Appalachian Electric Cooperative is proud to be leading the effort to help folks take advantage of the benefits of solar power and join with others who are supporters of clean, renewable energy.

Community-based solar power is an idea whose time has come, according to AEC General Manager Greg Williams: “It’s all about leveraging the economies of scale to improve affordability. Our ‘Co-op Community Solar’ program will make it possible for our residential and commercial members to reap all the benefits of solar generation—including both cost-effectiveness and environmental sustainability—without having to hassle with the challenges involved with installing photovoltaic panels and the ongoing maintenance costs required to keep them performing at maximum capacity. It’s also a powerful feeling to be a part of something with positive environmental impacts that extend much farther than those of any single individual.”

Construction work will begin this fall on a 1.373-megawatt community solar facility to be located on a seven-acre site adjacent to AEC’s New Market Substation, just off of Highway 11E. It will feature a total of 9,468 photovoltaic panels, each of which will be rated at 145 watts. The project is scheduled for completion in late 2016 and the facility is expected to generate 1,804,000 kilowatt-hours in the first year of operation. Based on average residential kWh use by members throughout AEC’s service area, Co-op Community Solar will produce enough clean, renewable energy to supply all the power needs of approximately 115 homes for an entire year.

The new initiative is made possible in part through a grant provided by the Tennessee Valley Authority, and is one of only two pilot programs to receive this funding in the entire Valley region. The Cooperative will be relying on Knoxville-based contractor ARiES Energy for project construction and will turn to the National Renewable Cooperative Organization to assist with project management.

Project costs will be fully funded through revenue generated via a purchased power agreement with TVA. There will be no impact to AEC’s retail rates as a result of Co-op Community Solar.

“This is one of those concepts that just makes so much sense on many different levels,” says Williams. “By coming together as a community of co-op members to support solar generation, cost per watt will be less than for an individual installation and energy output is maximized. Plus, the benefits of community solar are available to those who rent or homeowners whose properties are shaded or whose roofs are not well-suited for the installation of solar panels. Here at the co-op, we are really eager to bring this resource to these folks.”

During the first quarter of 2016, AEC will begin rolling out a marketing plan that will address participation costs and other specifics of how members will be able to take advantage of Co-op Community Solar. At that time, details will be provided so that interested members learn what’s involved in subscribing and how they can benefit.

TVA’s Renewable Energy Solutions Senior Manager Neil Placer said his team will be working with AEC to structure Co-op Community Solar in such a way as to engage AEC members: “Our goal is to support the kind of innovative approach to community solar generation that gives local people multiple ways to participate.”

An additional goal for the program—and it’s a very important one, according to Williams—is member education. “An area at the site will be dedicated to helping folks understand how solar power works and why renewable energy in general is such an important future generating source,” he says. “We’ll be partnering with local schools to develop a space that can be used to help educate the next generation of co-op members.”

Williams notes the significance of announcing the initiative at the co-op’s 75th annual meeting: “A milestone anniversary is naturally a time when you stop to reflect on the accomplishments of the past, and we certainly enjoyed celebrating AEC’s rich heritage. But there was something very special about being able to share this exciting news with our members. They’ve turned to us for safe, affordable, reliable electric power for three-quarters of a century. As we head toward the 100-year-mark, we’re fully committed to finding new ways to continue to add value to their lives.”

Your alarm goes off and you get out of bed. You go outside and grab the morning paper. You sit down at the kitchen table to read your paper while enjoying a glass of juice and some toast. After breakfast you head down to the local hardware store to pick up supplies to tackle your weekend to-do list.

For many Americans, that simple morning routine would bring them in contact with at least five different cooperatives.

That alarm could be powered by electricity from one of Tennessee’s 23 electric co-ops. The paper is likely filled with stories from the Associated Press. The juice might be Sunkist, Ocean Spray or Florida’s Natural. The butter on your toast could have been processed by one of several dairy co-ops, including Dairy Farmers of America or Land-O-Lakes. If the local hardware store is a True Value, Ace or Do-It-Best, then it’s part of a co-op, too.

If you’ve been a co-op member for long, you’ve probably heard these examples before. What you might not realize is that this time-tested business model has been rediscovered by a new generation of Americans who appreciate doing business with locally based organizations that put people ahead of profits.

Co-ops are experiencing a surge in popularity. Today, it is estimated that one in three Americans is a member of at least one cooperative. America’s electric cooperative network now serves 42 million Americans. In 2014, America’s credit unions surpassed 100 million members.

In addition to the growth of true cooperative organizations, there has been a surge in the popularity of other funding and business models that feature many of the same traits as cooperatives.

Websites like Kickstarter and GoFundMe allow large groups of people to pool small contributions to achieve a larger goal. Though groups raising money through these sites aren’t cooperatives, it’s clear that an increasing number of people are seeing the value of working together and pooling resources to improve their communities.

The benefits of being a member of your electric co-op go far beyond the warm fuzzy feeling we get from supporting a local business and keeping our dollars in our communities.

As a not-for-profit cooperative, our sole mission is to ensure you have safe, reliable and affordable electricity when you need it. We aren’t in business to make a profit, we aren’t trying to get elected to public office and we don’t have a hidden agenda. Our job is to look out for you and your fellow co-op members.

That’s important to keep in mind in as we go through an unprecedented period of transition in the energy industry.

The coming years are likely to bring many changes to the way our nation generates, delivers, stores, consumes and regulates energy.

When an industry goes through a change of this magnitude, there will be many interest groups vying to influence policy and advance their agendas. As that process unfolds, there will only be one group that’s truly acting as the voice of energy consumers, and that’s America’s electric cooperatives.

We don’t know exactly what the future holds, but you can rest assured knowing that your electric co-op – and more than 900 other not-for-profit electric cooperatives across the U.S. – will be working hard to ensure your voice is part of the conversation. And that’s the cooperative difference.

Some 25,000 people attended the 2015 Lions’ Club Super Pull of the South in Chapel Hill on Friday and Saturday, July 24 and 25. The event was sponsored by the Touchstone Energy Cooperatives of Tennessee and TECA.

More than 70 volunteers from eight of Tennessee’s 10 Touchstone Energy Cooperatives volunteered to make the event a success. Each participating co-op as well as TECA and The Tennessee Magazine had displays set up and greeted co-op members from across the state. The Touchstone Energy hot air balloon team flew over the stands with the American flag during the opening ceremony and gave tethered rides each evening.

“The Chapel Hill Lions Club was extremely appreciative of Touchstone Energy and TECA sponsorships and the involvement of the electric co-ops. It was a record-setting event with huge crowds each night,” says Steve Oden, director of member services for Duck River EMC. “Thanks goes to the more than 70 employee volunteers from eight Touchstone electric cooperatives who helped make the brand shine.”

“It was great to see so many of our co-ops work together on this event,” says David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “The partnerships between Touchstone Energy, participating co-ops and TECA allowed us to have a presence and reach our members in ways that no single co-op could have done. We hope this is the first of many opportunities for co-ops to partner and tell our story.”

Touchstone Energy produced the video below as a part of their On Tour project. You can read more about their experience in Chapel Hill at ontour.touchstoneenergy.com.

With rate changes due to annual programming cost increases, Fayetteville Public Utilities’ (FPU) Telecom Department continues to show steady growth and sustainability in customer retention.

“The cable and Internet industries receive a lot of “churn” due to cable or satellite dish contracts and customers’ relocations, but what continues to be FPU’s best-selling point is the quality of service we provide our customers 24 hours a day,” says FPU’s CEO and General Manager Britt Dye. “We work with residential and commercial customers every day to offer the best solutions for their telecom needs.”

Because FPU has a unique position in the industry of providing multiple utility services, customers who apply for new utilities and live in a serviceable area for the utility’s telecom services are most likely to choose FPU as their cable, Internet, and phone service provider above other competitors.

FPU’s Telecom Department continues to plan for future telecom expansions in rural county areas in order to reach residents who do not have access to high-speed Internet service. In many of these areas, FPU is able to offer fiber-to-the-home service. FPU also continues to expand its EPON (Ethernet Passive Optical Network) service to local commercial and industrial customers to offer greater bandwidth for business applications.

(ARLINGTON, VA.) — David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of TECA, was joined by Appalachian Electric Cooperative Manager Greg Williams and North Georgia Electric Membership Corporation Manager Katheryn West today in a meeting with White House officials in Washington, D.C., to discuss recent progress and potential collaboration on efficiency and renewable energy development. The Tennessee co-ops were among 30 cooperatives invited to attend the meeting with officials from the White House Rural Council and the USDA’s Rural Utilities Service.

“We had a productive conversation about how we can build the value of current federal programs and find more opportunities to bring the benefits of new efficiency and renewable energy technologies to our members,” said Callis.

Nationwide co-ops have been rapidly adding renewable energy capacity to the rural electric grid.  The nation’s more than 900 co-ops own or purchase about 16.5 gigawatts of renewable capacity and plan to add 2 GW of capacity in the near future. Cooperatives lead the nation in the development of community solar energy.

In addition to renewable energy development, co-ops are pursuing energy efficiency programs and innovations to help members reduce their bills. TECA is working with its member co-ops to develop a loan program to assist low-income homeowners with efficiency improvements. Tennessee co-ops view efficiency as a key component in a broader strategy to meet the challenges of growing electricity demand and rising costs.

The Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association provides legislative and communication support for Tennessee’s 23 electric cooperatives and publishes The Tennessee Magazine, the state’s most widely circulated periodical. Visit tnelectric.org or tnmagazine.org to learn more.

Electric co-ops serve some of the most rugged, remote terrain in the country, covering more than 70 percent of the nation’s landmass, which means we have learned how to restore power in incredibly difficult circumstances. Now, we’re restoring power even faster. Collectively, electric co-ops have reduced the average time without power their consumer-members experience from 142 minutes in 2011 to 105 minutes in 2013 – a 26 percent decline.

Restoring power is a difficult job and must be done safely and strategically. When the lights go out, Tennessee’s electric co-ops must first assess all damage. Power is always safely restored to the greatest number of members in the shortest amount of time possible. Let’s take a look at the power restoration process.

Repair high-voltage transmission lines

Transmission towers and lines deliver high-voltage power from the Tennessee Valley Authority to local substations, which send power to thousands of consumer-members. If these towers or lines are damaged during a powerful storm or natural disaster, they must be repaired before other parts of the system can operate.

Inspect distribution substation

Distribution substations receive high-voltage power from transmission lines then disperse the power at a lower voltage to the co-op’s main distribution lines. Depending on your electric co-op’s service territory, distribution substations can serve either hundreds or thousands of members. When a major power outage occurs, the co-op’s line crews inspect the substation to determine if the problem stemmed from the transmission lines feeding into the substation, the substation itself or if the problem is further down the line.

Check main distribution lines

If the problem cannot be isolated at a distribution substation, the main distribution lines are checked next. These are the lines you’re most likely familiar with. Distribution lines carry power to large groups of members in your electric co-op’s service territory.

Examine supply and service lines

If local outages persist, supply lines, also known as tap lines, are examined next. These lines deliver power to transformers that are either mounted on poles or placed on pads for underground service. Supply lines can be found outside of homes, businesses and schools. Occasionally, damage will occur on the lines between the nearest transformer and your home. Has your neighbor ever had power when you were left in the dark? This means damage occurred on the service line closest to your home. When the problem is on the service line, it may take line crews additional time to restore power. Remember, power is restored to the greatest number of members in the shortest amount of time possible.

As you can see, restoring power after a major outage is a big job and involves much more than simply flipping a switch or removing a tree from a damaged line. In the event of an outage, your local line crews will restore power as quickly and safely as possible.

 

Abby Berry writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Arlington, Va.-based service arm of the nation’s 900-plus consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives.

 

TVA President Bill Johnson met with Caney Fork EC directors and staff on Thursday, April 2. Johnson shared his background and vision for TVA –  controlling costs to provide efficient, affordable power for the Valley. He answered questions about the coal ash cleanup project at Kingston Fossil Plant and economic development.

TVA-Visit-3“We value our relationship with TVA, and we appreciate Mr. Johnson’s willingness to meet with us,” says Bill Rogers, general manager of Caney Fork EC. “TVA shares our commitment to public power, and our members are best served when Caney Fork and TVA work together to provide them with affordable and reliable service.”

Following his visit to Caney Fork EC, Johnson spoke to the McMinnville Rotary Club.