honored by this recognition from NRECA and the Council for Rural Electric Communicators,” says David Callis, executive vice president and general manager for the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “We are very proud of our communications program, and it is exciting to be recognized at this level.”

The annual Spotlight on Excellence Awards program recognizes the best communication and marketing efforts by electric cooperatives and related organizations. Entrants competed with electric cooperatives of similar size in 18 categories. Electric cooperative communicators and marketing professionals submitted more nearly 600 entries in the Spotlight on Excellence program. Faculty members from the University of Missouri – Columbia and University of South Carolina, as well as noted professionals in the fields of marketing, web design and digital communications, and newspapers judged the event, which uses a finite scoring system to determine the winners.

In addition to TECA’s recognition for Best Total Communications Program, Appalachian Electric Cooperative and Middle Tennessee Electric also received Spotlight on Excellence Awards. AEC was recognized with a Gold Award for Best Internal Newsletter and a Gold Award for Best Photo. Middle Tennessee Electric received a Gold Award for Best Ad Campaign and a Gold Award for Best Individual Ad.

NASHVILLE – More than 45 high school juniors from across the state are in Nashville this week for the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association’s annual Youth Leadership Summit.

Delegates to the event receive a hands-on look at state government, learn networking and leadership skills and develop a better understanding of their local electric cooperatives.

Tre Hargett, Tennessee Secretary of State, welcomed the students to the Capitol where they visited with legislators, sat in on committee meetings and debated and voted on a mock bill.

In addition to meeting lawmakers and experiencing the state Capital, students also developed their leadership and teambuilding skills at the Joe C. Davis YMCA Outdoor Center at Camp Widjiwagen, completed a leadership training course with leadership expert Amy Gallimore and met Trooper Shane Moore and K9 officer Sumo from the Tennessee Executive Protection Detail. Students also spent a morning at Middle Tennessee Electric in Murfreesboro for a behind-the-scenes look at an electric cooperative.

“Meeting our state representatives was amazing,” said Madison Gean, a junior from Hardin County High School and a Youth Leadership Summit delegate from Tennessee Valley Electric Cooperative in Savannah. “We’ve all learned so much. You can always grow and adapt and build leadership skills, and I am grateful for this opportunity. Please continue to do this for other young students.”

Delegates to the Youth Leadership Summit are encouraged to be leaders and use their talents to improve rural Tennessee. “The future is built on the investments we make today, and there is no greater investment that we can make than to prepare these young people to face the opportunities and challenges of tomorrow,” says Todd Blocker, vice president of member relations for the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association and director of the Youth Leadership Summit. “These students are selected by their local electric co-ops, school officials and guidance counselors, and they truly are the best and the brightest. The Youth Leadership Summit is an example of the many ways that electric co-ops are building a brighter Tennessee.”

NASHVILLE – More than 140 electric co-op leaders from across the state were in Nashville on Tuesday and Wednesday, Feb. 15 and 16, for the 2022 Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association Legislative Conference. During meetings with legislators on Capitol Hill, co-op members and employees stressed the important role that co-ops play in their communities and briefed lawmakers on issues that impact rural and suburban Tennessee.

Gov. Bill Lee welcomed attendees to Nashville on Wednesday morning. “The services you provide to rural Tennesseans are incredibly important,” said Lee.

Tennessee’s electric cooperatives maintain a visible presence in Nashville and Washington, D.C., to protect the interests of co-ops and their consumer-owners. “Electric co-ops are complex and heavily regulated businesses, and the decisions made by legislators can have a significant impact on the affordability and reliability of the energy they provide to millions of families across Tennessee,” says David Callis, CEO of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “We must tell the electric cooperative story and educate lawmakers about the impact of proposed legislation.”

“Advocating for our members doesn’t stop at the edge of our service territory. It is critically important that our elected leaders keep cooperatives in mind when crafting laws and regulations that impact us,” says Dave Cross, president of TECA’s board of trustees and CEO of Plateau Electric Cooperative, headquartered in Oneida. “We have a responsibility to our communities to tell their story.”

Broadband was a topic discussed during visits with legislators. “We’ve invested heavily in broadband expansion, and you’re key to that,” said Gov. Lee. “Unless every Tennessean has access to opportunity – every kid in the urban center and every kid in the farthest-reaching rural communities – then we have not done our job. The ways we do that in large part is through the services and technology that you make possible.”

More than 100 legislative visits were made during the conference, and many legislators from across the state attended a reception honoring members of the Tennessee General Assembly.

 

FOR MORE INFORMATION
Trent Scott | Vice President of Strategy | 615.515.5534 | [email protected]

NASHVILLE – Electric co-ops across west and middle Tennessee today are preparing for a significant winter storm that is expected to impact the Volunteer State overnight and Thursday.

“Damage caused by ice can be widespread and create extended power outages,” says Trent Scott, vice president of corporate strategy for the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “Co-ops are closely monitoring forecasts and preparing crews and equipment to respond quickly if outages occur, and we encourage our members to get ready for the potential of power outages, especially in the hardest hit areas.”

When ice builds up, the added weight can break trees, poles and wires leading to power outages. Co-ops crews will work to restore power, but there are a few things you can do to prepare.

Stay warm

Plan to use a safe alternate heating source, such as a fireplace or wood-burning stove during a power outage. These are great options to keep you and your loved ones warm, but exercise caution when using, and never leave the heating source unattended. If you are using gasoline-, propane- or natural gas-burning devices to stay warm, never use them indoors. Remember that fuel- and wood-burning sources of heat should always be properly ventilated. Always read the manufacturer’s directions before using.

Stay fed

The CDC recommends having several days’ supply of food that does not need to be cooked handy. Crackers, cereal, canned goods and bread are good options. Five gallons of water per person should also be available in the event of an extended power outage.

Stay safe

When an outage occurs, it usually means power lines are down. It is best not to travel during winter storms, but if you must, bring a survival kit along, and do not travel alone. If you encounter downed lines, always assume they are live. Stay as far away from the downed lines as possible, and report the situation to your local electric co-op. Take caution when using generators. Follow all directions and do not connect a generator to your home’s electrical system without proper equipment and inspections. Check on the welfare of neighbors, especially the elderly.

Vanderbilt University, Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), Nashville Electric Service (NES), Duck River Electric Membership Corporation (DREMC), and Silicon Ranch Corporation broke ground today on a new solar farm that is now under construction in Bedford County, Tennessee. The 35-megawatt (MWAC) Vanderbilt I Solar Farm is expected to begin producing power before the end of 2022, bringing new renewable generation to the Tennessee Valley.

Originally announced in January 2020, the partnership was the first of its kind under TVA’s nationally-recognized Green Invest Program, which matches demand for green power from diverse business, industrial and organizational customers with new utility-scale solar projects located within the Valley. The award-winning renewable energy program offers customers an effective, timely, and cost-competitive solution to meet their sustainability goals in a way that benefits the broader community.

“Today marks a milestone for the Tennessee Valley as we break ground on the first project ever developed under TVA’s Green Invest program, and we are thrilled to be doing so with Vanderbilt University, our long-term partners NES and DREMC, and our local renewable energy partner Silicon Ranch,” said Jeannette Mills, TVA Executive Vice President and Chief External Relations Officer. “Together with 153 local power company partners, TVA is building the energy system of the future.  Green Invest has positioned us to bring together customers and renewable energy partners who are all investing in our communities.”

In 2019, Vanderbilt announced its goal to power the campus entirely through renewable energy and become carbon neutral by 2050. The renewable generation from the Vanderbilt I will offset approximately 70% of Vanderbilt University’s annual Scope 2 greenhouse gas emissions, or the equivalent of enough power to help serve more than 6,000 homes for one year.

“We are excited to partner with TVA, NES, and Silicon Ranch on this landmark solar project, which we hope will provide a model of collaborative, forward-thinking solutions that can be adopted by other organizations in our region and across the country,” said Daniel Diermeier, Chancellor of Vanderbilt University. “The Vanderbilt I Solar Farm will generate new jobs and tax revenues for the local community and also yield new educational and research opportunities for our faculty and our students—setting a bold precedent for how we can continue to work together on behalf of our shared future.”

Nashville-based Silicon Ranch is funding the project and plans to hire more than 250 craft workers, the majority of whom will be recruited from the Bedford County area and the military veteran community, to install the facility. Silicon Ranch will also own, operate, and maintain the Vanderbilt I Solar Farm, a disciplined approach the company takes with every project it develops.

“Several of our colleagues and I are proud Vanderbilt alumni, and all of us at Silicon Ranch applaud this world-class institution for its bold and thoughtful leadership,” said Matt Kisber, Co-Founder and Chairman of Silicon Ranch. “Thanks to Vanderbilt’s commitment and the vision of our friends at TVA, NES, and DREMC, Silicon Ranch is on pace to invest well over $1 billion in renewable energy projects across the Tennessee Valley, and we are proud to expand this legacy to Bedford County.”

To facilitate the Vanderbilt I Solar Farm, Vanderbilt entered into an agreement with TVA and NES, the university’s local power company. The solar project will interconnect to the electric grid through the distribution system of another local power company, DREMC.

“NES is proud to partner with TVA, Vanderbilt, DREMC and Silicon Ranch to reduce carbon emissions in our region,” said Decosta Jenkins, President and CEO of NES. “We are committed to providing safe, reliable, and affordable power while continuing to listen to our customers’ needs.”

“Duck River Electric is thrilled to support this project and our friends at Vanderbilt, NES, TVA, and Silicon Ranch on this journey,” said Scott Spence, President and CEO of DREMC. “It is a privilege to be part of helping Vanderbilt achieve their sustainability goals, while ensuring the members of Duck River Electric do not incur any of the expense.”

The Vanderbilt I Solar Farm will utilize Silicon Ranch’s transformative Regenerative Energy® land management model, a holistic approach to design, construction, and operations that co-locates renewable energy production with regenerative agriculture practices. The innovative platform delivers valuable environmental, social, and economic outcomes above and beyond the significant positive impacts a solar facility alone can generate, creating additional value for the surrounding communities and project stakeholders. Once the project is operational, Silicon Ranch will restore the land to a functioning grassland ecosystem while keeping the project in agricultural production through managed sheep grazing using regenerative land management practices.

Murfreesboro, Tenn. – Middle Tennessee Electric (MTE) President and CEO Chris Jones has received the 2022 J.C. Brown CEO Communication Leadership Award. The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) presented Jones the award at the organization’s CEO Close-Up Conference Jan. 10 in Phoenix. 

According to NRECA, the J.C. Brown Award “recognizes an electric cooperative or public power district CEO/general manager who is committed to advancing communication at the cooperative and in the electric cooperative industry.”  

Jones has an extensive background in the communications field, graduating from the University of Tennessee with a degree in communications and starting his career as a journalist and editor. He went to work at MTE in 1999, serving as communications coordinator and the VP of communications and member services before being named CEO in 2013. 

“We should understand, yet not be intimidated by, the reality that communication is work that is never finished and demands intentionality and continuous improvement,” Jones said. “I have been studying communication since college and attempting to execute it throughout my professional career, and I know I still have much to learn and improve upon. However, I am humbled by and appreciative of this recognition from NRECA.” 

Jones emphasizes the importance of clear, simple and repeated communication across multiple channels to all of MTE’s audiences, always striving to meet the goal of making the lives of MTE members better. In recent years, his leadership and robust communication efforts have navigated the organization through a major tornado in its service area, several severe weather events, the acquisition of United Communications, the merger with the Murfreesboro Electric Department, the continued impacts of COVID-19 and a complete brand refresh. 

His nomination was given a perfect score by one of the three judges who helped select this year’s winner and another mentioned his “notable” use of a strategic plan to communicate the organization’s mission and goals with both employees and members. 

Weather impacts us all. And this past December was no exception, bringing severe weather to our region. The losses were devastating. My heart goes out to everyone who was affected by the storms. I truly hope that things are on the mend and life is improving. While we all do our best to be aware of severe weather and keep our families safe by hunkering down in an interior closet or a concrete bunker as tornadoes pass, protecting the electric grid is another story entirely.

Storms can severely impact businesses and different industries in a variety of ways. For example, several years ago, I participated in an educational conference that was primarily attended by people involved in agriculture. At that time, there was a large storm system packing hurricane-force winds moving into the Southeast. I was concerned about the effects it would have on the electric grid. The other attendees were concerned about their crops and livestock. All of us were concerned — but for very different reasons. That was an eye-opener for me.

While weather impacts us all, for those of us in the electric utility industry, what happens to our systems affects everyone. In our industry, we keep a close eye on the weather, depending on the National Weather Service, local and national meteorologists, private weather and climate experts, and our own in-house specialists. In early December, we knew the potential for damaging storms existed at least two days before the storms hit on the 10th and 11th.

But no matter what precautions we take to limit loss of life, we can’t do anything about the infrastructure that keeps our homes comfortable and the economy moving.

The December storm was one of the most devastating to hit our region in more than a decade. Not only were many lives lost and homes and businesses destroyed, but the infrastructure that provides power to all of us was also severely damaged.

Your cooperative depends on wholesale delivery of power by the Tennessee Valley Authority, which generates the power and then uses its transmission system to deliver electricity to your local utility.

The destruction to TVA’s transmission system was the worst since 2011; the storm damaged 97 TVA power structures (towers and poles), and 29 transmission line sections were downed. Some towers were destroyed. The result was that even if local utility lines were intact, there was no power to the substation to be able to serve those people.

Compounding this disaster was a lack of materials available to effect repairs. Transformers, which are required to bring the electricity safely into your home at voltages you can use, have been in short supply for months. In recent years, multiple storms have affected numerous utilities, resulting in limited inventories. Manufacturers and suppliers have yet to meet increased demand after being sidelined during the pandemic.

Like always, we pulled together. TVA, Tennessee’s electric co-ops, municipal power providers and contractors restored power as quickly as possible to the communities impacted. Even in the face of tragedy, it was encouraging to see how many rushed to provide assistance when neighbors needed help.

We’ve done this before, and we’ll do it again. We can’t prevent disasters; we can only plan on how we respond. Hopefully, it will a long time before we have to do it again — at least on this scale.

Please click here to learn how you can help recovery efforts.

On the evening on Friday, Dec. 10, a series of violent tornadoes ripped through Tennessee and Kentucky. Hundreds of homes were damaged or destroyed, and 77 lost their lives.

In the wake of the storm, many are looking for opportunities to assist.

Danny Jowers, emergency management
director for Obion County stands in front of a mountain of donated items in the Samburg, Tenn., resource center.

“The outpouring has been phenomenal,” said Danny Jowers, emergency management director for Obion County as he worked in the Samburg resource center that was established in the days following the storm. “We have plenty of supplies, but if someone wants to make a monetary donation, find a way to do that. People are going to need funds to get their lives back – for housing, for rent or other things they’ll need.”

Several organizations are working in or collecting funds for the affected areas. Some are focused exclusively on co-op employees, while others are providing support for entire communities.

Below is a list of some ways to help victims of the tornadoes.

Kentucky Rural Electric Disaster Fund

Kentucky Electric Cooperatives has organized a fund to assist members of the co-op family who face challenges after disasters and for the aid of communities served by co-ops. Contribute online: https://kyelectric.coop/2021/12/15/kentucky-rural-electric-disaster-fund/

Sensus/Xylem Matching Fund

Sensus, an associate member of TECA, has partnered with Americares to collect funds for those impacted. Sensus/Xylem will match funds up to $25,000 for any donations provided. These funds will go directly into affected areas to assist with real-time needs. Contribute online: https://mywatermark.benevity.org/community/fundraiser/5759

Additional Community and Faith-based Funds

Obion County Tornado Relief Fund
Security Bank and Trust Company
securitybanktn.com • 731-642-6644

Samburg Relief Fund
Security Bank and Trust Company
securitybanktn.com • 731-642-6644

Lake Road Relief Fund
Simmons Bank
simmonsbank.com

The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee
Middle Tennessee Emergency Response Fund
cfmt.org/tornado2021 • 888-540-5200

American Red Cross
redcross.org • 1-800-RED CROSS

Southern Baptist Churches Disaster Relief
tnbaptist.org • 615-373-2255

United Methodist Committee on Relief
umcmission.org • 800-862-4246

Churches of Christ Disaster Relief
churchesofchristdrt.org • 937-308-7593

Samaritan’s Purse
samaritanspurse.org • 828-262-1980

 

If you are aware of other groups or funds who are supporting the recovery effort, please contact Trent Scott.

Crews from Tennessee’s electric co-ops worked through the weekend after a line of severe storms, some producing long-track tornadoes, moved through Tennessee Friday evening and Saturday morning. Initially more than 20,000 co-op consumers were affected by outages, but crews have reduced than number down to fewer than 4,000.

Gibson Electric Membership Corporation, which provides power to particularly hard hit areas of northwest Tennessee and southwest Kentucky, continues to restore power to those impacted. They are being assisted by crews from neighboring co-ops including Southwest Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation, Pickwick Electric Cooperative, Forked Deer Electric Cooperative and Chickasaw Electric Cooperative; neighboring municipal systems including Jackson Energy Authority and Milan Department of Public Utilities; and several contract crews from Service Electric.

“The tornadoes left broken poles on every road they crossed from the Mississippi River to the eastern boundary of our service area,” said Barry Smith, Vice President of Engineering and Operations for Gibson Electric Membership Corporation. “The damage amounts to hundreds of broken poles.”

“Even with all of Gibson EMC’s lineworkers and lineworkers from neighboring utilities, repairing the monumental damage is a painfully slow process,” said Dan Rodamaker, President and CEO of Gibson Electric Membership Corporation and Gibson Connect, the co-op’s broadband subsidiary. “We know how very difficult a lengthy outage is for our members and we are pushing hard to restore electric and internet service as quickly as we safely can.”

Restoration to all homes able to receive power may take several more days.

“The images coming out of northwest Tennessee and southwest Kentucky are truly remarkable,” says David Callis, executive vice president and general manager for the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “Tennessee’s electric co-ops, municipal power providers and contractors are working together to restore power as quickly as possible to those communities. Even in the face of tragedy, it is encouraging to see how many rush to provide assistance when neighbors need help.”

Columbia, Tenn. – Duck River Electric Membership Corporation (DREMC), an electric provider serving 2,500 square miles of middle Tennessee, and United Communications, Middle Tennessee’s leading provider of fiber and fixed wireless internet services, announced today that they are collaborating to expand broadband access to underserved areas across Middle Tennessee.

Industry data indicates that while average household demand for internet data has grown over 38 times in the past decade, approximately 18% of Tennesseans live in unserved areas for broadband internet. The lack of broadband infrastructure in rural areas has resulted in a digital divide, subjecting those without high-speed internet to a significant disadvantage in career development, telemedicine, and social engagement opportunities.

DREMC reinforces its commitment to the members they serve by advancing high-speed internet connectivity. Through the development of a robust fiber backbone that enhances service dependability, DREMC is not only delivering safe and reliable electricity at the lowest possible cost but also supporting United in building a reliable fiber and fixed wireless network in the region.

United is a subsidiary of Middle Tennessee Electric (MTE), and that partnership supports the effort to deliver high-speed internet to underserved areas in Middle Tennessee, the mission of United’s Project UNITE initiative. By collaborating to bridge the digital divide, United, MTE, and now DREMC can expedite the delivery of high-speed internet to areas of need. Specific to DREMC, the relationship solidifies expansion for broadband, especially for many communities that lack adequate internet access.

Project UNITE was initiated by United to focus on rural communities to connect unserved homes and businesses, partner with local stakeholders, companies, and governments seeking grant support, and deliver industry-leading customer experience.

The announcement was made by Scott Spence, President and CEO of DREMC, and William Bradford, President and CEO of United Communications, in conjunction with Chris Jones, President, and CEO of MTE, at the DREMC Office in Columbia, TN, on December 10, 2021.

“DREMC is proud to be part of the solution to the internet needs of members in underserved areas. The first step in this journey began in 2018 with the initial work needed to develop a 386-mile fiber backbone that allows DREMC to better serve members and provide important infrastructure for established internet providers to utilize,” said Spence. “Today, we are excited to partner with United Communications to further leverage what DREMC has built for the benefit of the members we serve. This is a key step in being part of the solution to deliver reliable, competitively priced internet with a focus on customer care.”

The effort to build out the southern Tennessee network is greatly enhanced by DREMC’s foresight and proactivity in establishing a fiber ring throughout their service area that is expected to be complete in mid-2022. United’s expertise in fiber and fixed wireless, combined with DREMC’s assets and permits, provides an effective and efficient way to enter the next phase of delivering broadband and a world-class smart grid.

“United is a local company that serves our customers with the same focus and care that Duck River Electric delivers to their members,” said Bradford. “This relationship creates a powerful bond between two companies that can benefit from each other’s resources and expedite the pathway to internet access, speed, and reliability that everyone deserves. For example, in partnership with MTE, we have been able to build and offer connectivity to over 12,000 unserved locations,” added Bradford. “We understand the special relationship cooperatives have with their members and believe we can apply the knowledge and experience we gained with MTE’s success and leverage that for the benefit of DREMC members.”

“A fundamental cooperative principle is cooperatives supporting cooperatives.” Added MTE President and CEO Chris Jones. “I’m so pleased to see MTE’s broadband company, United Communications, in a position to support our sister cooperative in expanding important service to DREMC members.”

As more planning develops, DREMC members will be able to check if their address is serviceable by United and register their interest by visiting https://united.net.

Additional information on the partnership can be found at www.United.net/DREMC or learn more about Project UNITE at www.United.net/project-unite.

Nonprofit, fully online university will provide $50,000 in scholarships through its “Power Your Future” initiative for new students who are electric cooperative members 

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Oct. 28, 2021) – In an effort to empower residents in rural areas of Tennessee to go back to school and further their education, WGU Tennessee, an affiliate of Western Governors University, has announced it has partnered with Tennessee’s electric cooperatives to provide $50,000 in scholarships to residents who are served by an electric cooperative and are interested in pursuing a degree from the online, nonprofit university. The “Power Your Future” scholarship is open to new students in rural areas of Tennessee who are consumers of, or live in a household served by, one of the 23 rural electric co-ops that power rural Tennessee.

Learn more about the Power Your Future scholarship

“Electric co-ops and WGU share a mutual goal of supporting and investing in the future of rural communities,” said David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “This partnership with WGU will provide new opportunities for the 2.5 million Tennesseans served by electric co-ops in Tennessee to pursue a degree in higher education without the barrier of cost. We are excited to be on the front lines of building a brighter Tennessee.”

WGU is a leader in providing fully online, affordable, competency-based education to working adults who are interested in furthering their skillset but need the flexibility of online education to fit their busy lives. Through the “Power Your Future” scholarships, WGU aims to empower students in rural Tennessee who are committed to going back to school to complete their undergraduate or graduate degrees. Each scholarship is valued at up to $3,000 and will be applied at a rate of $750 per six-month term.

To be eligible, scholarship applicants must be officially admitted to WGU and enrolled in one of the university’s more than 60 accredited bachelor’s and master’s degree programs in business, information technology, K–12 teacher education, and health professions, including nursing. Students must also complete the scholarship application at wgu.edu/power and be interviewed by a WGU scholarship counselor. Recipients will be selected based on academic records, financial need, readiness for online study, and current competency, among other considerations.

“We are delighted to partner with Tennessee’s electric cooperatives in this important venture, making education more accessible and affordable for working adults across Tennessee,” said Kim Estep, chancellor of WGU Tennessee and vice president, Southeast Region of WGU. “Together we seek to provide a streamlined approach and expand access to higher education, particularly for rural residents served by electric cooperatives who do not have easy access to high-quality higher education in their communities.”

Over 4,000 Tennesseans are currently enrolled at WGU Tennessee, which has conferred more than 7,000 degrees in the state.

For more information about WGU or the Power Your Future scholarship, visit wgu.edu/power.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bob Rolfe and SP-Teri officials announced today that the company will relocate its headquarters and manufacturing operations from Nashville to McEwen, creating 35 new jobs.

“We appreciate SP-Teri’s continued commitment to Tennessee,” said Gov. Bill Lee. “This expansion of 35 new jobs and relocation to Humphreys County will positively impact this community that continues to recover and rebuild from the flood in August.”

SP-Teri chose to relocate following the 2020 Nashville tornado when its facility was destroyed. Through this new expansion and relocation, SP-Teri will invest $435,000 in its new McEwen operations, located at 55 High Street West.

“TVA and Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative congratulate SP-Teri on its decision to expand operations in Humphreys County,” said John Bradley, TVA senior vice president of Economic Development. “It’s always an exciting day when we can celebrate a company’s commitment to continued growth in the Valley. We are proud to partner with the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development and the Humphreys County Economic Development Council to support companies, like SP-Teri, to create job opportunities and investment in the region and celebrate this announcement together.”

For over 50 years, SP-Teri has created high quality boots for elite figure skaters. After being shut down for almost a year, this expansion will allow SP-Teri to not only restart its operations, but expand its product offerings to make roller plates and trucks as well as inline skates.

In the last five years, TNECD has supported more than 200 economic development projects in Northern Middle Tennessee resulting in nearly 50,000 job commitments and roughly $8.4 billion in capital investment.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bob Rolfe and Lodge Manufacturing Company officials today announced the company will invest $56 million to expand its South Pittsburg facility, where it has operated for 125 years.

“For 125 years, Lodge has called South Pittsburg home and relied on skilled Tennesseans to make products that last for generations,” said Gov. Bill Lee. “I’m proud that this respected brand continues to thrive in our state, and we thank the company for its additional investment in Southeast Tennessee.”

In order to meet increased demand, Lodge will expand and reconfigure its existing facility and add additional manufacturing equipment to enhance production capabilities. Lodge will create 239 new jobs as a result of the expansion.

“TVA and Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative congratulate Lodge Manufacturing on its decision to expand operations in Marion County,” said John Bradley, TVA senior vice president of Economic Development. “It’s always an exciting day when we can celebrate one of our region’s most long-standing companies and its continued commitment to growth in the Valley. We are proud to partner with Marion County Government, City of South Pittsburg Government, and Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development to help support companies, like Lodge Manufacturing’s business success.”

Founded in 1896, Lodge is a fifth-generation, family-owned company that manufactures the largest selection of American made cast iron cookware. Lodge operates two foundries in South Pittsburg, the second of which opened in 2017 and increased the company’s manufacturing capacity by 75%.

Lodge offers a variety of products ranging from its signature seasoned cast iron to enameled cast iron and carbon steel cookware. Customers can also shop a wide range of items specifically made for grilling or baking.

For more information about Lodge Manufacturing Company, visit lodgecastiron.com. To view open positions, visit lodgecastiron.com/careers.

Nashville, TENN. – Nearly 300 electric co-op employees participated in the fifth annual Tennessee Electric Cooperative Day of Service on Thursday, Oct. 21. Twenty individual service projects were completed across the state with 292 employees from 10 electric co-ops volunteering more than 700 hours in service to their local communities. This year’s projects included painting and repairing playground equipment, cleaning a small business damaged in the Waverly flood and coordinating food, clothing, classroom supply and toy drives.

“Our commitment to the people and places we serve runs deep,” says Trent Scott, TECA’s vice president of corporate strategy and organizer of the event. “Our employees are raising families in these communities, and they want to give back. The Day of Service is an opportunity for our employees to complete projects that have a real impact.”

Sponsors for the 2021 Day of Service were Bass, Berry and Sims, Calix, Silicon Ranch, Tennessee811 and The Tennessee Magazine.

In the five-year history of the Day of Service event, 1,900 employees have volunteered more than 4,900 hours to complete 116 individual projects in co-op communities across the state.

Co-ops participating in the 2021 Day of Service and the projects they completed were:

  • Caney Fork Electric Cooperative – Coordinated Christmas toy drive for area children
  • Cumberland Electric Membership Corporation – Painted playground equipment for local schools
  • Fayetteville Public Utilities – delivered gift bags to residents in local assisted living and nursing facilities
  • Gibson Electric Membership Corporation – Provided classroom supplies for 11 teachers and 96 students
  • Pickwick Electric Cooperative – Assisted the Jesus Cares Thrift Store and packed and delivered care packages to nursing home residents
  • Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association – Helped clean a small business impacted by the Waverly, Tenn., flood
  • Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative – Donated meals to local healthcare workers and raised money for a veterans group
  • Volunteer Energy Cooperative – donated food to food banks and a back pack program

In the photo: Caney Fork Electric Cooperative employees collect toys to ensure that area children have a special holiday.

DETROIT – Ford Motor Company announced Monday that it has selected the Memphis Regional Megasite for one of the largest battery and vehicle manufacturing campuses in the U.S. The partnership between Ford and SK Innovation is a $5.6 billion investment that will bring 5,800 new jobs to the region. Called Blue Oval City, the complex will be constructed on a nearly 6-square-mile site near Stanton in West Tennessee and build next-generation electric F-Series pickups and advanced batteries.

“This is a watershed moment for Tennesseans as we lead the future of the automotive industry and advanced manufacturing,” said Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee.

The site, located approximately 25 miles east of Memphis and 32 miles west of Jackson, lies within the service areas of two electric cooperatives: Southwest Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation and Chickasaw Electric Cooperative. While the assembly plant is expected to be directly served by the Tennessee Valley Authority, both co-ops expect the project to have a significant impact.

“The scope of this project is unlike anything Tennessee has ever seen,” said Kevin Murphy, CEO of Southwest Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation and board president of TECA. “This development will have a lasting impact on the communities we serve and all of West Tennessee. We are honored that Ford selected our region to for this historic investment, and we are celebrating the exciting opportunities that this will create.”

“This week’s Ford announcement will have a lasting, positive affect on our region,” said Loyd Muncy, CEO of Chickasaw Electric Cooperative. “The economic opportunities created by a project of this size will benefit Chickasaw Electric, our consumers and all the communities we serve for generations.”

Blue Oval City will be designed to be the largest, most advanced and most efficient automotive production campus in Ford’s history. The campus will include the Ford assembly plant, a supplier park and a battery manufacturing plant operated by BlueOvalSK, Ford and SK Innovation’s joint venture. The site will become a vertically integrated ecosystem with key suppliers and battery manufacturing on the same campus where Ford will assemble next generation all-electric F-Series trucks.

The Ford buildout of the Memphis Regional Megasite is anticipated to result in significant job creation and capital investment. The Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development projected the following:

  • The project is anticipated to generate more than 27,000 new jobs, both directly and indirectly, to support the site’s operations. This will result in more than $1.02 billion in annual earnings.
  • This project is anticipated to contribute $3.5 billion each year to Tennessee’s gross state product.
  • This project is also expected to generate temporary construction benefits, including $5.6 billion spent on land, buildings and other real property improvements. Additionally, more than 32,000 jobs are expected to support the construction period with around $1.87 billion in salaries related to construction activity.

“Today is a historic day as we welcome Ford Motor Company and SK Innovation to Tennessee,” said Tennessee Department of Economic Development Commissioner Bob Rolfe. “The ripple effect resulting from these projects will be transformational for our state, especially West Tennessee, and we are most grateful for this enormous investment and the addition of two top global brands. To have such a world renowned, American company land as our first tenant at the Memphis Regional Megasite underscores the site’s strength and potential for additional joint venture partners and suppliers.”

Murfreesboro, Tenn. – The Nominating Committee of Middle Tennessee Electric (MTE) announced today that Vanessa Hickman will serve on the MTE Board of Directors, completing the term of the seat vacated by the retirement of Tom Purkey.

Hickman was nominated to the Board after submitting her candidacy during the submission period and completing an interview process.

She will fill the Wilson County District 4A seat left open by the retirement of Tom Purkey, who moved out of the MTE service territory after serving on the Board for nine years.

Regarding Hickman’s nomination, MTE’s Board Chairman Mike Woods said, “Vanessa is a dedicated and highly respected member of our community, and we have no doubt her skills will be an asset to our Board. We’re honored to have her fill this role, and we appreciate the work of the Nominating Committee in exercising its duty to fill the board vacancy through an open process.”

Hickman recently retired from the Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority as Assistant Vice President of Information Technology and was the Authority’s first Chief Information Officer. Over the course of a career spanning more than 40 years, including roles at Gaylord Entertainment and IBM, she provided information systems advice on managing IT applications and applying technology to support business goals.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in business management from East Tennessee State University and a master’s degree in healthcare informatics from Lipscomb University. Hickman is a Certified Member of the American Association of Airport Executives and serves as an adjunct professor of healthcare informatics at Trevecca Nazarene University. In addition to her new role on the MTE Board, she has been heavily involved with various community organizations throughout the years. Currently, she is a member of Women of Technology in Tennessee and the Nashville Technology Council (NTC), of which she recently was inducted into their Hall of Fame.

Additional recognitions and honors throughout her prestigious career include Fifty Forward’s 2019 Harriet Folley Leadership Award and being named a 2019 finalist for the NTC CIO of the Year award.

Hickman lives in Mt. Juliet with her husband, James, and they have a daughter, Jamette.