NASHVILLE – More than 50 electric co-op leaders from Tennessee traveled to Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, April 30, to talk with members of the Tennessee congressional delegation about issues important to the state’s rural and suburban communities.

During meetings with lawmakers, co-op leaders discussed energy, connectivity and other topics, including:

  • highlighting the need for rural and suburban America to be included in future infrastructure investments
  • supporting legislation that protects the tax exempt status of co-ops receiving income from infrastructure grants or FEMA reimbursements. An unintended consequence of the recent Tax Cuts and Jobs Act changes the way co-ops account for such income, placing tax exemption at risk in some cases and increasing costs for ratepayers.
  • TVA rates and ownership of transmission assets owned by TVA and the Power Marketing Administrations.

Lawmakers were also invited to visit their local co-ops to meet employees, attend annual meetings and tour co-op facilities.

“We bring co-op leaders to Washington, D.C., to build relationships,” said David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “We want lawmakers to know and trust us, and we want them to think about us as they make decisions. Visits like this provide us with a valuable opportunity to educate lawmakers about co-ops and our communities.”

Photos from the event are available online.

Senator Todd Gardenhire (R – Chattanooga) has successfully moved Senate Bill 481 though the Senate. It passed by a vote of 27-5 on March 18. This legislation includes utility workers among other first responders and will subject offenders that commit assault against them to enhanced penalties.

The bill has also been approved by the House of Representatives. In a rare show of bi-partisan sponsorship in this General Assembly, Representative Darren Jernigan (D – Nashville) successfully shepherded the legislation with minimal opposition. Only Governor Lee’s signature remains for this change to become law.

“Linemen and other utility workers should certainly be counted among first responders in the communities they serve,” says Mike Knotts, vice president of government affairs for TECA. “This legislation shows the support that these community heroes have from their co-ops and from state lawmakers.”

The pace of activity in the 2019 General Assembly has peaked as many Committees have closed and bills are moving quickly toward the House and Senate floors. The focus of the legislature is shifting to formation of the state’s budget, and TECA will be working diligently to see that budget priorities that benefit electric co-ops are heard by the Finance committees.

Chief among them is funding of the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Grant Fund for which Governor Lee has proposed $20 million of new funds. In 2018, the Legislature increased Governor Haslam’s request by 50% in the final budget ($10 million proposed, $15 million funded). Key members of the Finance Committees have expressed interest in a similar increase for 2019, but additional funding is by no means assured.

TECA continues to track other important pieces of legislation moving through the 2019 General Assembly.

Increased Penalty for Illegal Drone Use

Senate Bill 306 by Senator Jon Lundberg (R – Bristol) and Representative Bud Hulsey (R – Kingsport) has been signed into law by Governor Bill Lee. 

This legislation increased the penalty to a Class E felony for operating a drone over a critical infrastructure facility without the consent of the owner. This makes a violation punishable by one to six years in prison and a fine of up to $3,000.

The law defines critical infrastructure facility to include “An electrical power generation system; electrical transmission system, either as a whole system or any individual component of the transmission system; or electrical distribution substation.”

It was previously a misdemeanor offense, which made enforcement of the violations a low priority of law enforcement. Should your cooperative feel the need to notify your local authorities of violations, you may now let the call center know that the crime is a felony and warrants dispatch of officers to investigate.

Cooperative Broadband Clarifications Passes House 81-8

Having already been passed by the Senate on a unanimous vote, House Bill 172 by Pat Marsh (R – Shelbyville) was considered by the House of Representatives on Monday, April 8. The bill clarifies elements of the Broadband Accessibility Act to encourage competition in co-op-served areas. After a brief discussion (Debate on the bill can be viewed here) the bill passed on a vote of 81–8.


Mallory Dunavan, political affairs coordinator, TECA

NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association, a trade association representing the state’s 23 electric cooperatives, announced recently that Mallory Dunavan is joining the association as political affairs coordinator.

“I am excited to be part of the team at TECA,” says Dunavan. “Electric co-ops are important to the communities they serve, and co-ops have a great reputation in Nashville for standing up for rural and suburban Tennesseans.”

Dunavan will assist with the association’s legislative outreach and grassroots efforts. A native of McKenzie, she is a 2017 graduate of the University of Tennessee with a masters degree in public policy & administration. Before coming to TECA, she served as a lobbyist for McCord Government Relations.

“It may seem far off for many of us, but the actions taken in Nashville and Washington, D.C., can have real consequences for the consumers we serve,” says Mike Knotts, vice president of government affairs for TECA. “It is important for co-ops to work with lawmakers to be sure they understand how co-ops work and what we do. We are excited that Mallory is joining our team.”

NASHVILLE – Gov. Bill Lee announced Monday that five electric co-ops in Tennessee will receive more than $6.2 million in broadband accessibility grants. Electric co-ops received nearly half of $14.8 million in state grants awarded by the state.

“Rural and suburban Tennessee cannot grow and prosper without access to reliable, high-speed connectivity,” says David Callis, executive vice president and general manager for the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “Tennessee’s electric co-ops are responding to this need and making significant investments to bring this service to the homes and businesses they serve. The state’s broadband accessibility grant program speeds the process of expanding high-speed internet to communities that have no other options.”

“I am pleased to announce that we are getting our rural areas up to speed and expanding broadband in the areas that need it most,” said Lee. “I am committed to ensuring connectivity in every corner of our state as broadband impacts our goals for health care, education, economic development and beyond.”

According to the FCC’s 2018 Broadband Deployment Report, nearly one in four rural Tennesseans lack access to broadband. In addition to the $20 million included in Gov. Lee’s recommended budget for fiscal year 2020, these grants will continue to close the access gap ensuring rural Tennesseans have the tools needed for growth and prosperity.

The six Tennessee co-ops receiving a total of $6,296,177.61 in this round of state grants include:

  • Appalachian Electric Cooperative: $1,739,581 serving parts of Jefferson and Grainger Counties
  • Gibson Electric Membership Corporation: $588,974 serving the Gadsden Community in Crockett County and part of Gibson County
  • Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative: $1,832,728.16 serving part of Humphreys County
  • Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative: $817,406 serving the Griffith Creek community in Marion County
  • Volunteer Energy Cooperative: $1,317,488.45 serving the Spring Creek community in McMinn County

Learn more about electric co-op broadband in Tennessee on our Co-op Broadband page.

NASHVILLE – Today the White House delivered its 2020 budget proposal to Congress. Among the items included in this year’s budget was a proposal to sell federally-owned utility assets.

The Tennessee Valley Public Power Association released a joint statement today co-signed by David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association.

The statement reads in part:

Congress has repeatedly voted against privatization of part or all of TVA assets, most recently in the FY19 appropriations process.  We hope our elected representatives will once again reject this misguided proposal.

Local power companies that distribute TVA power strongly support the public power model, and divestiture of transmission assets would have a negative effect.  TVA’s transmission assets have been paid for by 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.

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.

For more than 50 years electricity sales, not government appropriations, have paid for the operation and maintenance of TVA’s assets. According to 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.

NASHVILLE – Forty-six high school juniors from across the state are attending the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association’s annual Youth Leadership Summit this week in Nashville.

Delegates to the annual event get a hands-on look at state government, build networking and leadership skills and develop a better understanding of energy generation and their local electric cooperative.

Delegates visited the State Capitol Building today to meet members of the Tennessee General Assembly. A house staff member explained the process required to pass legislation, and students debated and voted on a mock bill. Delegates also had an opportunity to sit in on committee hearings.

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

Delegates to the Youth Leadership Summit are encouraged to be leaders and use their talents to improve rural Tennessee. “Electric co-ops want to see the places we serve grow and prosper, and these young people are important to their communities,” says Todd Blocker, vice president of member relations for the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association and director of the Youth Leadership Summit. “Small towns and rural communities need talented and engaged young people who are invested, and that is what we are doing with our Youth Leadership Summit delegates. We want them to leave this experience with a new appreciation for where they live, prepared to be the leaders of their generation.”

Each of Tennessee’s 23 electric co-ops sponsored two delegates to participate in this year’s Youth Leadership Summit.

MLConnect making progress in project to service MLEC counties

Centerville, TN —  Ultra-fast, affordable, reliable broadband is getting closer for those receiving electricity from Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative.  The utility’s wholly-owned subsidiary, Meriwether Lewis Connect, LLC is preparing to serve its first customers.

Residents in and around the city of Waverly will be hearing from MLConnect by the end of March about firming orders and scheduling installations.

“We’re testing and working on processes to put our best technology and customer-care foot forward. We’re more interested in doing it right than hitting a deadline, so we aren’t announcing a live date at this time,” says MLEC President and CEO Keith Carnahan. “I can tell you this, though, it is exciting to be this close.”

Construction on the $60 million project began in Waverly in October 2018 and expects to be live with broadband and phone for all MLEC members by late 2022.  MLConnect’s Phase I includes more than 300 miles of main line fiber and helps secure a robust infrastructure is in place to serve the rural areas. 

Currently, construction continues in Hohenwald for a potential “go live” date in April.  By early March, construction crews will also be working in Centerville.  New Johnsonville, Erin, Tennessee Ridge, McEwen, Linden and Lobelville (in this order) are on schedule for service by the end of 2019.

When designing Phase II, construction costs, existing infrastructure, time constraints, etc. will be considered when selecting areas. Another factor is the amount of interest in each neighborhood (number of online registrations). This is why registering on www.mlconnect.com or at your local MLEC office is so important.

“Just as electricity did in 1939, MLConnect offering GIG services in our rural hometowns will bring unprecedented potential for education, healthcare, economic development and more,” says Carnahan.  “It’s proof you don’t have to live in a big city to be progressive.  MLConnect will offer world class broadband with hometown service, and we’re proud of that.”

To learn more, visit www.mlconnect.com or email customercare@mlconnect.com.

Jeffrey Lyash

NASHVILLE  – The TVA board of directors today announced the appointment of Jeffrey “Jeff” Lyash as the utility’s new President and Chief Executive Officer.

Lyash, current President and CEO of Ontario Power Generation, will join TVA in April.

In response to today’s announcement, David Callis, executive Vice President and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association, issued the following statement:

“Tennessee’s electric co-ops welcome Mr. Lyash to TVA. For more than seven decades co-ops have worked with TVA to bring energy, economic growth and abundant opportunity to Tennessee’s rural and suburban communities. We look forward to working with Mr. Lyash as we continue our mission to improve everyday life for the people and communities we serve.”

TVA is the wholesale energy provider for all 23 of Tennessee’s consumer-owned electric cooperatives. Tennessee’s co-ops serve more than 2.5 million consumers in 84 of the state’s 95 counties.

NASHVILLE – Gov. Bill Lee stressed the importance of rural Tennessee while speaking with electric co-op leaders during the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association’s 2019 Legislative Conference on Tuesday evening, Feb. 12.

“I grew up in rural Tennessee, so rural issues matter a lot,” said Lee, a resident of Fernvale and member of Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation. “I think what happens in rural Tennessee should matter to every Tennessean. That’s why our first executive order was in fact to strengthen our rural communities and to require every department of state government to give an impact statement on how they impact rural communities.”

Gov. Bill Lee at the 2019 TECA Legislative Conference

Lee spent nearly an hour with co-op members and staff discussing the administration’s plans and policy positions and the role that co-ops play in the communities they serve. Broadband was a popular topic of discussion.

“In my own home we don’t have broadband,” said Lee. “I have first-hand experience what a challenge that can be. I don’t run my business out of my home and I am not educating children there, but I have a taste of how difficult that would be. It is really important that we continue to expand broadband service so that Tennesseans all across the state have access to it.”

More than 150 electric co-op members from across the state were in Nashville for the 2019 Legislative Conference to deliver an important message to lawmakers: electric co-ops are important to Tennessee.

The 2018 election brought seven new senators and 26 new representatives to this year’s General Assembly. Co-op members, directors and staff met with familiar faces and with many new ones during 100 separate meetings with lawmakers.

“While many of these freshman legislators know about co-ops, some do not,” says David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “It is important for us to tell the story of electric co-ops, and the co-op members who are with us today in Nashville are delivering a powerful message – rural and suburban Tennessee matters and electric co-ops are a big part of their growth and prosperity.”

“State lawmakers are often asked to make tough decisions that can impact electric co-ops and the lives of the 2.5 million consumers they serve,” says Mike Knotts, vice president of government affairs for TECA. “Electric co-ops maintain a presence in Nashville and Washington, D.C., to help lawmakers understand how legislation will impact the people back home.”

During visits, co-op members spoke to legislators about local governance, tax issues, broadband and other regulatory concerns that affect the ability of electric co-ops to provide affordable and reliable energy and other services that matter to rural and suburban communities.

Electric co-ops are best known for energy, but they have far reaching impacts on rural and suburban areas of the state. From economic development to youth programs to broadband expansion, electric co-ops enable many Tennessee communities to grow and prosper. Learn more at tnelectric.org/cooportunity.

NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Magazine, the official publication of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association, was recently named Magazine of the Year by the Tennessee Music Awards.

The Tennessee Music Awards honors independent artists and music professionals from across the state and highlights those working to advance and protect Tennessee’s unique musical heritage.

“Each month we tell the story of Tennessee, and music is a big part of that story,” says Robin Conover, editor of The Tennessee Magazine. “We actively seek out Tennessee’s most talented musicians, artists, photographers and creators and share their talents with our readers. Our team is honored to receive this Tennessee Music Award.”

The Tennessee Magazine “Celebrates the Best of Tennessee” – highlighting the unique, remarkable and beautiful aspects of the Volunteer State. For more than 50 years, The Tennessee Magazine has been placed in mailboxes across rural and suburban Tennessee. Published by the state’s rural electric cooperatives, the magazine reaches more than 2.1 million Tennesseans. Learn more at tnmagazine.org.