Existing law is sufficient for broadband expansion, leader says

NASHVILLE – Legislation backed by the cable television industry and their lobbyists amounts to a $13 million subsidy that will ultimately end up on the electric bills of hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans, a state utility leader said today.

“The cable companies want, in essence, a $13 million subsidy that is paid to them by the electric ratepayers of Tennessee,” said David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association.

At issue is the cost cable companies pay electric utilities to attach cable wires to power poles. This “pole attachment rate” is a negotiated contract between electric cooperative and municipal power provides and the cable companies. In Tennessee, the average pole attachment rate is $14 a pole per year for rural electric cooperatives and $18 per pole per year for municipal utilities.

Pole attachment rates cover the cost of installing and maintaining a power pole.

Electric cooperatives and municipal utilities are instead supporting a compromise bill that would preserve their right to negotiate agreements and would maintain local control of these important decisions.

“We think this compromise is fair. Most important, it protects the electric ratepayers of Tennessee from a hidden subsidy of the cable industry,” Callis said. “Our legislation continues the long tradition of local control and it offers a clearly defined dispute resolution process.”

The compromise legislation, Senate Bill 1222 and House Bill 1111, is sponsored by state Sen. Bo Watson and Rep. Jimmy Matlock.

Cable companies are pushing hard for legislation that would remove the authority of each utility’s local board of directors to set the rate, placing it instead in the hands of the state government. Additionally, the cable-backed legislation would require the state to consider an artificially low rate of $7 that was originally set by the Federal government 35 years ago as a subsidy to the then-fledgling cable industry.

“It is hard to argue that a media giant like Comcast, which has spent over $30 billion in the past few years to acquire NBC, is still a mom and pop business worthy of government protection,” said Callis.

“Cable lobbyists are using automated phone calls to claim that this compromise would stop people in rural areas from getting service, which may be one of the more disingenuous smokescreens I have seen in my career,” said Callis. “Since 2008, the law says a cable company can get 50% off their pole attachment rate if they provide service to an unserved area.  We are still waiting on the first request.”

The Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association is a trade association representing the interests of Tennessee’s 23 rural and suburban, not-for-profit electric distribution cooperatives and the 1.1 million members they serve.

The Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association and the electric cooperatives of Tennessee oppose the cable lobby’s Freedom to Connect Act and support the Watson/Matlock bill (HB 1111/SB 1222), a true compromise and attempt to end ongoing legislative disputes.

 

The Freedom to Connect Act (HB 567/SB 1049) will hurt rural Tennesseans

The primary purpose of the Freedom to Connect Act is to lower the pole attachment cost to cable companies, increasing their net profit and value to shareholders. This bill will take millions of dollars each year from the pockets of rural Tennesseans and give it to out-of-state corporations.

The Freedom to Connect Act

  • deletes an existing law requiring cable companies to seek permission to use an electric utility’s property
  • takes the authority over a cooperative’s private property away from locally elected boards and gives it to an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) with limited understanding of the cooperative’s business, finances or membership
  • specifically instructs the ALJs to consider the $7 Federal Communications Commission rate established in 1978, but it does not require any other rate formulation to be considered

Passage of the Freedom to Connect Act would result in increased electric bills across Tennessee.

Tennessee’s electric cooperatives are not-for-profit, member-owned, private utilities. Pole attachment rates in Tennessee are set by local boards and are based on actual costs. Rates vary from co-op to co-op because they are set to recover the actual costs incurred, and the cost structure of each utility is different, with varying costs of capital, labor and materials.

The FCC rate was established to help cable companies grow, and it does not reflect actual costs. The rate applies only to for-profit utilities; not-for-profit cooperatives have always been exempt. The Tennessee Valley Authority regulates many aspects of electric co-ops at the federal level, including pole attachment rates.

The average cost of a pole attachment in Tennessee is $14 per pole annually.

Lower pole attachment rates found in other states are legally mandated and do not reflect the actual cost of the attachment. These rates are subsidized by electric ratepayers.

Cooperatives in Tennessee have more than 1 million telecom and cable attachments on their poles. Forcing electric utilities to use the subsidized FCC rate for all attachments would cost electric cooperative members $13 million annually.

Electric cooperatives support a true compromise, reflected in the Watson/Matlock bill (HB 1111/SB 1222)

The Watson/Matlock bill is based on good-faith efforts to compromise with cable in the past. The bill preserves a cooperative’s authority over its own property while giving attachers a clearly defined dispute resolution process and protection against legitimate abuse.

The compromise seeks to

  • develop better working relationships between pole owners and attachers and establish a set of best practices
  • provide a clear path for dispute resolution while respecting the important role of local control and local decision making
  • establish a first-ever avenue for judicial review of disputes
  • provide for the involvement of an Administrative Law Judge early in the process to make a determination of the maximum appropriate cost-based rate applicable to each utility. The local board’s final decision is then appealable to Chancery Court under the Administrative Procedures Act. A dispute resolution process has been previously unavailable.

Tennessee’s electric cooperatives support our rural communities, and we believe that broadband expansion is important to the economic prosperity of rural Tennessee.

Pole attachment rates do not stand in the way of broadband expansion. Legislation passed in 2008 requires Tennessee utilities to provide a significantly reduced attachment rate to providers expanding broadband into previously unserved areas. This rate has never been requested or utilized by a cable company in Tennessee. The rate is half of the 2008 rate, which averages less than $7 per pole, per year.

We are active in economic development, working with TVA, the Department of Economic and Community Development, regional economic development groups and local chambers of commerce to recruit jobs and investment to our communities.

Just as electricity did in the 1930s, we believe that broadband infrastructure will make rural America competitive and relevant in a global economy. Tennessee co-ops have provided mapping data and other resources to accelerate the expansion of broadband in Tennessee.

The Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association is a trade association representing the interests of Tennessee’s 23 rural and suburban, not-for-profit electric distribution cooperatives and the 1.1 million members they serve.

App connects residents to Tennessee’s elected officials

NASHVILLE –A mobile app featuring contact information for the 108th Tennessee General Assembly is now available for iPhone, iPad and Android devices. The 108th Tennessee General Assembly app is designed to help Tennessee residents connect with their legislators and contains searchable contact, staff and committee information for all Tennessee representatives and senators.

The Tennessee General Assembly app features:

  • a continually-updated database of all Senate and House members
  • contact, staff and committee information
  • fast and easy search function
  • one-click call or email ability

The app was developed by the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association and Bass Berry & Sims PLC.

“We began producing the print directory of the General Assembly more than 30 years ago to be a reference for Tennessee residents and to educate legislators about electric co-ops, ” says David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “Our app continues that tradition — providing a useful tool while educating users about our co-ops. ”

“The app is ideal for anyone who wants to monitor the activities at the state Capitol and is designed to be the best reference possible for those who are interested in or work with Tennessee legislators,” says Dick Lodge, lobbyist with Bass Berry & Sims PLC.

The $4.99 app can be found by searching for “Tennessee General Assembly” in the Apple App Store or Google PLAY Marketplace.

The Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association provides legislative and communication support for Tennessee’s 23 electric cooperatives and publishes The Tennessee Magazine, the state’s most widely circulated periodical. Visit tnelectric.org to learn more.

# # #

Contact:
Trent Scott | tscott@tnelectric.org | 731.608.1519

 

Download high resolution images of the app and the app icon below:

108th Tennessee General Assembly app icon

108th Tennessee General Assembly app

Co-ops from across Tennessee found opportunities to impact their communities this Christmas. Read how below:

Cumberland Electric Membership Corporation

Cumberland EMC offices accepted donations of cold-weather clothing and non-perishable food items to decorate the “Trees of Giving” throughout the month of December. All items collected were delivered to local community assistance agencies who then distributed the items to families and individuals in need. Items were donated by employees, members and various school clubs.

 


Fayetteville Public Utilities

Fayetteville Public Utilities’ Student Utility Board learns about community service and helping others

The December FPU Student Utility Board meeting included opportunities for the group to give back to the community and help others in need by purchasing gifts for 32 children enrolled at Amana Head Start. The gifts included gloves, toboggans, coloring books, crayons, Hot Wheels cars, bracelets and more.

The youth board also recorded a radio ad for FPU which aired through New Years Day.

“Today we learned how large FPU’s commitment to the community really is,” says Rena Andrews, SUB member. “Thank you so much yet again. Having the opportunity to give back is the most heartwarming and amazing experience. I sincerely appreciate everything the board has done for me.”

“The shopping we did today for the little kids was so much fun,” says Jonathan McLeod. “It feels great to help the kids out in our community. It is such an eye opener. And this is what Christmas is really about.”

Fayetteville Public Utilities and employees help play Santa for needy children

FPU donated their semi-truck driven by Michael Porter and Gerardo Villafuerte to assist the Fayetteville Rotary Club, The Elk Valley Times,  Fayetteville Fire Department and many others in efforts to transport toys to for the Lincoln County Toy Drive.

The FPU truck used to pull the Big G Express trailer is typically used to haul heavy equipment to work sites. Michael and Gerardo teamed up to lend a helping hand with the three nights scheduled for purchasing toys for needy children through the Lincoln County Toy Drive.

On three separate nights, the men accompanied the volunteer shoppers as they purchased toys and other items, helping load the toys in the truck and transporting them to the storage facility for distribution.

“We were glad to help,” says Porter. “The toy drive was very well organized, and it was an enjoyable experience to work with them. I hope to help again. “You think about those kids who are in need, and it makes you proud to be a part of something like this,” says Villafuerte.

 


Holston Electric Cooperative

For the past nineteen years, Holston Electric Cooperative employees, board members and retirees have served as “Secret Santas,” providing a pizza party in the cooperative auditorium, gifts, and a visit with Saint Nick for Hawkins County foster children. In 2012, HEC provided special Christmas activities for forty-three children from six weeks to thirteen years old.

 

 


Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative

Adopt a Class Gingerbread Houses

Sandy Qualls’ second grade class at Centerville Elementary School built gingerbread houses with their Adopt-A-Class Sponsor Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative on December 14. From left, front row, Caleb Simpson, Addie-Gene Puckett, Meredith Kelley, Jade Yontz, Trevor Buchanan, Marley Baker. Second row, Julia Daniels, Riley Johnston, Elizabeth Diggers, Bethan Diggers, Kaelinn Trom, Sloan Rochelle. Third row: Keelan Jogan, Weston LaRue, Harmony Dansby, Aaron Sullivan, Devin Rochelle. Back row: MLEC Employees Chad Blackwell, Mike Potts, Eddie Benz, Gene Hal, Steve Skelton and Eric DeVault.

Ornament Contest

A special banquet was held December 7, to honor winners in Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative’s annual ornament contest. It took place in the cooperative’s Touchstone Energy® Conference Center located at their Centerville location.

“It was our biggest year ever with over 130 entries,” says MLEC Member Services Supervisor Vanessa Clayborn. “The students did a great job designing ornaments to resemble everything from reindeer made from light bulbs to peacocks made from pinecones. We hope they had as much fun making them as we did looking at them.”

A first place winner for three grade divisions was recognized in each county served by the Tennessee cooperative. All winners were awarded a $50 gift card. Of all winners present at the banquet, one name was drawn for a family entertainment grand prize. It included a Nintendo Wii with extra controls, Wii games, a personal DVD player, movies, and board games. The winner was Logan Morris of Perry County.

“We started the contest in 2006 as a way to celebrate our youngest members and their families,” says Clayborn. “We are thankful to the schools and parents for encouraging students to participate and learn about their locally-owned utility.”

Arlington, VA.; December 3, 2012 — The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) today announced that Congresswoman Jo Ann Emerson will assume the role of Chief Executive Officer, effective March 1, 2013.  Emerson will take over for long-time CEO Glenn English, who announced his retirement earlier this year.

“We conducted an exhaustive search to identify the very best individual to lead a great association,” said NRECA Board President Mike Guidry.  “We’re convinced we found that person in Jo Ann Emerson.  Her background as a Member of Congress and a trade association executive – coupled with her extensive knowledge of the issues facing electric cooperatives and rural America – make Jo Ann eminently qualified to lead NRECA and represent the interests of our members.  The respect she has from both sides of the aisle and her proven ability to bridge political and policy divides and find common ground will serve NRECA well.”

Emerson was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1996 from Missouri’s Eighth Congressional District.  She serves on the House Appropriations Committee and Chairs the Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government Appropriations, with oversight of the U.S. Treasury, the Internal Revenue Service, and various independent government agencies, including the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission, the Federal Communications Commission, the General Services Administration, and the Small Business Administration.  In addition to a leadership role on agriculture, health care, and government reform issues in the House, Emerson has won recognition for her work on energy issues, including the NRECA Distinguished Service Award.

“Energy has a direct relationship with the vitality of rural America.  Without reliable, affordable electricity delivered by electric cooperatives serving thousands of communities, millions of Americans would be left without the energy that brings economic opportunity, unsurpassed quality of life, and the promise of growth in the future,” said Emerson.  “NRECA is committed to the electric cooperatives of this great nation that fulfill this vital need, and work so hard every day to improve the quality of life for their member-owners.  I am so very honored to join an outstanding organization to work on their behalf.”

In addition to her committee posts, Emerson also serves as co-Chair of the Tuesday Group, is a member of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and holds a position on the Board of the Congressional Hunger Center.  She is the first Republican woman from Missouri to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives.  Emerson graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University and held executive roles in communications and government affairs positions with the National Restaurant Association and the American Insurance Association before being elected to the first of nine terms in Congress.

The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association is the national service organization that represents the nation’s more than 900 private, not-for-profit, consumer-owned electric cooperatives, which provide service to 42 million people in 47 states.

Fayetteville Public Utilities recently announced improvements that will result in added reliability and room for growth.

FPU recently installed a 161 kV transformer at their Hamilton Substation to enhance system redundancy. The new 161 kV transformer will be tied to the TVA delivery point and will be fully operational by the end of the year to serve as a “back-up” unit in case of an equipment failure or major outage either at the station or in the areas served by the station.

“It has long been our goal to build an electric system with a redundancy plan that’s second to none,” says Ron Thomas, FPU’s supervisor of substations and metering. “Many years ago we began by constructing additional substations across Lincoln County and installing the SCADA link to communicate with each station so that when there was an operation affecting one substation, the electric load could be transferred to another substation temporarily to reduce the time that our customers are without electric service. Since that time, we’ve been able to install fiber communication to several of our substations to further improve outage response time and system monitoring.”

“Redundancy and system reliability planning has greatly helped us reduce the number of outages we experience as well as the length of those outages,” says Britt Dye, FPU’s CEO and general manager. “As a result of these types of upgrades, FPU continues to have one of the lowest power outage duration times across the nation.”

“Each year, FPU’s electric work plan calls for system upgrades which include power line and substation upgrades to better serve our growing communities across the area,” said Dye.

The Hamilton Substation was built in 1995 and provides service to approximately 4,500 customers who live in the city of Fayetteville north of the Elk River Bridge and portions of the communities of Molino and Howell.

In addition to the substation upgrade, FPU’s Electric Department also completed upgrades to 2.8 miles of three-phase line from their Park City Substation to Lincoln Road in the southern portion of Lincoln County. FPU upgraded existing 4/0 ACSR to 795 AAC and changed 46 electric poles to accommodate the new line. Crews also upgraded 2.8 miles of single-phase line to three-phase line in the Elora area along East Limestone Road. FPU crews will soon begin a new work plan to covert 2.6 miles of single-phase to three-phase in the Brookwood Subdivision area also located in southern Lincoln County.

NASHVILLE – The 71st annual meeting of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association was held Sunday – Tuesday, Nov. 18 – 20, at the Nashville Airport Marriott. The theme of the meeting was “Community,” and Bill Rogers, Caney Fork Electric Cooperative general manager and president of the TECA board of trustees, called the meeting to order.

Representatives from 23 member systems and one associate member were present for the business meeting. Rogers and TECA General Manager David Callis, the resolutions committee, TECA staff and representatives from the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative presented reports and updates.

Elections were held for four-year positions on the TECA board of trustees. Robert Kendrick, board member at Southwest Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation, was elected from Region I. Britt Dye, CEO and general manager of Fayetteville Public Utilities, was elected from Region II. Robert Drinnen, Appalachian Electric Cooperative board member, was elected from Region III.

“Congratulations to those who have been chosen for leadership roles,” said Callis. “We appreciate their service and are confident they will provide sound direction and represent Tennessee’s electric cooperatives with honor.”

Throughout the year, TECA presents training and education programs for cooperative directors. Recognized at this year’s annual meeting, board members receiving Credentialed Cooperative Director status were Michael Bouldin, Caney Fork EC; Anthony Kimbrough, Duck River EMC; and Robert Sherrill, Sequachee Valley EC. Board members receiving the more involved Board Leadership certification were Dale Fain, Appalachian EC; Glen Page, Caney Fork EC; Stephen Douglass, Cumberland EMC; Nelson Crouch and Baxter White, Duck River EMC; and Britt Dye, Fayetteville Public Utilities.

The Tennessee Magazine reception, featuring products made or produced in Tennessee, was held on Sunday evening, Nov. 18. Attendees to this year’s meeting also heard from Maj. Dan Rooney, professional golfer, retired fighter pilot and founder of Folds of Honor; Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Lee Greenwood; Tom Laing, researcher with TSE Services; Allen Borden, assistant commissioner with the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development; Tre Hargett, Tennessee secretary of state; NRECA President Mike Guidry; and Van Wardlaw, executive vice president of customer relations with TVA. The Quebe Sisters Band provided entertainment at the banquet.

The Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association is a trade group representing the interests of Tennessee’s 23 electric distribution cooperatives and the 1.1 million consumers they serve.

Images from the Annual Meeting are available here.

President Lacy Upchurch announced recently that the TRH Board of Directors has named Anthony Kimbrough as the next chief executive officer of TRH Health Plans. The board made its decision in a special-called meeting Nov. 21.

“I look forward to working with Anthony in his new role as CEO of TRH,” said Lacy Upchurch, board president. “Anthony has a dynamic personality and excellent people skills. In his responsibilities related to marketing and government relations, Anthony has proven himself as a dedicated and knowledgeable employee. He has been at the forefront of company development as TRH has expanded product offerings to assist other state Farm Bureaus. He has worked with current management through the many challenges, including the unknown possibilities related to the Affordable Care Act. Having that experience and the great working relationship with the current management team will enable Anthony to hit the ground running. We congratulate him on the recognition of his talent and commitment.”

Long-time CEO Lonnie Roberts, who announced his retirement to the board on Nov. 1, will step down at the end of December after a 25-year career at TRH, including the last 16 as CEO.

“The Board of Directors has made an excellent choice in Anthony,” said Roberts. “He has a high energy level, excellent communication skills and he understands what it means to be a part of a membership organization. He will do a great job leading the TRH team for years to come.”

Kimbrough, 49, has been in the Farm Bureau family since September 2000, when he became the first employee to share responsibilities for government relations work for both TRH and Farm Bureau Insurance. He was named vice president of government relations in that joint role in 2004 and then, in September 2007, moved to TRH as Vice President of Marketing and Government Relations.

“To say ‘I am blessed’ is quite an understatement,” said Kimbrough, an Arkansas native who moved to Tennessee in 1989. “I came to this organization a dozen years ago largely because I was attracted to its values and its people. That appreciation has only deepened during my time here. I thank the board for the trust it has placed in me, as well as Mr. Roberts and the many, many colleagues and co-workers in the TRH and Farm Bureau families who have made this opportunity possible.”

Kimbrough and his wife Michele live in Columbia and have two teenage daughters, McKayla and McKenzie. They are active members at First Baptist Church. He serves as a board member for Duck River Electric Membership Corporation.

The Tennessee Regulatory Authority (TRA) recently announced that the members of the TRA have elected Director James Allison to serve as chairman of the agency. In the capacity of chairman, he will have the responsibility of formulating the broad strategies, goals, objectives and long-range plans and policies of the TRA. Mr. Allison succeeds TRA Director Kenneth C. Hill who has served as chairman since October 2011.

On accepting the role as TRA chairman, Mr. Allison said, “I am honored to accept the role as chairman to continue the Tennessee Regulatory Authority’s commitment to protecting the public interest.” He resides in Shelbyville, Tennessee and was appointed to the TRA in 2012 by Governor Bill Haslam, Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell.

The TRA members also elected Director Herbert H. Hilliard to serve as vice chairman of the agency.

The mission of the TRA is to promote the public interest by balancing the interests of utility consumers and providers. For more information on the TRA, visit online at www.tn.gov/tra.

Mike Knotts, director of government affairs

Last Tuesday, Tennessee reelected all nine of its Congressmen to another term and history was made in the state legislature. On the national stage, EPA regulations will come to the forefront of national political discussion following the Presidential election.

In a tight race, the country reelected President Barack Obama (D) to a second term over the challenger, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney (R). The Congress will remain split. Democrats maintain majority control in the Senate holding 53 seats to the 47 seats held by Republicans. The House will remain under the control of Republicans who hold 240 seats whiledemocrats claim 190.

Tennessee will see no change in its Congressional delegation. The much talked about fourth district race went to the incumbent, Scott DesJarlais (R), with 56% of the vote over former Democratic State Senator, Eric Stewart. Senator Bob Corker (R) defended his seat comfortably as he earned 65% of the vote.

As our Congressional delegation returns to Washington, they face a fast-approaching fiscal cliff, which (if ignored) will result in the expiration of the Bush tax cuts and the much talked about automatic spending cuts. Beyond the fiscal cliff, our delegation will see a much more active EPA than it saw in President Obama’s first term.

Reuters (11/7) reports that analysts expect President Obama’s second term will bring tougher regulations for the energy industry. A separate Reuters (11/7, Gardner) article also suggests Obama’s stance on oil and gas regulation is likely to get tougher during his second term.

During Tuesday night’s victory speech, Obama spoke of the need to ensure children live in a country that, “isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet”. These anticipated changes in energy policy means the work of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association will be more important than ever.

At the state level, history was made Tuesday night. For the first time, Republicans will have a supermajority in the State House and State Senate. The only incumbent to lose in the general election was Jim Gotto (R—Hermitage) who lost his seat to Democrat Darren Jernigan. This district is not served by any TECA member electric power systems.

New members winning contested races include: Timothy Hill (R—Blountville), Micah Van Huss(R—Sulphur Springs), Gloria Johnson (D—Knoxville), Andrew Farmer (R—Sevierville), Kent Calfee (R—Oak Ridge), Dawn White (R—Murfreesboro), William Lamberth (R—Gallatin), Courtney Rogers (R—Goodlettsville), Bo Mitchell (D—Nashville), Jason Powell (D—Nashville), Darren Jernigan (D—Hermitage), Barry Doss (R—Lawrenceburg), Mary Littleton (R—Dickson), Debra Moody (R—Covington), and Billy Spivey (R—Lewisburg).

New Senate members include: Frank Nicely (R—District 8), Todd Gardenhire (R—District 10), Janice Bowling (R—District 16), Ferrell Haile (R—District 18), Steve Dickerson (R—District 20), Mark Green (R—District 22), John Stevens (R—District 24) and Joey Hensley (R—District 28).

TECA worked over the past year to become acquainted with the newest members of the General Assembly prior to election day. These relationships will be helpful in long-term policy work, as will the continued friendships TECA has with manylegislative leaders. TECA will continue to monitor and influence legislative matters effecting electric cooperatives.