[NASHVILLE] – Electric cooperatives across Tennessee today are monitoring the track of Hurricane Irma and preparing to assist in the recovery efforts if needed.

Electric cooperatives from 17 states, including co-ops in Tennessee, have spent the week developing a plan to assist in the recovery of areas impacted by the dangerous storm. “We work days ahead of events like this to organize resources, line up volunteers and make travel and lodging arrangements,” says Todd Blocker, vice president of member services for the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association and coordinator of cooperative mutual aid for the state. “Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi will provide assistance to Florida, and our crews will likely assist coastal Georgia and South Carolina. These plans may change as we get more information on the track of the storm and extent of the damage.”

The storm is expected to bring significant wind and rain to portions of Tennessee early next week, so volunteer crews will not be released until the remnants of the storm have passed. “Restoring service to our own members will be our priority,” adds Blocker.

“Tennessee lineworkers have provided assistance to several states in recent years,” says David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “Our crews have a reputation for responding quickly, working safely and showing compassion to those who have been impacted. We appreciate our employees’ desire to serve and wish them well in the days to come.”

Given the incessant news out of Washington highlighting partisan bickering and gridlock in Congress, it can be hard to tell whether our elected leaders are listening and being responsive to the concerns of rural Americans. That’s why America’s electric cooperatives urged members to get out and vote in the last election and are now focused on advancing the interests of rural communities in our nation’s capital. We’ve asked for a seat at the table—a request that’s been met with some success.

Early this year, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), our national service organization in Washington, led a group of more than 40 organizations in sending a letter to President Trump asking him to make rural issues a top priority of his administration. “As you witnessed first-hand during the campaign, the issues facing rural America are no less significant than those facing urban parts of the country, but can be more easily overlooked because America’s small towns and rural areas make up just 15 percent of the nation’s population,” the groups wrote.

To address this concern, the organizations urged the president to designate a senior member of the White House staff to take point on rural issues or establish an office of rural policy within the Executive Office of the President. In response to this and other electric cooperative outreach efforts, the president in late April signed an executive order establishing an inter-agency Rural America Task Force to examine the issues facing rural America and identify actions needed to address them.

NRECA CEO Jim Matheson called the creation of the task force “a key step as we seek to develop rural communities economically. That includes implementing new energy technologies to meet tomorrow’s energy needs, while also deploying broadband and other services to enhance daily lives throughout rural America.”

Electric cooperatives also have been weighing in on another big topic in Washington: the need to improve the nation’s aging infrastructure. Co-ops have told policymakers that they must look beyond merely repairing roads and bridges if a federal infrastructure initiative is going to meet the needs of rural communities. High on co-ops’ list of priorities is closing the rural-urban digital divide by expanding rural access to high-speed Internet service, which Matheson calls “a key ingredient for a healthy 21st century economy, particularly in rural areas.”

Given this imperative, co-ops were very pleased when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) appointed Matheson to serve on a newly created Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee. The mission of the panel, which held its inaugural meeting in April, is to advise and make recommendations to the FCC on how to accelerate the deployment of broadband by reducing and removing regulatory barriers to infrastructure investment. Matheson will work to ensure that rural needs are addressed.

This isn’t to say that everything in Washington will go co-ops’ way. The federal government is a massive bureaucracy with many interests vying for attention. But there’s one thing you can count on: Electric cooperatives will fight to make their voices heard on Capitol Hill and within the many federal agencies that impact the quality of life in rural communities. They’ll always strive to get a seat at the table.

Dan Riedinger writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Arlington, Va.-based service arm of the nation’s 900-plus consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives.

How we got here and the challenges that lie ahead

Here’s how big solar energy has gotten: the eclipse coming up on August 21 has utilities making plans to avoid power outages when the moon blocks the sun for two minutes and 40 seconds over the middle of North America.

No, you don’t need to worry about losing electricity—your local electric cooperative knows the eclipse is coming and will keep the power flowing. But that astronomical event does show how renewable energy is starting to make a difference as solar and wind power elbow their way into the more traditional electricity fuels of coal, natural gas and nuclear power.

“Electric Industry Generation, Capacity and Market Outlook,” a new report by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), describes those changes and what they will mean for electric co-ops.

“The (U.S. Department of Energy’s) Energy Information Administration (EIA) projects that by 2018, non-hydroelectric renewables will be about 10 percent of the generation mix, which is a really big deal,” says Lauren Khair, an NRECA regional economic analyst and one of the authors of the report. “Back in 2008, just to give you an idea, the share of non-hydro renewables was around 3 percent.”

But the rapid rise is only half the story. Wind and solar also generate electricity differently, and that has utilities making changes in the incredibly complicated system of generation and transmission.

Solar eclipse lessons

Then the moon moves in front of the sun during an eclipse, “Solar shuts off very quickly,” says Michael Leitman, NRECA strategic analyst. “Then it comes right back to full power.” That can cause problems for an electric grid designed to generate power exactly when it’s needed, and to keep that electricity at a consistent frequency.

Traditional baseload resources, like coal, nuclear and natural gas, provide stability to the electric grid and prevent sudden shifts in frequency. Due to their intermittent nature, wind and solar do not automatically provide these benefits. As the share of wind and solar grows, this becomes more problematic. Luckily, new inverter technologies are emerging that can provide synthetic inertia to help alleviate this problem, in conjunction with more natural gas resources, which are more flexible than coal at adjusting to sudden shifts in supply and demand. Further, these flexible resources can ramp up faster when the sun stops shining or wind stops blowing.

The organization responsible for assuring resource adequacy of the electric grid, the North American Electric Reliability Council (NERC), issued a report suggesting that utilities prepare for the eclipse. NERC singles out California and North Carolina as states that are both near the path of the total eclipse, and that also rely on a lot of solar power. NERC says those states should “perform detailed studies and retain necessary resources to meet the increased and varying load” as the expected drop in solar will call for more electricity from other sources during those few minutes. The path of the total eclipse in North America will start in Oregon at 10:15 a.m. Pacific time and move across the country during the next hour-and-a-half, leaving South Carolina at 2:49 p.m. Eastern time. A partial eclipse will affect a much wider band along that route.

Government policies for renewable energy

Government policies are a big reason for the expansion of renewable energy. Solar and wind power grew rapidly due to federal tax credits in 2012, slowed when they were expected to be discontinued, then picked up when the credits were extended. The tax credits even affect the time of year that renewable energy projects are built. As NRECA’s report states, “Most renewable projects are completed in the fourth quarter of the year, due in part to the timing of qualifications for federal, state or local tax incentives.” Projections for renewable energy show strong growth until 2020, then leveling off for several years as tax credits begin to expire. Renewable growth is projected to strengthen again around 2026 as electricity demand growth continues and more coal power plants are expected to retire.

State governments also help the growth of renewables, with laws setting targets for renewable energy use, known as Renewable Portfolio Standards. Although the federal tax incentives are a primary factor for renewable projects, Renewable Portfolio Standards are another important driver. Renewable Portfolio Standards have been adopted by 29 states and Washington, D.C., with several others adopting voluntary standards.

Cheaper and better technology

Improved technology and lower prices are also pushing renewable energy growth. The NRECA report says, “States have been able to meet or surpass these [Renewable Portfolio] standards, in part because of declining costs of solar and wind … utility-scale solar costs for crystalline panels dropped 85 percent and utility-scale wind costs dropped 66 percent in the last seven years.”

More transmission lines needed

Large-scale wind and solar installations tend to sit in wide-open spaces, so the electricity needs new transmission lines to get to where people live. The transmission system also needs to accommodate renewable energy generated only when the wind blows or sun shines. “The increase in variable generation to the wholesale market has led to increasing concerns about transmission congestion,” says the NRECA report. The report cites one estimate, from Edison Electric Institute, that investor-owned utilities plan to spend $22 billion this year on transmission projects, noting another speed bump to the development of renewable energy: “As transmission projects become more difficult to site due to environmental concerns, land availability, local opposition and other constraints, planners will need to find innovative ways to meet these challenges.”

Paul Wesslund writes on cooperative issues for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Arlington, Va.-based service arm of the nation’s 900-plus consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives.

Predicting the future is the stuff of science fiction movies. However, sci-fi often finds its way into our everyday lives. Researchers and the nation’s utilities have been working on a variety of systems to predict where on the utility system an outage could occur.

Power outages are inconvenient to most and costly to many. Outages can happen for many reasons. Watch this quick video to learn about the most common causes of power outages.

A careless driver can run into a pole. A strong storm can push a tree into the lines. An unlucky squirrel can find himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. However, many outages are a result of aging infrastructure. The amount of equipment on a typical distribution line is immense. Electric cooperatives maintain hundreds of miles of distribution lines that must be patrolled and inspected. This is often a time consuming and labor intensive process. But what if there was a better way?

America’s electric cooperatives are working with a variety of the nation’s leading universities and technology vendors to test different systems that can predict when and where an outage will occur before co-op members experience the outage. These systems typically work by recording a disturbance in the system. These disturbances are short-lived and appear as waveforms. They can be compared to the device that records the human heart. Each waveform has a unique characteristic, which would be similar to a fingerprint. For example, a tree branch rubbing against a distribution line looks different than a cracked or damaged piece of equipment.

However, figuring out where on the system the issues are happening and how critical the issue is have been a challenge. Co-ops are testing systems developed by universities and major corporations to help solve the problem. In the fall of 2017, a group of electric co-ops will embark on a test of a new system developed by one of the world’s leading engineering companies to help improve reliability and lower costs.

Universities and vendors often come to electric cooperatives to test new products because of the nimbleness of co-ops and their unrelenting commitment to improving the lives of those they serve.

As these technologies advance, predicting the future, or at least future power outages, may not seem so far-fetched.

Aaron Lay, a senior at Sequoyah High School, was named national spokesperson for the Washington Youth Tour.

Sponsored by local electric cooperatives and coordinated by the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Youth Tour brings thousands of high school seniors to the nation’s capital each summer to learn about public policy, rural issues and cooperatives. Lay was a 2017 Youth Tour delegate from Fort Loudoun Electric Cooperative.

More than 1,800 delegates from across the country participated in the 2017 Washington Youth Tour. Lay was named Tennessee’s representative to the Youth Leadership Council in June and recently appointed national spokesperson.

“We are celebrating this great accomplishment with Aaron,” says Jarrod Brackett, CEO of Fort Loudoun Electric Cooperative. “This is a great reminder that rural Tennessee students are second to none. We know that Aaron will be an excellent representative of our state and our co-op.”

Lay will address some 8,000 attendees of the 2018 National Rural Electric Cooperative Association annual meeting in Nashville to share his experiences from the Youth Tour.

“We are excited about Aaron’s selection as national spokesperson for the Youth Tour,” says David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “He stood out on Youth Tour as a leader among leaders, and we are excited to see how he uses his talents to tell the story of rural Tennessee.”

Aaron is the son of Butch and Lisa Lay of Madisonville.

 

In 2011, following efforts by Tennessee’s electric cooperatives and municipal utilities, the state’s Move Over law was revised to not only include police, firefighters and other first responders, but utility workers as well. Unfortunately, motorists do not always heed the law.

The requirements of the law are simple. On a four lane road, if safety and traffic conditions allow, a driver approaching a utility vehicle with flashing lights should move into the far lane. On a two lane road or when changing lanes is not possible, a driver should reduce their speed.

The infographic below is designed to help motorists understand their requirements when behind the wheel.

 

moveoverinfographic

“The only things certain in life are death and taxes,” the old saying goes. Well, we can add another to the list: power outages. An outage can range from annoying to dangerous, depending upon its timing and length.

Your local electric cooperative’s primary goal is to deliver the highest possible quality of electric service at the lowest possible price. Perhaps the key measure of quality in the eyes of members is the number of times their lights blink or go out.

Let’s talk a bit about how the grid is designed as a backdrop to how technology is improving reliability by reducing blinks and outages. Along the power lines that bring electricity to your home, the co-op installs protective devices in the form of fuses and reclosers (high-voltage circuit breakers). Fuses and reclosers serve the same purpose as the fuses and circuit breakers in your home.

A fuse is a one-shot device. When a fault occurs, the fuse blows, and everyone “downstream” from it loses power. Reclosers are multishot devices, meaning they can operate a certain number of times before they stay open and an outage occurs. A common setting is what’s known as a triple-shot. Here’s how that works: A tree limb contacts the power lines and creates a fault. The recloser senses it and opens, creating the first blink. Here’s where a recloser differs from your home circuit breaker. The recloser waits a certain amount of a time (typically a few seconds), then recloses to try and complete the circuit. If the fault is still there, the recloser opens again. This creates the second blink. Triple-shot settings allow the device to reclose a third time and, if the fault is still there, it stays open, and the members downstream experience a power outage.

Blinks are nuisances, but they eliminate a lot of extended outages by protecting wires and equipment from serious damage.

So, what kind of technology is improving service reliability? The smart grid is spawning an amazing array of equipment and software that are already improving reliability. When combined with field construction practices like building multiple ways to feed power loads and the deployment of advanced metering systems (AMI), the future of reliability is bright — pun intended.

Electric co-ops are starting to use more of what are called intelligent electronic devices. “Intelligent” basically means a co-op can program the device to behave a certain way when a specific event occurs. It also means the co-op can remotely command the device to take an action, either preprogrammed or ad hoc.

Eventually, there will be a power outage — despite your cooperative’s best efforts. That is where AMI and an outage management system (OMS) earn their keep. The basic element of an AMI is a meter that can communicate with your electric co-op. The OMS maps system data and meter locations into a piece of software that models the electric grid. When a device on the grid reports loss of power, the OMS runs calculations to determine the exact location of the fault and the number of members impacted.

Now, the whole suite of systems your co-op uses comes into play. The co-op dispatcher can call out or redirect a crew to the exact location of the problem. A map of the outage and number of impacted members is generated, and member service reps are notified that an outage is in progress. Members who have signed up for it might receive a text stating there’s an outage and another when power is restored.

The end result of all this technology is the minimization of outages and their length, plus more availability of up-to-date information for the consumer.

Mother Nature is a tough opponent, and it’s impossible to eliminate outages and blinks altogether. But with the way technology is advancing, we can expect to see some remarkable improvements.

[NASHVILLE] – Electric cooperatives across Tennessee today prepare for the arrival of Tropical Storm Cindy which is anticipated to bring wind and significant rainfall to the Volunteer State overnight Thursday through Friday.

The tropical storm, which made landfall at 4 a.m. today on the coast of Louisiana, is forecast to bring 25 mph winds and up to 6 inches of rain to Tennessee as it moves across the Southeast.

“We are paying attention to the track of the storm and preparing for the possibility of outages,” says John Bowers, CEO of Pickwick Electric Cooperative in Selmer. “We conduct ongoing system maintenance and tree trimming to prepare for events like this, but our crews will be ready to respond if needed.”

Co-ops routinely provide assistance to one another during major outages. The Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association coordinates requests for assistance among Tennessee co-ops. “Our cooperatives are always quick to help those in need, whether it be a co-op in the next county or in another state,” says David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association.

NASHVILLE – Nearly 140 high school seniors from across Tennessee are back home following the 2017 Washington Youth Tour.

The week long event included sightseeing, visits with elected officials and lots of fun meeting peers from across Tennessee and the nation. Delegates earned their spots on the Youth Tour for writing winning short stories titled “Electric Cooperatives: Going Beyond the Wires.” In their winning entries, the talented young writers described how member-owned, nonprofit electric co-ops strengthen their local communities and improve lives across their service areas while providing safe, reliable, affordable energy.

“We take great pride in recognizing the best and brightest from across the state,” said Todd Blocker, director of member relations for the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association and tour director. “By recognizing their accomplishments through programs like the Washington Youth Tour, we show these leaders of tomorrow that their hometown electric co-op is more than a utility provider; these students are active members of their community and fully invested in its prosperity.”

For more than 50 years, the Washington Youth Tour has taken students from electric co-op service areas to our nation’s capital to learn more about our country and the cooperative business model. The annual event is coordinated by local electric cooperatives, the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association and National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA). This year’s Youth Tour involved 1,700 students from 43 states.

“You bring a voice that wants to engage with people and talk about your community and what matters to you,” said NRECA CEO Jim Matheson. “It’s up to all of us to support it, nurture it, hold it accountable and make it work. That’s the approach of NRECA, and that’s the approach you will help us pursue.”

On their 2017 visit, Tennessee’s Youth Tour delegates saw the White House and memorials to past presidents Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Delano Roosevelt as well as monuments honoring the sacrifices of veterans of World War II and the Vietnam and Korean Wars. During visits to the museums of the Smithsonian Institution, the touring Tennesseans saw and experienced natural, historical and artistic treasures. Other fun stops included historic homes of former presidents — George Washington’s Mount Vernon and Jefferson’s Monticello — as well as Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and a boat cruise down the Potomac River. Among other Youth Tour highlights were a solemn and sobering visit to Arlington National Cemetery where the group laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

The group was welcomed to the U.S. Capitol by Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker and members of the Tennessee congressional delegation who posed for photos and answered questions.

Destinee Gilchrist from Tennessee Valley Electric Cooperative, Taya Lewis from Caney Fork Electric Cooperative and Hope Newell from Gibson Electric Membership Corporation were awarded $3,000, $2,000 and $1,000 Robert McCarty Memorial Scholarships for having the first-, second- and third-place short stories of the more than 10,000 papers submitted across the state. McCarty was an employee of Volunteer Energy Cooperative and long time chaperone on the annual Youth Tour. McCarty lost a battle with cancer in 2015, and sponsoring cooperatives renamed the scholarships in honor of his love for young people.

Candace Hargrave, of Franklin County, a recent graduate of Huntland High School, was awarded a $10,000 Cooperative Youth Ambassador Scholarship. Hargrave was a 2016 delegate for Duck River Electric Membership Corporation on the Washington Youth Tour. In the year following the tour, delegates who remain engaged with their sponsoring cooperatives and complete certain community service requirements are eligible for the scholarship. Hargrave’s name was randomly selected from among the 100 delegates from across the state who completed the requirements.

“It’s more than just a talking point,” said David Callis, CEO of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “Electric co-ops genuinely care about the prosperity of the communities we serve. The Washington Youth Tour is a small but important way for us to show these exceptional students that rural Tennessee matters. We want them to be passionate about their communities and prepared to lead when those opportunities come along.”

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Tennessee’s electric cooperatives awarded $16,000 in scholarships to Washington Youth Tour delegates on Monday evening, June 12, in Washington, D.C.

Candace Hargrave, a senior from Duck River Electric Membership Corporation, was awarded a $10,000 Cooperative Youth Ambassador Scholarship. Hargrave was a 2016 delegate of the Washington Youth Tour. In the year following the tour, delegates who remain engaged with their sponsoring cooperative and complete certain community service requirements are eligible for the scholarship. Hargrave’s name was randomly selected from among the 100 delegates from across the state who completed the requirements.

Destinee Gilchrist from Tennessee Valley Electric Cooperative, Taya Lewis from Caney Fork Electric Cooperative and Hope Newell from Gibson Electric Membership Corporation were awarded $3,000, $2,000 and $1,000 Robert McCarty Memorial Scholarships for having the first, second and third place papers of the more than 10,000 papers submitted across the state.

McCarty was an employee of Volunteer Energy Cooperative and long-time chaperone on the annual youth tour. McCarty lost a battle with cancer in 2015, and sponsoring cooperatives renamed the scholarship in honor of his love for young people.

More than 180 high school Juniors from across the state are in the nation’s capital this week for the 2017 Washington Youth Tour. The annual event teaches students about our country and the cooperative business model. The annual event is coordinated by local electric cooperatives, the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association and National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

“Our commitment to community is what sets cooperatives apart from other businesses,” said David Callis, CEO of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “The Washington Youth Tour is one way we show the youth of our service area that their co-op is more than their electricity provider. We genuinely care about the prosperity of our communities, and that includes providing special opportunities for these exceptional students and preparing them for future success.”