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!

by David Callis
Executive Vice President and General Manager

The more you use a phrase, the more apt you are to experience weariness or fatigue with it. We experienced this in October, repeatedly hearing the terms “default,” “defund” and “shutdown.” In everyday life, any one of those words will usually make you snap to attention. Yet when the use becomes repetitious, we tend to miss what it truly means.

For those of us involved in the electric cooperative business, it’s good to periodically take stock of how important the term “member-owner” truly is. To us on the supply side of the equation, the member-owners (that’s you) are the people for whom we work. We try to not lose sight of that.

Our central focus is to manage our systems for the good of the community. Safe, efficient and cost-effective operation of the system are rightly expected of us by the member-owners. That encompasses every aspect of the co-op, from the engineering design to line construction to accounting and customer service.

When our job requires handling legislative and regulatory affairs, we don’t focus on maximizing profits. Cooperatives are nonprofit companies that recover the money needed to operate the business and build for the future — no more, no less. In analyzing the impact of regulations, we focus on the impact to you. Our concern is your bottom line — your wallet and your well-being.

We’re currently facing a number of challenges — more than just keeping the lights on. The use of sensitive electronic devices has increased, so it’s critical to have a clean, uninterrupted supply of electricity. More than ever, technologies allow all of us to monitor and manage our use remotely. That helps improve service and lower costs for everyone, but technology comes at a price, as does adding renewable energy sources and making the emissions from older power plants cleaner.

So, what about the other side of the equation? There are responsibilities required of you as a member-owner.

Mostly, you need to stay informed.

We use every avenue possible to do that: The Tennessee Magazine, newsletters, newspapers, radio, television, your co-op’s website and social media outlets, emails and text messages. Many co-ops have customer meetings, and every co-op has an annual membership meeting.

Financial reports and legislative updates aren’t much of a drawing card, so we try to entice you to attend annual meetings, where members are more than happy to get free stuff — food, entertainment, door prizes and other giveaways.

We also want you to take away something else that’s free: information. You need to stay informed about the cooperative’s financial condition and how it is meeting the needs of the community. Our boards are composed of member-owners, so it’s a pretty good idea for you to keep tabs on how your fellow members are managing the co-op.

A lot of members take an active interest in the ownership of their cooperative. I’ve seen that firsthand this year. At a mid-sized co-op, a board election resulted in a five-vote margin of victory for the challenger. Nearly 1,500 members were motivated enough to actively participate. Three years earlier, that same challenger lost by the same five-vote margin.

Stay informed and be an active member-owner. Above all, don’t be an uninformed member or voter; we’ve seen the path that takes us down. Remember October’s shutdown?