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.

Have you noticed how news programs use the phrase “Breaking News?” I’ve always believed that label should mean a significant, unexpected event is underway and the reporters involved are relaying information in real time. But these days every cable news channel story is seemingly labeled as late-breaking and treated as urgent. Because of this, it is often hard to see the big picture through this dense fog of arguing pundits and so-called breaking news.

With the priority being to report on the immediate and instantaneous, we often miss out on stories of significance that take place over a longer period of time. One such story took place this year, and while it is rooted in partisan politics, I urge you to look past the party labels and focus on the incredible accomplishment.

On April 22, the Tennessee General Assembly completed its work for the year and adjourned. Standing at the front of the Senate to bring down the final gavel was Ron Ramsey. As a state senator, speaker of the Senate and lieutenant governor, his presence was no surprise. However, this stroke of the gavel may have been his favorite.

The story began almost a quarter-century ago when Ramsey was first elected to the State House of Representatives. As a member of the legislature in his first term, he was pretty well assured of one thing: His first day as a legislator would neither result in any accomplishments nor change the course of the state’s history. In 1992, Ramsey’s political party held very little clout in the General Assembly. And by very little, I really mean none. Republicans had not held a majority in the legislature since just after the Civil War. No Republican had served as lieutenant governor since 1869.

The five-hour drive from Blountville to Nashville must have seemed a lot longer in those first years, even after being elected to the State Senate in 1996. For many in the political world at that time, the perpetual minority status of Republicans was perceived to be permanent. But little in this world is truly permanent, and Ramsey spent the next 10 years working toward an accomplishment that very few ever thought possible.

In January 2007, the political winds had shifted, and Ron Ramsey was elected speaker of the Senate and lieutenant governor. The story of how this was accomplished could take up several pages of this publication, but that’s not the accomplishment I want to share with you. Ramsey then led a virtual revolution in the political makeup of the General Assembly, resulting in Republicans holding supermajorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. But that is not the accomplishment I find remarkable.

What I find so refreshing about this story is how it ends. It does not end the way all too many do — with a scandal or an electoral defeat. When Ron Ramsey gaveled the Senate to a close at the end of April, he was at the peak of his political career with near-unlimited ability to wield his influence. Very few politicians will ever achieve the level of power that Ron Ramsey enjoyed at that moment. And like so many politicians, he desired a new position with a new title.

For Ramsey, though, that new title is “Papaw.” While his position in Tennessee history is timeless, his position as a grandfather is not. So he did what few powerful politicians do, stepping aside on his own and relinquishing the leadership position he’d earned.

Thank you, Ron, for demonstrating to me that no matter what our professional passions might be, our priorities should always start with the people closest to our hearts. That is an accomplishment with lasting meaning.

So, the postgame conversation with my 8-year-old son went something like this:

Me: Why are you crying?
Son: The Panthers lost the Super Bowl. (sobbing)
Me: I’m sorry. But it’s just a game, you know.
Son: But the Panthers lost the Super Bowl. (sobbing louder)
Me: You’re not even a fan of either team. Wasn’t it fun to watch the game?
Son: No!
Me: When you play sports, do you win every game?
Son: How come every team I cheer for always loses? (crestfallen, his head falls into hands)

I live a lot of my life through the eyes of my four young sons. In this instance, a one-day infatuation with a football team ended up in sheer devastation for this sweet young boy. But this lesson is one of the many reasons we encourage our sons to play sports. The idea that “you don’t win them all” is much better taught on the baseball diamond or the basketball court than in a court of law.

In the world of politics, where I spend most of my professional life, that can be a tough pill to swallow. For instance, our nation is engaged in the process of selecting the next president of the United States. With more than 100 primary elections involving a dozen candidates and then the general election pitting one candidate from each party against each other, it is safe to say that we will be inundated with voices telling us who should be our next president. And yet, at the end of all the elections, there will only be one person to hold the highest office in the land.

Closer to home, one of your electric cooperative’s most dedicated champions in Congress, Stephen Fincher, has announced that he will not seek re-election. He is coming home to Frog Jump to run the family farm. While I am personally sad to see him leave public service, I’m heartened to know that his priorities are sound and he has truly put his family first. He will be missed in Congress, but he was just one man. And of the many people who will seek to assume the office he holds, only one will prevail.

But the founders of our nation didn’t rest power with just one man, did they? We are not a monarchy, where one person “wins” and everyone else loses. The real genius of our system of government is that your local, state and federal governments are made up of many individuals whose responsibility is to represent the many more people in their towns, districts or states. Further, our representative republic relies on the willingness of public servants to recognize that they won’t win every battle they undertake and, therefore, need to prioritize their efforts and work with others to get anything at all accomplished.

As someone whose job is to guide people through the complicated process of lawmaking, these are great reminders. Your local co-op has to take all these things into consideration as it works with elected officials in Nashville and Washington, D.C., to promote public policy goals. When we disagree with a particular stance taken by a particular lawmaker, it is important to remember that another decision will come very soon. And we sure hope that lawmaker will agree with us the next time.

The Super Bowl gave me a great teaching moment with my son. But, like much we do as parents, it was just as much a lesson for me. Thanks, William. I love you, buddy.

What is the single purpose we have in running an electric cooperative? Serving our members by keeping the lights on and the rates low. You’ve heard us repeat that refrain for years. It doesn’t seem long enough for a mission statement, and it isn’t really a motto. It seems so simple and direct.

And, it is absolutely true. Just ask our members.

A number of years ago, an electric cooperative (not in Tennessee) hired a new general manager who promised to change the status quo. He did. His initial contact with the cooperative was as an outside consultant hired to review the organization and suggest changes that would revitalize and “improve” the business. Once hired, the manager immediately began to reorganize departments, change titles and revamp the entire cooperative. The changes he enacted were innovative and quite a bit different.

The changes — and the manager — didn’t last long. I remember that when he left, he made a statement to the effect that he was “good at tearing down walls and not so good at building and maintaining them.” There were a number of failures, but the core failure was that the changes became the focus. Instead of focusing on the one purpose of the cooperative, the focus was placed on the cleverness of the changes.

That doesn’t mean that change is a bad thing. But change for change itself isn’t necessarily good. Change that loses sight of our reason for existence is doomed to fail. It will fail the cooperative, the employees and the members.

The current political environment is one of the more intriguing in recent history. The U.S. Senate is on a different page than the House of Representatives, and both are on different pages than the administration. As I write this, the House itself is a house in disarray — facing significant difficulty in selecting a speaker. The nation’s foreign policy is in a transitional period in which it is difficult to differentiate between our traditional friends and enemies.

As if contending with those issues weren’t enough, we have one of the most, shall we say, “interesting” presidential primaries ever. It’s a banner year for the news media and political pundits and a ratings bonanza for talk shows.

For the rest of us — for most of us — it’s more than enough to cause concern about the future. We prefer our government to govern, not entertain.

I’ve attended a number of electric cooperative annual meetings this year where the members celebrated the co-op’s 75th year of existence. Over those seven and a half decades, these member-owned corporations have weathered ups and downs — from economic recessions to multiple natural disasters. Over their existence, these cooperatives have seen hundreds of directors and thousands of employees come and go, each contributing to the leadership and productivity of the utility.

Through the years and all the challenges, one thing has remained constant: the focus on keeping the lights on and rates low.

As long as we do that one thing correctly, other avenues open up for us to continue to improve and invest in the communities we serve. Countless other things are vitally important to our members: economic development, great customer service, effective communications and many other needs. But if we fail in our single purpose, it’s time to refocus on the one thing.

Here’s to 75 years of maintaining a singleness of purpose that has transformed a nation.

David Callis
Executive Vice President and General Manager

“Safe, reliable and affordable.” That’s a phrase you hear from us quite a bit. It accurately describes the commitment we make to you every day. We make every effort to ensure that the power you need is safely and reliably delivered to your homes and businesses. And we do so as cost-effectively as possible.

Here’s another term you don’t hear as much but that’s just as important — if not more so:

Resiliency.

Ten years ago, a large hurricane hit the Gulf Coast. By most measures, it was the most devastating storm to strike the United States. Hurricane Katrina killed nearly 2,000 people. With the widespread damage from the storm and subsequent flooding, it impacted some 90,000 square miles along the Gulf of Mexico.

More than 75 percent of New Orleans was underwater at one point in time. Hundreds of thousands of people were evacuated. Homes and businesses were submerged, and the areas that weren’t flooded had no electricity.

Entergy, an investor-owned utility, serves the city of New Orleans. Much of the surrounding area along the coast is served by electric cooperatives. For several weeks, linemen from utilities across the nation left their homes to help restore and rebuild the critical infrastructure.

The massive coordination effort to rebuild thousands of miles of wire and replace tens of thousands of poles required Herculean efforts by electric utilities. You can’t plan for a disaster of that magnitude. We can, and do, prepare for emergencies, but we can’t outguess Mother Nature. Even with the best forecasting, hurricanes, tornadoes and ice storms often make unpredictable, last-minute variations that defy the best-laid plans for disaster response. In fact, you might not recall that Hurricane Rita hit the Gulf Coast about a month after Katrina, causing damage to some of the same areas that were still recovering.

I was in New Orleans a few weeks before Katrina and later helped coordinate some of the relief efforts that Tennessee’s cooperatives mounted. I’ve returned to the Gulf several times over the past few years, including earlier this year. A full decade later, the impact is still apparent in many areas. Parts of New Orleans and other areas of the Gulf Coast are, unbelievably, still recovering from the devastation.

For someone who has worked for decades in the electric utility industry, two things stand out. First and foremost is the resiliency of the residents. Despite losing their homes and nearly losing their lives, they refuse to abandon their neighborhoods.

This type of courage is similar to a prizefighter who is battered by a bigger opponent but stubbornly refuses to go down. The men and women who survived Katrina continue to thrive and continue with their lives. They refuse to be defeated.

The same resiliency can be said about the electric grid and those who maintain it. Imagine building a structure that costs millions of dollars and takes years to complete. Then, in a matter of hours, you see it crumble to the ground under the force of a powerful storm.

How do you handle that type of challenge? If you’re a lineman, you pack a bag, say goodbye to your family and get to work rebuilding. It might take several days or even weeks, but you stay with it until the job is done.

The event could be a Hurricane Katrina, an EF-4 tornado or a midwinter ice storm. No matter what the challenge, the resiliency of the electric grid is as strong as the character of the men and women who build and maintain it.

It’s what we’ve done for the past 80 years and will continue to do well into the future.

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

Mike Knotts, director of government affairs

Thinking back to high school, there were two words that every student always dreaded to hear. These two words struck fear into hearts, exposed students who failed to complete their overnight studies and often lowered grade point averages of the unprepared: Pop quiz.

Well, I have a pop quiz of my own for you: What are the two most powerful words in the English language?

Usually your first thought is the best. I’d love to read your answers, so please email them to thetennmag@tnelectric.org. I’ll include some of the best responses in a future column.

I think I am going to ask my four young sons this same question soon, and I sure hope they’ve been taught enough respect and good manners to answer with the words “thank you.” There is no doubt in my mind that a polite and respectful attitude toward others is a huge advantage in this world. And simply saying “thank you” is a great start toward that kind of attitude. As the old adage goes, “You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.”

More seriously, I’m reminded of one of my pastor’s favorite teachings. He will often ask, rhetorically, “How many people do you know who came to faith because someone else scolded them about their shortcomings?” Something about glass houses almost always comes to mind when I hear that question.

Yes, I’d like to instill kind spirits and grateful hearts in my boys. But let’s be honest. At this stage of their lives, I know what their answers will be. Their answers will be about the one thing that gets them up in the morning, keeps them up late at night and occupies most of their dreams and aspirations. It is why they know every word to a John Fogerty song. So, I’m pretty certain that when I ask them the two-most-powerful-words question, each, without hesitation, will answer, “Play ball!”

While I know that many of you are already preparing for football season, just know that you don’t have to wait for a weekend in the fall to enjoy a beautiful Tennessee experience outside with your family and friends. There are nine professional baseball teams across the state, and their fun-filled games don’t require a second mortgage to pay for field-level seats and a great hot dog. A love for the game is all that’s needed to ensure a great experience.

Northeast Tennessee offers four teams, all within an hour’s drive of each other and all competing in the Appalachian League of Professional Baseball Clubs. As one of the first stops for players who sign contracts after the major league draft in June, you never know which of tomorrow’s big-league All-Stars you may catch suiting up for their first professional baseball games. The Kingsport Mets, Johnson City Cardinals, Greeneville Astros and Elizabethon Twins make up four of the five teams in the Western Division, and each is affiliated with the major league counterpart that shares its mascot. It is exciting to see the vigor and enthusiasm of the players as they begin their journey.

There is great fun to be had, too, at either end of the state as Tennessee has three Double-A minor league teams competing in the Southern League. The Jackson Generals, part of the Seattle Mariners family, play in Pringles Park, conveniently located just off Interstate 40. As Chattanooga’s downtown has blossomed over the past few years, the Lookouts, a Minnesota Twins affiliate, have a built great home just up the hill from the Tennessee Aquarium. And on your next trip to Gatlinburg, don’t forget that the Tennessee Smokies (who play in Kodak, near Sevierville) currently are farming players for the Chicago Cubs.

While Tennessee may not boast a major league franchise just yet, two of the best places to watch a baseball game anywhere in America are right here in the Volunteer State. The Triple-A Memphis Redbirds are not just an affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals, one of the perennial powerhouses of Major League Baseball. The Memphis team is actually owned by the St. Louis franchise. Each play has a big-league feel because each player is only one phone call away from “The Show.” The Redbirds play home games right off historic Beale Street in downtown Memphis at AutoZone Park — quite possibly one of the finest minor league baseball stadiums ever built.

And the newest minor league ballpark in the country is in one of the hottest neighborhoods of one of America’s best boomtowns. First Tennessee Park is the home of the Nashville Sounds, and I’d be willing to bet that many of the players for Nashville’s big-league counterpart, the Oakland A’s, wish they could lace ’em up at a field as inviting as Nashville’s. With the iconic guitar-shaped scoreboard and a perfect view of the city skyline, there’s no doubt that Music City is a great place for baseball.

While my boys’ choice may not change the world, they are words that can change your outlook on what a great night in Tennessee could be. So when the umpire shouts, “Play ball!” I hope you experience America’s pastime and leave with your spirit just a bit more grateful for this great place we call home.

Photo courtesy of First Tennessee Park.

by Mike Knotts
Director of Government Affairs
Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association

A few weeks ago, when I stopped at the gas station on my way to work to fill up, the math was pretty easy. Ten gallons of gas went in the tank, and the price was $2.50 per gallon. After handing the clerk $25, I drove away and didn’t give it another thought. Several days later, I stopped after midnight to get enough fuel to make it home at the end of a long trip. Once again, 10 gallons of regular unleaded went in, and $25 dollars came out of my wallet. Simple.

When you get gas, you are essentially prepaying for energy your car will use at some point in the future. And it’s easy to visualize what you are paying for because you can see, smell and touch it. A gallon is a familiar unit of measurement. How many gallon jugs of milk have you carried into your home over the years?

For most of us, we don’t put much more thought into paying our electric bill than I did filling up the truck. An envelope arrives in the mail, we open it, write a check and send it in. Or it could be even easier because you have agreed to allow a draft directly from your bank account. Some folks may take a quick look at more of the details that are printed on the bill, but how many fully understand what they’re paying for?

For many years, your co-op has worked very hard to make paying your bill as easy and painless as your trip to the pump. This is despite the fact that purchasing electricity is very different than buying gasoline. Here are three reasons why:

First, electricity is a bit of a mystery. We know it is there, despite being unable to touch, smell or even see it, because we can see the result of its existence. But, as the old adage goes, “Out of sight, out of mind.”

Second, do you know how much energy you are consuming at any given time? In your car, there is a gauge that shows how much fuel is in the tank and probably a display showing your current miles per gallon. But where is the same gauge in your house to show you how much electricity you have consumed? Most of us have very little idea of how much energy our refrigerators, air conditioners, water heaters, ovens, heaters and other major appliances use. So how do we know what it costs when we turn them on? When you open the envelope from your co-op and the bill says you used 1,652 kilowatt-hours of electricity last month, how many milk jugs does that even equate to?

Those are hard questions to answer — but not because there is no equipment that will help you monitor your use. Rather, the question is difficult because our society by and large doesn’t want to know the answer. We have become accustomed to having electric energy available on demand, without exception, at low cost. It’s testament to the hard work of tens of thousands of people whose mission never takes a day off. The luxury that universal electrification affords us as Tennesseans and Americans is not to be taken lightly and has changed the world in so many positive ways over the past 100 years. For that, we should be grateful.

Lastly, there is no practical way for you to purchase and store electricity to be used later (although this could change in the future — see the June 2015 column “Is the future here now?” at tnmagazine.org). When you flip the switch, the electricity you consume is being generated and transmitted to you at that exact same instant. Other common energy sources like wood, gasoline, diesel and even natural gas can be stored in large tanks in preparation for future needs. But to run your air conditioner on a hot July afternoon, you are relying on your electric utility to provide a seamless connection across hundreds of miles of wires to deliver that energy to you at the exact moment you need it — since electricity moves at the speed of light, 671 million miles per hour. This means the cost to generate this energy can be different depending upon the hour of the day, the time of year or even the activities of your neighbors or the factory down the street.

However, technology is advancing at such a rapid pace that the complexity of the electric grid is quickly becoming less of an impediment to the average person’s understanding of his or her own energy consumption. And it is also helping your co-op have a better understanding of how and when entire communities will require their energy — even though the members will continue to demand electricity in real time. With this new information will come better and more transparent methods of paying for our consumption, which I look forward to discussing in a future article.

by Mike Knotts
Director of Government Affairs
Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association

A few weeks ago, when I stopped at the gas station on my way to work to fill up, the math was pretty easy. Ten gallons of gas went in the tank, and the price was $2.50 per gallon. After handing the clerk $25, I drove away and didn’t give it another thought. Several days later, I stopped after midnight to get enough fuel to make it home at the end of a long trip. Once again, 10 gallons of regular unleaded went in, and $25 dollars came out of my wallet. Simple.

When you get gas, you are essentially prepaying for energy your car will use at some point in the future. And it’s easy to visualize what you are paying for because you can see, smell and touch it. A gallon is a familiar unit of measurement. How many gallon jugs of milk have you carried into your home over the years?

For most of us, we don’t put much more thought into paying our electric bill than I did filling up the truck. An envelope arrives in the mail, we open it, write a check and send it in. Or it could be even easier because you have agreed to allow a draft directly from your bank account. Some folks may take a quick look at more of the details that are printed on the bill, but how many fully understand what they’re paying for?

For many years, your co-op has worked very hard to make paying your bill as easy and painless as your trip to the pump. This is despite the fact that purchasing electricity is very different than buying gasoline. Here are three reasons why:

First, electricity is a bit of a mystery. We know it is there, despite being unable to touch, smell or even see it, because we can see the result of its existence. But, as the old adage goes, “Out of sight, out of mind.”

Second, do you know how much energy you are consuming at any given time? In your car, there is a gauge that shows how much fuel is in the tank and probably a display showing your current miles per gallon. But where is the same gauge in your house to show you how much electricity you have consumed? Most of us have very little idea of how much energy our refrigerators, air conditioners, water heaters, ovens, heaters and other major appliances use. So how do we know what it costs when we turn them on? When you open the envelope from your co-op and the bill says you used 1,652 kilowatt-hours of electricity last month, how many milk jugs does that even equate to?

Those are hard questions to answer — but not because there is no equipment that will help you monitor your use. Rather, the question is difficult because our society by and large doesn’t want to know the answer. We have become accustomed to having electric energy available on demand, without exception, at low cost. It’s testament to the hard work of tens of thousands of people whose mission never takes a day off. The luxury that universal electrification affords us as Tennesseans and Americans is not to be taken lightly and has changed the world in so many positive ways over the past 100 years. For that, we should be grateful.

Lastly, there is no practical way for you to purchase and store electricity to be used later (although this could change in the future — see the June 2015 column “Is the future here now?” at tnmagazine.org). When you flip the switch, the electricity you consume is being generated and transmitted to you at that exact same instant. Other common energy sources like wood, gasoline, diesel and even natural gas can be stored in large tanks in preparation for future needs. But to run your air conditioner on a hot July afternoon, you are relying on your electric utility to provide a seamless connection across hundreds of miles of wires to deliver that energy to you at the exact moment you need it — since electricity moves at the speed of light, 671 million miles per hour. This means the cost to generate this energy can be different depending upon the hour of the day, the time of year or even the activities of your neighbors or the factory down the street.

However, technology is advancing at such a rapid pace that the complexity of the electric grid is quickly becoming less of an impediment to the average person’s understanding of his or her own energy consumption. And it is also helping your co-op have a better understanding of how and when entire communities will require their energy — even though the members will continue to demand electricity in real time. With this new information will come better and more transparent methods of paying for our consumption, which I look forward to discussing in a future article.

By Mike Knotts, director of government affairs

I spend most of my days in contact with our elected officials in both Washington, D.C., and Nashville, so when the topic of the integrity of our government comes up for discussion, you might expect that I would want to tell you horror stories. That I would tell you the world is full of Frank Underwood-types (the lead character in Netflix’s “House of Cards”) who will stop at nothing to achieve their own selfish ambitions. That no politician really cares about serving as a steward of our great nation, only about serving himself or herself.

After all, it does seem to be the popular thing to express doubt and believe the worst when it comes to politics these days. How else can you explain the popularity of “The Daily Show,” a satirical television program fashioned as a fake news broadcast? It has grown from a late-1990s upstart aired on a cable channel most people had never heard of to one of the most prevalent sources of news information for those in the 18-to-34-year-old demographic.

The show bases its comedy on the real-life events that make up the news — mostly the current events surrounding politics and government — and generates laughter by assuming a cynical and skeptical tone about whomever is involved in the story. Common themes seem to involve a general lack of faith in the true intentions of just about anyone and everyone who is involved in public service, and, therefore, those same people and the decisions they make are deserving of ridicule. And this ridicule is deeply personal, typically targeted at a particular politician or public figure.

One would think that to enjoy this type of comedy, a person would have to understand the underlying events that the jokes are based on. In other words, if someone is not familiar with the topics the show lampoons, then he or she probably would not find it funny. But an interesting thing has happened. Many of the show’s biggest fans have skipped the first part, allowing the joke to become the vehicle by which they receive the information upon which the joke is based.

Mark Twain once said, “Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please.” In the case of “The Daily Show” audience, it seems to me as though the distortion (made for the purpose of eliciting humor) has become the most pleasing way to first get your facts — the joke is the news. One of my good friends, educated and opinionated, admitted to me recently that she had stopped watching any television news but rarely missed “The Daily Show.”

I offer these thoughts not as a critique of one particular television show but as an observation about our society in general. You can make your own judgments about whether the rise in popularity of satirical “news” is a good or bad thing. You can make your own judgments about our society’s desire to point the finger at someone else. But the popularity of this type of comedy today does have an effect upon the real-world actions of our political leaders. Many of them are eager to appear on these programs themselves, understanding the reality that so many people view this programming as “news.”

But let me offer some words of encouragement from my own first-hand experience. Frank Underwood is a wildly fictional character and is nowhere close to reality. The bitterness and divisive assumptions about politicians that cause us to laugh at Jon Stewart’s jokes, well, that attitude is not reflective of the reality I am a part of almost every day. I find myself surrounded by decent, hardworking people who face difficult decisions on a daily basis. They make those decisions based on a number of factors, guided by their own faith, morals and convictions.

Sometimes they get it right; sometimes they don’t. But whether they do or don’t, does it do you any good to deride and ridicule the person who made the decision? By all means, I encourage you to participate in the political process and support or oppose those who reflect your desires for public policy. But the deeply personal way in which our society criticizes politicians only seems to keep good people from choosing to serve. The void in leadership that is then left behind is filled by people whose misdeeds make it very easy to criticize. So what did the personal criticism really get us?

I try hard, often unsuccessfully, to fight off my own cynicism about the manner in which our country chooses to govern itself. Staying focused on affirming that which is good about our politics seems to be a more productive use of our time. It is true that nothing in this world will ever be perfect. And it is also true that our system of government really is the worst … except for every other one that’s ever been tried.

“… this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

— Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln, Nov. 19, 1863

Like you, I first read the Gettysburg Address in grade school. Over the years, I have so often associated it with optimism and determination because of the strength and power of its final phrase. Its brevity leads us to examine each and every word. And what richness of meaning these words provide. I wish I had memorized it like my father did; to this day, he can still recite its entire text.

So it’s sometimes hard to fathom that this immortal speech was given at what was most certainly a very solemn affair: the dedication of a cemetery. It was given, too, at a time when the future of the United States of America was very much in doubt. The souls interred to their resting places had endured awful carnage at the hands of their fellow Americans. No one knew how the Civil War might end. But I believe this last phrase of the speech stands today as a stark reminder of what defines our country’s very special place in this world.

Given that we live in a country that is governed “by the people, for the people,” I thought I would introduce you to just a few of your fellow Tennesseans who have just begun their first days at the Capitol in Nashville. There are 23 of these newly elected state senators and representatives, many of whom will significantly impact your life and the future of rural and suburban Tennessee.

Senator Paul Bailey — While Sen. Bailey may not be new to the legislature (he was a one-year appointed member of the House while he completed the term of longtime co-op friend Charles Curtiss), he is new to the Senate. The owner of small trucking company based in Sparta, Sen. Bailey has already brought attention and new ideas to the problem of how to pay for highway projects during a time of declining federal funding for road work. He frequently speaks on issues important to rural Tennessee.

Senator Ed Jackson — Living in the town that shares his last name, Sen. Jackson will quickly become a key player in the politics of rural West Tennessee. His district stretches from the crossroads of Jackson all the way to the Missouri border in Lake County.

Senator Kerry Roberts — Members of Cumberland Electric Membership Corporation were previously represented by Sen. Roberts, a certified public accountant and farmer, but after the effects of the 2010 census altered the district, he was elected again and now makes his return to Nashville. His new district now includes the northern portions of Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative’s service area.

Senator Jeff Yarbro — The phrase “big shoes to fill” certainly applies in this case. Senator Yarbro is replacing Douglas Henry, who first served in the Tennessee House of Representatives in 1954 and was known as a consummate gentleman and legislative powerhouse during his many years of service. Senator Yarbro is an attorney from Nashville. His abilities to advocate will quickly be put to the test, as he is already the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate; however, Democrats hold only five of 33 total seats, a historic low.

Representative David “Coach” Byrd — A well-known basketball coach and high school principal from Wayne County, Coach Byrd will ensure the House of Representatives continues to have a Republican member with the moniker of “Coach” (Dennis “Coach” Roach was defeated in a close primary last fall). Perhaps he will retain his whistle and detention roster when he arrives to the sometimes unruly goings-on of the Legislature?

Representative Kevin Dunlap — Representative Dunlap will quickly become a go-to member of the Legislature on education issues because, in addition to being a fifth-generation farmer, he will be the only member of the General Assembly who is a current and active school teacher.

Representative Dan Howell — Known by many in the Chattanooga area because of his former career as a television broadcaster, Rep. Howell had more recently served as deputy to the Bradley County mayor.

Representative Sabi (Doc) Kumar — Over the past several years, the ranks of the state Senate have swelled to include as many doctors and pharmacists as lawyers. Not to be outdone, Dr. Kumar (a surgeon from Springfield) joins the House representing a district that is largely rural. His experience as a practicing physician, inventor, business owner and staple (and sometimes stapler!) of the community should be unique among his peers.

Representative Leigh Wilburn — At 31, Rep. Wilburn may be the youngest member of the General Assembly, but the same drive that pushed her to earn two graduate degrees and start her own real estate law practice makes her one to watch. Her southwest Tennessee district grows cotton and is home to the best named town in America — Finger.

Each year, I go a number of electric cooperative annual meetings across the state. It’s always so nice to attend these gatherings and be reminded of just how important each co-op is to the communities it serves. It’s easy to see because the annual meeting is more than just a business session. Along with the important activities the co-op conducts during the formal meeting, your cooperative’s annual meeting of the members is a lot of other things.

It is part social hour where neighbors catch up about the high school football team and the new restaurant on the square. Hearing folks ask each other, “How’s your momma?” and “Where have you been all these years?!” is heartwarming and reassuring about how we treat one other in this increasingly impersonal society. The meeting is part grip-and-grin politics where candidates for the co-op’s board of directors smile and maybe even kiss a few babies in hopes of earning your vote. I’m sure Norman Rockwell would have loved painting one of those scenes. And it’s part outreach effort where the co-op educates its members about important issues or how it serves the public in some way. For instance, some co-ops might conduct heath fairs and offer flu shots to their members, invite community groups to set up displays to provide information about their organizations, conduct electrical safety demonstrations or provide meals and entertainment for folks to enjoy.

At some annual meetings, I will give a short speech about what is happening in Nashville or Washington, D.C., that affects your co-op. One of my favorite things to do is ask everyone in attendance a question or two. It usually goes something like this: After talking a bit about the difficulty of reliably providing electric power, I will say, “Raise your hand if you are here because you appreciate your power company.” Many hands will go up, and plenty of heads will nod in agreement. They don’t usually expect what comes next.

“Sorry, but you are all wrong. No one in this room gets their electricity from a power company.”

What in the world could I mean by that? I like to let my statement sit for just a moment of uncomfortable silence. Someone on the front row will inevitably turn their smile into a big frown. But, I quickly begin to explain by asking a few other questions: Did you vote to elect the board of directors for the company that supplies you with natural gas? How about the cable company? Your water provider? No. Your co-op is a lot different than all those other companies.

You see, my original question was actually a trick. You don’t have a power company that just sends you a bill at the end of the month. You and your neighbors own your local co-op, and that means that what is good for the co-op is good for you. You’re not a customer; you are an owner, and it’s our pleasure to serve you.

And while Tennessee’s cooperatives lead the pack in important indicators like customer satisfaction, overall value and low rates, it is crucial for the future that your co-op be more than just the best utility provider around. We want to make your life better.

One of the ways we do that is by participating in the process of crafting public policy and ensuring that the decisions your elected officials make are wise and beneficial for rural and suburban Tennessee. And unlike most utility providers, our lobbying efforts aren’t about increasing our profit margins. The advocacy efforts I have the pleasure of working on are for one central purpose: to ensure that your co-op can continue to power everyday life in your community. Period.

However, those efforts are moot if the energy we deliver is either unaffordable or unavailable. So we get involved in any legislative matter that may place unnecessary burdens on your electric bill. I spend my days and nights speaking to your state and federal elected officials about these important topics, and we are fortunate to have the vast majority of Tennessee’s elected officials standing up as strong supporters of electric cooperatives.

But to be successful when it really counts, we sometimes need you to speak up and tell your elected officials that a particular proposal would harm these goals. What is good for the co-op is good for you, but the reverse is also true. When someone proposes something that could harm your co-op, that damage is felt directly by you. Thankfully, your voices are strong and loud. And as we prepare for whatever 2015 may bring, it’s great to know that co-op members all across the U.S. are ready to stand side-by-side to protect this crucial part of your hometown.

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

The Tennessee State Fair is a celebration of rural life. Last month, Tennessee’s electric cooperatives had the opportunity to help flip the switch and “light the midway” during the fair’s opening ceremony. It was only fitting that rural electric cooperatives were on hand to turn on the lights.

It was a perfect representation of what more than 2,600 electric co-op employees do each day across the state. The power they provide does more than chase away darkness — it powers the technology and innovation that connect us, it creates opportunity for jobs and commerce and it ensures the safety, comfort and convenience we often take for granted.

“Princess” Zoe Redington and Gibson EMC lineman John Spence flip the switch to light the midway at the 2014 Tennessee State Fair. Looking on are, from left, Zoe’s mom, Heather Redington, Beth Torres with Make-A-Wish Middle Tennessee and David Callis with the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association.

“Princess” Zoe Redington and Gibson EMC lineman John Spence flip the switch to light the midway at the 2014 Tennessee State Fair. Looking on are, from left, Zoe’s mom, Heather Redington, Beth Torres with Make-A-Wish Middle Tennessee and David Callis with the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association.

A lot goes on behind the scenes to get power to your home. There are people like John Spence, the Gibson EMC lineman who helped turn on the switch at the state fair. There are engineers, member service representatives, foresters and communicators who work together to make a very complex job look easy.

Success for them means the lights come on when you flip the switch and your bill is affordable when it arrives in your mailbox. It’s challenging work, but we know that low-cost, reliable electricity is critical for our rural and suburban communities.

You can learn more about our continuing efforts to keep power affordable and reliable on page 6.

During the fair’s opening ceremony, we had a chance to meet wish ambassador Zoe Redington, a young lady struggling with a serious medical condition. Make-A-Wish Middle Tennessee granted her wish to go to Disneyland earlier this year. Zoe embodied the princesses she met at Disneyland by wearing her tiara and sharing her wish experience. I encourage you to learn more about Make-A-Wish Middle Tennessee’s work at middletennessee.wish.org.

The rural roots we celebrated at the Tennessee State Fair are a part of our DNA as electric cooperatives. In the 1930s, when no one else would do it, farmers and rural residents built the grids that electrified the countryside, building the cooperative model that still powers much of Tennessee.

That self-sufficient character of rural residents is something you can’t really explain; you have to experience it.

By David Callis, executive vice president and general manager

While there are usually two sides to every story, quite often there are even more. That makes decision-making difficult, whether it’s parenting, voting or solving complex business decisions. If you’ve ever separated quarreling siblings, you know it’s no simple task discovering who instigated the fight. You listen to both parties, check the facts and dispense justice — or something close to it.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently introduced its Clean Power Plan, which would essentially restructure the way electricity is generated — local decisions would be made in Washington, D.C. As the EPA unveiled the proposed rule, it also quoted statistics stating that the cost of electricity would be lower in 2030 if the rule were adopted.

If you only consider the information the EPA provided, you wouldn’t really understand why anyone would oppose a plan that purports to lower your electric bill and fight climate change.

That is unless, of course, you looked at another side of the issue.

Everyone wants clean air; that should go without saying. Over the past decades, electric cooperatives across the nation have invested billions of dollars in emissions technologies and renewable energy sources. We’ve also led the way in energy-efficiency efforts; what other industry pays you to use less of its product?

Closer to home, the Tennessee Valley Authority closed several aging coal plants, switched fuels to natural gas whenever possible and continued to build carbon-emission-free nuclear generation. All of these measures have been cost-effective, systematic and done without federal mandates. (TVA is a federal agency, but operating decisions are made locally.)

The EPA’s rule essentially eliminates coal as a generation source. To the EPA and proponents of the rule, that’s great. Yet, there is another side to the “war on coal.”

At a recent EPA hearing in Denver, Moffat County (Colorado) Commissioner John Kinkaid shared the impact coal has on his county. He began by discussing the natural beauty of his county and the tourism and recreational options available.

And then he discussed the financial impact of the EPA rule. The coal mines and power plants are the largest taxpayers in the county, providing an annual financial impact of more than $428 million to the local economy. This comes from the very same coal-fired plant that co-exists with the residents and the mountains.

Residents of the county don’t want it closed. They don’t want local residents to lose good jobs. They don’t want their school systems to struggle for funding. They want to control their destiny, making the decisions that impact their future.

Opposition to EPA’s Clean Power Plan doesn’t mean that we only support coal, and it certainly doesn’t mean that we oppose clean air. However, the plan’s impact on the U.S. economy is far too great without making any significant impact on reducing global carbon emissions.

Moffat County is only one of many areas impacted by the plan. Tens of thousands of families could see their lives upended for a rule that, on its face, looks like a good idea.

As we’ve mentioned, the EPA is taking comments on the Clean Power Plan proposed rule until Thursday, Oct. 16. EPA officials asked for comments, so let’s give them comments. Go to takeactionTN.com and let your voice be heard.

by David Callis, executive vice-president and general manager

If you use the word “midterm” in a conversation with high school or college students, they’ll likely frown about exams they aren’t completely prepared to take. If you mention “midterm” to political junkies, the meaning is quite a bit different. You’d better be prepared to spend some time listening to their concerns and about the importance of the upcoming midterm elections.

Even if you don’t pay attention to politics (and you really should), by now you’ve noticed that elections are coming up in the next few months. Every vacant lot and busy corner is filled with campaign signs for every elected office — from county commission to the U.S. Senate.

You shouldn’t try to read all of those signs while you’re driving. Distracted driving isn’t conducive to good health and long life. You shouldn’t ignore voting in the midterms, either. These elections could have long-term effects on you and your town, county, state and nation. And, it really doesn’t matter your political viewpoint; it’s just not good practice to allow a minority of the population to select our leaders. That’s the problem, so the analysts say, with the midterms.

What exactly is a midterm election? Elections are held for the U.S. Senate every six years, providing for gradual change in the makeup of that body. Elections are held for president every four years and for the entire House of Representatives every two years. House elections held without a corresponding presidential election are commonly called the midterms.

Americans don’t exactly take home the gold when it comes to election participation, and midterms lag behind the averages. We typically turn out in numbers averaging around 55 percent. That percentage of eligible voters has held constant for the past four decades. Even in the high turnout year of 2008, about 62 percent of eligible voters elected our president and the Congress for the next two years.

You’ve heard pundits argue, “What’s the bigger problem: ignorance or apathy?” The answer, with tongue firmly in cheek, is, “I don’t know, and I don’t care.” From the statistics on voting, it looks as though four of every 10 people let a lack of knowledge or enthusiasm keep them from exercising their constitutional right.

This year, we have the opportunity to elect 33 percent of the Senate and 100 percent of the 435 members of the House of Representatives. That’s a significant portion of Congress, enough to make a difference on a variety of legislative issues. Seems like a pretty worthy reason to shake off the lethargy and exercise your right to vote.

To begin the process, go to www.tn.gov/sos/election. You can find details on national and state elections as well as your voting status and information on county elections.

Please take advantage of your right to vote. Electing your leaders is as much an obligation as it is an opportunity. All it takes is a little knowledge — we’ve pointed you in the right direction — and a little effort to actually cast your vote.

While you’re in the voting mood, there is a local opportunity where your vote actually counts a little more than in national elections. You’re a member-owner of an electric cooperative. You can elect directors and vote on bylaws and other issues. Your electric co-op holds an annual meeting every year, usually promoted in The Tennessee Magazine, where the leadership reports to you about your co-op’s financial condition.

Voting is important, whether it’s for a co-op director or a U.S. senator. Lyndon Baines Johnson, our 36th president who also helped found an electric co-op, recognized the need to stay involved. He said, “The vote is the most powerful instrument ever devised by man for breaking down injustice and destroying the terrible walls which imprison men because they are different from other men.”

Few issues seem more polarizing than climate change and renewable energy — even when trying to reach a level of mutual satisfaction. A point I’ve tried to make over the past few months is that you can’t effect change overnight. What I’ve discovered is that readers often interpret my comments through the prism of their own beliefs. I’m not being critical; that tends to occur when we’re passionate about an issue.

Some co-op members aren’t pleased when we voice support for coal-fired generation. One particular reader classified it as unrealistically clinging to the past. Some members aren’t pleased about our support for solar and wind power when we have abundant gas, oil and coal resources in the U.S.

Our position is not about mandating a particular power source but a call for diversity and stability. We don’t hate coal; we don’t want to wreck the environment. Our mission, quite simply, is to keep the lights on. And to do so safely and efficiently.

We make economic-based decisions grounded in reality, not partisanship. Over the years, we’ve had disagreements on energy policy with both sides of the aisle. Principled disagreement doesn’t equate with personal dislike or political opposition.

Some policy shifts are minimally disruptive. But when policy shifts dictate changing energy sources, it’s going to take a long time and a lot of money. And it’s not going to be happen overnight. For example, it can take more than a mile for a fast-moving supertanker to stop and turn around. It’s a matter of physics, not desire.

If we were to immediately shut down all of the coal plants in the U.S., it would make a negligible change in worldwide carbon dioxide levels. We’d also be in the dark. Yet, over the past several years, older coal plants have been shuttered. Huge financial investments have been made to scrub the emissions of those remaining. Investments have been made in renewable energy sources where and when it was economically wise.

Our power supplier, the Tennessee Valley Authority, has moved from having coal represent a majority of its generation to a long-term goal of a mix that is 40 percent nuclear, 20 percent coal, 20 percent natural gas and 20 percent hydropower and renewable sources.

An “all-of-the-above” energy policy isn’t just a slogan. It’s not “code” that means we don’t support renewable energy. Each power source has benefits and drawbacks. Fuel costs vary. Some sources are readily available; some are not. Any type of generation depends on transmission lines to carry the electricity from the source to your local power company. Just planning and building those lines can take years to accomplish.

The sun is free, but solar power isn’t. Wind power is a great option, but the wind does not blow in all the right places at all the right times. Nuclear power is dependable and a steady, long-term power source. It also creates long-term waste problems. Coal is a plentiful and cheap power source. Yet, as we’ve seen in the Valley, it isn’t easy to dispose of coal ash, and we have yet to master the handling of carbon dioxide. Hydropower is inexpensive, clean and totally dependent on the weather. Natural gas burns cleaner than coal, but when overused, supplies dwindle and prices increase.

As we’ve seen this past winter, there are times when all are needed.

Take your pick about which of those sources you dislike. But, if you remove it from the mix, do you have a workable plan to replace it? Changing policy is easy; making the changes required by that policy is not. As frustrating as the pace of change is for some, a change of pace on this level takes time and care.

I really missed the mark in my February column. While writing in early January that “little evidence is left of the record cold weather,” I had no doubt that winter’s cold wouldn’t last much longer. No one anticipated the Tennessee Valley Authority would set five of its top 10 record peak demands in the first few weeks of the year. Unfortunately, I was half-right: High bills continue to strain budgets throughout the region.

On those five coldest days, TVA and the local power companies generated and delivered 3,399 gigawatt-hours. Without delving into the math again (see inset), that’s enough energy to power Nashville for 10 months. Everything didn’t work to perfection, but the power stayed on. It’s quite an accomplishment to achieve once, but to meet the demand again and again is remarkable. And you don’t achieve the remarkable by accident.

Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, when discussing the dangers troops were encountering in Iraq, created some new classifications for problems: “There are known knowns … there are known unknowns … there are also unknown unknowns.”

When you lead — whether it’s troops into battle, hikers on an outdoors excursion or utility employees keeping the current flowing — you need a certain amount of technical expertise. Good leadership also knows a thing or two about failure. It’s good to learn early what doesn’t work. Some ideas that look great on paper just don’t turn out so well.

For example, in the early 1990s, many of us in the electric utility industry were certain that fuel cells would eventually allow us to serve remote loads efficiently and inexpensively. The technology was “just a few years away.” A couple of decades later, it’s still just a few years away.

That’s just a small example of how “experts” can miss the mark. With new technologies, it becomes even more challenging. Longtime utility workers may not know that wind turbines can’t operate below certain temperatures or in extremely high wind speeds. There simply aren’t any simple answers. The steady hands at the helm of our utilities have years of seasoned experience. If there were an easier, less-expensive way to do what we do, that’s how we would be doing it.

For our nation to have a workable energy policy, we need experts with true subject-matter knowledge and a few battle scars. What we don’t need is policy designed by people who don’t know what it takes to keep the lights on.

It seems the political leaders driving our nation’s energy policy are following that path. Many simply don’t know enough about our industry to be discussing energy policy — much less drafting it.

In the utility industry, we have our share of “known knowns” and “known unknowns.” We’ve learned to work through those. But building the next century’s energy policy with “unknown unknowns?” Designing the electricity grid that powers our lives shouldn’t be a training ground.

To lean more and become part of the conversation focused on a sensible, balanced approach to the Environmental Protection Agency’s planned new rules for power plants, go to takeactionTN.com.

By David Callis, Executive Vice President and General Manager

The ice has melted, and burst water lines are repaired. Little evidence is left of the record cold weather — other than high heating bills. As painful as the financial impact is, the alternative could have been much more uncomfortable.

The extreme temperatures pushed the Tennessee Valley Authority to a new record demand as we all tried to stay warm. With heating systems running nonstop, lines and substations were pushed to their limits. In a few instances, the strain caused temporary outages.

Occasionally, experts make harsh assessments about the condition of our electric grid. The fact is, TVA, a very reliable generation and transmission network, successfully handled this challenge.

How much energy?

As the polar vortex moved in on Monday, Jan. 6, consumers in the Tennessee Valley used 683 gigawatt-hours of electricity. The next day was even colder with an average temperature of 4 degrees. TVA reached a peak demand that day of 32,490 megawatts, its second-highest all-time peak. By the end of the day, we set a new use record — 703 gigawatt-hours.

A big number but exactly how much electricity is that? The average home uses about 1,200 kilowatt hours each month. In just 24 hours, we used 703,000,000 kilowatt hours. That’s enough electricity to power almost 50,000 homes for an entire year. That is a lot of power.

Where did TVA get the energy?

On that record-setting day, TVA got electricity from everywhere it could to meet the need. The mix included:

  • 28 percent from coal-fired plants
  • 21 percent from nuclear plants
  • 14 percent from combined cycle natural gas plants
  • 11 percent from hydroelectric dams
  • 10 percent from conventional gas turbines
  • 2 percent from renewables (wind)
  • 13 percent purchased off the competitive power market — and not at bargain-basement prices.

Under normal operations, TVA generates power as cheaply as possible. During periods of high demand, TVA generates or purchases power based on need — not efficiency, not economics. There are a number of responsibilities of an electric utility, and keeping the power on is pretty high on the list, especially during life-threatening temperature extremes.

How close did we come?

When major utilities near their limits of capacity, they’re required to notify the North American Energy Reliability Council (NERC). Nine utilities, including TVA, contacted NERC and declared that they were in an Energy Emergency Alert 2, which is the last step before they run out of energy. The area impacted reached from Texas to Florida to New York. Only South Carolina ultimately had to resort to rolling blackouts.

What lessons are to be learned?

First and foremost is this: It is critically important that we have every available weapon in our arsenal. If you remove coal completely from the energy portfolio, the outcome above is quite different. That’s not a theory; it’s simple math. Every energy source has benefits, limitations and drawbacks.

Second is that utilities are powered by dedicated people. When temperatures finally crested the freezing mark, dispatchers, linemen and plant operators breathed sighs of relief. Some were able to see their families for the first time in several days. But the ultimate praise is that millions of Tennesseans avoided having to experience outages.

Third, the vortex became a stark reminder of what we’ve said for years: By removing coal from the mix, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is doing the opposite of what is needed. Extremes emphasize the need for an all-of-the-above approach to generating electricity from nuclear, coal, natural gas, fuel oil and renewables.

We don’t know when the next polar vortex might arrive. Whenever it does, we’ll be prepared. But an unnecessary, manmade power vortex — created by the EPA — could leave us all in the cold.

By Mike Knotts, Director of Government Affairs

My first car was a 1965 Ford Mustang. My parents bought it for me, even though they were actually buying the same car for a second time. It had been purchased for my older sister, then eventually found itself parked in her driveway and needing work. We agreed to undertake a restoration, Mom and Dad signed what must have been a very bittersweet check, and I began pouring what little money I had into updates and upgrades for every part of the car.

I had the keys to a classic machine and was anxious to make the car shine. And every now and then, maybe just make that big block engine roar. And roar it did. Unlike most of today’s cars, the engine underneath my Mustang’s hood was pretty simple to understand. There was plenty of room to work, and replacing the original carburetor with a new and more efficient model was a simple task. While the car may have been 30 years old, it continued to serve its purpose well, and sensible improvements actually made it better than new. I wish I still had it.

Much like an engine powers the drivetrain of a car, electric power plants provide the horsepower that drives today’s complex and real-time American economy. I don’t believe it is hyperbole to suggest that the massive increase in life expectancy and quality of life across the planet over the past 100 years is directly related to the expansion and use of central-station electric service. The benefits to society provided by power plants are unquestionable, if most certainly under-appreciated.

When power plants are built, they are designed to operate for 50 years or more and cost huge sums of money to construct. The biggest decision is what fuel will power the plant. It’s a huge decision with lots of ramifications. It is not taken lightly by anyone involved.

That decision affects you directly. Approximately 80 cents of every dollar you pay to your cooperative flows directly to the Tennessee Valley Authority, which owns and operates a fleet of power plants. Much like a good stock portfolio, TVA’s plants use a diversified mix of fuels — hydro, nuclear, coal, natural gas, wind, solar and even landfill gas are converted into the electricity you use every minute of every day. This “all-of-the-above” fuel strategy has served us well. Tennesseans enjoy relatively low rates, 99.999 percent reliability and some of the most beautiful landscapes God has blessed us with here on earth.

President Obama has stated that he agrees with this type of strategy. He said as much in a speech on March 15, 2012, in Maryland where he outlined his priorities on energy policy. “We need an energy strategy for the future,” said the president, “an all-of-the-above strategy for the 21st century that develops every source of American-made energy.” We agreed with him then, and this statement appears on the website of the White House to this day.

That is why Tennessee’s electric cooperatives are so disappointed that the president’s administration has abandoned this strategy and replaced it with an “all-but-one” approach that effectively removes coal from the nation’s fuel mix. This is being done by creating standards for carbon dioxide emissions from power plants that are impossible to meet with current technology.

This is not the first time that Washington has sought to pick winners and losers. In 1978, Congress passed a law outlawing the use of natural gas for power generation. The result was that utilities across the country had little choice but to build more coal-fired generation, as they were being encouraged to do by President Carter. Many of these plants are being upgraded and working hard to serve their purpose. Like a restored classic car, the engines are performing well, and many are better than new. Now, these same plants are at risk of being closed by the new regulations even though they may only be halfway through their useful lives.

Join with us and encourage Washington to stick to an “all-of the above” energy policy. Please go to action.coop today take two minutes to share a message with the Environmental Protection Agency. America’s energy infrastructure is just too important and much too expensive to allow history to repeat itself.

By David Callis, Executive Vice President and General Manager

When you ask boxing historians to rank the hardest punchers of all time, Rocky Marciano is usually near the top. One reason: the power in his right hand. A contemporary said getting hit by Marciano was like being hit by a truck.

In his 1952 title fight with Jersey Joe Walcott, Marciano was knocked down in the first round and was behind in the scoring after several rounds. Yet in the 13th round, he knocked out the titleholder with “a right cross that traveled only 6 inches.”

Until the 13th round, Marciano had yet to take full advantage of the power from that right hand. The unleashed power was there, yet it was just potentially dangerous.

We all know a person (or two) whom we describe as “having a lot of potential.” It’s not a comment you want to hear about yourself, especially from a teacher or supervisor. It’s a backhanded way of letting you know that you are wasting the potential you possess.

Tennessee’s electric cooperatives possess a lot of power. We use that power in a variety of arenas: economically, politically, charitably and, of course, the electricity that powers our communities. We could just string up the wires and provide power, but we would be wasting a tremendous potential to do better things.

Your expectations of us —and our expectations of ourselves — go far beyond. Turning the lights on was one accomplishment. Yet today, businesses depend on that power to be on all the time — blinks and momentary outages mean costly shutdowns to many.

The nation’s economy has yet to gain a sure footing. We are more fortunate than many states, but the impact of a slow economy and high unemployment hits rural areas hard. Our cooperatives work closely with the Tennessee Valley Authority and state and federal governments to invest in rural economic development. By providing manpower and resources, we’re able to recruit new industry into our communities and help maintain and grow existing businesses.

New environmental regulations could dramatically increase the cost of electricity. It’s important to us all; higher costs impact the struggling economy and your day-to-day lifestyle. We try to ensure that environmental goals don’t sacrifice affordability for the sake of politics. We can do both, keeping rates reasonable and achieving cleaner standards. We use our political power not to gain an unfair advantage but to ensure that rural areas aren’t shuffled to the end of the line as energy policy is developed.

As you travel about during the holidays, you’re likely to see a lot of lights strung around town squares. It’s just as likely that a co-op truck and lineman put them there. From lighting baseball fields to changing street lights to being part of the local Rotary, our co-ops are good corporate citizens, giving generously to charitable organizations in their communities. Outside of corporate giving, cooperative employees donate their personal time and money to the community.

It’s important to note this spirit of cooperation really begins with you. The co-op starts with the membership. Our concern for community is nothing more than an extension of the members’ concern for one another that started this whole operation. It’s grown from one light to cover a nation.
That’s a lot of potential.

Rocky Marciano not only had tremendous power in his punch, he had an endurance that kept him in the ring, punishing his opponents. His tenacity propelled him to achieve an unparalleled 43 knockouts during his 49-0 career.

We’d like to think that we have that same staying power. With your help — your cooperation — we can harness that power to continue meeting the needs of our communities.

Let’s not waste the power of that potential.