NASHVILLE – Dan Smith, a leader among Tennessee’s electric cooperatives, passed away on Wednesday, April 11, 2018. Smith was a board member for Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation in Murfreesboro and served on the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association board of trustees.

Smith is remembered as a passionate advocate for cooperatives and rural Tennessee. A board member for Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation for almost 50 years, Smith served in multiple capacities for the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association in recent years, including board president.

“Dan Smith left a mark on rural Tennessee,” said David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “He was a statesman who worked tirelessly to support cooperatives and other rural interests. His influence and service will be missed.”

“This news hurts, as we had hoped earnestly Mr. Smith would recover from this recent illness,” said Chris Jones, president and CEO of Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation. “Our beloved Mr. Smith, leaves behind an unmatched and irreplaceable legacy, as no one loved the cooperative way more than Dan Smith. Middle Tennessee Electric and its employees past and present have lost a great champion for our cause. I will miss him greatly.”

Dan Smith speaking to delegates to the 2017 TECA Annual Meeting in Nashville.

 

Dan Smith and wife Vondie

NASHVILLE – There are more than 700 electric co-op lineworkers in Tennessee, and on Monday, April 9, we pause to honor their service to the state’s rural and suburban communities on National Lineman Appreciation Day. Tennessee’s electric co-ops extend our sincerest gratitude to the hardworking men and women who keep the power on and protect the public’s safety.

“We honor the dedicated service of these courageous Tennesseans and recognize the critical roles they play in keeping the lights on,” said David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “Our communities depend on reliable energy, and Tennessee’s electric lineworkers place themselves in harm’s way to power our everyday lives.”

Electric co-ops maintain more than 86,000 miles of power line and keep the lights on more than 99.96 percent of the time.

“These are special people who are passionate about their jobs and the communities they serve,” says Callis. “They go above and beyond, and all of us in this industry are honored to work with them.”

You can help Tennessee’s electric cooperatives honor lineman by posting on Facebook or Twitter with the hashtag #ThankAlineman.

 

NASHVILLE – On Tuesday, March 20, the BroadbandUSA Program, in partnership with the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, hosted a Broadband Summit in Nashville. Gov. Bill Haslam along with other presenters discussed the importance of broadband and explored ways to increase deployment.

Gov. Haslam reiterated Tennessee’s commitment to expand broadband access: “All means all when it comes to access to education and job opportunities, and all means all when it comes to access to broadband.”

“Since the passage of the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act, electric cooperatives have moved swiftly to help answer the call for more broadband in rural Tennessee,” said Mike Knotts, TECA director of government affairs, who participated in a panel discussion during the Broadband Summit. “Seven of the state’s 22 electric co-ops have already made the decision to move forward with providing broadband service, and others are currently evaluating similar decisions.”

The Broadband Accessibility Act provided $10 million in grant funding in 2018 to spur broadband expansion in unserved areas. Earlier this year two co-ops received $2.7 million in broadband grants from the state. These grants have generated more than $90 million in broadband investment by electric co-ops in Tennessee. “The modest investments made through the Broadband Accessibility Grant Fund are already reaping huge rewards,” said Knotts. “That’s a tremendous multiplier, and we hope that future funding from the state will enable even greater levels of investment into this critical infrastructure.”

On Tuesday Gov. Haslam announced several budget amendments including an additional $5 million in nonrecurring broadband accessibility grants, in addition to the $10 million originally included in the FY 18-19 budget.

Gov. Haslam addresses attendees at a Broadband Summit hosted by the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development on Tuesday, March 20. Photo via Gov. Bill Haslam on Flickr.

NASHVILLE – More than 45 high school juniors from across the state attended the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association’s annual Youth Leadership Summit on March 12-14 in Nashville.

Delegates to the annual event receive a hands-on look at state government, learn networking and leadership skills and develop a better understanding of their local electric cooperatives.

While in Nashville, the students visited the State Capitol Building where they were welcomed to Nashville by members of the Tennessee General Assembly. Alan Whittington, assistant chief clerk of the Senate, explained the process required to pass legislation and students debated and voted on a mock bill.

In addition to lawmakers, students also heard from Tennessee leaders like Caty Davis, Ms. Tennessee 2018; Adam Hammond, anchor for Nashville’s NewsChannel5; and Trooper Jeffrey Buchanan with the Tennessee Executive Protection Detail.

“There’s no time that’s bad to learn to be a better leader,” says Tanner Casey, a junior from Atoka High School attending the Youth Leadership Summit. “I appreciate the chance to improve my leadership skills, and I’m grateful for this unique opportunity.”

Delegates to the Youth Leadership Summit are encouraged to be leaders and use their talents to improve rural Tennessee. “Local electric co-ops, school officials and guidance counselors chose these deserving students to attend the summit based on their interests in government and strong leadership abilities,” says Todd Blocker, vice president of member relations for the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association and director of the Youth Leadership Summit. “They will be the next generation of leaders in rural Tennessee, and we want to prepare them for the challenges and opportunities they will face.”

The unusually cold weather in December and January has created some unusually high electric bills for members of electric co-ops. Many are asking the question, “Why does my bill go up when it is cold outside?”

The infographic below helps explains the relationship between electric rates and energy consumption.

If you are concerned about your electric bill, contact your local co-op to learn more about programs and services that can help you save energy and money the next time the weather gets cold (or hot).

 

CHATTANOOGA – Today the Trump administration released the Legislative Outline for Rebuilding Infrastructure in America, a framework to address improvements to the nation’s transportation, energy, utility and healthcare needs. Among the items included in the plan was a proposal to sell the Tennessee Valley Authority’s transmission assets.

In response to the administration’s proposal, the Tennessee Valley Public Power Association, the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association and the Tennessee Municipal Electric Power Association share the following response:

  • We strongly support the public power model and are fearful divestiture of transmission assets would have a negative effect.
  • We recognize the importance of TVA’s transmission assets to the ratepayers of the Tennessee Valley, and we believe they should not be sold to interests who may not place a priority on public power or the Valley’s interests.
  • It is important to note that Congress has not appropriated money to TVA since 1992, and customers have paid back the initial investment plus interest.
  • According to a 2013 study by the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy, TVA has returned to the U.S. Treasury more than $3 billion on the government’s original investment of $1.4 billion. Source of these funds are the Valley’s ratepayers.
  • Our respective organizations will pursue all options to protect electric ratepayers and the TVA assets they have paid to build as well as the public power model, which is as relevant today as it was 80 years ago.
  • Divestiture of part or all of TVA assets has been proposed in the past. Each time, Congress has vehemently rejected such privatization.
  • Proceeds from the sale of TVA’s transmission assets would go to the U.S. Treasury and would not benefit Valley ratepayers.

A complete copy of the Legislative Outline for Rebuilding Infrastructure in America is available on the TECA website.

[NASHVILLE] – On Friday, the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development announced that two electric cooperatives will receive grants to support the deployment of broadband in rural Tennessee. Gibson Electric Membership Corporation in Trenton will receive $1,353,148 million and Tri-County Electric Membership Corporation in Lafayette will receive $1,350,000.

David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association, made the following statement:

“We are pleased that the state recognizes the vital role co-ops can play in the expansion of broadband,” said Callis. “Modern healthcare, education and commerce depend on access to fast, reliable internet, and co-ops are uniquely positioned to bring this service to rural and suburban Tennessee. Today, we celebrate with Gibson EMC, Tri-County EMC and the communities they serve.”

In 2017, the Tennessee General Assembly, bolstered by strong support from Gov. Bill Haslam, passed the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act. This landmark legislation removed restrictions that prevented electric cooperatives from providing retail internet access and established a grant fund to encourage broadband expansion.

Tennessee’s electric co-ops serve more than 2.5 million Tennesseans, many of whom do not currently have access to broadband.

 

[NASHVILLE] – For more than 50 years the Washington Youth Tour Creative Writing Competition has honored some of Tennessee’s most talented young writers. Among other incentives, winners receive a trip to Washington, D.C., to learn more about history, government and public policy. Recently the rewards of winning grew when Union University in Jackson, Tenn., announced a new scholarship exclusively for youth tour winners.

The annual competition and trip is coordinated by Tennessee’s consumer-owned electric cooperatives and the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “We take great pride in recognizing the best and brightest from across the state,” said David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “With this commitment from Union University, the Washington Youth Tour creates more opportunities than ever before for Tennessee students.”

Union University will offer 24 $4,000 per year scholarships and one $10,000 per year scholarship to winners of Tennessee’s Washington Youth Tour Creative Writing Competition.

“Strong writing skills and a first-hand knowledge of government and public policy are valuable traits in today’s world,” says Robbie Graves, Assistant Vice President for Undergraduate Admissions. “Union University is honored to be a part of the Washington Youth Tour. We believe the competition offers Tennessee students a unique opportunity to develop their leadership abilities and be equipped to return to their local communities with confidence to make a difference.”

“This is an exciting opportunity for youth tour winners,” says Tina Morris, communications and community outreach specialist and youth tour coordinator for Southwest Tennessee Electric. The university approached Morris with the scholarships after learning about the program at an orientation dinner for youth tour winners held on the university campus. “We want youth tour to motivate students to pursue things they had never before considered, and this scholarship could be just what they need to take the next step. We appreciate Union University for partnering with us to open more doors of opportunity for these young people.”

 

The 110th General Assembly of the State of Tennessee reconvened on Tuesday, January 9, 2018, for the second year of the two-year session and the first year in their new legislative offices at the Cordell Hull Building. It is expected that the upcoming legislative session will be a short one as 2018 is an election year, and members cannot raise funds for re-election while the legislature is in session.

Over two dozen members of the General Assembly will be retiring or running for a different elected office in 2018 and will likely be eager to return to their districts as quickly as possible. House Speaker Beth Harwell (R – Nashville), a gubernatorial candidate herself, will also be pushing for a quick session so that she may return to the campaign and fundraising trail.

Major issues likely to be taken up in the 2018 legislative agenda include the opioid epidemic, medical marijuana, seven-day liquor and wine sales and, of course, the budget.

Opioid Epidemic

A task force on opioid and prescription drug abuse, created by Speaker Harwell, met this summer and compiled a list of recommendations for treatment, prevention and policy. It is expected that a number of these recommendations will be introduced in legislative form this session. Look for bills that limit emergency room prescriptions, call for the hiring of additional Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Agents and establish a commission to combat drug abuse.

Medical Marijuana

Rep. Jeremy Faison (R – Cosby) has been on a mission to legalize medical marijuana, and he may be closer than ever to reaching his goal. He will present a bill this session that would allow patients with certain debilitating illnesses to obtain prescriptions for certain marijuana products, including oils and extracts in capsules, pills, ointments, lotions and liquids. Smoking will not be an allowable product. While the bill would not allow for the recreational use of marijuana, opponents of the bill argue this is the next step before legalizing marijuana for recreational use. While the chances of passage this year may still be slim, the tide seems to be shifting in supporters’ way.

Seven-Day Sales of Liquor and Wine

The wine-in-grocery-stores law became effective in July 2016 and some liquor stores have seen a dramatic decrease in sales as a result. In hopes to offset some of this decline in sales, a bill was filed last year to permit wine and liquor sales on all seven days of the week. The 2017 bill was ultimately opposed by some vocal retail liquor store owners who want to maintain a state-mandated day off despite lagging sales. Working in support of the measure is a coalition consisting of grocery stores, the Tennessee Retail Association and manufacturers of distilled spirits. The coalition will resume its efforts to clear a path forward in 2018.

The Budget

As Gov. Haslam starts the last year of his eight-year administration, this will be his final budget to present before the General Assembly. With the passage of last year’s IMPROVE Act, which cut food and business taxes, the governor and legislature may have to put in extra work to balance our budget. Tax collections continue to increase but not at the rate of increase before the IMPOVE Act became law. In short, there will be a tighter budget.

Co-ops

Of specific interest to electric cooperatives, a coalition of utility associations will work to ensure that sales tax is not newly applied to fees charged by water, sewer, gas, and electric providers. This is the result of potential rule making by the Department of Revenue which would apply the state sales tax to fees charged to electric cooperative commercial and industrial customers. The rule has not yet been finalized, but conversations with the Department have shown that proactive legislation is the best bet to ensure that increased taxation for utility customers does not occur.

Senator Ken Yager (R-Kingston) and Representative Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga) will be introducing legislation to ensure that electric cooperatives have full rights to utilize cooperative easements for any purpose that State authorizes cooperatives to perform. This legislation will ensure that any written or prescriptive easement held by the co-op could be legally used for the provision of electric and telecommunications services.

Other issues will surely rise throughout the course of the session, and the TECA Government Affairs team will keep members informed each step along the way.

Flickr image by Rain0975

During a speech today at the Farm Bureau Federation Annual Meeting in Nashville, President Donald Trump emphasized the need for expanded connectivity across rural America.

David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association, made the following statement.

“We are pleased that the Trump administration is making rural issues a priority – especially the expansion of connectivity,” said Callis. “Few things have the potential to reshape rural Tennessee quite like broadband. Modern education, healthcare and commerce all depend on affordable and reliable access. Tennessee’s rural communities have tremendous potential. When they succeed, we all succeed.”

Tennessee’s electric co-ops serve more than 2.5 million Tennesseans, many of whom do not have access to broadband.

In 2017, Gov. Bill Haslam and the Tennessee General Assembly recognized that electric co-ops are uniquely positioned to help close the state’s digital divide. The Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act removed restrictions that prevented electric cooperatives from providing retail internet access. Just nine months later, some areas of the state are already seeing the benefits. Two co-ops have active broadband pilot projects, and several others will begin connecting consumers later this year.