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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Loyd Muncy

Somerville, TENN. – On July 1, Loyd Muncy became Chickasaw Electric Cooperative’s fifth general manager. Muncy replaces John Collins who announced his retirement in 2019.

Muncy, a 30-year veteran of the cooperative, has served in many capacities while at the cooperative including engineering supervisor, IT manager, project manager, and manager of finance and administration.

Muncy was drawn to the position because he has been involved with management and policies at the cooperative for several years, and he likes the direction the cooperative is headed. “Plus, it is pretty much the only title I have not held at the co-op,” he added. Muncy says his favorite cooperative principle is “Cooperation among Cooperatives,” and he believes there is great value in the co-op network that allows co-ops to solve problems together and learn from one another.

“I have always appreciated and respected the wise counsel of John Collins,” says David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of TECA. “We salute him for an exceptional career and wish him a wonderful retirement. The TECA team also congratulates Loyd and looks forward to working with him as he leads a great co-op.”

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 — Thanks to the incredible generosity of co-ops, employees and industry partners, more than $70,000 has been contributed as of the end of May to the Electric Co-op Employee Emergency Assistance Fund. 

Four electric co-op employees lost their homes — and one nearly lost her life — as two devastating tornadoes tore through Middle Tennessee on the morning of March 3. TECA and Tennessee’s electric co-ops established the fund to assist these employees. 

“My husband and I are forever grateful for the grant money that was gifted to us,” says Jessica Reed, a member service representative with Upper Cumberland Electric Membership Corporation who was seriously injured in the storm. “It has provided us peace of mind during this trying time and is allowing us to recover and heal without the added stress of unforeseen expenses that inevitably arise. We feel truly blessed to be alive and humbled by the overwhelming generosity of so many.” 

“Team MTE had three employees affected by the Wilson County tornado,” says Chris Jones, president of Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation. “We’re blessed to have them with us and thankful for the funds donated through TECA to help them recover from the storm’s destruction. Because of the funds provided, our employees could focus more on their families when they needed to most. The kind words and thoughtful actions of our sister utilities show that our cooperative family extends beyond Team MTE and the service territory we serve. On behalf of MTE employees and members, thank you to all who have donated to TECA’s Electric Co-op Employee Emergency Assistance Fund.” 

“I had the opportunity to visit with Upper Cumberland Electric Membership Corporation’s injured employee just a few days after the storm,” said David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “She was moved to tears when we presented her with the first check from the fund. Thanks to the support of our industry, she and the others impacted by the storms are in the process of recovering and rebuilding.” 

“We work in a great industry,” said Callis. “I hope you share my sense of pride in the important work we do each day and the way we care for our own.” 

Not unlike other American businesses and institutions, our Federal and state legislative bodies have been working to adapt to the “new normal” that coronavirus has created. While Congress has continued to meet sporadically throughout this period of social distancing, sometimes even voting by utilizing unanimous consent procedures, the State Legislature recessed in Mid-march and put all of its work on hold. 

Importantly for cooperatives, the Congress has created several new programs to help those impacted by COVID-19. 

The CARES Act provided an additional $900M of funding for the LIHEAP program, which provides direct cash payments to help individuals pay their energy bills. These funds are ultimately administered through local non-profits or government agencies. To see which agencies serve your communities, click here. If your cooperative is experiencing an increase in late payments, underpayments, or non payment of bills we encourage you to proactively reach out to your affected members and provide contact information for these local LIHEAP agencies. 

An additional creation of the CARES Act was the Paycheck Protection Program. This new initiative of the Small Business Administration was established to allow certain businesses to access low-interest loans that would allow their business to continue operating and paying employees despite economic uncertainty. If the money is used for payroll, rent/mortgage, and utility expenses then the loan can be forgiven – essentially turning the loan into a grant. 

Congress has allocated over $600 billion to this program. As of this writing, approximately $100B remains available for affected parties. If your cooperative is working with commercial and industrial customers who have been affected by the pandemic, this program is a excellent resource to ensure they have available funds to pay their electric bill. 

Additionally, the Small Business Administration has confirmed that electric cooperatives are themselves eligible to participate in the PPP, assuming the meet the self certification requirements of all borrowers. Learn more about PPP by clicking here (https://www.sba.gov/funding-programs/loans/coronavirus-relief-options/paycheck-protection-program). 

Conversation in Washington now centers around whether or not Congress will enact additional relief or economic stimulus in response to COVID-19. The House of Representatives passed the HEROES Act on May 15, which would allocate an additional $3 Trillion to both existing and new relief-oriented programs. However, the Senate is unlikely to approve this specific legislation and negotiations about any potential compromise have been slow to begin. 

NRECA is working with lawmakers to address several priorities in the next bill, should one come to fruition. Those priorities include not enacting a nationwide moratorium on disconnects due to nonpayment of bills, reduction of interest rates and expanded lending from the Rural Utility Service, additional Federal assistance to assist with end user payment of energy bills, broadband funding and FEMA assistance for disaster response.  

Back in Nashville, the legislature is returning from its recess this week to complete its session and adjourn for the year. While the House and the Senate are taking differing approaches to this final run to the finish line, it is highly unlikely that any legislation that TECA was working to promote or oppose will be considered before adjournment. Most Capitol watchers seem to believe that several cuts to the previously approved budget for next year will be enacted and the session will then conclude. 

Governor Lee has been exercising additional power and authority under the declared state of emergency, and co-ops rightly continue to be classified as essential businesses. This allows our continued operation during the various levels of stay at home orders and business closures of the past several months.   

A recent change to a state program to assist with childcare for essential workers was positive for cooperatives. The COVID-19 Essential Employee Child Care Payment Assistance Program will provide payments directly to child care providers so that essential workers can remain on the job. Utility employees were initially left of the list of eligible employee categories, but Governor Lee recently announced a change. To learn more, please click here (https://www.tn.gov/humanservices/covid-19/child-care-services-and-covid-19.html). 

It seems that we have veered from one calamity to the next this year; tornadoes to a derecho, topped off with a pandemic. Still to come: murder hornets and a potentially active hurricane season.

Throughout this new pandemic reality, you’ve taken extreme measures to protect your employees so they could do what they do best – keep the lights on. The service that we provide is critically important for Tennessee homes, businesses, and hospitals – even more so during this period. The damage from multiple storms and the ongoing impact of the pandemic has made this a challenging year, but our co-ops have risen to the challenge and served their communities with compassion and pride.

Backing up the co-ops in accomplishing those goals is the staff here at The Tennessee Magazine and TECA. Our team is dedicated to supporting Tennessee’s electric cooperatives in a variety of ways: youth programs, safety training, employee education, communications, community outreach, government relations, and economic development – anything that helps your cooperative better serve your consumers and communities.

Our staff, based primarily in Nashville, last met as a group on March 16th for lunch – properly separated from each other in the early days of the pandemic. Since then, we have worked mostly from home over the next two months, keeping in touch remotely with our co-ops, elected officials, the media and each other. We’ve adjusted to balancing our work responsibilities with our family responsibilities.

I appreciate the work they do and their ability to adjust to this new reality. Mostly, I admire their dedication to the job they do every day – assisting Tennessee’s co-ops and advocating for Tennessee’s rural and suburban communities.

It is unclear what the coming weeks, months or years will hold, but I am absolutely confident that co-ops will be there – serving their communities, leading with compassion and trying each day to do the right thing.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – To safeguard against COVID-19, and the spread of the 2019 novel coronavirus, the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association is rescheduling the 2020 Youth Leadership Summit for Monday, July 20 – Wednesday, July 22.

Two factors played into this decision.

The safety and well-being of the students in our care is our ultimate priority. Public health officials are still learning about COVID-19. The majority of confirmed cases in Tennessee have been diagnosed in the Nashville region, and the trip places students in very public places where we are unable to control student interaction with others.

Electric co-op employees are stewards of critical infrastructure. Spread of the illness among co-op employees represents a real threat to the communities we serve. We have a heightened responsibility to protect the health and well-being of our workforce.

Earlier today, Gov. Lee declared a state of emergency in Tennessee due to the growing threat posed by COVID-19. In the past 24 hours, a number of high profile closures and cancellations have been announced, including in-person classes for the University of Tennessee system and Vanderbilt University. Like the decisions made by these institutions, postponing the 2020 Youth Leadership Summit is a proactive step to limit the spread of the virus.

“This is a difficult decision to make because the Youth Leadership Summit is a unique opportunity to educate young Tennesseans about leadership, public policy and cooperatives,” says David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “I sincerely hope we can look back on this as an unnecessary precaution, but our utmost responsibility is the safety of our delegates, employees and chaperones.”

UPDATED | NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Recovery efforts continue across Middle Tennessee today following a strong tornado that ripped through the area early Tuesday morning.

Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation and Upper Cumberland Electric Membership Corporation suffered heavy damage to their systems. Storms also caused minor damage to Cumberland Electric Membership Corporation, Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative and Tri-County Electric Membership Corporation.

UCEMC’s Cookeville office

Today, MTEMC has fewer than 2,000 consumer-members without power. Crews have restored power to more than 45,000 since the storm originally hit. MTEMC estimates that more than 250 poles were broken during the storm. MTEMC is being assisted by crews from Caney Fork Electric Cooperative, Cumberland Electric Membership Corporation, Duck River Electric Cooperative and Fayetteville Public Utilities.

Upper Cumberland Electric Membership Corporation has approximately 2,200 consumer-members without power. More than 12,000 have had their power restored since the storm originally hit. UCEMC’s Cookeville district office was heavily damaged in the storm. Crews from Tri-County Electric Membership Corporation are assisting UCEMC today.

An employee of UCEMC and her husband were injured when the storm destroyed their home. The employee is recovering following surgery. Some MTEMC employees also lost homes and experienced property damage.

The Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association has established a fund to assist employees of electric co-ops who who were injured or experienced property damage during the storm. Visit tnelectric.org/give or contact Amy Jordan at TECA for more details.

In the midst of their own recovery efforts, employees from MTEMC had the co-op’s food truck, the Electric Griddle, in Mt. Juliet on Wednesday, preparing grilled cheese sandwiches for first responders, clean-up crews, volunteers and restoration crews.

MTEMC employee Tim Sudds serves hot food to first responders in Mt. Juliet following a major tornado in Tuesday morning.

“Many Tennessee communities experienced extreme damage and loss this week,” said David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “We have also seen co-ops rally to serve their communities and neighboring cooperatives. Co-op people are the best people, and it is an honor to watch these community servants do what they do best.”

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – A strong tornado moved through Nashville and parts of middle Tennessee overnight leaving significant damage in its wake.

Several middle Tennessee co-ops are reporting outages this morning, including Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation which currently has 19,000 consumers without power and Upper Cumberland Electric Membership Corporation which has 10,000 out. Other systems that have reported outages include Cumberland Electric Membership Corporation, Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative and Tri-County Electric Membership Corporation.

Upper Cumberland Electric’s Cookeville office received significant damage, and at least one Middle Tennessee Electric employee lost his home.

TECA employees and their families are safe, and the TECA office was not damaged.

TECA has not received any requests for mutual aid, but we are prepared to assist as needs arise.

“Our hearts go out to our friends and neighbors who have experienced loss this morning,” said David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of TECA. “We will work with state and local leaders to help Nashville and the middle Tennessee region recover.”

TECA is establishing a fund to assist co-op employees who have lost homes and property. We will share additional information on this as soon as the details have been finalized.

Photo by Sam Shamburger

JOHNSON COUNTY, Tenn. — A crew of Mountain Electric Cooperative lineworkers rescued a woman from her nearly-submerged vehicle after a rockslide pushed it into a swollen creek. 

After falling into the creek, the vehicle was washed about 300 yards downstream through turbulent waters and became lodged in the middle of a creek. With raging water on both sides, it quickly became apparent to local first responders that they had no equipment to make a swift-water rescue. Officials decided to request assistance from Mountain EC. Co-op employee Mollie Ingle had already stopped to help out, and she radioed additional crews for assistance.

Lineworkers Rick Courtner, Cody Bryant, Dakota Tester and Charlie Grindstaff rushed to the scene with a bucket truck, unsure of what they would find. “I was pushing it as hard as I could go,” Bryant said. “We had two or three hills we had to pull at like 20 miles per hour.”

The crew was able to set up the bucket truck along the edge of the water where the bucket would just barely reach the vehicle. Two linemen manned the bucket and were able to reach the vehicle and pull the frightened driver into the bucket and to safety.

“I started talking to her, asking her name,” Courtner said. “[We were] trying to keep her calm considering the situation because you could see the fear in her eyes.”

Ingle said, “When they got her in the bucket, she was clinging to Rick. She was so … everyone there was so happy.”

Courtner and Bryant don’t see themselves as heroes. “I knew the lady’s life was at risk, and we got her out,” Courtner said. “But as far as the mindset in us doing it, it’s something we do every day.”

“It is unclear how the lady would have been rescued if not for Mountain EC,” says Joe Thacker, manager of the cooperative. “It was a very serious situation, and emergency personnel had limited options due to raging water, so we’re glad we could help. Our lineworkers put themselves at risk every day to serve our communities. We are very proud of Rick, Cody, Dakota, Charlie and Mollie and their willingness to go above and beyond to help others in need. This is Mountain Electric at our best.”

Some reporting by WCYB News 5.

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.

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

Our increasingly connected world is giving scammers more opportunities to connect with unsuspecting consumers, and local authorities, utilities and other businesses are working overtime to keep people informed. They suggest that ‘if you see something, say something,’ is a vigilance adage that can help prevent you, your family or your business from being victimized.   

“The Federal Trade Commission has been hearing about scammers impersonating utility companies in an effort to get your money,” said Lisa Lake, a federal consumer education specialist. “Your reports help us fight these scams.”

Electric cooperatives are among the businesses and consumer organizations supporting Utilities United Against Scams (UUAS). The international consortium of electricity, natural gas, water and sewer providers, and trade and industry associations is sharing information on payment scams, identity theft, sales and service schemes.

Imposter scams are the most common type of fraud reported to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), according to UUAS officials. “Impersonators call homes and small businesses demanding payment for supposedly delinquent bills and threatening to terminate service.”

The frequency of the incidents picks up during peak heating and cooling seasons, in part because consumers are most concerned when temperature extremes increase the urgency of maintaining utility service.

Variations on the scam are also becoming more common. Rather than making an initial claim that a consumer owes an outstanding balance, some scammers are now claiming an overpayment is the reason for a telephone call to a consumer. They will make contact in an attempt to get banking information so they can process a refund.

“Never give banking information over the phone unless you place the call to a number you know is legitimate,” wrote the FTC’s Lake in an FTC blog.

There has also been an uptick in door-to-door scams by people claiming to represent utility providers like your electric co-op. Representatives knock or ring the doorbell offering to replace or repair a meter or other device, or solicit personal information to sign a consumer up for programs that could reduce their energy bills.

They may try to charge you for the phony service, sell you unnecessary products, collect personal information for use in identity theft or simply gain entry to steal valuables, officials said.

High-pressure demands are a common tactic in many of the schemes. Urging immediate decisions or actions, like immediate payment, particularly by a specific option like a gift card, wire transfer, cell phone or third-party computer app should raise serious concerns.

Utility-connected scams are common, because utility services are so common. Lighting, heating, water and sewage services are all essential to modern living, so any threat of service disconnections can provoke a lot of anxiety.

Your first defense is personal awareness of your account status, including knowing whether balances are up to date. This is becoming more important as scammers use more automatic dialers or robocalls to phish for potential marks.

“Even if the caller insists you have a past due bill, that’s a big red flag,” said Lake, offering an alternative response. “Contact the utility company directly using the number on your paper bill or on the company’s website. Don’t call any number the caller gave you.”

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.”

Southwest Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation and Aeneas Internet and Telephone Form Partnership to Bring Broadband Internet to West Tennessee

Broadband via gigabit fiber coming soon to Southwest Tennessee Electric’s consumer-members

Brownsville, Tennessee – December 11, 2019 – Southwest Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation and Aeneas Internet and Telephone announce today that they have formed a partnership to build and expand a gigabit fiber network to bring broadband communications to the region. This partnership will pave the way for a multi-year, multi-million-dollar investment into West Tennessee’s future. The new network will eventually expand to provide high-speed internet access to every consumer-member in Southwest Tennessee Electric’s service area.

The network will allow Southwest Tennessee Electric to build one of the most advanced electric distribution systems in Tennessee. The communication network will allow the cooperative to monitor and remotely manage equipment across the utility’s 11-county service area, reducing cost, improving reliability, and increasing operational efficiency.

The gigabit fiber network will also allow Southwest Tennessee Electric and Aeneas to bring broadband internet and telephone services to many unserved areas of southwest Tennessee. Construction’s first phase of nearly 1,000 miles of fiber optic cable will begin in the spring of 2020. Phase one will take approximately one year to complete and will focus on Tipton County and Chester County. Additionally, grant applications have been submitted to serve Hardeman and Haywood counties. Following phases will be launched based on participation and interest. The entire project is expected to take five years to complete.

“We have heard the call from our consumer-members all over the service area who are asking for reliable high-speed internet service,” said Kevin Murphy, president of Southwest Tennessee Electric. “Recognizing that retail broadband service would be a new space for the cooperative, we began looking for a local partner with similar mission and purpose – serving the rural communities of West Tennessee. We found that strategic partnership with Aeneas Internet and Telephone. Aeneas is passionate about local customer service, and that is the culture and purpose that we looked for in a partner.”

“Our common mission is to serve our neighbors,” Murphy said. “That, coupled with their expansive knowledge of the technology required to operate a gigabit fiber network, makes this a perfect fit.”

“What an exciting time for West Tennessee!” said Stephen Thorpe, CEO of Aeneas Internet and Telephone. “For years we have worked with Southwest Tennessee Electric on various projects bringing broadband service to rural communities around West Tennessee. The need for broadband is growing rapidly, and in today’s world we really do rely on it being available to all of us – not just those that live in or around the metro areas. Our founder Jonathan Harlan instilled in us a commitment to the communities we live in and the people we serve – to always have our customers and community our top priority. This is why he believed Southwest Tennessee Electric would be a perfect partner because we share cultures and beliefs. All of us here at Aeneas are excited to partner with Southwest Tennessee Electric to continue with Mr. Harlan’s legacy and help bring this much needed service to even more people in the communities we serve!”

About Southwest Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation

Based in Brownsville, Tennessee, Southwest Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation is a consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperative distributing power to 50,000 meters in parts of 11 West Tennessee counties. The cooperative powers nearly 50 communities of various sizes and maintains more than 4,000 miles of electric distribution lines. With offices in Haywood, Tipton, Madison, and Chester counties; STEMC has been community focused for almost 85 years.

About Aeneas Internet and Telephone

Headquartered in Jackson, Tennessee, Aeneas Internet and Telephone has been named to Entrepreneur magazine’s Hot 500 list of fastest growing businesses in the United States, as well as BusinessTN magazine’s Hot100 and Inc. Magazine’s Inc 5,000. Founded in 1995, Aeneas offers a myriad of services including gigabit fiber broadband, local and long distance, VoIP, office phone systems, commercial web hosting and corporate e-mail, network security, off-site file storage, data center services, managed networking, and more.

If you would like more information about Southwest Electric Membership Corporation, please call Billy Gordon at 731-585-0538, or email wgordon@stemc.com.

If you would like more information about Aeneas Internet and Telephone, please call Stephen Thorpe at 731-554-9200 or email sthorpe@corp.aeneas.com

State’s electric cooperatives gather in Nashville to explore the opportunities facing co-ops

NASHVILLE – The 78th annual meeting of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association was held Sunday, Nov. 24, through Tuesday, Nov. 26, in Nashville. Nearly 400 electric cooperative leaders from across the state attended the event where they discussed the significant impact co-ops have, challenged one another to meet the needs of their communities and learned more about emerging technology and power supply issues.

During an address to electric co-op leaders, Gov. Bill Lee commended co-ops for their service to rural Tennessee. “What you do is important to me, and it is critically important to Tennessee’s rural communities,” said Lee. “You bring not light but life to rural Tennessee.”

“Our co-ops are uniquely positioned to have a positive impact on the rural and suburban communities we serve,” says David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “From infrastructure to education to communications, co-ops invest more money in rural Tennessee than almost any other group. We know that these communities matter, and we have a vested interest in their success.”

Kevin Murphy, president of Southwest Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation in Brownsville, was elected president of the TECA board of trustees. Dave Cross, manager of Plateau Electric Cooperative in Onieda, was named vice president, and Steve Sanders, director for Gibson Electric Membership Corporation in Trenton, was named secretary.

Elections were also held for three positions on the association’s board of trustees. Keith Carnahan, CEO of Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative in Centerville; Albert Dicus, director from Caney Fork Electric in Madisonville; and Greg Williams, manager for Appalachain Electric Cooperative in new Market, were elected to four-year terms.

Mike Partin, CEO of South Pittsburg’s Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative, was also elected to serve as Tennessee’s representative on the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association board of directors.

“We congratulate those selected to serve in leadership positions,” says Callis. “We depend on our co-ops to provide guidance and counsel for the association, and we are grateful for their willingness to serve.”

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

Four co-ops were presented with certifications from the Rural Electric Safety Achievement Program for 2019. Receiving certifications at this year’s event were Fort Loudoun Electric Cooperative, Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative, Tennessee Valley Electric Cooperative and Upper Cumberland Electric Membership Corporation.

“We believe that Tennesseans should not be constrained by where they choose to live, and we are committed to closing the gap between opportunities in places like Nashville and Chattanooga and the opportunities that exist in New Market, Centerville and hundreds of other rural and suburban communities,” says Callis. “The continued success of co-ops and the communities we serve depend on people choosing to live and raise their families here – not in spite of the limitations, but because of the abundant opportunities.”

David Callis, executive vice president and general manager, Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association

The Lewis and Clark expedition was, for the early 1800s, a “moon shot” of epic proportions. The United States was a young and growing country. President Thomas Jefferson had just brokered the Louisiana Purchase, doubling the size of the nation, and a thorough exploration was in order. Capts. William Clark and Meriwether Lewis led a party of 33 soldiers and guides. Not knowing the challenges they would face, they embarked on an 8,000-mile journey that would take well over two years.

Planning for the trip began months earlier. They made use of everything. The barrels in which they packed their provisions were lined with lead to keep things dry. When the barrel was empty, the lead could be fashioned into ammunition. The iron staves holding the barrels together were used to trade with the natives in the region.

Jack Uldrich, noted author and futurist, has written and taught extensively about Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery. In his book “Into the Unknown,” he writes, “How can we prepare for the future? What skills will we need? What tools? What equipment? Where do we even start? These are the very questions Louis and Clark asked themselves, and we could look to them for inspiration.”

There are lessons to be learned from Lewis and Clark in how we face an uncertain and changing future. In fact, we’ve been down this road before.

In 1935, when Congress created the Rural Electric Administration (REA), no one could imagine the transformation it would bring to rural America. Most rural residents were still living as their parents and grandparents had in the 1800s. There were visionaries like young Rep. Lyndon Johnson who championed the work of the REA. The idea that rural residents deserved the same “luxuries” as city-dwellers took hold, and change began. By the 1940s, rural America was well on its way to parity.

But it didn’t happen overnight, and it took a lot of planning. It took legislative changes, and it took dedication and commitment from those who would be served.

Before the REA would grant loans to cooperatives, residents who would be served were required to invest capital. Many were hesitant to get involved in the fledgling electric cooperative movement. It took the commitment of leaders in the community to get on board and convince their neighbors to also join. Johnson, himself, went door-to-door in the Texas Hill Country, encouraging farmers to pay $5 each to jumpstart Pedernales Electric Cooperative.

Today, Pedernales is still providing power and opportunity to the Hill Country. Johnson wrote in 1959, “I think of all the things I have ever done, nothing has ever given me as much satisfaction.”

Uldrich again: “The 21st century is a time of accelerating, almost exponential, change. Advances in computer electronics, telecommunications, and medicine are announced every day. Genomics, nano technology, wireless technologies, the Internet, fuel cells, solar cells, DNA analysis, the sequencing of the human genome, stem cell research, voice recognition technology, and even the advancement of knowledge itself are propelling us faster and faster downriver, and, like Lewis and Clark, we don’t know what’s around the next bend.”

In the electric cooperative community, we spend a lot of time preparing for the journey. As technology has advanced, we’ve changed with it. Over the years, the pace of change continues to accelerate.

Though we can’t anticipate what’s next on the horizon, we have the people, the resources and the dedication to continue to do what we’ve done since the beginning.