The best way to celebrate democracy is by encouraging full participation in public life. That’s why Tennessee’s electric co-ops are supporting National Voter Registration Day on September 22, 2020.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, less than 70% of eligible American citizens of voting age – 18 and over – were registered to vote in 2018. That means that up to 30% have not filed the required applications with their counties, parishes or states of local voter registrar’s offices, which are essential for making our voices as meaningful in American life as they might be.

We’re among thousands of organizations committed to making September 22 the most successful National Voter Registration Day in history, because we believe its goals are more important than ever before. Here’s why:

Unusual Year-Unexpected Changes

While 2020 began as a very active political year, disruptions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic concerns altered the campaign plans of many candidates. They also dramatically reduced overall access to voter registration forms through department of motor vehicle offices, public libraries and schools.

Suspension of on-site classes at many high schools prevented guidance counselors and government teachers from passing out registration applications to students who reached voting age this spring and summer.

Voter education efforts by churches or by state and local officials who normally would have booked space at community events to encourage community outreach found many of those events scaled back or canceled throughout spring and summer.

Lingering concerns about a resurgence of COVID-19 cases this autumn continue to fuel uncertainties on exactly how polling locations will operate or just how states and other jurisdictions will handle absentee and mail-in balloting.

The Challenge Ahead

“According to the PEW Charitable Trust’s state-by-state comparison of voter turnout for the 2014 midterm elections, Tennessee was dead last at just 28.5 percent,” said Trent Scott, vice president of corporate strategy with the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “Increasing overall participation in the election process begins with registering as many eligible voters as possible.”

That’s the goal of National Voter Registration Day. Recognized as a civic holiday since 2012, the annual event has served as a rallying point for voter registration initiatives supported by a network of nonpartisan organizations committed to increasing overall participation in the electoral process.

“Voting is central to American democracy,” said Laura Vogel, a senior political affairs advisor at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. “That’s why many electric cooperatives and their statewide associations are committed to making this year’s National Voter Registration Day the most successful event ever.”

Vogel, who represents electric co-ops on the National Voter Registration Day steering committee has worked with co-ops in [State] and throughout the nation to help develop new and effective ways to encourage co-op members to participate in local, state and national politics.

“Since 2012, National Voter Registration Day awareness efforts have helped to register more than 3 million voters,” said Vogel. “This year, we’re putting even more emphasis on digital engagement, because 41 states and the District of Columbia allow voters to register online.”

Many electric co-ops are using their social media pages to promote voter registration, and encouraging political engagement with articles in their newsletters, on their websites and with bill attachments or point of contact brochures and leaflets.

“More than 20,000 volunteers are committed to promotion of National Voter Registration Day,” said Vogel. “In the weeks ahead, electric co-ops will be promoting webinars on digital organizing and working closely with community organizations and businesses that are likely to remain open even if a resurgence of COVID-19 pandemic concerns occurs this autumn.”

“National Voter Registration Day is a great opportunity for us all to begin focusing on the most important aspects of this political season,” said Scott.  “This nonpartisan program promotes participation, and that includes ensuring that those who are registered to vote stay abreast of any changes that we might see in how to legally cast ballots in our state on election day.”

Remember to mark your calendar for National Voter Registration Day on September 22, and together, let’s enjoy the rights and opportunities we all share as Americans and celebrate our democracy. To learn more about National Voter Registration Day, visit www.nationalvoterregistrationday.org.

Derrill Holly writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the national trade association representing more than 900 local electric cooperatives. From growing suburbs to remote farming communities, electric co-ops serve as engines of economic development for 42 million Americans across 56 percent of the nation’s landscape.

Nashville – State officials on Friday awarded $61 million in emergency broadband grants, with $40 million going to Tennessee’s electric co-ops. The grants were awarded through the recently created Tennessee Emergency Broadband Fund.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us that broadband is essential for modern life,” said Mike Knotts, vice president of government affairs with the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “From telemedicine and distance learning to telecommuting and e–commerce, Tennessee’s rural communities must have reliable and affordable access to high–speed internet. Families and businesses in rural communities unfortunately understand what life is like without internet access, so today’s announcement is welcomed news.”

The Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development worked with the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association and other stakeholders to develop the Tennessee Emergency Broadband Fund using a portion of resources allocated to Tennessee through the Coronavirus Relief Fund. Recipients must utilize the funds before the end of 2020.

Nearly 70 percent of the funds awarded went to electric cooperatives. “When the state asked ‘Who can build rural broadband quickly?’ they turned to electric co-ops,” said Knotts. “Tennessee’s co-ops are demonstrating their ability to expand access quickly and leverage grant funds for maximum impact. We appreciate the trust and confidence Governor Lee has placed in us through today’s announcement.”

Tennessee’s electric co-ops will immediately begin construction on 29 separate projects to bring broadband to locations that currently do not have access. These projects will enable tens of thousands of people in some of the most remote parts of the state to participate in modern work, education and commerce. Broadband expansion will also improve Tennessee’s ability to respond to current and future public health emergencies.

The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was approved by Congress on June 4, 1919, but it took more than a year for the measure granting women the right to vote to gain ratification by 36 states. On Aug. 18, 2020, the nation marks the centennial of this human rights milestone.

Rural America was built on and owes much of its success to family-run farms and businesses. While dads and husbands are often celebrated throughout history and heritage, wives and mothers have been full partners in creating thousands of communities. In fact, electric cooperatives have served as incubators for the leadership skills that guide co-op-served communities today.

“Historically, rural wives were always isolated and only had interaction with their husbands and children, but they helped run farms and ranches and ran their homes,” said Betsy Huber, president and CEO of the National Grange.

Founded in 1867, the Grange chapters took root as fraternal community organizations committed to promoting sound agricultural concepts in the North, South and the expanding West.

“From the very beginning, women could hold any office in the Grange,” said Huber. “We have 13 offices, including four that are only open to women.”

By the early 1900s, organizations like the Grange were providing rural women with meaningful leadership opportunities and fueling passions for full engagement in public life that included political participation.

With the rise of suffragist sentiments, the Grange in the early 20th century routinely included women in governance decisions, said Huber. “One of our national agriculture committees early in the last century had six members, three men and three women who reviewed and discussed the resolutions submitted by local Grange chapters that ultimately set policy for the National Grange.”


The Woman Suffrage Monument in Nashville’s Centennial Park features five women who were actually in Nashville during the final ratification effort: Anne Dallas Dudley and Frankie Pierce of Nashville, Sue Shelton White of Jackson, Abby Crawford Milton of Chattanooga and Carrie Chapman Catt, the national suffrage leader who came to Nashville during the summer of 1920 to direct the pro-suffrage forces and stayed at the Hermitage Hotel.

Among the tarm women embracing the suffragist cause was Febb Ensminger Bum, a widow from Tennessee’s McMimi County who ultimately played a decisive role in earning women die right to vote and forever changing U.S. history.

“Suffrage has interested me for years,” Mrs. Bum once told a reporter.

Between miming her farm and caring for her family, she followed news accounts from Nashville and was turned off by harsh opposition speeches against ratification in the summer of 1920. In August, she penned a seven-page letter to her son, Henry T. Burn, a freshman representative in the House of the Tennessee General Assembly.

“Vote for suffrage and don’t keep them in doubt,” wrote Mrs. Burn to her 24-year-old son. “Don’t forget to be a good boy and help.”

With the letter from his mom in his pocket, Rep. Burn broke a 48–48 deadlock by changing his vote to pass the measure, and women nationwide were guaranteed the right to participate in all national elections.

“I spend a lot of my time encouraging co-op members to contact their legislators, and mother-son influence is a great example of true grassroots activism,” said Amanda Wolfe, a National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) senior political advisor who lives in Nashville.

The area where Mrs. Burn once farmed and raised her family is still served by Decatur-based Volunteer Energy Cooperative, said Wolfe, adding that voters there are still inspired by the state’s role as being the 19th Amendment’s “Perfect 36” — a reference to its decisive ratification role.

“Voting is so much more than just a right; it is a privilege,” said Wolfe. ‘The Suffragettes fought for generations to finally win that privilege 100 years ago, and every time we cast a ballot, we honor their memories.”

When electric cooperatives were organized years later, many of the same principles honored by rural organizations, including recognition of property rights, were among the fundamental tenets included in co-op charters. Family memberships were vested in heads of households, regardless of gender, and women were among the founding members of many electric cooperatives.

When President Franklin Delano Roosevelt created the Rural Electrification Administration in 1935, farm magazines quickly published stories about the news. Maye Shaw of Quitman, Texas, was a former teacher and regular reader who knew life on the farm would be easier with electric power.

She wrote Rep. Morgan G. Sanders for information and persuaded her husband, Virgil Shaw, to look into it. By 1937, they both were riding through the surrounding countryside, recruiting members and collecting $5 sign-up fees. Mr. Shaw eventually became the founding general manager of Wood County Electric Cooperative, which now serves nearly 36,000 meters and is still headquartered in Quitman.


Erected in 2018, the Burn Memorial depicts Rep. Harry Burn of Niota and his mother, Febb, and honors each of their roles in the ratification of the 19th Amendment.

“Though it was men who signed their names to charter Taylor EMC (in 1937), women have played a vital role in the cooperative’s development and success,” wrote authors of a 75th anniversary book on the history of Flint Energies. The Reynolds, Georgia-based co-op, originally founded as Taylor Electric Membership Corp., has enjoyed an active female membership since its early days.

Beulah Taylor and Ruby McKenzie became the cooperative’s first female board members in 1938 and helped lead the co-op through some of its formative years.

“Homemakers living in rural Taylor County spurred the cooperative’s early membership growth,” wrote authors. “Eager to bring the benefits and conveniences of electricity to their homes and farms, they held neighborhood meetings and took applications to further the cooperative cause.”

In 1939, when the Rural Electrification Administration approved its first loans for electric cooperatives in South Carolina, women were actively involved in the formation of Darlington-based Pee Dee Electric Cooperative.

Mrs. E.S.J. Evans, the home demonstration agent for the Darlington County Agricultural Extension Service Office, was an organizer, and Miss Sue Coker and Mrs. E.A. Gray were elected to the founding board.

America’s electric cooperatives support Co-ops Vote, a grassroots movement designed to encourage voter registration, political engagement and participation in local, state and national affairs.

“We provide the information to co-op consumer-members to find out how, where and when to vote and information on the issues that affect rural communities,” said Laura Vogel, an NRECA senior political advisor. “We do not tell people who to vote for, and we don’t endorse candidates.”

Many electric co-ops are supporting National Voter Registration Day on Sept. 22 to encourage political participation leading up to the November elections.

“With so many uncertainties brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic fueling concerns about how voting will proceed this fall, electric co-ops can play vital roles in reminding members of important dates and explaining rule changes,” said Vogel. “There will be great opportunities to meet community needs on information about mail balloting or changes in precinct operations, ensuring healthy turnout and widespread voter participation.”

Derrill Holly writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for NRECA, the national trade association representing more than 900 local electric cooperatives that serve 42 million Americans across 56 percent of the nation’s landscape.

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 

Your vote matters! Early voting for the Tennessee State and Federal Primary and County General Election begins today and runs Monday to Saturday until Saturday, August 1. Election Day is Thursday, August 6.

By voting early you can avoid Election Day crowds and take advantage of the flexibility of evening and Saturday hours and multiple polling locations in many counties.

During early voting and on Election Day, Tennesseans are encouraged to do their part. This includes wearing a face covering and maintaining a six-foot distance from poll officials and other voters. You should expect to see signs with further safety instructions at your polling locations. All poll officials will be wearing face coverings and are trained to take appropriate protective measures.

Find your polling location, view and mark sample ballots and much more with the free GoVoteTN app or online at GoVoteTN.com. You can also update your registration on GoVoteTN.com. Reviewing your sample ballot and making sure your registration is up to date will reduce the time you will need to spend at your polling location.

Remember to bring your ID to the polls. Information about what types of ID are acceptable can be found on GoVoteTN.com.

Make your voice heard. Vote Early!

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. – More than $11 million of $19.7 million in broadband accessibility grants announced last week by the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development will go to Tennessee electric cooperatives. Ten of the 17 grant recipients were electric co-ops.

“One of my top priorities is ensuring the success of rural Tennessee. With the assistance of these grants, communities across 21 counties will now have access to broadband that will aid in that success,” Gov. Bill Lee said. “I applaud the efforts of these 17 broadband providers as they play a fundamental role in our efforts to boost rural communities throughout Tennessee.”

The grants come at a time when the need for rural broadband is clear.

“We’re excited about this investment in rural Tennessee,” says David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “The current COVID-19 crisis has confirmed what we’ve known for some time: Rural America needs reliable broadband. Education, healthcare and commerce rely on a dependable, high-speed connection to the internet. More than ever, we’re seeing how vital that connection to the rest of the world truly is.”

Electric co-ops receiving grants are:

  • Fayetteville Public Utilities: $1,750,000, serving parts of Lincoln County
  • Forked Deer Electric Cooperative: $719,921, serving parts of Haywood and Lauderdale counties
  • Gibson Electric Membership Corporation: $703,518, serving parts of Obion County
  • HolstonConnect LLC (Holston Electric Cooperative): $361,211, serving the Mooresburg community in Hamblen and Hawkins counties
  • Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative: $593,166, serving parts of south Perry County
  • PVECFiber (Powell Valley Electric Cooperative) and Scott County Telephone Cooperative: $1,908,811.24, serving part of Union County
  • SVEConnect (Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative): $1,654,882, serving the Battle Creek and South Pittsburg Mountain communities in Marion County
  • Southwest Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation: $1,768,686, serving parts near the Brownsville community in Haywood County
  • Tri-County Fiber Communications LLC (Tri-County Electric Membership Corporation): $501,811, serving parts of Trousdale County
  • United Communications (Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation): $1,331,504.80, serving the Eagleville community in rural Rutherford and Williamson counties

The broadband accessibility grant fund was created in 2017 as a key component of the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act – sweeping legislation designed to close the digital divide in Tennessee. In the years since, many of Tennessee’s electric co-ops have invested more than $187 million in broadband projects that will eventually bring high-speed internet access to more than 790,000 homes and businesses.

NASHVILLE – More than 200 electric co-op leaders from across Tennessee were in Nashville on Tuesday, Feb. 4, asking for commonsense rules to protect the state’s electric lineworkers. Over 100 individual meetings with legislators were scheduled during the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association’s 2020 Legislative Conference.

When not installed properly, generation sources such as solar panels, wind turbines and gas generators that feed power to the grid can pose a real threat to the safety of lineworkers, first responders and the general public. Co-ops asked lawmakers to support SB 1991 and HB 1923, legislation that would require property owners installing a generation source to notify their local utility, comply with basic electric safety codes and install a switch that would allow lineworkers and first responders to disconnect the generation source in an emergency. Tennessee is one of only three states that does not have similar requirements in place.

“The interest of safety demands that any interconnected generation be properly installed,” says Kevin Murphy, president of Southwest Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation and chairman of the TECA board of trustees. “This legislation is a simple and practical effort that will go a long way to protect lineworkers, first responders and the general public.”

In addition to the lineworker safety legislation, co-ops also discussed other important topics.

Lawmakers were asked to support legislation that would allow certain utility-owned vehicles to display the Powering Tennessee specialty license plate that was introduced by the state in 2019. Proceeds from the plates support the Tennessee Lineworker Lifeline Fund, a nonprofit organization established to support lineworkers and their families.

Co-op representatives also shared information on broadband projects and encouraged lawmakers to support additional funding for rural broadband expansion.

“Every day, legislators make decisions that can impact the important work we do,” said David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “Visits like these provide us with valuable opportunities to educate lawmakers about co-ops and our communities. We appreciate co-op consumer-members and employees who take time away from family and work to meet with their elected officials. They help us tell the co-op story.”

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.

NASHVILLE – The 111th Tennessee General Assembly app gives Tennesseans interested in government and politics a powerful tool for connecting with lawmakers.

Tennessee legislators will return to Nashville on Jan. 14 for the second session of the 111th Tennessee General Assembly. During this year’s session lawmakers will consider legislation that can have an impact on Tennessee families and businesses. That makes it important to stay informed and, at times, reach out to your elected officials.

The Tennessee General Assembly app features a continually updated, searchable database of contact, staff and committee information as well as district maps, photos, leadership roles and social media profiles for members of the Tennessee House and Senate. It 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 and maintain information on legislators, and we believe that all Tennesseans should have easy access to this information for their lawmakers,” says David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “The app makes it easier than ever to connect with your elected representatives.” The free 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.

Proceeds from the plates to fund non-profit that supports lineworkers and their families following an injury or fatality

NASHVILLE – The state of Tennessee recently released a specialty license plate that honors the service and sacrifice of Tennessee’s electric lineworkers.

There are more than 3,500 electric lineworkers in Tennessee, and unless the power is out, we seldom think about the important work they do. Each day, they get out of bed, pull on their boots and work to make civilized life possible for the people who live in their communities. It is a dangerous job that frequently requires them to be away from their families.

To honor the contributions of Tennessee’s electric lineworkers, Tennessee’s electric cooperatives petitioned the General Assembly in 2019 to authorize the creation of a specialty license plate. The legislation was approved and signed by Gov. Lee in May.

“Tennessee’s more than 3,500 electric lineworkers power our state through their service and dedication,” said Gov. Bill Lee. “I am proud of this new Tennessee specialty license plate, and I thank the General Assembly for their support in honoring these valued individuals.”

The Powering Tennessee specialty license plate was supported by the Tennessee General Assembly and Gov. Bill Lee. (L–R) TECA Board President Kevin Murphy, TECA Vice President of Government Affairs Mike Knotts, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, TECA General Manager David Callis, TECA Board Vice President Dave Cross and TECA Board Secretary Steve Sanders

Even with lawmaker approval, the state required 1,000 preorders to put the Powering Tennessee specialty plates into production. Thanks to the overwhelming interest from lineworkers and others across the state, organizers collected 1,000 preorders in just six weeks.

Funds raised through specialty plate sales will benefit the Tennessee Lineworker Lifeline Fund, a nonprofit foundation created to assist lineworkers and their families in the event of a serious injury or fatality while on the job.

“In 2018, electrical lineworker was ranked as the 13th most dangerous job in the country – just behind law enforcement officers,” said David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “Safety is something we take seriously, but heights, high voltage, distracted drivers and other risks are always present. Each day lineworkers put their lives on the line for others, and the Powering Tennessee specialty license plates are a small way to honor these tough and dedicated community servants.”

The Powering Tennessee specialty license plate and the Tennessee Lineworker Lifeline Fund are supported by local utilities, the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association, Tennessee Municipal Electric Power Association, Tennessee Valley Public Power Association and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

Tennessee motorists don’t have to be lineworkers to show their appreciation for these brave men and women – anyone with a private vehicle registered in Tennessee can get the plate. Learn more about the plates and the Tennessee Lineworker Lifeline Fund by visiting poweringtennessee.org.

The Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association provides leadership, advocacy and 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.

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

David Callis, executive vice president and general manager, TECA

You don’t have to look far to find news stories that speak to the decline of rural America: aging population, unemployment, opioids. It can be a depressing outlook. We see it firsthand; Tennessee ranks 46th in life expectancy as rural hospitals close their doors. Schools struggle to attract teachers and provide advanced academic opportunities. And we all know that high-speed in-ternet can be unreliable, expensive or totally unavailable.

But our co-ops are uniquely positioned to have a positive impact on the rural and suburban communities we serve. Co-ops invest more money in rural Tennessee than almost any other group. They manage more than $3 billion in assets and 106,000 miles of distribution lines that stretch from the suburbs of Nashville to some of the most rugged and remote areas of the state. This year alone, co-ops have invested more than $107 million in the distribution grid — investments focused on meeting the needs of Tennesseans today and far into the future.

We also deliver power to our residential members at a price that is 16 percent below the national average. And our co-ops have significantly less debt per consumer than the national average. These stats speak to decades of thoughtful decision-making and a deliberate focus on the well-being of co-op consumer-members.

Our purpose is greater than simply keeping the lights on. Co-ops make healthcare, education, commerce and manufacturing possible in the communities we serve, empowering our consumer-members.

A solid education removes barriers and opens the doors of opportunity. That is why co-ops have a long and proud history of investing in rural youth. We want to prepare young people to be the next generation of leaders and to be fully aware of the opportunities that exist in their hometowns. That is why programs like 4-H Electric Camp, the Youth Leadership Summit and Washington Youth Tour are so vitally important. Electric co-ops give young, rural Tennesseans the power to be smarter, better educated and more prepared for the future.

From Burlison to Bristol and Clarksville to Counce, the communities we serve are remarkable. They are unlike any other place in the world. They have distinct challenges, yet offer unique opportunities. It is important for electric co-ops to be advocates for these communities — to tell the story of rural and suburban Tennessee. Decisions made in Nashville and Washington, D.C., have a significant impact on co-ops and the people we serve. So it is critical that we engage with legislators and policymakers at the state and federal levels and shape a positive image for co-ops and rural Tennessee through our communications efforts. We give rural Tennesseans the power to be heard.

Tennessee’s electric co-ops are able to merge the opportunities found in our cities with the quality of life that is unique to rural and suburban Tennessee. Our cooperatives have a legacy of fundamentally changing the communities we serve, but we can’t rest on yesterday’s successes. Our communities have new needs, and Tennessee’s electric cooperatives are here to step up and create fresh solutions.

We do more than deliver power. We empower the people and communities we serve.

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.”

The following op-ed by David Callis appeared in The Tennessean on Friday, Dec. 13. You can view the article on The Tennessean’s website.

PASS THE RURAL ACT

An op-ed by David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association

In 2016 the Tennessee legislature and the governor’s administration published reports about the lack of broadband in rural areas. A major area of concern was the prohibition on electric cooperatives providing broadband and a lack of funding.

As a result, the General Assembly passed the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act in 2017 to ensure that one day all Tennesseans will have access to broadband internet. The legislation allows electric cooperatives to provide broadband internet service and provides grants to jumpstart the efforts of willing providers.

Lawmakers in Washington, D.C., have also recognized the need for rural broadband deployment. Since low population density and high costs are major hurdles to successful rural broadband deployment, state and federal grants are essential tools in efforts to bridge the digital divide. Congress recently appropriated more than $600 million that will be distributed through the USDA’s Re-Connect program that focuses exclusively on expanding access to broadband in rural America.

However, another significant hurdle surfaced last year. An unintended consequence of federal tax law changes threatens to impose additional financial burdens on rural communities and hamper broadband expansion.

Let me explain. Most of the nation’s 900 consumer-owned electric co-ops are recognized as tax-exempt organizations by the IRS as long as they receive no more than 15 percent of their income from non members.

Under the 2017 tax law, federal, state and local grants now count toward that 15 percent threshold. If that limit is exceeded, a co-op will lose its tax-exempt status for that year. Lawmakers acknowledge that the threat to electric co-ops is an unintended consequence.

This undermines a successful business model that has served America’s rural communities well for decades. It doesn’t matter if the money is for storm recovery, broadband deployment or economic development. If a co-op’s non member income exceeds 15 percent because of the grant, the cooperative could be forced to pay taxes on the grant amount.

Last month, Forked Deer Electric Cooperative was the first cooperative in the nation to receive a grant from the U.S. Department of Agricutlure’s new Re-Connect program. They were awarded a $2.8 million grant that will allow the cooperative to reach areas across 425 square miles of their sparsely populated West Tennessee service area that lack broadband service. U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Purdue toured Lauderdale County, and during his speech announcing the grant, he told the audience, “We know when rural America thrives, all of America thrives.”

I couldn’t agree more.

However, receiving this grant puts the co-op dangerously close to the 15 percent limit for non member revenue. If Forked Deer Electric Cooperative is fortunate enough to receive additional grants for broadband or economic development, they could easily exceed the 15 percent limit. If a natural disaster caused significant damage to the electric system, grants from FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) could also force the cooperative into becoming taxable.

Rural America faces serious challenges, and few organizations are investing more money and effort into solving these problems than consumer-owned electric co-ops.

Congress inadvertently created this problem, and now co-ops are urging Congress to fix it. Pending bipartisan legislation known as the RURAL Act (H.R. 2147 and S.1032) clarifies that government grants should not jeopardize the tax-exempt status of electric co-ops. The act, introduced by Reps. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.) and Adrian Smith (R-Neb.) and Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Tina Smith (D-Minn.), will restore certainty and common sense.

The bipartisan RURAL Act has been co-sponsored by nearly all of Tennessee’s congressional delegation, including Sen. Marsha Blackburn and Reps. John Rose, Phil Roe, Tim Burchett, Scott DesJarlsis, David Kustoff, Chuck Fleischman and Mark Green. We thank them for their support. Their leadership and commitment to helping rural Tennessee will help ensure that co-ops won’t jeopardize their tax-exempt status. Electric co-ops should be able to focus on their core missions of providing affordable and reliable power and enhancing the quality of life in their communities without fear of a federal tax bill.

Time is running out, and lawmakers need to pass legislation this year. Passage of the RURAL Act is essential for America’s rural communities.

As co-ops across the nation prepare to apply for the next round of broadband grant funding for rural America, relief from this taxing problem can’t come soon enough.

November 6, 2019 – Centerville, TN As of October 23, Meriwether Lewis Connect, is live with installations in each of the nine cities it targeted for Phase I.  Connected residents in Waverly, Hohenwald, Centerville, Erin, Tennessee Ridge, New Johnsonville, Linden, Lobelville and now McEwen are streaming high-speed, affordable, reliable broadband from the Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative subsidiary.

The first MLConnect customer was connected in March 2019, just seven months after MLEC announced its plans to make high-speed, fiber broadband and phone services an option for all its members. Construction for Phase II is now underway in rural Humphreys County.

I am pleased to announce that the board of directors has approved Phase II of the project to get high speed, reliable fiber broadband to all our members,” says MLEC President and CEO Keith Carnahan. “It includes the rural areas of Humphreys and Houston counties and utilizes a Tennessee Economic and Community Development grant received for rural Humphreys County to bring broadband.  The grant is time sensitive, and we need to complete this part of the project in a timely fashion. Phase 2 will span 15 months, while evaluation and preparation for Phases III and IV are ongoing.”

Carnahan reiterated MLEC and MLConnect’s commitment to make fiber broadband an option for all MLEC members, noting that it will take time to build such an expansive, reliable network. He also shared that they are pursuing grants for additional areas in other counties and will know if the applications are successful in April 2020.

“It isn’t a matter of ‘if’ MLConnect will be an option for every MLEC member but ‘when’,” says Carnahan. “When MLEC announced its broadband project in August 2018, we shared our goal to complete construction in all five counties by the end of 2022, realistically installations will still be ongoing past that because we just can’t be everywhere at once. However, obtaining grants can help us with the timelines and economic impact of reaching our goal.”

Preparations for Phases III and IV are constantly being evaluated and will include the rural areas of Hickman, Lewis and Perry counties. Updates will be available at a later date.

For now, MLConnect encourages MLEC members without service to sign up at www.mlconnect.com.  There is no obligation, and it gives them a way to contact you when installations begin in your area.

The electric grid has led to dramatic changes in our way of life, and as society continues to change, so does our nation’s grid.

The smart grid is the modern-day version of the traditional grid that has evolved with more advanced technologies that allow for two-way communication between the electric utility and the consumer. With all of the progress from developing technologies, the smart grid provides many advantages for both utilities and consumers.

The smart grid is made up of a variety of technologies that collectively help to make the grid smarter. A key feature is the smart meter, which provides two-way communication between the energy provider and the consumer. Smart meters help detect power outages and automate billing, which helps to improve reliability and efficiency. The smart meter is connected to smart distribution systems, smart substations and smart generation capabilities, which all work together to create a smart grid.

As research and innovation continues, additional technologies are becoming available. Advancements like machine learning, where electric utilities can forecast energy use using past data and patterns, and total automation, where power generation to distribution is completely automated are just a couple of examples of how the grid will be more efficient.

The smart grid provides many benefits, and one of the most important is providing electricity in a more reliable way. With all the new technology, problems in the grid are much easier to prevent early on, easier to identify and easier to fix. The smart grid also helps utilities plan for the future to reduce the likelihood of power blackouts and surges.

Another benefit to the consumer is more access to information and new ways to control and manage their energy use. Consumers now have the ability to view their daily energy use online or via app before they receive their monthly bill, which can lead to better energy efficiency habits.

Another benefit is that the grid will be better equipped to handle demand response programs to manage the electricity load, which can ultimately save money for the utility and consumers. Having the ability to strategically manage the energy load will also help the grid to better integrate renewable energy into the system. Consumer-owned renewable energy generation systems, such as rooftop solar panels, are also more easily integrated into the grid.

Considering all the benefits, it makes sense for utilities to invest in smart grid technologies. By investing now, they will help to reduce costs over the long run while also providing more reliable service to the consumers they serve.

Over the next decade, utilities are expected to invest $110 billion in smart grid technologies, and this value is likely to grow as new technologies continue to be developed. Many electric cooperatives across the U.S. have started initiatives within their service territory to deploy smart meters and other advanced grid infrastructure. These advancements and trends will continue as improving grid reliability remains a priority for electric utilities.

Maria Kanevsky is a program analyst for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the national trade association representing more than 900 local electric cooperatives. From growing suburbs to remote farming communities, electric co-ops serve as engines of economic development for 42 million Americans across 56 percent of the nation’s landscape.

HALLS, TENN. – U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Purdue presented the nation’s first ReConnect grant to Forked Deer Electric Cooperative today at an event in Halls, Tenn. The co-op will use the $2.8 million grant to build a fiber-to-the-home network and bring broadband to the electric co-op’s rural consumers.

The USDA’s Rural e-Connectivity loan and grant program, or ReConnect, was established to build modern broadband infrastructure in rural areas. The program was funded by an initial $600 million Congressional appropriation.

“There are a lot of advantages that electric co-ops have when it comes to broadband,” said Secretary Purdue while speaking at a grant ceremony today at Forked Deer Electric Cooperative in Halls. “You know your customers, you already have lines, you have an obligation to serve, and this fits right into your business model. I truly believe that broadband will bridge the rural/urban divide.”

“This is a big day for Forked Deer Electric Cooperative,” said the co-op’s CEO Jeff Newman. “High speed internet access is more than a convenience – it is absolutely necessary for education, healthcare and commerce. Our rural communities cannot be left behind. These funds will assist Forked Deer Electric Co-op in bringing modern connectivity to the communities we serve, and it is exciting to think of the impact that will have right here in Lauderdale County.”

“It is noteworthy that an electric co-op in Tennessee is the first recipient of a ReConnect grant,” says David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “Tennessee co-ops have demonstrated the 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.”

NASHVILLE – Jamie Perrigo, operations superintendent for Tri-County Electric Membership Corporation in Lafayette, flipped the switch to light the midway and officially start the 2019 Tennessee State Fair on Friday, Sept. 6, in Nashville. Tennessee’s electric co-ops have sponsored the opening ceremony of the fair since 2014.

Attendees of the opening ceremony heard from legislators, elected officials and others, including Nashville Mayor David Briley and Trent Scott, vice president of corporate strategy for the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association.

“The fair is a celebration of life in Tennessee – specifically rural Tennessee,” said Scott. “There are exciting things happening here in Nashville, but it is important that we not overlook what happens out there – past the city limits signs in rural and suburban Tennessee. Rural Tennessee is home to 37 percent of the state’s population and 30 percent of personal incomes. What happens out there matters. It matters to the people who live there, but it should matter to everyone. Co-ops are proud to serve rural Tennessee and advocate for rural communities every day. We’re also proud to be here tonight to kick off the 2019 Tennessee State Fair.”

The fair runs Sept. 6 – 15 at the Fairgrounds in Nashville. Learn more at tnstatefair.org.