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.

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.