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