NASHVILLE, Tenn. – A strong tornado moved through Nashville and parts of middle Tennessee overnight leaving significant damage in its wake.

Several middle Tennessee co-ops are reporting outages this morning, including Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation which currently has 19,000 consumers without power and Upper Cumberland Electric Membership Corporation which has 10,000 out. Other systems that have reported outages include Cumberland Electric Membership Corporation, Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative and Tri-County Electric Membership Corporation.

Upper Cumberland Electric’s Cookeville office received significant damage, and at least one Middle Tennessee Electric employee lost his home.

TECA employees and their families are safe, and the TECA office was not damaged.

TECA has not received any requests for mutual aid, but we are prepared to assist as needs arise.

“Our hearts go out to our friends and neighbors who have experienced loss this morning,” said David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of TECA. “We will work with state and local leaders to help Nashville and the middle Tennessee region recover.”

TECA is establishing a fund to assist co-op employees who have lost homes and property. We will share additional information on this as soon as the details have been finalized.

Photo by Sam Shamburger

Trenton, Tenn. — Yesterday the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development Donald “DJ” LaVoy announced the award of a $31.9 million low-interest loan to Gibson Electric Membership Corporation to build high-speed broadband infrastructure in parts of western Kentucky and western Tennessee.  Gibson EMC has been working to provide high-speed internet access to its consumer-members since 2017, when the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act was passed and the cooperative formed Gibson Connect, its wholly-owned, not-for-profit broadband subsidiary.

“Gibson EMC is grateful our ReConnect loan application was approved,” said Gibson EMC and Gibson Connect President and CEO Dan Rodamaker.  “This low-interest loan will enable us to more affordably deploy broadband to our members,” he said.  “We will use the funds primarily in parts of Hickman and Fulton counties in Kentucky and Obion County in Tennessee, as well as some areas in neighboring Carlisle and Graves counties in Kentucky and Lake, Dyer and Weakley counties in Tennessee.”

Gibson Connect is in its second year of a 3,100-mile construction project covering parts of four Kentucky counties and eight Tennessee counties.  The project is being done in phases and is expected to take another three to four years to complete.

Gibson EMC’s members are driving the order of construction.  The co-op’s 12-county service area is divided into zones based on substations and communities. Members can show support of this project and speed construction in their area by registering for the service at join.gibsonconnect.com. Zones that have reached their participation goals and zones funded by grants the cooperative has applied for and received are being built first.

 “Ultimately we plan to provide high-speed, fiber-based internet service access to all of our members,” Rodamaker said. “Access to this essential service can enable our members to enjoy a better quality of life and help our communities thrive,” he said.  “We’re honored to partner with the USDA to help bridge the digital divide.”

Caption:  USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development Donald “DJ” LaVoy (center) and Hilda Legg, State Director of USDA Rural Development-Kentucky (at podium) congratulate Gibson EMC and Gibson Connect President and CEO Dan Rodamaker on being awarded a $31.9 million ReConnect low-interest loan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 – American Mainstreet Publications presented The Tennessee Magazine editor Robin Conover with the Lynne Christenson Award of Excellence at the organization’s annual meeting this week in Alabama.

American Mainstreet Publications is an advertising cooperative owned by electric co-op statewide publications. The Lynne Christenson Award of Excellence is presented to an AMP member who exemplifies the work ethic, tenacity and professionalism of Lynne Christenson, former advertising manager for Kentucky Living Magazine. Christenson was a passionate advocate for electric co-op magazines before losing a battle with cancer in 2015.

“Robin exhibited a strong and steady hand guiding the National Country Market membership through its rebranding as American MainStreet Publications,” said Mona Neely, editor of Colorado Living Magazine and AMP board member. “She has kept the board focused on supporting our team as it works to make AMP relevant in an ever-changing and fast-moving marketplace. She did this all while maintaining the excellence of her own magazine and excelling as an amazing photographer.”

“A team leader who gave 110% all the time, dreamed big, thought outside the box and followed through to make thing happen is how I would describe Lynne Christenson,” said Conover. “Lynne was a mentor and a dear friend of mine. I am humbled and honored to receive this award. She was a passionate leader who always had the mission of the electric cooperatives and our magazines at heart. As advertising manager for Kentucky Living, Lynne led our national sales cooperative, National Country Market, now known as American MainStreet Publications. She helped define how we approach sales and advertising with our national network of electric cooperative magazines. Lynn was a good friend, and I am honored to receive this award.”

“Robin’s talents are no secret, and we enjoy when others recognize and honor those talents,” said David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “We are fortunate to have her on our team.”

“National advertising is increasingly important to our magazines,” said Conover. “AMP plays an important role in recruiting high-quality advertising for the statewide publications. This revenue helps us offset cost and to create better, more effective magazines.”

Robin Conover, center, receives the 2019 Lynne Christenson Award of Excellence from American Mainstreet Publications. Presenting the award are AMP board member Mona Neeley, left, and AMP Senior Vice-president and Chief Operating Officer Mark Adesco, right.

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.

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.


Today two Tennessee co-ops announced projects to expand broadband.

Just over 79 years ago, from the Centerville Courthouse steps in Hickman County, Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative’s first leaders announced its commitment to provide safe, affordable, reliable electricity to areas overlooked by other providers. Today from the same location, MLEC President and CEO Keith Carnahan announced that MLEC was furthering that original initiative and launching Meriwether Lewis Connect, LLC, to deliver broadband internet across the five counties it serves.

“Our areas need broadband for education, healthcare, and community development. Studies show it is a vital need to attract and retain families and businesses,” said Carnahan. “Bringing high-speed internet to all our members is one of the largest investments we’ve made since our inception 79 years ago. It is a huge step in a completely different arena, but helping rural communities build essential services is just another facet of what cooperatives are designed to do.”

Additionally, Middle Tennessee Electric, the state’s largest electric cooperative, and United Communications, Middle Tennessee’s leading provider of fiber and fixed wireless internet services, today announced that they have partnered to expand broadband access to underserved areas across seven counties in Tennessee.

The partnership between Middle Tennessee Electric and United Communications allows the two organizations to combine their resources and decades of experience to offer affordable, high‐speed internet services to members and customers in the coming years and improve quality of life for those in the areas they serve.

“We’re proud to be the first electric cooperative to pursue a partnership of this kind in Tennessee and answer the calls we have long heard from our members. They want and need access to broadband service,” said Chris Jones, president and CEO of Middle Tennessee Electric. “United Communications is the ideal partner for us. They have already built an impressive fiber backbone throughout many areas we serve which will allow us to work together to more rapidly and cost effectively expand internet services.”

This initiative is already under way and full implementation will be a multi‐year process. Based on input from the community, the partnership will prioritize implementation in areas with the highest demand. It allows both organizations to build a world‐class smart grid in the region, at the lowest possible cost, while not impacting Middle Tennessee Electric members’ electric rates, which are some of the lowest in the country.

Both co-op announcements come as a result of the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act signed into law in 2017 by Gov. Bill Haslam. The law removed restrictions to allow co-ops to provide broadband to the communities they serve. Since implementation of the law, eight of the state’s 23 co-ops have announced broadband projects.

NASHVILLE – Electric lineworkers face many dangers – high voltage, heights and extreme weather conditions. Despite these challenges, one of the most dangerous aspects of the job has less to do with what they do and more to do with where they do it.

Lineworkers frequently work alongside busy roadways, often only feet away from passing cars.

Tennessee’s “Move Over” law was passed in 2006 to protect first responders like police officers, firefighters and paramedics. In 2011, Tennessee’s electric cooperatives led a coalition to revise the state’s move over law to include utility workers as well. Unfortunately, seven years after the law was passed, many motorists do not follow it.

“We have had cars come through at high rates of speed, hitting the cones we have set up and clipping the outriggers that we have down to support the trucks,” says Greg Bryant, line foreman for Gibson Electric Membership Corporation in Trenton, Tenn. “I think people care, they just don’t pay attention like they should.”

The requirements of Tennessee’s move over law are simple. On a four lane road, if safety and traffic conditions allow, a driver approaching a utility vehicle with flashing lights should move into the far lane. On a two lane road or when changing lanes is not possible, a driver should reduce their speed.

Electric co-op vehicles aren’t the only utility vehicles covered; service vehicles used by municipal electric systems, telephone companies and utility districts are also protected by the law.

More information about the law is available at moveovertennessee.org.

[NASHVILLE] – More than 135 students from across Tennessee are headed to Washington, D.C., as a part of the 2018 Washington Youth Tour later. The annual event, which begins today, 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 – Going Beyond the Wires” 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 Corker as well as other members of Tennessee’s Congressional delegation.

West Tennessee youth tour delegates received a surprise greeting from Gov. Bill Haslam as they departed on Thursday, June 7, in Jackson. Haslam happened to be in Jackson and boarded the bus to speak with the students. “I hope you have a great time,” said Haslam. “I also hope you fall in love with the idea of serving in public office – whether it’s in Washington, Nashville or on the local city council or school board.”

“As easy as it is to get frustrated with Washington politics, we can’t allow this generation to lose interest in government and public service,” said David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “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.