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

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

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

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

Electric co-ops receiving grants are:

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

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

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – As the impacts of COVID-19 are felt across Tennessee, the state’s consumer-owned electric co-ops have a simple message for those who have been impacted: We can help you.

“If you are unable to pay your bill due to the financial impacts of the pandemic, I urge you to call your electric co-op today,” says David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “Electric co-ops are committed to keeping the lights on for all Tennesseans who have been impacted by the pandemic.”

Electric co-ops across the state are working with consumer-members to set up deferred payment schedules and find sources of additional assistance. Resources that can help pay utility bills are available for families and small businesses through the recent federal stimulus program. Co-ops are a good resource for information on LIHEAP grants for individuals and SBA loans for small businesses.

Co-ops also encourage their members to use energy wisely. As families spend more time at home, they will likely see a surge in home energy use. Here are some steps consumers can take to help control their energy bills:

  • Program your thermostat to maximize energy savings. Setting your thermostat 1 degree lower when heating or 1 degree higher when cooling can reduce energy use by up to 5 percent.
  • Wash only full loads of laundry, and use cold water. Using warm water instead of hot can cut a load’s energy use in half, and cold water will save even more.
  • Air dry dishes. This step can cut your dishwasher’s energy use by up to 50 percent.
  • Substitute LEDs for conventional lightbulbs. Lighting can amount to up to 12 percent of monthly energy use. LED bulbs can cut lighting costs by 75 percent.
  • Unplug appliances and electronics when not in use. Small appliances and electronics consume energy even when not in use. When powered on, game consoles, televisions and similar electronics are responsible for up to 12 percent of energy use.

“Electric co-ops recognize the critical need for energy – especially during a crisis,” says Callis. “After food, water and medicine, reliable energy is critical to maintaining health, safety, comfort and connection. We are not going to sit on the sidelines as this crisis unfolds. Contact your local co-op, and we will help you.”

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association has made the decision to cancel the 2020 Washington Youth Tour amid concerns over COVID-19. The event presented by the state’s consumer-owned electric cooperatives takes more than 130 high school juniors from across the state to Washington, D.C., each summer to learn about history, leadership and public policy.

“We are heartbroken to make this announcement, but the health, safety and well-being of our delegates are our primary concerns,” says Todd Blocker, vice president of member services and Tennessee’s Washington Youth Tour director. “Youth Tour includes visits to the most historically significant and meaningful places in our nation. With large crowds common, TECA is unable to fully protect students from exposure. This creates a risk we are simply not willing to take.”

“This is a difficult decision because the Washington Youth Tour is a unique opportunity for young leaders across our state,” says David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of TECA. “Each year, the tour impacts the lives of young people for the better. We are mourning the connections that will not be formed, the opportunities that will not be realized and the memories that will not be made.”

In lieu of the trip, Tennessee’s electric cooperatives are currently evaluating options to recognize and honor this year’s winners. 

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The spread of COVID-19 represents a real threat to our co-ops and the communities we serve, and stopping the spread of the virus has quickly become an important part of what Tennessee co-ops do each day. TECA is working to support our members systems, and we call your attention to the following information.

Best Practices

On Monday, March 16, TECA held the first of a weekly COVID-19 call with co-op leadership teams. This forum allows co-ops to discuss their individual responses to the virus and share ideas and information. We also launched a weekly COVID-19 survey to better understand co-op response and track operational modifications over time. Co-ops can view the results of this study in the CEO Forum.

Communications Resources

A COVID-19 communications toolkit was distributed to co-ops on Friday, March 6. The kit includes media releases, social graphics, internals memos and an update to our existing Tennessee Electric Co-op Crisis Communications Plan. Additional resources are added each week. Co-ops can access these tools via our CommKit library.

Education, Training and Events

Electric co-op employees are stewards of critical infrastructure, so the spread of the illness among co-op employees represents a real threat to the communities we serve. TECA has a heightened responsibility to protect the health and well-being of the co-op workforce, so we are modifying both our schedule and our content delivery methods to accommodate.

  • We are working with utilities who participate in our Job Training and Safety program to reschedule in-person meetings and transition to online delivery when possible
  • All Director Training sessions have been postponed through May 1
  • The NRECA Legislative Conference has been cancelled. TECA will coordinate dates for legislative visits later this year
  • The 2020 Youth Leadership Summit has been rescheduled for July 20 – 22
  • The 2020 Accountants’ Conference has been rescheduled for Sept. 23 – 25
  • The 2020 TennComm Conference has been rescheduled for Sept. 22 – 25
  • The 2020 Administrative Professionals and Human Resources Conference has been cancelled

TECA Staff

TECA has implemented work travel restrictions on all staff, developed guidelines for returning to work following potential exposure and temporarily adapted our alternative work arrangement policy to allow staff to work from home with fewer restrictions. The TECA office will be closed with all staff working from home on Friday, March 20 – Tuesday, March 24. Visit our staff page for contact information.

As Tennessee’s rural communities adapt to the challenges and limitations created by COVID-19, TECA is working with Tennessee’s electric cooperatives to share ideas and provide innovative solutions. We believe that co-ops provide an essential service to their communities, and together, we have the power to be resilient in the face of this public health challenge. Please contact us if we can be of assistance.

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.”

It’s no surprise that winter months bring increased potential for fire risks and electrical safety hazards. This makes sense because during the coldest months, consumers are using additional electrical devices and appliances, like space heaters, electric blankets and portable generators.

The National Fire Protection Association estimates that 47,700 home fires occur each year in the U.S. due to electrical failure or malfunction. These fires result in 418 deaths, 1,570 injuries and $1.4 billion in property damage annually. This winter, safeguard your loved ones and your home with these electrical safety tips from the Electrical Safety Foundation International.

  1. Don’t overload outlets. Overloaded outlets are a major cause of residential fires. Avoid using extension cords or multi-outlet converters for appliance connections––they should be plugged directly into a wall outlet. If you’re relying heavily on extension cords in general, you may need additional outlets to address your needs. Contact a qualified electrician to inspect your home and add new outlets.
  2. Never leave space heaters unattended. If you’re using a space heater, turn if off before leaving the room. Make sure heaters are placed at least three feet away from flammable items. It should also be noted that space heaters take a toll on your energy bills. If you’re using them throughout your home, it may be time to upgrade your home heating system.
  3. Inspect heating pads and electric blankets. These items cause nearly 500 fires every year. Electric blankets that are more than 10 years old create additional risks for a fire hazard. Inspect your electric blankets and heating pads – look for dark, charred or frayed spots, and make sure the electrical cord is not damaged. Do not place any items on top of a heating pad or electric blanket, and never fold them when in use.
  4. Use portable generators safely. Unfortunately, winter storms can cause prolonged power outages, which means many consumers will use portable generators to power their homes. Never connect a standby generator into your home’s electrical system. For portable generators, plug appliances directly into the outlet provided on the generator. Start the generator first, before you plug in appliances. Run it in a well-ventilated area outside your home. The carbon monoxide it generates is deadly, so keep it away from your garage, doors, windows and vents.