Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative ran out of barbeque at its 80th annual meeting, but that didn’t diminish the enthusiasm of the record number of members who showed up at the unique setting.

This year, the South Pittsburg, Tennessee, co-op scored The Caverns, a subterranean venue on the fringe of the co-op’s service territory that hosts live music events, including the acclaimed PBS series “Bluegrass Underground.”

More than 1,000 members showed up, with some driving nearly 100 miles to be there.

That’s nearly triple normal attendance, said SVEC President and CEO Mike Partin, noting there were many first-timers and younger members among the crowd.

“It was a great opportunity for us to share our story with a different demographic,” he said. “We got a lot of exposure to a lot of new faces just because we stepped out of our comfort zone.”

He said the co-op has been inundated with positive member feedback since the Aug. 8 meeting.

“Our message to other co-ops is: Think outside the box about member engagement and use the annual meeting as a tool.”

Partin said he got the idea to celebrate SVEC’s milestone anniversary at The Caverns during a conversation with neighbor Todd Mayo, who owns the venue and relocated it to the Pelham Valley last year.

Staff members and the board were initially skeptical, he said. SVEC typically schedules its annual meetings in a school and rotates the location to make it convenient for members.

“We worried, ‘Will they come this far?’” he said. “And, gosh, they certainly did.”

More than 1,000 members—a record crowd—gathered for SVEC’s 80th annual meeting in The Caverns, the subterranean music venue in the co-op’s service territory. (Photo By: SVEC)

All activities took place underground, including the business meeting, information booths for SVEC’s propane and broadband teams and an electric vehicle display. A photo-op bucket featured a lineman and a co-op director dressed in a caveman costume. Local bluegrass band Track 145 provided the music.

The huge turnout did have one drawback. SVEC planners are accustomed to provisioning for about 300 members at annual meetings. This year, they ordered enough barbeque for 500.

“We had over 1,000 folks,” said Partin. “So, we got grills, and we went out and bought every hotdog in a 20-mile radius.

“The members didn’t complain. They were excited about the venue. And a lot of new folks came and heard about the exciting things the co-op is doing.”

Cathy Cash is a staff writer for NRECA.

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.

 

FORT WORTH – TECA staff received 11 awards during the Cooperative Communicators Institute awards ceremony Monday afternoon in Fort Worth, Texas.

The Cooperative Communicators Association works with electric, telephone, agriculture and purchasing cooperatives across the country to help members excel in communications – from writing, photography, and editing to video, layout, and design.

“The CCA awards recognize excellence in communications from co-ops of all types, and we are encouraged by this positive feedback,” says David Callis, executive vice president and general manager for the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “We take pride in the quality of work that we produce, and it is exciting to see others recognize our efforts. Congratulations to our communications staff and the other award winners.”

Awards were presented to TECA team members in the following categories:

Writing

Column
Third Place
David Callis
“Tennessee Today”

Headline
First Place
Ron Bell
“A Drive Against Poverty”

Photography

Scenic/Pictorial
Robin Conover
First Place
“Sunset at Buzzard’s Roost”

Photo Feature
Second Place
Robin Conover
“Hippie Helps”

Smartphone
Second Place
Robin Conover
“Self Portrait”

Photo Illustration
Third Place
Robin Conover
“Unique Spring Greens”

Photo Illustration
First Place
Robin Conover and Trent Scott
“Well-dressed Lineman”

Photo Essay or Story
First Place
Robin Conover
“A Drive Against Poverty”

Cover of the Year
Second Place
“The Tennessee Magazine – December 2017”

Cover of the Year
Third Place
“The Tennessee Magazine – April 2017”

Programs and Projects

Web Site
First Place
Trent Scott
“The Tennessee Magazine website: www.tnmagazine.org

Refrigeration products manufacturer to create 210 new jobs in Pickwick Electric Cooperative service area

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bob Rolfe and Monogram Refrigeration, LLC officials recently announced that the company will expand its manufacturing facility in Selmer. Monogram, a leading manufacturer of upscale refrigerators, freezers and other refrigeration products, will invest $9.3 million and create approximately 210 new jobs in McNairy County. The company’s manufacturing facility has been located in Selmer since 1986.

“In Tennessee, we strive to make our state the perfect location not only for companies to locate new operations, but for existing companies to expand,” Haslam said. “With our ready-to-work workforce and business-friendly climate, existing companies are able to excel in Tennessee. I thank Monogram, one of our most well-known brands, for reinvesting and expanding in Tennessee and for helping us get one step closer to our goal of making Tennessee the No. 1 location in the Southeast for high quality jobs.”

“I want to thank Monogram for choosing to expand in McNairy County and for creating 210 new jobs in Selmer,” Rolfe said. “Monogram has a long history in Tennessee, and it means a great deal that a company of this magnitude is expanding its operations here and creating even more job opportunities for Tennessee residents. This is a fantastic win for Selmer and McNairy County, a Tier 4 Distressed county, and I appreciate Monogram for its continued investment in Tennessee.”

Monogram is a subsidiary of GE Appliances (GEA), a Haier company, a leading U.S. manufacturer of household appliances.

“The state of Tennessee and McNairy County have been terrific partners. They’ve worked with Monogram over the years as we’ve grown our refrigeration business in Selmer,” Raymond Deming, vice president, Monogram Refrigeration Operation, LLC, said. “Now, their continued support will help us bring to Selmer an entirely new product line and create approximately 210 jobs ranging from production associates, skilled trades and professional employees that will take our employment close to 400.”

With this expansion, Monogram will be adding 120,000 square feet to its existing building in Selmer. In addition to a new line of column-style refrigerators and freezers, Monogram will begin manufacturing packaged terminal air conditioners (PTACs), a line of commercial heating and cooling products sold under the Zoneline® brand. Production of the new refrigeration products will begin later this year and production of the new Zoneline air conditioning units will begin in early 2018.

“What a great day for the town of Selmer and McNairy County,” McNairy County Mayor Ronnie Brooks said. “I want to thank GEA-Haier for investing in us. We appreciate the confidence that the company has placed in our county, our economic development team and our great workforce here in McNairy County.”

“This is great news for the town of Selmer and our workforce,” Selmer Mayor John Smith said. “I am very pleased that GEA-Haier is expanding and bringing over 200 quality jobs to the town of Selmer. This is a true testament of the company’s confidence with our local team, the State of Tennessee and the leadership at the manufacturing facility in our community.”

“I am thrilled that GEA-Haier has chosen to make this investment in Selmer,” McNairy County Economic Development CEO Eddie Crittendon said. “These 210 jobs will have a huge impact on this community. Monogram has a great team here in Selmer and I am honored that GEA-Haier has chosen to grow with us here in McNairy County.”

“TVA and Pickwick Electric Cooperative congratulate Monogram Refrigeration on its plans to invest and expand operations in Selmer, Tennessee,” TVA Senior Vice President of Economic Development John Bradley said. “We are pleased to partner with the state of Tennessee, McNairy County Economic Development, the City of Selmer and McNairy County officials to help existing companies like Monogram thrive and add jobs in the community.”

Selmer and McNairy County are represented by Sen. Dolores Gresham (R – Somerville) and Rep. Ron Gant (R – Rossville) in the Tennessee General Assembly.

NASHVILLE – More than 60 co-op leaders from across Tennessee traveled to Washington, D.C., on Tuesday and Wednesday, April 10 and 11, to meet with members of the Tennessee congressional delegation as a part of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s annual legislative conference.

“This trip is about building relationships,” said David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “When lawmakers evaluate legislation that impacts electric co-ops or rural Tennessee, we want them to think of us. It is important for them to know who we are and how policy will affect us and our consumers.”

In meetings with legislators, co-ops leaders encouraged lawmakers to support the Farm Bill and rural development programs, reject the administration’s proposal to sell TVA’s transmission assets and dedicate funding for rural broadband and other infrastructure projects. Lawmakers were also invited to visit their local co-ops to meet employees, attend annual meetings or tour co-op facilities.

Meetings were held with Senators Alexander and Corker and Representatives Black, Blackburn, DesJarlais, Duncan, Fleischmann, Roe and Kustoff.

“I’m a big supporter of rural areas, and I thank you for coming up to give a voice to the people you serve,” said Rep. Diane Black. “A lot of people never make it to visit legislators in Nashville, and certainly not to Washington, D.C. It’s important for their issues to be heard, and I appreciate what you do.”

In addition to visits with members of Congress, attendees also heard from industry and policy experts, including U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Purdue. During a speech to co-op leaders, Secretary Purdue discussed the importance of rural broadband and highlighted the successes of Tennessee’s electric co-ops. “Rural broadband is not just a luxury — it’s essential,” said Purdue. “Tennessee recently changed state law, and now seven of their electric co-ops are pursuing broadband. I don’t believe that America would ever reach the productivity we have today across our nation without abundant flow of electricity everywhere. In the same way, we cannot make America great again without high-speed e-connectivity available to every American.”

 

NASHVILLE – Dan Smith, a leader among Tennessee’s electric cooperatives, passed away on Wednesday, April 11, 2018. Smith was a board member for Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation in Murfreesboro and served on the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association board of trustees.

Smith is remembered as a passionate advocate for cooperatives and rural Tennessee. A board member for Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation for almost 50 years, Smith served in multiple capacities for the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association in recent years, including board president.

“Dan Smith left a mark on rural Tennessee,” said David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “He was a statesman who worked tirelessly to support cooperatives and other rural interests. His influence and service will be missed.”

“This news hurts, as we had hoped earnestly Mr. Smith would recover from this recent illness,” said Chris Jones, president and CEO of Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation. “Our beloved Mr. Smith, leaves behind an unmatched and irreplaceable legacy, as no one loved the cooperative way more than Dan Smith. Middle Tennessee Electric and its employees past and present have lost a great champion for our cause. I will miss him greatly.”

Dan Smith speaking to delegates to the 2017 TECA Annual Meeting in Nashville.

 

Dan Smith and wife Vondie

NASHVILLE – Eighteen lineworkers from co-ops across Tennessee are heading to Virginia to assist with power restoration after a strong storm system moved through the region overnight and early Friday morning. Widespread wind, rain and snow has left more than 900,000 people without power in New England and the Mid-Atlantic states.

Six lineworkers from Appalachian Electric Cooperative in New Market are traveling to Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative in Gainesville, Va.; six lineworkers from Holston Electric Cooperative in Rogersville will assist Central Virginia Electric Cooperative in Arrington, Va.; and six lineworkers from Plateau Electric Cooperative in Oneida will assist Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative in Gretna, Va.

Central Virginia experienced sustained winds of 20 to 30 miles per hour with gusts approaching 70 miles per hour as the storm moved through, toppling trees and damaging power lines.

“I am always impressed by how quickly our co-ops respond to requests for assistance,” said Todd Blocker, vice president of member services and mutual aid coordinator for the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “Just a couple of hours after receiving the request from Virginia, these guys were loading up and heading out. Their willingness to leave home and serve others is admirable.”

File photo – Duck River EMC crews respond to storm damage in Florida. Photo by Robin Conover.

The unusually cold weather in December and January has created some unusually high electric bills for members of electric co-ops. Many are asking the question, “Why does my bill go up when it is cold outside?”

The infographic below helps explains the relationship between electric rates and energy consumption.

If you are concerned about your electric bill, contact your local co-op to learn more about programs and services that can help you save energy and money the next time the weather gets cold (or hot).

 

CHATTANOOGA – Today the Trump administration released the Legislative Outline for Rebuilding Infrastructure in America, a framework to address improvements to the nation’s transportation, energy, utility and healthcare needs. Among the items included in the plan was a proposal to sell the Tennessee Valley Authority’s transmission assets.

In response to the administration’s proposal, the Tennessee Valley Public Power Association, the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association and the Tennessee Municipal Electric Power Association share the following response:

  • We strongly support the public power model and are fearful divestiture of transmission assets would have a negative effect.
  • We recognize the importance of TVA’s transmission assets to the ratepayers of the Tennessee Valley, and we believe they should not be sold to interests who may not place a priority on public power or the Valley’s interests.
  • It is important to note that Congress has not appropriated money to TVA since 1992, and customers have paid back the initial investment plus interest.
  • According to a 2013 study by the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy, TVA has returned to the U.S. Treasury more than $3 billion on the government’s original investment of $1.4 billion. Source of these funds are the Valley’s ratepayers.
  • Our respective organizations will pursue all options to protect electric ratepayers and the TVA assets they have paid to build as well as the public power model, which is as relevant today as it was 80 years ago.
  • Divestiture of part or all of TVA assets has been proposed in the past. Each time, Congress has vehemently rejected such privatization.
  • Proceeds from the sale of TVA’s transmission assets would go to the U.S. Treasury and would not benefit Valley ratepayers.

A complete copy of the Legislative Outline for Rebuilding Infrastructure in America is available on the TECA website.

More than 200 electric co-op leaders from across the state were in Nashville on Monday and Tuesday, Jan. 29 and 30, for the 2018 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.

Lt. Gov. Randy McNally opened the meeting on Tuesday morning. “I’d like to welcome you here to Nashville,” he said. “I appreciate the job you do.”

Tennessee’s electric cooperatives maintain a visible presence in Nashville and Washington, D.C., to protect the interests of co-op and their consumer-owners. “We are here to give a voice to rural Tennesseans,” 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,” said Michael Watson, president of TECA’s board of trustees and CEO of Duck River Electric Membership Corporation. “It is critically important that our elected leaders in Nashville keep cooperatives in mind when crafting laws and regulations that impact us. We have a responsibility to our communities to tell their story.”

Co-ops addressed three specific issues during their visits this year:

  • Co-ops asked lawmakers to support Senate Bill 1646 and House Bill 1591 that will speed the deployment of broadband by allowing co-ops to utilize existing easements for nonelectric purposes such as telecommunication services.
  • Co-ops expressed support for Senate Bill 1752 and House Bill 1773 that will elevate the charges of assaulting a utility worker and makes them consistent with penalties already in place to protect other first responders.
  • While legislation has not yet been filed, a final issue discussed was an effort by the Department of Revenue to apply sales tax to fees paid by utility consumers. Co-ops asked the General Assembly to enact legislation to protect utility consumers from these additional taxes.

“Educated and informed legislators are necessary for us to provide low-cost, reliable power, and our legislators listen when we come to visit,” said Callis. 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.

[NASHVILLE] – On Friday, the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development announced that two electric cooperatives will receive grants to support the deployment of broadband in rural Tennessee. Gibson Electric Membership Corporation in Trenton will receive $1,353,148 million and Tri-County Electric Membership Corporation in Lafayette will receive $1,350,000.

David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association, made the following statement:

“We are pleased that the state recognizes the vital role co-ops can play in the expansion of broadband,” said Callis. “Modern healthcare, education and commerce depend on access to fast, reliable internet, and co-ops are uniquely positioned to bring this service to rural and suburban Tennessee. Today, we celebrate with Gibson EMC, Tri-County EMC and the communities they serve.”

In 2017, the Tennessee General Assembly, bolstered by strong support from Gov. Bill Haslam, passed the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act. This landmark legislation removed restrictions that prevented electric cooperatives from providing retail internet access and established a grant fund to encourage broadband expansion.

Tennessee’s electric co-ops serve more than 2.5 million Tennesseans, many of whom do not currently have access to broadband.

 

The 110th General Assembly of the State of Tennessee reconvened on Tuesday, January 9, 2018, for the second year of the two-year session and the first year in their new legislative offices at the Cordell Hull Building. It is expected that the upcoming legislative session will be a short one as 2018 is an election year, and members cannot raise funds for re-election while the legislature is in session.

Over two dozen members of the General Assembly will be retiring or running for a different elected office in 2018 and will likely be eager to return to their districts as quickly as possible. House Speaker Beth Harwell (R – Nashville), a gubernatorial candidate herself, will also be pushing for a quick session so that she may return to the campaign and fundraising trail.

Major issues likely to be taken up in the 2018 legislative agenda include the opioid epidemic, medical marijuana, seven-day liquor and wine sales and, of course, the budget.

Opioid Epidemic

A task force on opioid and prescription drug abuse, created by Speaker Harwell, met this summer and compiled a list of recommendations for treatment, prevention and policy. It is expected that a number of these recommendations will be introduced in legislative form this session. Look for bills that limit emergency room prescriptions, call for the hiring of additional Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Agents and establish a commission to combat drug abuse.

Medical Marijuana

Rep. Jeremy Faison (R – Cosby) has been on a mission to legalize medical marijuana, and he may be closer than ever to reaching his goal. He will present a bill this session that would allow patients with certain debilitating illnesses to obtain prescriptions for certain marijuana products, including oils and extracts in capsules, pills, ointments, lotions and liquids. Smoking will not be an allowable product. While the bill would not allow for the recreational use of marijuana, opponents of the bill argue this is the next step before legalizing marijuana for recreational use. While the chances of passage this year may still be slim, the tide seems to be shifting in supporters’ way.

Seven-Day Sales of Liquor and Wine

The wine-in-grocery-stores law became effective in July 2016 and some liquor stores have seen a dramatic decrease in sales as a result. In hopes to offset some of this decline in sales, a bill was filed last year to permit wine and liquor sales on all seven days of the week. The 2017 bill was ultimately opposed by some vocal retail liquor store owners who want to maintain a state-mandated day off despite lagging sales. Working in support of the measure is a coalition consisting of grocery stores, the Tennessee Retail Association and manufacturers of distilled spirits. The coalition will resume its efforts to clear a path forward in 2018.

The Budget

As Gov. Haslam starts the last year of his eight-year administration, this will be his final budget to present before the General Assembly. With the passage of last year’s IMPROVE Act, which cut food and business taxes, the governor and legislature may have to put in extra work to balance our budget. Tax collections continue to increase but not at the rate of increase before the IMPOVE Act became law. In short, there will be a tighter budget.

Co-ops

Of specific interest to electric cooperatives, a coalition of utility associations will work to ensure that sales tax is not newly applied to fees charged by water, sewer, gas, and electric providers. This is the result of potential rule making by the Department of Revenue which would apply the state sales tax to fees charged to electric cooperative commercial and industrial customers. The rule has not yet been finalized, but conversations with the Department have shown that proactive legislation is the best bet to ensure that increased taxation for utility customers does not occur.

Senator Ken Yager (R-Kingston) and Representative Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga) will be introducing legislation to ensure that electric cooperatives have full rights to utilize cooperative easements for any purpose that State authorizes cooperatives to perform. This legislation will ensure that any written or prescriptive easement held by the co-op could be legally used for the provision of electric and telecommunications services.

Other issues will surely rise throughout the course of the session, and the TECA Government Affairs team will keep members informed each step along the way.

Flickr image by Rain0975

During a speech today at the Farm Bureau Federation Annual Meeting in Nashville, President Donald Trump emphasized the need for expanded connectivity across rural America.

David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association, made the following statement.

“We are pleased that the Trump administration is making rural issues a priority – especially the expansion of connectivity,” said Callis. “Few things have the potential to reshape rural Tennessee quite like broadband. Modern education, healthcare and commerce all depend on affordable and reliable access. Tennessee’s rural communities have tremendous potential. When they succeed, we all succeed.”

Tennessee’s electric co-ops serve more than 2.5 million Tennesseans, many of whom do not have access to broadband.

In 2017, Gov. Bill Haslam and the Tennessee General Assembly recognized that electric co-ops are uniquely positioned to help close the state’s digital divide. The Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act removed restrictions that prevented electric cooperatives from providing retail internet access. Just nine months later, some areas of the state are already seeing the benefits. Two co-ops have active broadband pilot projects, and several others will begin connecting consumers later this year.

The decisions made in Nashville can have a direct impact on your family or business. That makes it important to stay informed and, at times, reach out to your elected officials. Tennesseans interested in government and politics now have a powerful tool for connecting with state lawmakers.

Fully redesigned for 2018, the 110th Tennessee General Assembly app features a continually updated, searchable database of contact, staff and committee information as well as photos, leadership roles and social media profiles for members of the Tennessee House and Senate.  The app also contains information on the governor and his cabinet and the Tennessee congressional delegation.

The app was developed through a partnership between the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association and Bass, Berry & Sims PLC. TECA has published an annual directory of the General Assembly for more than 50 years. “Each year, we collect lots of information on Tennessee legislators, and we want that to be available to as many people as possible,” says David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “The app brings Tennesseans one click closer to their lawmakers, and we think that benefits us all.”

The 99 cent app is available for iPhone, iPad and Android devices and can be found by searching for “Tennessee General Assembly” in the Apple App Store or Google PLAY Marketplace or by clicking here.

State’s electric cooperatives gather in Nashville to explore the impact of co-ops

NASHVILLE – “Build Up” was the theme of the 76th annual meeting of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association, held Sunday, Nov. 19, through Tuesday, Nov. 21, in Nashville. More than 350 electric cooperative leaders from across the state attended the event where they explored the impact of co-ops and challenged one another to meet the needs of their communities.

“Co-ops provide safe, reliable and affordable electricity, but our impact goes far beyond energy,” says David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “We recruit jobs and investment; we prepare the next generation of leaders; we give back through charitable donations, taxes and payroll; and we are on the leading edge of a movement that will bring high-speed internet to rural communities. Electric co-ops build up Tennessee – creating opportunities, impacting families and positioning communities to grow and prosper.”

Michael Watson, manager for Duck River Electric Membership Corporation in Shelbyville, was appointed president of the board and Jarrod Brackett, manager of Fort Loudoun Electric Cooperative in Vonore, was appointed vice president. Johnnie Ruth Elrod, director for Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative in Centerville, will continue to serve as board secretary.

Elections were also held for three positions on the association’s board of trustees. Mark Derrick, a director for Holston Electric Cooperative in Rogersville; Michael Jordan, a director for Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative in South Pittsburg; and Kevin Murphy, manager for Southwest Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation in Brownsville, were elected to four-year terms.

“Congratulations to those honored with leadership positions,” says Callis. “Their talents and ideas will be valuable as we continue our mission to serve Tennessee’s electric cooperatives and their members.”

The third annual TECA Top Tenn Communications Awards were presented during the event. Gibson Electric Membership Corporation received an award for Best External Newsletter or Magazine Section; Duck River Electric Membership Corporation, Best Internal Newsletter and Best Website; Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative, Best Use of Social Media; Fayetteville Public Utilities, Best Video. Appalachian Electric Cooperative, Duck River Electric Membership Corporation, Gibson Electric Membership Corporation and Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation each received Awards of Excellence in the Wild Card category, with Duck River Electric Membership Corporation, Volunteer Energy Cooperative, Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative and Appalachian Electric Cooperative earning Awards of Merit.

“It is important for electric cooperative consumer-owners to be educated and informed,” says Robin Conover, TECA’s vice president of communications and editor of The Tennessee Magazine. “We honor these winners for telling the electric cooperative story in a professional way across multiple platforms.”

“I’ll leave you with this challenge,” said Callis during remarks to co-op leaders on Monday, Nov. 20. “Think carefully about your co-op and your co-op members. What are their needs? What are their expectations? What opportunities exist for your co-op to take action to improve everyday life for your members. We have an important role to play, and together co-ops can build up Tennessee.”