FBA Recognizes Gibson EMC’s and Gibson Connect’s Charles Phillips

TRENTON, Tenn.—  The Fiber Broadband Association (FBA) recently awarded the Dr. Charles Kao Award for Community Broadband to Charles Phillips, Gibson Electric Membership Corporation VP of Technical Services and Gibson Connect VP of Operations.  The award recognizes individuals, organizations, or companies that honor Dr. Kao’s innovation and connect communities with fiber optic technology.  In its communication, the FBA said Philips is receiving the award in recognition of his work with Gibson EMC and Gibson Connect to build a fiber network throughout the cooperative’s 12-county service area.”

“We are delighted to award Charles Phillips with this honor,” said Fiber Broadband Association President and CEO Gary Bolton. “In a time when connectivity is more important than ever, we commend Charles’ commitment to providing high-speed internet to his community through state-of-the-art fiber broadband.  Congratulations to Charles and the entire Gibson EMC cooperative.”

In his time with Gibson EMC, Phillips has worked extensively with neighboring utilities to create an interconnected regional fiber network that connects 20 distribution systems. This network of independently owned and maintained fiber systems has provided the backbone for a high-speed and low latency network for intra- and inter-utility traffic, as well as inter-utility fiber contracts.

“We are extremely proud of Charles and we appreciate his excellent leadership as Gibson EMC and Gibson Connect work to provide reliable, high-speed internet access to our consumer-members,” said Dan Rodamaker, President and CEO of Gibson EMC and Gibson Connect. “Making this essential service available creates exciting opportunities for our members and communities,” said Rodamaker, “and Charles has been instrumental in the successful implementation of this project.”

Phillips has been with Gibson EMC since 1997.  In addition to his role in the broadband buildout and telecommunications business, Phillips also manages the cooperative’s technical services division.

Gibson Connect is a wholly owned, not-for-profit subsidiary of Gibson EMC formed to provide high-speed internet access to Gibson EMC’s members.  Gibson EMC is a local, not-for-profit, member-owned and member-controlled cooperative serving almost 39,000 homes and businesses in eight west Tennessee counties (Crockett, Dyer, Gibson, Haywood, Lake, Lauderdale, Obion and Madison) and four west Kentucky counties (Carlisle, Fulton, Graves and Hickman).

100% renewable electricity for homes and small businesses

No doubt about it – renewable green energy options are important to an increasing number of people around the globe.

“We want to give our members more options when it comes to purchasing renewable energy, and we’re excited to add Green Switch 100 to our offerings,” said MTE’s Distributed Energy Resources Coordinator Tim Suddoth.

According to Suddoth, Green Switch 100 gives residential members of the cooperative as well as small businesses in rate classes GSA-1 and GSA-2 the option to offset 100% of their monthly electric usage with renewable energy at a low cost.

“For an extra one cent per kilowatt hour, we will do all the leg work to ensure that your monthly energy usage is offset by renewable energy, generated right here in the Tennessee Valley,” reported Suddoth. “So, if you used say 1,350 kilowatt hours of electricity for the month, it would only cost $13.50 to ensure those 1,350 kilowatt hours would be sourced from Valley renewables.”

The mix of renewables, Suddoth says, includes 80% solar, 10% wind and 10% biogas generation, all produced by TVA in the Valley and Green-e Energy certified.

“It is easy, low-cost and local. For people who would like to support green energy in the area yet don’t want to make a long-term commitment, Green Switch 100 is a great option.”

Suddoth explained there is no contract to sign and customers can cancel at any time.

MTE is partnering with TVA and only one other utility out of 153 local power companies in the Valley – Knoxville Utilities Board. Currently, Green Switch 100 will run as a 12-month pilot program to see how it goes.

“We’re hoping the pilot is a success and that Green Switch 100 becomes a permanent part of our menu of renewable energy offerings. We’re always looking for ways to meet our members’ requests for renewable green energy, and we believe this is one of the best options offered for renewable energy,” said Suddoth.

To get signed up or learn more, Suddoth says to visit www.mtemc.com/GreenSwitch100, or you can email him at tim.suddoth@mtemc.com.

Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association holds virtual annual meeting

NASHVILLE – “Building a Brighter Tennessee” was the theme of the 79th annual meeting of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association held Monday, Nov. 23. Though the event was held online, it allowed co-op leaders from across the state to receive industry and legislative updates and hear from Sen. Lamar Alexander and Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee.

“I would like to thank each one of you for all you do for the 2.5 million homes, farms and businesses in rural and suburban Tennessee,” said Alexander in a video address to Tennessee co-ops. “Because of you, the lights stay on, our homes stay warm and cool and Tennesseans have even more access to the internet. You provide Tennesseans with electricity and service that are both reliable and affordable.”

Lee commended electric co-ops for their service to rural Tennessee. “The success of rural Tennessee is a priority that I share with you, and I see electric cooperatives playing a key role in accelerating the transformation of rural communities,” said Lee. “Thank you for your continued innovation and partnership as we work together to build a brighter Tennessee.

Also addressing the membership during the virtual meeting were Phillip Fulmer, athletic director and former head football coach for the University of Tennessee, and David Wasserman, house editor for the non-partisan Cook Political Report.

Co-ops are “building a brighter Tennessee” through investments in energy, broadband, education and community that create a solid foundation for future growth, development and prosperity. Rural Tennessee is stronger, more resilient and better prepared for the future thanks to the work of electric co-ops.

Addressing the membership during the President and General Manager’s Report, Kevin Murphy, CEO of Southwest Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation and board chair of TECA, highlighted the impact that co-op investment has on the people and places they serve. “Despite the uncertainties we face, it is safe to say that Tennessee’s future looks bright, and the work we do will play an important role in that future.”

TECA General Manager David Callis thanked electric co-op employees for their service during this difficult year. “As so much of the country shut down, co-ops went to work,” said Callis. “To each co-op employee who stepped up and did what needed to be done this year – possibly putting the well-being of yourself and your family at risk in the process – we salute you. In a time of darkness and fear, our employees provided light, hope, comfort and connection when it was needed most.”

Prior to the virtual meeting, an online business session and election was held to appoint new members to the association’s board of trustees. Elected to four-year terms were Richard Lacher, director for Tennessee Valley Electric Cooperative; Paul Thompson, CEO of Tri-County Electric Membership Corporation; and Hugh Rogers, director for Tri-State Electric Membership Corporation.

“We congratulate those selected to serve in leadership positions,” said Callis. “Your input, feedback and guidance help the association better meet the needs of our co-ops, and we are grateful for the board’s service.”

The TECA Top Tenn Communications Awards were also announced during the event. Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative received an award for Best External Newsletter or Magazine Section; Appalachian Electric Cooperative, Best Internal Newsletter; Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative, Best Website; Southwest Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation, Best Use of Social Media; and Fayetteville Public Utilities, Best Video. Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative, Appalachian Electric Cooperative  and Gibson Electric Membership Corporation received Awards of Excellence in the Wild Card category.

“We are the people who build stuff,” said Callis. “We build infrastructure. We build connections. We build hope and opportunity. Electric co-ops build a brighter Tennessee.”

The virtual meeting and additional content will be available on the TECA website through the end of December. Visit tnelectric.org/am2020 to learn more.

Nashville, TENN. – More than 400 electric co-op employees participated in the 2020 Tennessee Electric Cooperative Day of Service on Thursday, Oct. 15. Twenty-six individual service projects were completed across the state with 422 employees from 12 electric co-ops volunteering more than 800 hours in service to their local communities. This year’s projects included food and clothing drives, landscaping and various efforts to support healthcare providers and educators.

“Electric co-ops serve their communities every day by keeping the lights on, but the Day of Service takes it a step further,” says Trent Scott, TECA’s vice president of corporate strategy and organizer of the event. “It has been a difficult year, and co-op employees truly care about the places that they live and work. Their compassion was demonstrated through the innovative projects completed this year.”

Sponsors for the 2020 Day of Service were Bass, Berry and Sims, Silicon Ranch, National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corporation, CT Consultants, Magellan Advisors, HomeServe and The Tennessee Magazine.

In the four-year history of the Day of Service event, 1,458 employees have volunteered more than 3,900 hours to complete 101 individual projects in co-op communities across the state.

Co-ops participating in the 2020 Day of Service and the projects they completed were:

  • Chickasaw Electric Cooperative – assisted with the Fayette Cares Food and Toy Drive
  • Cumberland Electric Membership Corporation – organized a virtual food drive for Second Harvest Food Bank
  • Fayetteville Public Utilities – delivered gift bags to residents in local assisted living and nursing facilities
  • Fort Loudoun Electric Cooperative – organized a food drive for local charities
  • Gibson Electric Membership Corporation – organized a school supply drive for Trimble Elementary School in Dyer County
  • Holston Electric Cooperative – delivered Meals on Wheels for residents in Hawkins County
  • Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative – organized food drives in Hohenwald, Linden, Waverly and Erin and constructed and installed a “Blessing Box” at the co-op’s Centerville office
  • Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation – provided lunch for teachers in Rockvale, landscaping for a nonprofit in Murfreesboro, and assistance to a food bank in Smyrna
  • Pickwick Electric Cooperative – assisted the Jesus Cares Thrift Store and packed and delivered meals for a local backpack program
  • Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association – provided lunch to healthcare workers in the COVID-19 and burn units at Vanderbilt University Medical Center
  • Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative – provided lunch for health departments in Marion, Grundy, Sequatchie and Bledsoe counties
  • Volunteer Energy Cooperative – donated food to food banks and a back pack program serving Polk, Meigs, Hamilton, Monterey and White counties

In the photo: Volunteer Energy Cooperative employees donated food to nonprofits serving local communities

NASHVILLE – Sixty-eight volunteer lineworkers from seven electric co-ops across Tennessee are heading to Alabama to assist with Hurricane Sally recovery efforts.

The Category 2 hurricane brought strong wind, significant rainfall and widespread power outages to the Alabama Gulf Coast. Tennessee co-ops are assisting with efforts to reconstruct the severely damaged electric infrastructure in the region.

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

Assisting Baldwin Electric Membership Corporation in Summerdale, Alabama, are:

  • Seven lineworkers from Chickasaw Electric Cooperative in Somerville
  • Five from Ft. Loudoun Electric Cooperative in Vonore
  • Five from Mountain Electric Cooperative in Mountain City
  • 21 from Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation in Murfreesboro
  • Five from Pickwick Electric Cooperative in Selmer
  • 13 from Upper Cumberland Electric Membership Corporation in Carthage
  • 12 from Volunteer Energy Cooperative in Decatur

Nashville, TENN. – Today Gov. Bill Lee announced that a portion of Tennessee’s aid from the federal Coronavirus Relief Fund would be used to expand access to broadband service. The newly created Tennessee Emergency Broadband Fund will expand broadband access to better facilitate participation in telemedicine, distance learning and telecommuting.  

“The coronavirus pandemic has underscored the digital divide that exists in Tennessee,” said Mike Knotts, vice president of government affairs with the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “Never before has the need for broadband access been greater or the limitations for Tennesseans who can’t access the internet been more obvious. The Tennessee Emergency Broadband Fund will help bring this essential service to many of the homes and businesses that need it most.” 

Since the passage of the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act in 2017, 14 of Tennessee’s 23 electric cooperatives have launched broadband projects, and Tennessee’s electric co-ops have proven their 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. 

“The Tennessee Emergency Broadband Fund can position Tennessee to better respond to the current pandemic and be better prepared to face the challenges that will come our way in the future,” said Knotts. “The impact of this investment will be felt for years. We appreciate the vision of Gov. Bill Lee and Commissioner of Economic and Community Development Bob Rolfe as well as Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, Speaker Cameron Sexton, Senate Finance Chair Bo Watson and House Utilities Chair Pat Marsh. Their allocation of these funds will positively impact tens of thousands of Tennesseans. 

Learn more at tnelectric.org/broadband.

FOR MORE INFORMATION
Trent Scott | Vice President of Corporate Strategy | 615.515.5534 | tscott@tnelectric.org 

Gibson Electric Membership Corporation and its not-for-profit subsidiary, Gibson Connect, have announced their boards have approved moving forward with Phase III of their broadband network buildout.  Phase III work will begin in the Rutherford, Kenton and Newbern zones.  These zones have met their participation goals using Gibson Connect’s registration website, join.gibsonconnect.com.

“A start date for Phase III has not been set, but board approval will enable us to soon begin the engineering step of the buildout,” says Dan Rodamaker, President and CEO of Gibson EMC and Gibson Connect.  “We plan to start Phase III with these three zones and add more zones a little later, based on join.gibsonconnect.com registrations, as well as engineering and grant/loan requirements,” he said.

Charles Phillips, Gibson EMC VP of Technical Services and Gibson Connect VP of Operations, explains, “Gibson Connect provides its internet service through Gibson EMC’s substations, meaning work must be completed in the substation and the fiber network must be built from the substation to the zone before Gibson Connect can begin construction in the zone.  A grant or loan can impact the order of our buildout because it is typically for an area that has met grant eligibility requirements and may have deadlines by which we must complete the work to receive the funding.”

“Gibson EMC is actively seeking out and taking advantage of every grant opportunity in order to save our members’ money on construction costs,” Rodamaker says.  “Where grants are not available, we’re applying for low-interest loans.”

Rodamaker says the ReConnect loan Gibson EMC was awarded by the USDA will ultimately help construct the fiber network in certain parts of Obion County in Tennessee and in Gibson EMC’s Kentucky counties.  ReConnect also has a deadline by which Gibson EMC must complete the work, but Rodamaker says, “it allows a five-year period as opposed to the shorter deadlines of the grants.  Utilizing grants and low-interest loans will make the fiber network construction more affordable for Gibson EMC’s entire membership,” he says.

More than 4,700 consumer-members have been connected since construction started in February 2018.  “We’ve completed the initial construction in Phase I zones, and we are diligently working to connect those who have more recently signed up for the service,” Phillips says.  “Phase II is well underway, but there is still considerable work to do.  Board approval for Phase III zones will enable us to begin the initial step of the build in those areas,” Phillips said.

“We plan to ultimately provide high-speed internet access to all of our eligible members, but the buildout is a massive project that is time-intensive, he says.  “With about 3,100 miles of the fiber network to engineer and build, we knew from the time we started construction in August 2018 that it would take at least five years to provide access to all of our members.  Even so, we understand how urgently this service is needed and we are doing everything within our power to provide it as quickly as possible.”

“We began this project because our members told us they needed this service,” Rodamaker said, “and after experiencing the necessity to work and learn from home during the pandemic, we are more convinced than ever that we are doing the right thing for our members and our communities,” he said.  “Those who have already been connected are extremely pleased with and grateful for this service.”

Nashville, TENN. – Tennessee’s electric cooperatives recently awarded $16,000 in scholarships to young people from across the state.

Kelsey Bizzell, a recent graduate of Rossville Christian Academy, was awarded a $10,000 Cooperative Youth Ambassador Scholarship. Bizzell was a 2019 delegate of the Washington Youth Tour, an annual leadership and education event sponsored by the state’s electric cooperatives. In the year following the tour, delegates who remain engaged with their sponsoring cooperatives and complete certain community service requirements are eligible for the scholarship. Bizzell was randomly selected from among the delegates from across the state who completed the requirements.

“When I found out I won the scholarship, I was shocked and excited,” said Bizzell. “I was shocked that out of 186 people, my name was chosen! Writing the paper was fun. I didn’t think I would win, and getting the opportunity to go on the trip was fantastic. I learned so much on the trip, and this scholarship is just the cherry on top of the entire experience.”

“The Youth Tour and Cooperative Youth Ambassador Program are great opportunities to help students learn about public policy, cooperatives, and leadership,” says Andrea Kee, communication specialist for Chickasaw Electric Cooperative, Bizzell’s sponsoring co-op. “We are proud to help prepare Fayette County’s next generation of leaders, and we are excited to see the impact Kelsey will have on our community.”

Students are selected for the Washington Youth Tour by writing winning short stories about electric co-ops. While public health concerns forced the 2020 tour to be cancelled for the first time in the program’s 55 year history, TECA judged more than 10,000 short stories submitted from across the state. Lily Durbin from Pickwick Electric Cooperative, Zoe Clever from Caney Fork Electric Cooperative and Leah Brewer from Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative were awarded $3,000, $2,000 and $1,000 Robert McCarty Memorial Scholarships for having the first, second and third place papers.

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

“We were heartbroken to cancel the 2020 event, but Youth Tour has always been about more than a trip to D.C.,” said David Callis, CEO of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “Electric co-ops share the belief that the communities we serve are truly special places, and we are confident that these young people will have an impact on the world. An investment in them is an investment in the future of Tennessee, and we think that is a sound strategy that will pay enormous dividends.”

 

Murfreesboro, TENN. – Having just completed its merger with the Murfreesboro Electric Department, Middle Tennessee Electric (MTE) announced today $100,000 in donations to three Murfreesboro-based charitable organizations. Rutherford County Area Habitat for Humanity will receive $50,000 while Wee Care Day Care and Community Helpers will receive $25,000 each.

“We think it’s fitting and appropriate to mark our first official day of service to Murfreesboro by investing in those who are serving in such an impactful way,” said MTE CEO Chris Jones. “One of the seven cooperative principles is ‘Commitment to Community,’ and we plan to live this out consistently as we serve in our home city.”

Jones said the donation to Habitat will support construction of a subdivision in East Murfreesboro, while the donations to Wee Care Day Care and Community Helpers will support their ongoing missions.

“We have a long-time relationship with Community Helpers, as they assist electric customers who are having difficulty paying their electric bills” he said. “Wee Care Day Care is an inner-city organization that we’ve never been able to assist before, but with the merger opening that door, we are honored to aid their worthy mission.”

While MTE features a charitable arm of its own called, SharingChange, these are one-time donations facilitated by the cooperative in recognition of July 1 being day number one for the merged utility.

“We’re very excited to call our brothers and sisters from MED teammates…officially,” Jones said. “We have an incredibly bright future in front of us.”

Duck River Electric Membership Corporation is donating $30,000, which will be matched by the Tennessee Valley Authority through its COVID-19 Community Care Fund, making a total of $60,000 available to help members who qualify for the cooperative’s Project Help program amid financial hardships resulting from the COVID-19 crisis and recovery.

“The pandemic caused the loss of jobs, uncertainties and economic standstills in our communities, which left some members struggling to pay monthly bills, including electric bills,” says DREMC Office Supervisor Tara Groce. “With this additional funding for Project Help, more families impacted by the lingering effects of COVID-19 will receive assistance.”

For three decades, DREMC’s Project Help program has assisted many members who were unable to pay their electric bills. The program continues to be a successful part of how the cooperative cares for members, many of whom are finding themselves in need of assistance for the first time.

“Now more than ever, it is important to support the members we serve during tough times and financial hardships,” said DREMC President and CEO Scott Spence. “This is why Project Help exists.”

Project Help is an emergency residential energy-assistance program overseen by local charity organizations in seven counties served by DREMC and supported by generous monthly and one-time donations from members and employees, who have given more than $214,000 over the past five years to the program.

DREMC partners with the Franklin County Good Samaritan Association to offer Project Help assistance with electric bills. Assistance is available year-round to applicants who qualify.

“It’s great to be able to extend help to our community through the Project Help program,” said Christie Shaw, a director of the Franklin County Good Samaritan Association. “We can help more residents of Franklin County throughout the year because of this program.”

To apply for electric-bill assistance through Project Help, visit the Franklin County Good Samaritan Association at 1725 Decherd Blvd. in Decherd.

Normal hours are Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. To speak to someone at the organization, call 931-967-9336.

“DREMC’s commitment to the communities we serve reaches hundreds each year through the power of Project Help,” Spence said.

Appalachian Electric Cooperative recently announced that it has partnered with the Tennessee Valley Authority to award $30,000 to Douglas-Cherokee Economic Authority to help the local service area during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

“We’re pleased to continue our efforts to help our members during this difficult time,” said Greg Williams, AEC general manager. “Douglas-Cherokee will be using this donation to provide energy vouchers, up to $100, for Co-op members who have been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

AEC has long partnered with Douglas-Cherokee Economic Authority in each county the Co-op serves. This partnership leverages federal dollars for energy assistance and also manages local Project Deserve contributions from AEC members.

Funds from AEC are being matched by TVA’s COVID-19 Community Care Fund, which helps local power companies meet immediate needs in their communities by providing matching funds for local initiatives addressing hardships created by this pandemic.

“In the spirit of public power, we are honored to partner with AEC to address the unprecedented challenges facing those we serve,” said Jeannette Mills, TVA executive vice president and chief external relations officer. “TVA has a mission of service to make life better for the people of the Valley, and providing these funds to address immediate needs is one way we can help ease the burdens on families and communities.”

Murfreesboro, TENN. – The merger between the Murfreesboro Electric Department (MED) and Middle Tennessee Electric (MTE) became official and finalized today.

“Now we begin bringing our two great teams together for the benefit of all those we serve,” said Chris Jones, MTE’s president and CEO. “While we’ve been preparing for some time, now it is real, and we are thankful and excited.”

Upon completion of TVA’s regulatory review and approval, which came in early June, MTE, MED and the City of Murfreesboro have coordinated efforts to close the transaction over the past few weeks. Closing was completed June 30, making July 1 the first official day that the two utilities are now one.

“There are a number of efficiencies and synergies our coming together will realize,” Jones said. “We are merging our technology platforms, unifying processes and over time we will reduce duplication of effort and investments.”

Jones added that MED customers, now new MTE members, can look for information and updates via U.S. mail and at mtemc.com beginning the week of July 6.

“Our teams are working hard to ensure the transition goes smoothly,” he said. “Most MED customers should not notice any changes. ”

The 111th General Assembly completed its final order of business for the year in the early morning hours Friday, June 19after a marathon through-the-night session. The final hours were marked with plenty of disagreement between political parties and the two chambers. 

The final act was headlined by a $39.4 billion budget that replaced and further trimmed one the legislature approved in March. The scaled back spending plan anticipates a $1 billion shortfall in fiscal year 2021 and, following a “stalemate” between the two chambers, eventually cleared the impasse in a conference committee. 

The new budget closely resembled the one proposed by the governor and approved by the senate last week, reducing expenses for a number of priorities initially proposed by Governor Lee. That, of course, was before the state was physically and financially rocked by two devastating tornadoes and the COVID-19 pandemic. Below are a few notable cuts to the administration’s original list of priorities: 

  • reducing the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Grant Fund from $25 million to $15 million; 
  • eliminating pay raises for teachers, state employees and legislators; and 
  • reducing funding for capital maintenance projects for state-owned properties and higher education, including $37 million worth of projects at the University of Tennessee and $9 million at the University of Memphis.

“Safe Harbor and Recovery Act” Stalls

A bill designed to encourage and stimulate economic activity, by increasing civil liability protection against coronavirus lawsuits against essential businesses and others that reopen amid COVID-19 uncertainty, stalled in the early hours Friday.  Despite support from a broad coalition of interests representing business, healthcare, and education industry, the “Tennessee Recovery and Safe Harbor Act” ultimately failed because republicans in the two chambers vehemently disagreed on the legislation’s effective date.   

Senate Republicans and industry supporters favored retroactive application of the legislation that dated back to early March. House members and opponents, including the Tennessee Trial Lawyers Association, fought hard against retroactivity and questioned the provision’s constitutionality. Notably, both sides relied on a 2010 opinion by former Tennessee Supreme Court Justice William Koch that addressed the constitutionality of retrospective laws in Tennessee. 

Ultimately, Republicans in the two chambers held their ground following a conference committee that adopted the senate version. After a bipartisan attack on the bill’s retroactive application, the house fell four votes short of approving the conference committee report. 

Co-op Priority Passes Both Chambers

Despite the last minute budget changes and acrimony caused by controversial legislation, the General Assembly did pass legislation clarifying that electric cooperatives may purchase the Powering Tennessee specialty license plate. Sponsored by Rep. Gary Hicks (R-Rogersville) and Sen Becky Massey (R-Knoxville), the bill was passed unanimously by both the House and Senate. Effective immediately upon the Governor’s signature (which is expected in the coming days), the law ensures that electric co-op vehicles weighing less that 9000 pounds and used for the purpose of passenger transport are eligible to purchase the plate. Proceeds benefit the Tennessee Lineworker Lifeline Fund, and each plate driving on Tennessee roads increases awareness of the important work performed by Tennessee’s 3,500 lineworkers. 

MURFREESBORO, TN – The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) has approved the proposed merger between the Murfreesboro Electric Department (MED) and Middle Tennessee Electric (MTE), it was announced today.

“This represents the coming together of two excellent electric utilities that have coexisted very well in Murfreesboro for the past 80 years. We’re confident the result will be an even stronger entity with increased effectiveness for strengthening our mission of providing safe, reliable and low-cost services to all customers,” said Chris Jones, MTE’s president and CEO. “We would like to thank the City of Murfreesboro, its mayor and city council, the city management team, and our colleagues at Murfreesboro Electric for all of the collaboration and support. And we thank TVA for its very thorough examination and analysis of this opportunity.”

While MTE and the City will work to sign closing documents in the coming days, TVA’s regulatory review and approval was the last step needed to finalize the merger. The regulatory review process was required to determine if the transaction created value for all ratepayers, since TVA supplies wholesale electric power to both not-for-profit distributors and has oversight over such transactions, Jones said.

“The review concluded that this transaction is in the best interest of the affected ratepayers, and upholds our mission to serve the people of the Valley,” said Dan Pratt, TVA vice president of customer delivery. “It aligns with the values and principles of the Valley Public Power Model and reinforces our primary Regulatory role in protecting Valley ratepayers.”

As previously reported, MTE will pay $245 million for MED. With interest, the total payment will be $302 million over 15 years.

“MTE is an exceptional organization with incredibly strong leadership. The future benefits of the combined electric system to the ratepayers and the citizens of Murfreesboro are tremendous,” said Mayor Shane McFarland.

On again, off again talks of a possible merger were renewed in late 2018 when the city approached MTE about the possibility. Throughout last year, efforts to move toward that end culminated in the fall with a series of City Council workshops and listening sessions, meetings with employees and other stakeholders, a citywide open house, and a series of council votes ending in approval by the city in January of this year. Following unanimous approval from the MTE board, the paperwork for the TVA regulatory review was sent, also in January.

About Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation (MTE)

Founded in 1936, Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation is the largest electric co-op in the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) region and among the five largest in the U.S., serving more than 500,000 Tennesseans via 236,000+ accounts covering 2,100 square miles in 11 Middle Tennessee counties, primarily Rutherford, Cannon, Williamson, and Wilson counties. Municipalities served include Franklin, Smyrna, Lavergne, Lebanon and Mt. Juliet. MTE employs 420 people in 6 local offices and its Murfreesboro corporate headquarters.

About the Murfreesboro Electric Department (MED)

The Murfreesboro Electric Department has served the city and the surrounding area since 1939, covering approximately 55 square miles via 67,000 accounts and an estimated 136,000 residents.  Like MTE, MED operates under a contract with The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), a corporate agency of the federal government. The TVA provides all electricity distributed by MED to its 67,000 customers. The Electric Department has approximately 90 employees, all located in downtown Murfreesboro.

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.