Choices. Not quite as American as apple pie, but pretty close. Given the foundations and the relative wealth of our nation, we’re accustomed to having lots of choices in just about everything we do. We like to have choices, whether it’s selecting a movie to watch, buying a car, or deciding on chocolate, vanilla, strawberry or one of the 28 other flavors.

Other choices are more complex and have long-lasting consequences. One of our most complicated choices involves producing enough energy and getting that energy into your home. This continuous process involves thousands of co-op member- owners and employees across the nation every single day.

The Tennessee Valley Authority generates the electricity we deliver, and its task is as challenging as ours. Some decisions in the past may have knocked TVA from its perch as the lowest-cost provider, but TVA has a long history of providing dependable, low-cost power to Tennesseans.

Generating and delivering electricity to your home involves a lot of difficult choices — a difficult-to-achieve balance of providing enough energy and doing so with a limited impact on the environment. It takes a balance of engineering, design and operational efficiency against environmental and safety concerns. Add cost-effectiveness to that list, and you’ve set some tough goals.

Sometimes, we don’t get to choose. There have been countless attempts to craft energy policy at the federal level. Past efforts would have punished the Southeast for our geography. The wind and sun don’t create as much energy in our region as they do in the West and Midwest. And they never will. Tax credits and financial incentives can’t make the wind blow or the sun shine.

To put it succinctly, we don’t need — or want — Washington policymakers making decisions on how we generate our electricity. Political machinations are a poor substitute for meticulous planning and analysis. Even worse, the choices made by outsiders are ours to live with for decades.

Effective energy policy should be about providing choices. Different solutions work better for different parts of the country.

One example: TVA and the Department of Energy recently entered into a partnership developing small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs). Together with Babcock & Wilcox, this cooperative effort could lead to a new generation of lower-cost, clean generation capacity. TVA has been evaluating small nuclear reactors for several years. The Clinch River site, which TVA had once slated for a much larger, costlier facility, is where the SMR project will be located.

This type of project is among those needed for a balanced energy future. Energy policy shouldn’t be about picking winners and losers; it should be focused on providing you with an affordable, reliable supply of electricity.

The nation’s electric utilities will need a variety of energy sources, from solar arrays to SMRs, to meet those needs. We can achieve our energy goals; we just need the freedom to make the right choices.

Always looking to expand my mind, I recently purchased an educational text on electricity. It is written on a level that takes this technically complex product and puts it on a down-to-earth level. The authors, both university professors, do a great job of explaining this innovative product and the ways it impacts people’s everyday lives.

The book, “Electricity Comes to Us,” was published in 1937. Reading it today is a lot like opening a time capsule and trying to imagine what life was like in that era.

The book, “Electricity Comes to Us,” was published in 1937. Reading it today is a lot like opening a time capsule and trying to imagine what life was like in that era.

The book, “Electricity Comes to Us,” was published in 1937. Reading it today is a lot like opening a time capsule and trying to imagine what life was like in that era.

For the period in which it was written, the book does a great job explaining electricity, which at that time was far from universally available. The text walks through how electricity is generated, transmitted to homes and used by individuals. It even describes how to electrify a doll house. (We don’t recommend that!)

The section of the book that explains how electricity travels from the generating station (hydroelectric or coal) to homes is titled “The City Power Lines.” Not only was electricity carried into the city at 550 volts, it wasn’t carried into rural areas at any voltage.

Today, even the most remote part of Tennessee is likely to have nearby distribution lines that carry electricity at 7,200 volts or greater.
The advances in the distribution of electricity made me ponder the book as a time capsule. What went through the minds of the authors when they described how electricity was used? There is a drawing of an electric toaster in the book that was innovative and futuristic then but would be terribly unsafe in any home today.

Here’s how my friend Paul Wesslund frames that thought in a recent Kentucky Living magazine column:

“How didn’t you use electricity 40 years ago? You didn’t use it to charge a mobile phone or an iPhone. You might have used it when you switched on your record turntable to play music from a 12-inch, black, vinyl disk.

You most likely didn’t use it to power a computer. And even if you did have one of those garage-sized machines, there was no Internet to connect it to hundreds of millions of people, libraries and businesses all over the world.

Today, electric cars, solar and wind energy and efficiency practices are turning from novelties into more commonplace power practices. In 1973 these energy options were so expensive they seemed like science fiction.

The list goes on: TV remote controls, microwave ovens, flat-screen TVs, GPS, hospital MRIs.

“Which of those things could you have confidently predicted in 1973? What are your predictions for 2053?”

The authors of “Electricity Comes to Us” could not have possibly fathomed the many ways we generate and use electricity today. I don’t know that anyone could have done so. Given the advances that have transpired since 1937, I don’t know that our predictions for 2053 would be any better.

It’s difficult enough to maintain today’s electric grid. And the rapidity with which technology advances, it’s difficult and expensive to plan for the future. However, the goal today is the same as it was in 1937: to bring electricity to the homes of the user. No matter how you’ll use electricity in 2053, we’ll be here to bring it to you.

Mike Knotts, director of government affairs

While the Tennessee Legislature is in session, I focus much of my time on the goings-on at the Capitol in Nashville. While it’s nice to spend more time at home this time of year, there are some important developments in Washington, D.C., that impact your cooperative.

Power Marketing Administrations

In the August 2012 edition of this magazine, I discussed the threat to the future of the Power Marketing Administrations (PMAs). The PMAs, owned by the federal government, are a byproduct of the public service that a dam built to control flooding provides to all citizens. The water that flows through the dam can be used to turn a turbine and generate electricity. That electricity is then sold to utilities at a price that is only high enough to cover the extra costs of producing it. That cheap power helps keep overall electric bills low and is a real success story in developing multipurpose infrastructure that benefits all our citizens.

Last year then-Secretary of Energy Stephen Chu proposed a program that would radically change the focus of the PMAs from producing low-cost, reliable and renewable electricity. His proposal added a smorgasbord of requirements unrelated to the sale of that power — things that were only vaguely connected to water spilling through a dam. It was a bad idea, and most of Tennessee’s members of Congress voiced their concerns.

Today, Secretary Chu has resigned, and President Barack Obama has nominated Dr. Ernest Moniz to replace him. During his confirmation hearing before the Senate Energy Committee, Dr. Moniz stated that the “first priority” of the PMAs is providing lowest-cost power. When Sen. Mike Lee of Utah pressed further and asked whether Dr. Moniz would advocate policies that could significantly raise PMA rates, Dr. Moniz said, “No … I don’t believe we would if it’s something that the PMAs and their customers don’t agree with.”

This is good news for us, and you can be sure we will make sure Dr. Moniz remembers his words.

Rural Utility Service

Another program that has been a true success story over the years is the Rural Utilities Service (RUS). In the 1930s, electric cooperatives were born as a part of the first true “public-private partnership” devised by the government. Recognizing that rural electrification was essential to the future of the country and that existing power companies were refusing to extend electric service to the vast majority of rural America, the federal government decided to encourage the development of locally controlled, member-owned electric cooperatives as a solution to the problem. This encouragement came in the way of low-interest loans that helped these new co-ops install the poles and wires that literally lit up the countryside. The cooperatives paid back the funds — with interest — which made additional money available to fund loans to other cooperatives.

Part of the Department of Agriculture, RUS continues this program today. Because this model has been so successful, the RUS loan program now generates excess money for the Treasury and is helpful in reducing our national budget deficit.

Unfortunately, President Obama does not want to leave well enough alone. In his recently released budget, the president proposes to limit the uses of this loan fund in such a way that would render it almost useless. His budget in 2012 proposed nearly the same language, but Congress had sense enough to ignore it.

With the rest of the federal government hemorrhaging cash, this is not the time to tinker with a program that has been overwhelmingly successful. Lowering the deficit and keeping electric bills low are mutually beneficial goals that we all can support. I’m optimistic that Congress will again ignore this bad idea.

Tennessee Valley Authority

As you may have read on page 4 of The Tennessee Magazine, the president also made a surprise suggestion in his budget document. He suggests a possible sale of the Tennessee Valley Authority. While David Callis sums up the issue nicely in his column, I would also add a slightly more technical point:

The budget proposed to launch a study of the possible divestiture of TVA “in part or as a whole.” The problem for the president? What he proposed is against the law. The Urgent Appropriations Act of 1986 included language that requires the express consent of Congress to undertake such an action.

Hopefully, this proposal will end up like the other ill-conceived plans to privatize TVA — in a trash can at the White House.

Mike Knotts, director of government affairs

Not too long ago, somebody repeated an interesting saying to me. I doubt it was an original thought; rather, it has been repeated over and over again and probably attributed to 20 different people. So I won’t try to correctly attribute the original author, but the meaning is excellent just the same.

“Time is the only thing you spend that you can never get back.”

I have been reminded of this indisputable fact over and over recently. Writing this very column is one example, as the staff of The Tennessee Magazine was kind to patiently await my submission as it was submitted dangerously close to the print deadline. If you’ve never had a regular deadline for a work product, the clock does start to tick a little bit louder and a lot faster the closer you get to “zero hour.” My pastor friends say that is especially true for Sunday mornings. Unfortunately, I usually need to hear that clock ticking louder and faster before I get serious about finishing my work.

But we all face pressures of some kind to complete a task because, for the most part, life does operate on a schedule. Each and every day the mailman has to finish his rounds. Mom or dad have to prepare meals for the kids. The store must open and close its doors. Many of our pleasures and hobbies even come with a time limit. So it’s natural for us to push back and try to escape the pressures of time. Perhaps that is why I am a baseball fan, as it is the only major team sport that does not utilize a clock.

But, I don’t think efficiently managing our time and meeting deadlines are what the saying intends to communicate. It’s not a question of how we spend our time — it’s urging us to ponder why we spend our time. Why do we choose to spend the limited amount of time we have on this Earth doing the things we do? What is the purpose of that time, and is it truly worth it?

I recognize that for many of us, we may not have a choice in how we spend all our time. We have to work a certain number of hours to put food on the table and pay the rent, for instance. But that makes the hours left in the day that much more precious and valuable. Are you using those hours in a way that has meaning, or are you just playing “Angry Birds?”

I have four young sons, so I have been feeling especially convicted by this question lately. For example, our twins just had their very first baseball practice. As I watched them on the field listening to their coach and running around the bases, my mind started to wander. What items were left undone at the office this week? What will happen next month in the Congress? When should I get that ding in the truck fixed?

And then, as I was needlessly worrying about things that could wait, I almost missed it. The boys fielded a grounder and threw it to first base. And they both looked straight at me with a look of pride, excitement and happiness that I hope I’ll never forget. Thankfully, I was watching at that moment and gave them a big thumbs up. It was a brief few seconds, yes, and their accomplishment wasn’t something that will be written about in the history books. But what if I had still been thinking about work or reading email on my phone? That moment in time would never have repeated itself, and I probably would never have known that it even occurred.

There are a lot of choices we make in life that we can correct if we get it wrong. Not so with the way we spend our time. So my question is this: What moments have you missed? And was whatever you were doing worth it?

Mike Knotts, director of government affairs

When you go to the store to buy something, you usually take a look at the price tag before you decide to purchase it, don’t you? Few of us can just buy what we want no matter the cost, so we have to consider price along with the other factors to help us decide whether to buy a product.

Usually that price is clearly displayed for us to see. At the gas pump, the price towers in foot-tall numbers out by the street to make sure we don’t miss it. At the grocery store, there are price labels all over the place — not to mention all the “buy-one, get-one-free” and “10-for-a-dollar” promotions that are intended to make us think about the value of a particular product at a particular price. And with most things we buy, we provide some sort of compensation before we actually receive the product.

So it is very interesting to me that there is a product most of us buy of which we likely don’t know the price, don’t know how much we are buying and don’t pay for it until 30 to 45 days after we use it. It’s a product you are probably using as you read this page. And it’s a product that, in today’s society, we can’t really live without.

Electricity is probably one of the least understood consumer products on the planet. For most of us, we just know to plug our appliances into the outlet in the wall and they will work. Then, once a month, we get a bill and have to pay whatever the total says we owe. Sometimes we are relieved that the bill is low, and other times we groan when the numbers are high.

There are lots of reasons why electricity is billed this way, but there is one distinction that differentiates the most common energy source in the world from other fuels you may buy. You see, electricity has to be produced (generated is the more technical term) at the exact instant you consume it. This one fact is the primary reason why the electric power industry is so complex and why our ability to provide reliable power is such an achievement.

When you flip the switch to turn on the lights, the electrons that power that fixture have literally travelled hundreds of miles across a huge network of wires and transformers. Those electrons move at the speed of light — that’s 671 million miles per hour. Any interruption like a tree limb touching a power line or a faulty piece of equipment can stop that long trip and cause a power outage.

“That’s not so different,” you might say. Lots of the products we consume today come from a long way away. Take the gasoline you pump into your car or truck, for instance. It has also travelled many miles and has required many hours of refining to arrive at your local gas station. But that gasoline made many stops along its trip to be stored in huge tanks, sometimes for days or weeks at a time.

Unlike any other fuel — propane, natural gas, etc. — there is no way to store large amounts of electricity for long periods. There is no “tank” where we can deposit electricity and hold it until it’s needed. So that means that power plants must continuously generate more power than is required, just in case the entire city decides to turn on their air conditioners at the same time.

This can create tremendous challenges for your cooperative and its power supplier, the Tennessee Valley Authority. While an electricity “tank” may not be a reality yet, there are lots of new technologies that allow us to better manage the flow of electricity and understand how to do a better job of delivering it to you at the lowest possible cost. These types of improvements, often referred to as the “smart grid,” are changing the way our industry performs its crucial task. I made the analogy to a friend recently that the electricity industry has known for many years how to win a NASCAR race driving a 1950s Studabaker, but it is now time to get a new ride.

And it is these types of technologies that very well may change the way we consume our electricity. Instead of not knowing how much we are using and what the price is, we will soon be able to make better-informed decisions about how we use electricity and what it will cost us. And that is an improvement that benefits us all.

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


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

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

The Freedom to Connect Act

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The compromise seeks to

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mike Knotts, director of government affairs

Believe it or not, spring planting season will soon be upon us. I try each year to add an item or two to my home’s landscaping. I was not blessed with a particularly green thumb, though, so it usually ends miserably. But this year is different and much more important. Because of some drainage problems, I was forced to regrade my entire lawn last fall, which included removing every single living shrub, flower or plant around my house.

So I find myself asking for advice. What can I plant that is attractive, inexpensive, hearty and requires the absolute least amount of maintenance? When is the proper time to plant? I know that if you plant too early, you run the risk of a late frost wiping out all the new seedlings. If you wait too long, the plants won’t have time to take root and be prepared to weather the hot Tennessee summer. Experienced gardeners know that without enough time and care to build a strong grassroots system, these new plants will never survive.

Good ideas aren’t really that much different. If a new proposal is presented too early, it may get lost in the shuffle. If you lobby for an idea that no one knows about — even something that would help all Tennesseans — it will wilt and die. If an idea is presented too late, all the good intentions in the world can’t catch up to Father Time.

So how do great ideas thrive? They need good timing, awareness and the action of those that can make it happen.

Part of your local electric cooperative’s mission is to make sure you have affordable, reliable and safe electricity. And because our industry is so complex, government plays an important role in that mission. Sometimes state or federal laws threaten this, however, so we lobby hard on your behalf. But without your support — and, more importantly, your voice — our ideas may not reach the right ears.

That is why in the December 2012 issue of this magazine, I asked you to consider getting more involved in helping us keep your electric rates low. To the thousands of you who responded by going to and signing up, thank you very much. We will do our best to keep you informed with timely information. If you have not had the time to do so, signing up only takes a minute or two. And the time is right, as Tennessee’s General Assembly has just returned to take up its work and make important decisions for our state.

This year, the legislature has an important decision to make that could have an impact on your electric bill for years to come. And much like the situation in my yard, this year’s legislative session and its impact on your electric cooperative will be different and very important.

As you have read in these pages over the years, we have fought efforts that would increase your electric bill or make it more difficult to deliver reliable power to your home or office. For instance, most of the poles along the roadside in your community are owned by your electric cooperative. Those poles may have many other lines attached to them, which could carry telephone, cable or other utilities. The electric cooperative board of directors, elected by you, is responsible for deciding how much each attaching utility should pay for its fair share of the pole. However, some would like to see the state government intervene in hopes of lowering their fees.

While a discussion about pole attachments may not carry the same type of front-page appeal as issues like the income tax or “guns in bars,” the potential impact to Tennesseans is very real. Last year, the bill introduced would have caused $15 million in higher electric rates all across the state. So we have always asked the members of the legislature to say “no” to these requests, and, with very few exceptions, Tennessee’s elected officials have agreed.

This year, however, there is an opportunity to support a lasting solution to this perennial debate — a solution that protects attaching companies from any potential abuse and provides the ability to go to court if things really go wrong. And this solution protects the most important special-interest group — you, the owner of your cooperative.

In the coming weeks, we will be asking our elected officials to say “YES” to this honest, genuine compromise. The timing is right, and we are doing our best to make Tennesseans aware of the complex nature of these relationships and how they can be improved. What is the last ingredient to make this great idea thrive? Your action.

And as for my landscaping, let’s hope I stick to politics and get some good advice!

Visit to find out how you can help us. Or call 615-515-5522.

Mike Knotts, director of government affairs

One of the really interesting things about working around and with the great people who bring you The Tennessee Magazine is that I get to hear about a lot of really awe-inspiring people, places and things here in our great state. I particularly enjoy the features Bill Carey, the Tennessee History Guy, regularly brings to these pages. Take the time to read these and you just might learn something exciting about that dusty building or marble monument that you never really noticed on your way to work each day.

However, it took a couple of guys from South Dakota to teach me about another way Tennessee touches the world. The Southwestern Corporation is based in Tennessee, and while it has a number of companies under its umbrella, its primary business is teaching college students how to sell books door-to-door. In doing so, these young salesmen can earn enough money to pay their college tuition. But what they really learn are the skills and, more importantly, the attitude to become successful in whatever field they choose.

This army of salesmen is drawn from every state and around the world. This diverse group comes to Nashville at the beginning and end of each summer to train and complete the administrative tasks necessary to earn their commissions. I have personally seen the throngs of young men and women, full of energy and vigor, as they begin and end their summertime journey. It’s inspiring to hear the stories of some of their successes and the lessons learned through some of their failures.

But the most important lesson they learn, in my opinion, is the concept of volition. I have no idea if it is described to them in so many words, but it is clear through the actions of the many, many Southwestern “alumni” who have achieved great things in different occupations and endeavors that this concept is a unifying factor among them.

1. an act of making a choice or decision
2. the power of choosing or determining
Source: Merriam-Webster Dictionary

“Volition” was brought front-and-center to my attention during the recent annual meeting of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. During this time of work, we often pause and take a moment to hear a message from someone who might bring a different perspective to our discussions.

This year we were privileged to hear an inspiring keynote address from Maj. Dan Rooney, a retired F-16 fighter pilot and PGA golf professional (I joked with Maj. Rooney that he is living BOTH of my dreams!). So it’s only fitting that his pilot call sign and nickname is “Noonan” after the main character from the classic golf comedy “Caddyshack.” Having served three tours of duty in Iraq as well as having experience in building, owning and operating a golf course, he could have spent his time wowing us with his abilities to accomplish many very difficult tasks — and accomplish them well. His presentation contained loud videos demonstrating the awesome power and speed inherent in the F-16 fighter jet, and he could have bragged about the very small and select fraternity of highly trained American fighter pilots of which he is a member.

But his passion in life is the organization he created: the Folds of Honor Foundation, built to provide college scholarships for the survivors of those heroes who have been killed or disabled in service to our country. You see, in the middle of marking off the many tremendous personal accomplishments in his own life, Rooney realized that his time and efforts had a greater purpose. He realized his life could have an impact. He realized that it wasn’t all about him.

Today, Folds of Honor is a tremendous success. Its main event, Patriot Golf Day, is now a Labor Day weekend tradition in which golfers add $1 to their greens fees at participating courses. That simple act has raised more than $13 million and counting for scholarships for these most deserving Americans. Dan exercised his volition — he made a conscious decision to do something impactful for the sake of others, regardless of how hard it might be.

Just like Maj. Rooney, so many Southwestern alumni learned about the importance of making their own choice. “When I awake today, what will I choose to be?” Happy or sad? Optimistic or sullen? “When I awake today, what will I choose to do?” Work hard toward my goals and aspirations? Or resign myself to an unknown fate?

Attitude is a choice, and we all have been given the gift to decide how we will conduct ourselves. As we start a new year, I challenge you to make an impact. It doesn’t have to be as dramatic and large as Maj. Rooney, but you can make a difference in your community. All it takes is a decision on your part to do it.

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

As we continue to celebrate the International Year of Cooperatives, we like to showcase other ways that cooperatives benefit your local community — not by delivering a product or a service but by delivering on a commitment.

If we’re shopping, we tend to look for the best value for our money. It’s easy to think of a cooperative as a place where we shop or receive a service: seeds, fertilizer or electricity. But cooperatives don’t exist merely to sell a product — there are often a number of companies to take care of our needs.

Roy Spence is a well-known Texas entrepreneur, speaker and marketing genius. His success is tied to a philosophy that goes much deeper than merely promoting a product. His latest book is titled “It’s Not What You Sell, It’s What You Stand For: Why Every Extraordinary Business is Driven by Purpose.” Spence writes that “purpose is a definitive statement about the difference you’re trying to make in the world.”

That’s the difference co-ops have been living since that first lightbulb began to transform rural America. Electric cooperatives deliver much more than electricity to our communities.

There’s a difference between being in your community and being invested in your community. Some businesses locate in your community because they see an opportunity to make a profit. Cooperatives locate in a community because they see a need.

One of our cooperative principles is Concern for Community. Our co-ops are heavily involved in the never-ending effort to keep industries located in our local communities. The Tennessee Valley Authority, Rural Utilities Service and state and local governments also participate. Sustainable development benefits us today and into the future.

Keeping an eye on our future, the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association knows that the future of our communities is in our youth. Through the Washington Youth Tour program, we send local high school students to Washington, D.C., to learn about their nation. Our Youth Leadership Summit brings the best and brightest to Nashville to learn about state government. And working with the University of Tennessee and the 4-H Foundation, we teach junior-high students about teamwork and safety around electricity. Across the state, electric co-ops are active in your local schools with educational programs throughout the year.

Take the time to look at the countless other ways your local cooperative invests in your community. It could be something as simple as putting the Christmas lights up downtown or donating thousands of dollars through “round-up” programs.

Deciding whether to participate in a community program is easy for cooperatives. Rather than start with the “why,” “what” and “how,” our first question is, “Why not?” And that leads us back to our roots and our purpose for existing — the needs of our community.

If you would like to see how cooperatives in Tennessee and across the nation have participated in large-scale community service projects, go to

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

Our weekend shopping excursion had several oddly related purchases. Among them: butter, dog food, cranberry juice and running gear. All interconnected to each other. And all have something uniquely in common with your electric bill. The link?

For the first clue, we go to England. The year is 1844, and 28 weavers have just formed the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers. This group of tradesmen was able to collectively sell their products in a store that they could not have individually afforded. Yet working together, they prospered, eventually expanding into ownership of a mill and textile factory. The “Rochdale” principles they adopted eventually evolved into today’s Seven Cooperative Principles. Your electric cooperative still operates by them. And 2012 has been named the International Year of the Cooperative.

Residents of rural and suburban Tennessee are most likely members of an electric or telephone cooperative — often both. Occasionally derided as anachronistic relics of the Depression Era, electric cooperatives are anything but irrelevant. Nationwide, we’re leaders in energy-efficiency efforts, advanced metering infrastructure and alternative energy solutions. Member-owned and member-governed, we are nonprofits, operating as economically as possible and reinvesting margins back into the cooperative and the community.

“At a time when folks are losing faith in big corporations, the International Year of Cooperatives offers us a great opportunity to showcase many ways the local, consumer-owned and member-controlled cooperative form of business benefits communities all over the world,” declares Glenn English, CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

The number of cooperatives is staggering: There are 900 electric cooperatives and 260 telephone cooperatives in the U.S., serving 42 million electric co-op members and 1.2 million rural telephone members. All told, the United States boasts 29,200 co-ops that run the gamut from insurance companies, food processors, daycare centers and apartment complexes to the better-known farmers co-ops.

Other familiar names you might not recognize as cooperatives are Ace Hardware, Blue Diamond Almonds, Welch’s, Nationwide Insurance, Sunkist, the Associated Press and Dairy Farmers of America. All are based on the same principle-driven model that forms the foundation for electric cooperatives.

So what co-op stops were on our shopping trip? The butter was made by Land O’ Lakes, the dog food came from Sumner Farmers Co-op, Ocean Spray made the cranberry juice and the running gear came from Recreational Equipment Inc. — better known as REI.
To quote Martin Lowery, longtime cooperative advocate and NRECA executive vice president of external affairs, “Co-ops empower people to take control over their own economic destiny. It’s in every co-op’s DNA to serve members in the best way possible. That’s why co-ops remain the best type of business around.”

For more information about the Rochdale cooperative, Benjamin Franklin’s cooperative effort and an international perspective, go to