As we’re nearing the midpoint of 2020, I think everyone is ready for this year to just be over or for a “do-over.” It seems that we have veered from one calamity to the next; tornadoes to a derecho, topped off with a pandemic. We know that this year has been catastrophic in rural communities. Unfortunately, we can’t turn back the clock; we have to deal with the reality of today.

David Callis, executive vice president and general manager, TECA

Our electric cooperatives are not immune to the challenges. From the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, they’ve taken measures to protect their employees so they could keep the lights on, which is critically important for our homes, businesses, and hospitals. Given the damage from storms this year, it’s been challenging to repair and rebuild the grid while properly protecting workers. We’ve gotten the job done because, first and foremost, we exist to help our communities.

That assistance hasn’t ended at keeping the electricity flowing. Cooperatives across the state have provided assistance to help consumer-owners who have been hit hard by the economic collapse. Whether it is providing assistance with bills or making contributions to local charities, we’re committed to our communities. We’ve been working with TVA, state government and Congress, sending the message that electric co-ops need flexibility and relief to meet these community needs and ensure the delivery of affordable, reliable electricity.

Backing up those co-ops is the staff here at The Tennessee Magazine and Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. Our staff is dedicated to supporting Tennessee’s electric cooperatives in a variety of ways: youth programs, safety training, employee education, communications, community outreach, government relations and economic development — anything that helps your cooperative help you and your community.

Our staff, based primarily in Nashville, last met as a group on March 16 for lunch — properly separated from each other in the early days of the pandemic. From that point, we worked mostly from home over the next two months, keeping in touch remotely with our co-ops, elected officials and each other.

They are great co-workers. I appreciate the work they do and their ability to adjust to this new reality we’re all facing. But mostly, I admire their dedication to the job they do every day — doing anything and everything they can for Tennessee’s rural communities.


The good rapport and cooperative attitude of our staff is evident in their smiles during a recent Zoom video conference. We work hard for the people in our service areas, but we have a good time doing it.

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.

I don’t think we realize how much we benefit from the internet and the communications services it provides. Not that many years ago, companies debated whether they should invest in having an online presence. I know that because I was involved in those conversations.

Today, you can go online to change your mobile phone’s data plan or increase the number of channels you receive from your broadband provider. You can start or stop services, and you can easily order everything from cat food to diapers — all conveniently delivered to your home in a few days (or even hours). Quite often, if you go to a company’s website, a dialogue box will pop up and allow you to order goods and services or make transactions in a chat exchange with an agent. Companies boast about how much they care about their customers, so they will go to any length to make things easier.

But have you ever tried to cancel any of those offerings?

Recently, I needed to cancel a couple of communications-related services. Unfortunately, neither of the two companies’ websites had an easy link for customers. I simply could not do this by email, text or chat. The only option was a voice conversation. Sounds easy enough, but they involved very lengthy conversations punctuated by long periods of time on hold. All told, I invested well over an hour of my time.

So much for making things easier for customers — though I was a departing customer.

I can appreciate that some actions require a conversation and many companies prefer a more personal interaction with their customers. Yet, this process seemed to be more about trying to convince me to change my mind or make it so painful that I would give up.

At cooperatives, we look at customers a bit differently. To begin with, we view you as what you truly are — member-owners and not customers. It is one of our founding principles, and it colors how we do our jobs. We’re happy to see you join the cooperative and sad to see you leave should you move away.

The American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) is a measure of customer satisfaction. It is a well-respected national survey of the quality of products and services offered by foreign and domestic firms. It measures customer satisfaction on a scale of 0 to 100.

Electric cooperatives across the nation are evaluated by the ACSI and, quite frankly, we score very well. For years, we have been near the top of the rankings. Electric cooperatives led the energy sector in 2014-15 with a score of 81. (For comparison, Apple scored an 80.)

According to ACSI, “Across all 43 industries measured by the ACSI, electric co-ops have the 10th highest customer satisfaction score.”

It makes a difference when you’re treated like a member-owner and not just a customer. The lineman, the engineer and the member service representative view you as much more than a source of revenue. They work for you. The cooperative difference shows up in their commitment to their jobs, and it shows in how cooperative members rate them.

How do the communications companies I dealt with compare? I won’t “name names,” but their 2015 ACSI scores were near the bottom of nationally known companies. Their individual scores were 68 and 69.

From my personal experience, I think their survey scores might have been overly generous.

Last December, I let you know that America’s electric cooperatives were filing suit against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), asking a federal court to prevent a rule called the Clean Power Plan from taking effect. The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) and 39 generation and transmission co-ops asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to intervene and recognize the lack of legal authority behind the EPA’s regulation. Tennessee’s electric cooperatives were part of this effort.

The Court of Appeals denied our request for a stay. But on Feb. 9, the Supreme Court took the unusual step of blocking the EPA’s landmark carbon rule for power plants, throwing into doubt whether President Barack Obama’s signature climate-change initiative will survive a legal battle before the high court.

The decision read, in part, “The application for a stay submitted to The Chief Justice and by him referred to the Court is granted. The Environmental Protection Agency’s ‘Carbon Pollution Emission Guidelines for Existing Stationary Sources: Electric Utility Generating Units,’ 80 Fed. Reg. 64,662 (October 23, 2015), is stayed pending disposition of the applicants’ petitions for review in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.”

The Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association is very pleased with this decision halting implementation of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan. If this stay had not been granted, cooperatives across the nation would have been forced to take costly and irreversible steps to comply with the rule.

From its inception, we have believed this rule is unneeded regulatory overreach. Our initial step was to provide real-life concerns about the impacts of the proposed rule. More than 1 million Americans joined our push, agreeing that the EPA’s actions jeopardize rural America’s supply of safe, affordable and reliable electricity.

These regulatory hurdles make it increasingly difficult to deliver power to you. We are committed to a cleaner energy future. But the Clean Power Plan goes far beyond what the Clean Air Act authorizes the EPA to do and could seriously challenge our nation’s electric system. We continue to believe this is a huge overreach of EPA’s legal authority.

Low rates and reliable power must be part of our clean-energy future. This decision opens the door to find real solutions that effectively balance environmental and economic concerns. Cooperative members hardest hit by new regulations will be those who can least afford to pay more to keep the lights on — those living on fixed incomes or in poverty.

What’s next?

The decision does not address the merits of the lawsuit. The ruling from the highest court in the land puts the rule on hold until the case is argued in court. The stay is no guarantee that the rule will eventually be struck down, but the development is a bad omen for EPA’s chances. It does indicate that the court believes the states, utilities and coal companies have raised serious questions.

It also means that the deadlines imposed by the EPA will have to be revised. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals put the case on a fast track: Oral arguments are scheduled for this June, and that court’s decision could come in late summer or fall. Depending on the result, a Supreme Court appeal could come in early 2017.

As developments proceed, we’ll keep you informed.

by Mike Knotts, director of government affairs
Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association

The first “car” I drove on a regular basis was a 1981 Ford F-100 pickup truck. I’m sure thousands of you probably see a Ford F-150 parked in your driveway right now, but this was not the same vehicle. The F-100 was the least expensive truck the Ford Motor Company manufactured at the time, and this particular model was outfitted with the absolute fewest options available.

My dad bought this truck to use at his construction business. Simply put, it was intended to be a work truck, through and through, and was intended to do two things: haul building materials to the job site and haul garbage away. The truck had no power steering, no power brakes, no air conditioning, manual windows, manual door locks and a manual transmission for which the gearshift was mounted on the steering column. This “three-on-the-tree” shifter was mated with the tightest clutch ever to come from Detroit.

When it came time for me to learn to drive, this truck was an excellent teacher. My skinny teenage body struggled with the tight clutch and lack of power brakes, and parking at my high school was sometimes a challenge while I slowly cranked the tires around. But I learned a lot about how a car operates and have wonderful memories to help me appreciate all of the “push-button comfort” I now enjoy in my modern truck.

Well, much like that Ford F-100, the small device on the side of your home or business that measures how much electricity you consume has, for more than 70 years, been a pretty basic instrument. There was little need to do anything more than measure the amount of juice flowing from the distribution lines in to your home. Some of you may even remember the times when you would record your own use and mail it into the co-op.

Today, it is more likely that a person drives to your home or business once per month, gets out of the car, walks to the side of the house, building or barn, writes down the number, walks back to the car, gets inside and drives to the next location where he or she does it all over again. At the end of the day, the numbers on the meter reader’s clipboard have to be transferred to the co-op to be entered into the billing system that determines how much you will owe on the next bill. It is a lengthy, expensive and sometimes error-prone process.

However, those simple, analog electromechanical induction meters are extremely durable. The meter that serves my home is more than 40 years old and continues to operate. These meters, though, do have a tendency to “slow down” over time and record less electricity use than is actually being consumed. Knowing this fact, I admit I might allow a small smile to come over my face when I pay my bill. But the truth of the matter is that every other member of the co-op has to pay my difference when someone’s meter is not recording accurately. So we owe it to each other to fairly record our consumption.

Additionally, the requirements to operate the electric grid are becoming increasingly more complicated. The energy you require to power your air conditioner, for instance, must be available at the exact instant that you demand it (this is called creating a load or demand for energy). It takes billions of dollars of manpower and machinery to make that possible. And while that fact has always been the case, the use of the electric grid is increasing every day with millions of new devices, appliances and machines “plugging in.” Any one of these new loads, if not managed properly, has the potential to bring the whole system down.

Modern technology is changing the way the electric grid is managed. Automation is reducing the amount of time you are without power during an outage by reducing the need for a human being to drive to a location and reconnect or reclose a large fuse, for instance. Improved technology is reducing the amount of energy that is lost as it moves along power lines, saving money and helping keep electric rates low.

To keep the lights on in the 21st century, information is becoming as important as machines. Without real-time data about the use of the electric system, we are doomed to a 20th century lifestyle. That means the 40-year-old meter on the side of my house will be replaced with a new digital meter soon. I’m excited about it. It will reduce the need for human beings to drive around just to read my meter, reduce the chance of human error inaccuracies on my bill and save my co-op millions of dollars that are spent on unnecessary activities. That is money I don’t have to pay for through my electric rate.

My dad’s old F-100 did its basic job well, and he definitely got his money’s worth out of it. Eventually, though, it was time for a new truck with some upgraded features. The next truck had an automatic transmission and air conditioning, and it was a huge improvement!

NASHVILLE, Aug. 3, 2015 – The Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association, an organization representing Tennessee’s not-for-profit, member-owned electric cooperatives and the more than 1.1 million homes, farms and businesses they serve, made the following statement about the Environmental Protection Agency’s final Clean Power Plan rule.

“We are disappointed that the EPA continues to ignore the burden these regulations will have on Tennessee families and businesses,” says David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “We will continue to advocate for a solution that strikes a balance between a healthy environment and a healthy economy.”

“The EPA rule fails to consider the impact to electric rates and reliability. That’s a risky move,” says Callis. “Affordable and reliable energy is critical to Tennessee’s economy, and any regulation that overlooks that fact is incomplete and ill–advised.”

“The modifications to the Clean Power Plan accelerate the pace of emissions reductions and discounts the efforts that have already been made,” says Callis.

In 2014 Tennessee’s electric cooperatives coordinated a grassroots campaign calling on the EPA to ensure that affordable and reliable energy was protected. More than 14,000 electric consumers in Tennessee responded during the EPA’s comment period on the Clean Power Plan.

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 or tnmagazine.org to learn more.

UPDATE – TECA has learned that the EPA will allow TVA to count new generation from Watts Bar nuclear plant toward state CO2 emission reduction requirements. TECA and NRECA will continue to monitor the plan and evaluate the impact it will have on Tennessee co-op members.

 

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Contact:
Trent Scott | Director of Corporate Strategy | tscott@tnelectric.org | 731.608.1519

David Callis, executive vice president and general manager

One early Friday morning this past June, four large tour buses pulled away from our office in Nashville. In a city filled with motor coaches, that’s not an unusual occurrence. However, instead of taking a band on a 20-city, multistate tour, these buses were filled with VIPs: high school seniors from across the state heading to our nation’s capital on a once-in-a-lifetime trip, each student a standout from his or her local high school.

This wasn’t the first time this scene played out, and it certainly won’t be the last. For the past 50 years, the electric cooperatives of Tennessee have been sending the youth from their communities on this weeklong trip that’s educational and, of course, a lot of fun. The Washington Youth Tour is a joint effort of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association and your local electric cooperative.

Past alumni include military and civic leaders, legislators and the occasional business leader. In fact, none other than Apple CEO Tim Cook took his first trip to Washington, D.C., compliments of his local electric cooperative.

In talking about his first visit to the center of our democracy, Cook said, “In the summer of 1977, I was 16 years old. At the end of my junior year of high school, I won an essay contest sponsored by the National Rural Electric Association. I remember very clearly writing it by hand, draft after draft after draft.” He mentions that his family was too poor to afford a typewriter.

Cook was one of two students from Baldwin County, Alabama, chosen to go to Washington along with hundreds of other kids from across the country (this year’s tour brought 1,700 students to D.C., Tennessee alone accounting for 10 percent of that number).

That same year, 1977, jazz guitarist George Benson recorded the song “The Greatest Love of All,” which begins with these lyrics:

“I believe the children are our future,
“Teach them well and let them lead the way.
“Show them all the beauty they possess inside.
“Give them a sense of pride to make it easier …”

Those words sum up how we view the Youth Tour. You might not think a one-week trip could make a difference in someone’s life, but you’d be wrong. A phrase that is often repeated from participants past and present is that this is “the trip of a lifetime.”

That’s the goal toward which we are aiming. Students learn about their government, our nation’s history and electric cooperatives (we are sponsoring the trip!), and they discover how to make a difference in their communities.

We invest millions of dollars each year in building and improving the electric infrastructure in our communities. We take investing in the future of our youth just as seriously. Wires and poles, hearts and minds — all are critical for our communities to thrive.

Who could have predicted that a poor high school kid from Alabama would someday be CEO of the world’s largest company? We don’t know what leaders may come out of this year’s class, but it’s an investment we’ve been making for the past half-century and one we’ll continue to make.

You never know just how great a return you’ll receive.

by David Callis
Executive Vice President and General Manager
Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association

Last month, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected an early challenge to the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal to curb carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants, saying the legal action was premature. The panel did not rule on the merits of the lawsuit, stating that objections to the plan were filed too soon because the regulation has not yet been finalized. When the rules are finalized later this year, there will be additional challenges.

The decision was just the latest milestone in the long journey to energy independence. Though it remains unclear if the Clean Power Plan will withstand legal challenges, it doesn’t alter the changes the electric utility industry has undertaken over the past few years.

These changes predated EPA’s Clean Power Plan by several years. Case in point, I wrote the following in The Tennessee Magazine’s July 2007 edition:

We are at the beginning of our own revolution — an energy revolution. Last month, we talked about the changing political landscape and the climate change debate. In fact, it seems that every other headline these days is something about climate change, greenhouse gases, carbon emissions and global warming. The climate change issue has brought about political change — change that will affect us, our children and our grandchildren.

The change won’t occur quickly, that’s for certain. There is no “magic bullet” that is going to solve our energy needs and clean up the environment. Steps toward lowering our energy consumption will go a long way toward lessening our carbon emissions. However, as our population grows, conservation and efficiency can’t solve all of our problems. It will take a long, deliberative process that is going to involve individuals and governments. Developing cost-effective energy alternatives will take a massive technological effort and investment.

Hybrid vehicles, once a novelty item, are rapidly gaining an anchor in the marketplace. Compact fluorescent lamps are quickly replacing incandescent lights in our homes and offices.

There is a long list of renewable energy technologies that today are in their commercial infancy: Solar, wind, geothermal and landfill methane are just a few. As we develop and improve the technologies for harnessing these resources, those energy sources may become more commonplace.

Our current reliable low-emission energy sources — hydro and nuclear — will continue to be a part of our achieving our energy-independence goals. Even coal-fired generation, while contributing to carbon emissions, can be improved through technological advancements that greatly reduce the amount of greenhouse gases emitted.

As we begin this revolution, there is hope for the future. EPRI, the Electric Power Research Institute, suggests “it is technically feasible to slow down and stop the increase in U.S. electric sector carbon dioxide emissions and then eventually reduce them over the next 25 years while meeting the increased demand for electricity.” For example, technologies are currently being developed that would capture and store carbon dioxide in underground caverns.

Those trends have continued — and accelerated — during the past eight years. New housing construction and appliances are even more energy-efficient. Renewable energy resources such as solar and wind are implemented more each year.

Just as our electric cooperatives brought another degree of independence to rural America more than 80 years ago, we remain committed to being involved in a sustainable, renewable energy future as we look toward our nation’s energy independence.

By David Callis, executive vice president and general manager

Looking outside your home, you’ve probably noticed the transformer on the pole (or ground) that supplies your electricity. Transformers are remarkable pieces of equipment. Wires and electromagnetic fields efficiently “transform” 7,200 or 24,000 volts of electricity from transmission lines into the 240 volts that you need. It is deceptively simple.

Your electric cooperative makes power distribution seem much simpler than it actually is behind the scenes. We’ve communicated with you about the Clean Power Plan proposal from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Last year, thousands of you made the effort to communicate your concerns about “keeping the lights on.” Well, you’re not alone. Even though the public comment period ended a few months ago, evaluation of the proposal continues.

In March, a branch of the federal government held a hearing in St. Louis focused on the Clean Power Plan’s impact on the reliability of the electric grid. That hearing was one of a series that is being held throughout the country.

You heard that correctly: One branch of the government is looking into what another branch is doing.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is tasked with protecting “the reliability of the high-voltage interstate transmission system through mandatory reliability.” In short, the commission ensures that our nation’s electric grid can supply the electricity we need to keep the lights on. Its review covers how electricity is generated and transmitted throughout the nation. Part of its oversight responsibility is the impact the Clean Power Plan will have on our ability to keep those lights on. Electric cooperatives from the Midwest participated in the St. Louis hearing by providing testimony on how the plan would affect the reliability of the region’s electric power network.

That happens to be our concern each and every day: a reliable power supply.

To clarify, we’re talking about two aspects of reliability. Your local electric cooperative is concerned about keeping the lights on in your community. We don’t like for you to be in the dark for a single minute, and absent ice storms or tornadoes, we do a very good job of it. Even with storm outages factored into the equation, Tennessee’s electric cooperatives keep electricity flowing to your homes and businesses for all but a few minutes each year.

However, the commission is looking at the big picture: the power supply for the entire country. It’s tasked with asking questions to determine whether enough electricity is being generated throughout the year and if there are enough transmission lines available to safely and efficiently carry that energy where it is needed. Questions along those lines prompted the review of the Clean Power Plan, which could shutter needed power plants in various parts of the nation and could imperil our reliable power grid.

Just like the transformer outside of your home, the folks at your local electric cooperative make a complex and vital process look simple. There’s a lot going on in supplying safe, affordable and reliable electricity. And beyond your local cooperative, there’s even more activity. It doesn’t happen accidentally. It is a process that requires planning, coordination and attention to detail — from the Tennessee Valley Authority’s power plants, across the transmission lines, to the wires, poles and transformers that bring electricity into your home.

As the EPA Clean Power Plan continues its process, we’ll continue to monitor and keep you informed on regulatory action that impacts your everyday life.

As always, our goal is to keep the lights on.

For more information on FERC and the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, go to our website, www.tnelectric.org.

by David Callis
Executive Vice President and General Manager

“Education is learning what you didn’t even know you didn’t know.” This quote from historian Daniel Boorstin sums up a challenge we face in the electric utility industry.

As we get older, we (hopefully) become fairly well educated and consider ourselves to have a wider breadth and depth of knowledge. We tend to have reasonably good knowledge of our jobs and perhaps a few other areas. But it’s a big world, and it’s difficult to be an expert in every field.

I have — at best — a cursory knowledge of farming. In fact, if we were dependent on my farming skills to feed us, there’s a good chance we’d all go hungry. Recently, a friend and colleague of mine told me about an innovation he was using at his farm. He began using large grain bags as temporary corn storage. He tells me that this technique is used in other countries but isn’t common in the United States. His farm uses specialized equipment that attaches to a tractor to provide the power source for an auger that fills the bags. Each plastic bag is 10 feet wide by 300 feet long, holds 12,000 to 13,000 bushels and is not reusable. He described them as “Hefty bags on steroids.”

The point of the story is that this is something I never knew existed, but this temporary storage can help make the difference in his farming operation being successful and grain being available when needed. That’s important. I now know something that I didn’t know I didn’t know.

Everyone knows how to use electricity — you flip a switch or plug in an appliance. Even a child learns early on how to turn the lights on and off. However, it takes caring parents and adults to educate that child on how to use caution around electricity. Until they’re educated about safety, they didn’t know what they didn’t know.

As an adult, you know (or should know) how to safely use electricity. However, you might not be aware of how that electricity is made and delivered to your home or business.

That’s where we come in. Our task is to educate you on the challenges we face in keeping the electricity flowing. Tennessee’s co-ops deliver electricity generated by the Tennessee Valley Authority. For more than 80 years, this regional partnership has electrified the Southeast.

TVA and your local electric cooperative are dedicated to delivering power to you at the lowest possible cost. That’s the duty imposed on TVA by Congress, and it’s our promise to you.

By its very nature, electricity is charged — positively or negatively. Unfortunately, energy policy has become politically charged. That’s not something of our choosing, but it’s the reality we face. That hasn’t always been the case, but it has certainly taken center stage over the past few years.

The challenge for us is to cooperate with our regulatory agencies as we operate and maintain the grid and to keep you informed about the decisions we make. We have a variety of choices when it comes to power sources: renewable energy, hydro power, nuclear power and coal-fired generation. As I’ve stated previously, each has its benefits and shortcomings. We have to make decisions that allow us to continue to provide power to you — now and into the future.

Our pledge to you is to provide you with facts — not opinions. We want you to know what you don’t know you don’t know.

Flickr photo by Bill Erickson

By David Callis, executive vice president and general manager, Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association

Several things about the holiday season bring out the best in all of us. This time of year, we enjoy the familiar sound of the Salvation Army’s bell-ringers. Food banks and homeless shelters see a rush of volunteers, and clothing donations hit a high point during Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons.

It occurs almost without prompting. There is just something about a “season of giving” that brings it out of us. Giving of yourself — your time, money or other resources — is commonplace during this time.

What if that feeling lasted all year long? It’s great that we do it in December. But what if we did it year-round?

There is a group of people in your community that does just that throughout the year. What they do is not tied to a season. It’s written into their DNA.

Electric cooperatives are different. That’s not a slogan; it’s a fact. Nonprofit. Owned and managed by the owners. More than that, we operate our co-ops by a set of sacred principles. Cooperative Principle No. 7 reads, “While focusing on member needs, cooperatives work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies accepted by their members.”

Principles don’t mean much unless they’re put into action. Cooperatives across the nation and in our own state do that every day.

A great example of showing concern for your community is Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative. In 2007, the Florida co-op took over the economically depressed area of Lacoochee. Some parts of the rural community even lacked indoor plumbing. The investor-owned electric system was decrepit. Today, new Habitat for Humanity homes are rising, dirt roads are paved, the electric grid is dependable and a 16,000-square-foot community center houses a gym, health clinic and computer center.

It took a mix of private and public funding and a host of volunteers, but Lacoochee’s turnaround didn’t happen until the employees and member-owners of Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative put their principles to work in improving the lives of the people in the community.

Perhaps not as dramatically, but this happens every day throughout Tennessee. Electric cooperatives take action in their communities by sponsoring Relay for Life teams, building Habitat for Humanity homes and providing volunteers and funds for social-service organizations. It’s not profit-driven — it’s just what we do. Powering our communities means so much more than keeping the lights on.

It’s not limited to what your cooperative does for you. Each of us can donate our time and talents to help others in our community. Many of you already participate through “round-up” programs at your cooperatives. These foundations have provided millions of dollars to those in need across our service areas. It’s not difficult to take the next step.

Here’s a challenge for you: Don’t volunteer for the food bank only in December. Do it in the spring or summer, too. Don’t just drop off clothing for a year-end tax break. Do it in the fall when needy children go back to school.

Concern for community: Make it an everyday thing.

By Mike Knotts, director of government affairs for the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association

Not too long ago, I visited www.takeactionTN.com and sent a message to Washington, D.C., stressing that I believe affordability and reliability must be part our nation’s energy policy. I did it because electricity impacts the world my kids live in and because I want to make sure your co-op keeps the lights on and powers your community. I hope you, too, will take action.

infographic-webQ: Why is this an issue right now?

A: The federal government has proposed new rules about carbon dioxide and power plants. At the announcement of the rules, The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stated that the goal was to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants by 30 percent  from 2005 levels. The preamble to the proposed rule is 650 pages, and there are thousands of pages of supporting documents and spreadsheets. The EPA will not make the rule final until it accepts comments from the public, and the deadline for submitting yours is Thursday, Oct. 16.

Q: Why does my electric co-op care about what the EPA is doing?

A: Like all your neighbors, you probably expect that your electric service will stay on ALL the time. You count on electricity to power your life, and your co-op delivers more than 99 percent of the time. And on those rare occasions when your power goes out, there are men and women who literally risk their lives to restore it as quickly as possible.
The commitment required to keep the lights on is tremendous. So any proposal that could affect the constant supply of electricity to your co-op causes us to take a long, hard look.

Q: Who produces the electricity my co-op delivers?

A: The Tennessee Valley Authority produces electricity and then transmits that energy to your co-op over a system of more than 15,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines. Your co-op is obligated under its contract to buy 100 percent of the energy you use from TVA.

Q: What fuel is used to generate the electricity I use?

A: Power is produced using a diversified mix of fuel sources that includes every type of power plant capable of producing utility-scale energy generation. For both reliability and cost considerations, it is important that we not be too dependent on one single source of power.

Q: What has already been done to reduce emissions?

A: TVA has worked for years to reduce its emissions of pollution. Those efforts have been tremendously successful and even included an agreement with EPA to go further in its commitments than was required of other utilities. The result has been reductions of 86 percent and 90 percent of the key byproducts of using coal.

TVA has idled or closed many of its oldest and dirtiest coal plants, mostly replacing that capacity with cleaner natural gas. TVA will be starting the first new nuclear plant in the U.S. next year, and the plant will power 600,000 homes with no emissions of any kind. In fact, all of these improvements have reduced TVA’s carbon dioxide emissions by more than 30 percent compared to 2005 — meeting the EPA’s stated goal!

Q: Who pays for those improvements?

A: You do. TVA receives no funds that are not paid for by the electric ratepayers in the Tennessee Valley. It is likely that more than 75 cents of every dollar you pay for your electric bill goes to TVA for the cost of wholesale power.

Q: So, what is the problem?

A: Like many proposals produced by the government in Washington, this one is unfair and unworkable. Even though TVA has already met EPA’s stated goal, the fine print of the rule actually makes Tennessee do even more while many other states have less stringent requirements. Your co-op and TVA are heading in the right direction, but this rule makes us take an unnecessary U-turn.

Mike Knotts, director of government affairs

For the past 20 years, Tennesseans have become much more accustomed to early voting. It’s become an accepted part of the election process in our state. No longer a novelty, early voting requires much less explanation and helps voters avoid the long lines often encountered on Election Day. Because more than half of all ballots cast in our elections occur during the early-voting period, candidates have changed how they conduct their campaigns.

Early voting often allows the results of the election to be accurately predicted at the exact moment the polls close rather than waiting a few hours for each county commission to actually count all the votes cast.

Oddly, in the current political climate across Tennessee, we are starting to receive these results of elections months, not hours, ahead of time. How could that be? As we learned in our high school civics classes, for all offices that are elected in partisan elections, there must first be a primary election to determine the candidates that will represent the Republican and Democrat parties. Typically, these elections are held in August. Then a general election is held in November to determine the person who will ultimately hold the office.

More and more, it seems that many elected offices are essentially being decided in the primary election. There are many reasons for this: Demographic changes, population shifts and decennial redistricting are among them. But what is frequently occurring is that while more than one candidate may run in a primary election, there will be no representative of the other political party to run in the general election. If there is an opposing candidate in the general election, there are now many districts that vote so overwhelmingly for one political party that the general election is simply a formality.

mapSo, we are learning who will represent us earlier and earlier than ever. It is certainly noteworthy that the decision about who will represent your interests in the U.S. Congress and in the Tennessee Legislature are often happening in the August rather than the November election. If you don’t vote in the primary election, you may not be participating in the selection of your elected representative. The map below shows a county-by-county breakdown of the percentage of registered voters who participated in the August 2014 primary election in Tennessee. Across Tennessee, only 903,000 of the nearly 4 million registered voters voted in the U.S. Senate primary. Take a look at your county and see how many of your neighbors actually voted. Did you?

From the perspective of your electric cooperative, the map does provide some good news. The darker colors represent higher levels of turnout, and the lighter colors represent a lower percentage of voters actually casting their ballots. On the whole, this map shows higher turnout in rural counties and lower turnout in the large cities and metropolitan areas.

That is encouraging, given that population growth in the larger cities has been outpacing growth in Tennessee’s rural communities. As this trend in population change continues and subsequent redistricting occurs, the collective political strength of rural Tennessee could be diminished. The only way to combat this trend is for more rural citizens to actually exercise their rights and vote. I hope you will continue to do so.

 

By David Callis, executive vice-president, Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association

Despite a few high-profile scandals, I like to believe that most corporations abide by the law. Some do so because it’s the right thing to do. Others do so because of existing regulations and laws.

Along those lines, how do electric utilities respond when regulatory bodies force operational changes? If federal energy policy enacts changes that alter your strategy, sound business practice demands that you comply. Obeying the law ensures continued operation; doing the opposite invites fines, failure or possibly even incarceration.

It’s not an unusual happening in the energy industry. Our government is empowered to ensure that the economy functions well, and sound energy policy keeps the engine of industry running. Over the years, the federal government has taken action in a variety of ways: establishing and maintaining a Strategic Petroleum Reserve, restricting exports of fuels that are in short supply and even mandating that certain fuel sources be avoided.

That last point is a troubling one. Successful businesses plan for the future, doing their best to anticipate changing economic and market conditions. Most businesses plan strategically for the next two to three years; others take longer looks, three to five years and beyond, depending on their forecasting ability. In the electric utility business, routine planning for us means that we plan 20 to 30 years into the future.

The electric utility business is a very capital-intensive business. That simply means it costs a lot of money to build large electric generating plants and transformers and string wire. When you are constructing and maintaining a costly infrastructure, it requires meticulous long-term planning.

That’s particularly true for utilities such as the Tennessee Valley Authority that build facilities that generate electricity. In planning for the needs of our state and the surrounding area, TVA is currently in the midst of doing just that. Its Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) will be completed later this year.

Exploring the capital-intensive nature of our business, if a utility in, say, 1974, was planning for a 30-year future, one decision is what fuel to use. It needs to be a source that is abundantly available. The utility would make the best economic choice, taking into consideration the cost of the fuel, pollution standards and safety concerns.

What if one of those sources was taken off the table by regulators?

Around 1974, the 94th Congress passed S. 622, better known as the Energy Policy and Conservation Act. The law was signed by President Gerald Ford on Dec. 22, 1975. The official summary of the act reads: “Extends through June 30, 1977, the authority of the Administrator of the Federal Energy Administration under the Energy Supply and Environmental Coordination Act to issue orders prohibiting power plants and major fuel burning installations from using natural gas or petroleum products as fuel if they had been capable on June 22, 1974, of burning coal.” (emphasis mine)

The message delivered in 1975 was that burning natural gas is bad and burning coal is good. That’s a bit different than what we’re facing in 2014.

There were sound reasons for the decisions made in 1975, yet those decisions had consequences. We have a significant amount of coal-fired generation in this country that will be costly and difficult to replace.

Congressional action typically involves a thorough, deliberative process when setting energy policy. However, policy dictated by an agency without that process is subject to far less scrutiny.

As we’ve told you before, you have an opportunity to let your voice be heard. The Environmental Protection Agency is taking comments on its proposed Clean Power Plan until Oct. 16. TVA continues to invite comments on its IRP until Nov. 25.

Go to takeactionTN.com today and send a message. We need sensible solutions that provide for affordable and reliable power.

By Mike Knotts, director of government affairs, Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association

One of the things I love about working for electric cooperatives is the opportunity I get to travel around the state and meet with the employees of your co-op. They are hardworking, dedicated folks who spend every day on the job focused on one thing — keeping the lights on. Whether engineers, billing clerks or accountants, they perform a service we all need, and not unlike the dedicated folks working at the fire station or the police department, they don’t often get a “thank you” for doing it. While I’m typically there to tell them about the things that are happening in Nashville or Washington, D.C., expressing some of my personal gratitude is usually on the agenda.

Gratitude is especially deserved for electric linemen. For years you have probably seen their photos in this magazine and maybe even grown accustomed enough to their image to skip right past and enjoy the next feature or article. Perhaps you only think about the work a lineman does when he knocks on your door to say that power will soon be restored. Or, similar to policemen or firemen, we only think of the risk they take just by doing their job on some special day of recognition or, even worse, when a tragedy occurs. That is a shame.

I’m thankful for their work every single day. As I sit at my desk and write these words, their work is evident in many things: in the lights in the ceiling that allow me see across the room, in the cool air blowing out of the vents that tempers the 90-plus-degree temperatures outside, in the telephones that I use to talk and text with friends all over the world, in the computer on which this article is being typed, saved, edited and prepared for publication. The list could be much longer because electricity affects nearly everything we do.

First and foremost, being an electric lineman is dangerous. Depending on the source, some say it is the third, fifth or eighth most dangerous job in America. We all teach our children not to stick their fingers in the socket, but these brave men and women deal with live electricity and “hot” lines every single day. In addition to working directly with bulk electricity delivery, their workplace can often be 50 feet in the air or in a confined underground space. The unfortunate reality is that someone’s first mistake could very well be the last. Accidents are rare, but the consequences are very serious.

That’s one reason why co-ops invest so much time, energy and money in safety training for our linemen. Here in Tennessee, electric cooperatives are proud to join together with our friends from municipally owned utilities to provide rigorous and relevant training to all of our linemen through the Job Training and Safety program. We are thankful that the state of Tennessee recognizes how important this is and incorporates this program in the College of Applied Technology at Murfreesboro.

Second, the work a lineman performs is physically difficult. They climb poles, lift heavy equipment, turn wrenches, etc. The old slogan about “neither rain, sleet, snow or storms will ever stop the U.S. Post Office” is just the starting point for a lineman. Think about when you have needed power restored the most; it is probably during a storm or some other type of severe weather. While we seek shelter, the lineman is often out in the elements.

Much has been and will continue to be said about the health of our nation because of our diet and lack of exercise. Though I won’t make any of those arguments in this article, human resource experts will tell you that it is becoming more difficult to recruit people who are willing to take on physical labor in their jobs. This is also true in the electric utility industry.

Third, becoming a lineman is a long, sometimes grueling process. On-the-job training through apprenticeship programs is required and takes years to complete. Besides requiring a lot of patience and determination to master the skills necessary to be safe on the job, linemen must know, understand and respect the engineering specifics of the electric system on which they are working.

For all of these reasons and more, say thanks the next time you see a lineman. Better yet, a thought just came to me. While on layovers at airports, I have occasionally anonymously paid for the meals of men or women in uniform as a way of thanking them for their service to our country. The next time you are buying a coffee at the gas station or eating at the local diner or your favorite lunch stop and you see one of your co-op’s big bucket trucks pull up, tell the waitress that one of the coffees or sandwiches is on you.

By Mike Knotts, director of government affairs, Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association

Over the past year, you may have read in these pages about your local electric cooperative’s concerns about government regulations and how those regulations might affect electricity generation at new power plants that might need to be built to keep our homes cool and power our modern economy. Many of you have expressed your agreement or disagreement with my words — sometimes in colorful language — and I am appreciative of the feedback you have provided me.

Regardless of where we all may fall on the political spectrum, I think we can agree that our modern society demands a constant supply of reliable and affordable electric energy. Our world simply wouldn’t be the same without it. And the fine folks at your local co-op, for whom I work, are where “the rubber meets the road” on these important issues. It is serious and complex work.

In what is probably the most significant regulation ever proposed by an agency of the United States government, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently released a proposed rule that would limit the emissions of carbon dioxide from existing, rather than new, power plants all across America. These rules are far-reaching and unique. And since you own your co-op, you will be impacted in some way.

What the rule does

The Obama administration had previously proposed a national goal of reducing carbon emissions by 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. Instead of an across-the-board reduction, however, the proposed rule sets state-specific goals and creates guidelines to be used in making proposed methods to meet those goals. After approval of the rule, state governments will be required to develop detailed implementation plans that will determine what specific actions are taken to achieve the required reductions in carbon emissions. EPA will have the ability to approve or disapprove those plans.

Sources: Goals from “Clean Power Plan Proposed Rule” (p. 346-8); 2012 Emissions Rate from “Goal Computation Technical Support Document” (p. 25-6)

Sources: Goals from “Clean Power Plan Proposed Rule” (p. 346-8); 2012 Emissions Rate from “Goal Computation Technical Support Document” (p. 25-6)

There are significant differences in the requirements placed upon the states. Washington state, for instance, will be required to reduce its carbon emission rate by 76 percent while North Dakota will only be required to reduce its rate by 11 percent. Tennessee’s required reduction will be 39 percent, ranking 13th on the list of most impacted states. The accompanying chart shows the three most- and least-affected states as well as the required reductions for Tennessee and our neighboring states. It is unclear how states will be able to develop plans when a particular power plant serves customers in several states or is owned by the federal government instead of private company, as is the case for every power plant here in Tennessee.

How the rule works

Because of the nature of the rule, the nuts and bolts of what must be done to achieve the goals set by EPA won’t be clear for some time — possibly as far out as 2016. EPA set the state-by-state goals by developing a “best system of emission reductions,” and there are thousands of pages of technical details that accompany the rule and detail how these goals were set. At the time this article was authored, those details are still being evaluated, page by page. States will have several years to submit their plans to EPA for approval, and that is the point in time when the tough decisions will have to be made.

We do know, however, that this rule will force a significant number of coal-fired power plants to shut down or convert to using natural gas as fuel. We know that the rule encourages states or groups of states to implement a cap-and-trade model of carbon emission allocations. We know that in order to comply, actions will be required that are “outside the fence” of a power plant — actions like requiring utilities to implement energy-efficiency or demand-management programs. We also know that new nuclear generation will help states achieve their goals, as nuclear power does not emit any carbon into the atmosphere.

What can I do?

While it will be many years before the full scope of this plan could be implemented, there is short window of time in which the EPA will be actively soliciting comments from the public about the proposed rule. Starting with the day the rule is published in the Federal Register, there will be a 120-day comment period. As you become more educated about this rule, make your voice heard by visiting takeactionTN.com and submitting a comment to the EPA about your thoughts.

by Mike Knotts, director of government affairs

Have you ever wondered where the phrases “the buck stops here” or “pass the buck” actually came from? In January 1953, President Harry S. Truman said, “The president — whoever he is — has to decide. He can’t pass the buck to anybody. No one else can do the deciding for him. That’s his job.” More recently, President George W. Bush agreed with this sentiment and referred to himself as the “decider-in-chief.” I’m sure many of you will recognize the iconic image of the sign on President Truman’s desk in the late 1940s that told anyone in sight of it who was in charge. The modern-day connotation of this famous phrase is about an individual taking ultimate responsibility for an action, as the quote from President Truman shows. But I never understood the full meaning because I was confused about the word “buck.”

I recently learned that the phrase originated from an action that took place while deciding who should deal the next hand in a game of poker. In this case, “buck” is not another word for money, like I have always incorrectly assumed, but instead refers to a buckhorn knife that was placed on the table, pointed toward the person whose turn it was to deal. If a player didn’t want to be the dealer, he would “pass the buck” to the next player. He literally would move a knife across a table. My mental image of Wild West cowboys passing money back and forth across a saloon table now seems a bit silly. Armed with this knowledge, I have a new appreciation for these common expressions.

This year, our lawmakers made a decision that changes exactly where the buck will stop on something that has a very tangible impact on many rural and not-so-rural Tennesseans. For nearly 60 years, Tennessee’s cities have been able to expand their borders and incorporate new tracts of land simply by the city council taking a vote. Approval of the annexation of the previously unincorporated land came through an ordinance.

The problem? The citizens most impacted by the decision, those who were not residents of the city prior to annexation, had little ability to influence the outcome of the council’s vote. That’s because only residents of the city elect the members of the city council. And, therefore, those council members represent and respond only to citizens of the city and not those who live outside the city. At the moment the vote is taken, those to be annexed had no representation on the governing body that decided whether their property would become part of the city. This system is referred to as forced annexation or annexation by ordinance. As has been done in most other states, it is now a thing of the past.

The General Assembly overwhelmingly passed legislation sponsored by Sen. Bo Watson (R-Hixson) and Rep. Mike Carter (R-Ooltewah) that bans forced annexations. Now, approval must come through a referendum of those individuals who are to be annexed. This should give residents of the county a direct voice and choice over whether they will be included in the city. An important exception, however, applies to agricultural land. Only the written permission of the specific property owner(s) is required in these cases.

When it comes to annexation, the buck used to stop at the mayor’s office, but now the buck stops with you. As I see it, the most important result of this change will be increased communication among counties and cities as they perform the nuts and bolts of local government. Planning of urban growth boundaries, extension of services, determining boundaries of school systems and other similar projects will likely require more coordination among city councils and county commissions to ensure the will of the entire public is adhered to. Communities will have to cooperate with each other to achieve common objectives.

Let’s see, then: If we have more communication, better coordination and cooperation among ourselves, I think that is a good thing. Wouldn’t you agree?

Editor’s note: The Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association is losing a valued staff member as Chelsea Rose recently accepted a new position to serve as executive director of the Tennessee Future Farmers of America Foundation Inc. As a going-away present, Mike Knotts gave Chelsea the last word and his April column.

As a high school senior, my parents took me to the campus of Vanderbilt University to watch the Tennessee Lady Vols basketball team take on the Commodores. This was a real treat because I just so happen to be among the biggest Pat Summitt fans around.

I remember stressing over selecting the right Lady Vols T-shirt to wear. I even thought about what I could bring to the game should I get close enough to Coach Summitt to get an autograph. I settled on an orange fleece scarf.

The game was thrilling. I had seen many Lady Vols basketball games on television, but this was special. I was in the same room with these near-celebrities. When the game ended and Coach Summitt was giving radio interviews on the sideline, with my scarf in hand I slipped and snuck my way to the velvet rope separating the living coaching legend from hundreds of adoring fans.

As she wrapped up her last interview and turned toward the locker room, I watched her in amazement, completely taken aback by her intimidating stature. In an attempt to take in every moment near the woman who had been such an inspiration to me in my own athletic career, I looked her over from head to toe and could not believe my eyes. Pat Summitt, coach of the 12-time (now 18-time) Southeastern Conference Champion Lady Vols, and little ol’ me had the same shoes!

This revelation seems like nothing now, but in that moment I finally looked past the seven national championship titles (now eight) and could see a woman I could identify with. Pat Summitt was a human being.

Have you ever brushed shoulders with a famous figure? It can be surreal. I am far from that moment when I got to shake the hand of the woman I had cheered for through so many games and nail-biting moments. However, even now, I get butterflies in my stomach remembering that brief interaction and the instant when I realized that she is human, like me.

In my career, I interact with elected officials from across the state on a regular basis. We, the voters, elected these men and women from our home communities to represent us, and they go to work in the Capitol with our concerns in mind.

However, many constituents visiting their lawmakers are nervous and hesitant to fully voice their policy concerns. I suspect that is because, similar to Pat Summitt, these public figures are constantly seen on television, heard through the radio or featured in newspapers.

Despite the media attention and the larger-than-life imagery sometimes associated with Tennessee’s lawmakers, they are human. We elect them, and they sculpt their political posture based on our feedback. Their reasons for seeking office are varied, but one fact is true about all Tennessee legislators: They are accountable to us, the voters.

As electric cooperative members, we are the caretakers of our low-cost, reliable power supply. That means we should readily communicate with our elected leaders and let them know that the cooperative model of business matters. That model of business was established by our parents and grandparents and, today, gives us ownership of arguably the most important resource we use — electricity.

So, in this election year, let’s abandon our nervousness and confidently approach the elected leaders who are there to defend what matters to us. After all, they are human.

Mike Knotts, director of government affairs for the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association

Several months ago, I attended a speech given by U.S. Agriculture Secretary and former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack. While most of the speech was geared toward the federal government’s involvement in farm policy and agricultural interests, he quoted some statistics that have really stuck with me. He said that while only 16 percent of America’s current population lives in areas that are considered rural, more than 40 percent of our nation’s military personnel come from those rural areas. That disproportionate level of enlistment says a lot to me about the culture of America’s farms and small towns and the values that permeate those communities.

Don’t forget that this is the Volunteer State, a moniker that’s not just a nickname for sports teams at a certain university in Knoxville. We have a well-deserved reputation of providing huge numbers of recruits to fight our nation’s battles, especially in wartime. If you’ve visited the Alamo in Texas, you’ve seen the many state flags that commemorate the fallen from that famous battle. And it is the Tennessee flag that shows the highest price paid.

That tradition continues today. One of the most frequently deployed brigades in the Army calls Tennessee its home. The 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) is based at Fort Campbell, straddling the Tennessee and Kentucky state line. The “Rakkasans” have spent as much time on the other side of the planet pursuing their “Rendezvous with Destiny” over the past 10 years as they have spent training at Fort Campbell.

Many of you reading this page simply call these folks your neighbors, as Cumberland Electric Membership Corporation provides electric service to so many of these hometown heroes. Fort Campbell is not just home to the 101st but also to numerous other Army and even some Air Force assets. So while we may just think of them as our neighbors, these men and women do some pretty awe-inspiring things.

Few are as impressive as the Night Stalkers, the best helicopter pilots in the world. I have loved aviation since I was a kid and have some experience flying small aircraft in daytime, visual conditions. However, helicopter-flying requires a level of skill I have not mastered. The warriors of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR) fly the world’s most advanced helicopters, on the most dangerous missions, usually at night, often without lights, and always under the stress of battle. While the Navy SEALs may get the spotlight of the public’s admiration for high-profile missions (like the assault that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden), the Night Stalkers frequently give them their rides to and from work. I am in awe of what they do, and they are right here in our backyard.

So it was only fitting that Dr. Mark Green spoke to electric cooperative leaders in Nashville in early February about the important role that electric co-ops play in our communities. I will leave the details about the specific public policy and legislation that were discussed that day to a future column because I found his comments to be more inspiring.

Dr. Green’s path to politics is different from that of any elected official I’ve met. A medical doctor who was raised in rural Mississippi and graduated from West Point, Dr. Green came to Tennessee after being assigned to Fort Campbell as a special operations flight surgeon in the 160th SOAR. He examined Saddam Hussein the night he was captured, and during his speech to co-op officials, Dr. Green spoke of that experience as well as the personal relationships he had with many of his fellow Night Stalkers who perished in the mission now immortalized by the book and movie “Lone Survivor.” He noted from firsthand experience that those in the special operations community pay an especially high price for their service.

When Dr. Green’s time in the Army ended, he found Tennessee to be the place he wanted to start a business and raise his children. Now, he is further serving his community by representing them in the legislature as a state senator from Clarksville. In just his first term in the Senate, he serves as vice-chair of the Committee on Commerce and Labor.

The men and women Dr. Green described in such detail serve with dignity and have asked precious little of us in return. They simply feel a duty to make the world, this country and their local communities better. It is my hope that by reading these words you and I may live each day in such a way that we honor the sacrifices they have made for us. God bless them.

By Mike Knotts, Director of Government Affairs

One of the things that makes your cooperative different from “a regular old power company” is that it is owned and controlled by its individual members. Good people like you take time out of their lives and put themselves up for election to serve on the board of directors at your co-op. They are your neighbors, and that local connection is what makes a tremendous difference in the priorities that guide their work. While you might hear other utilities owned by huge, multinational corporations talk the talk about things like commitment to community, your electric co-op walks the walk simply because the co-op is your community.

This commitment to serving your community is the reason we devote a lot of effort to communicating with elected officials and why this page is so frequently dedicated to those concerns. We want to ensure that lawmakers understand the important things your co-op does to power our modern lifestyle. Whether in Nashville or Washington, D.C., your co-op has made a commitment to work with lawmakers to ensure that public policy does not impede our ability to provide the reliable and affordable electric service on which you and your family depend.

As the Tennessee General Assembly has recently returned to Nashville to begin its business of considering new laws, I thought I would share with you some of the big issues we believe will take the lion’s share of your state representative’s and senator’s time in Nashville this year. The following summary was prepared by our excellent partner in these efforts, the law firm of Bass, Berry & Sims. And see page 28 to learn how you can contact your elected representatives using our General Assembly app.

Several bills from last session await further consideration by the legislature. The wine-in-grocery-stores bill is a prime example. Both Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and Speaker Beth Harwell have said that the time has come for wine in grocery stores and that last year’s bill to allow voters to decide the issue by referendum will likely be resurrected from the House Local Government Subcommittee where it died last session after a surprise “nay” vote by Chairman Matthew Hill (R-Johnson City).

Several Republican members may attempt to restore a bill that would prohibit the state from taking advantage of the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion. The Senate Commerce Committee amended this bill last session to simply require legislative approval for expansion. That amendment could be stripped in the Senate Finance Committee or on the Senate floor to return the original prohibition language to the bill. Any attempt to do so, however, will be opposed by hospitals and business groups that support expansion.

Another issue from last session that the legislature is likely to revisit involves a moratorium on adversarial municipal annexations. In December, the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations recommended that the moratorium be extended for a year. The original moratorium resulted from legislation sponsored by Rep. Mike Carter (R-Ooltewah) and Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Bo Watson (R-Hixson) that required public referendum votes on nonconsensual residential and farm annexations within urban growth boundaries. Rep. Carter intends to push the issue by filing a similar bill in 2014.

A bill requiring prescriptions for products containing pseudoephedrine may get more traction in 2014 than in previous years. A Vanderbilt University poll indicates that 65 percent of registered voters would accept prescriptions to fight illegal methamphetamine production. Law enforcement officials likely will attempt to capitalize on this momentum while the pharmaceutical industry and other retail and business groups will oppose the prescription requirement.

On the education front, the legislature will consider legislation challenging Common Core standards for K-12 schools, giving state entities the power to authorize charter schools, establishing a statewide school voucher program and reviewing the Tennessee Textbook Commission. Higher education initiatives also are expected to be a focus of Gov. Bill Haslam’s legislative agenda for 2014 and include his Drive to 55 effort to encourage more Tennesseans to earn a certificate or degree beyond high school.

The state’s 2014-15 budget will be the toughest yet for Haslam. In recent years, the legislature has eliminated, reduced or phased out taxes such as the gift tax, inheritance tax, unprepared food tax and the Hall income tax on investment earnings. With revenues expected to be down $123 million at the end of the current fiscal year, additional tax cuts and reforms are unlikely in 2014. After the 2014 elections, however, potential areas for legislative action include the franchise and excise tax and the gasoline tax.

With re-election being top of mind, legislators will be inclined to introduce bills that will be popular with their voting bases back in the districts — so stay tuned for bills that may make for interesting late-night entertainment fodder!