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.

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 – or said – that refrain for years. It is simple, direct and resonates with employees and members.

And, it is absolutely true. Just ask the members we serve.

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 always a good thing. Change that loses sight of our reason for existence is doomed to fail. It will fail the cooperative, the employees and the members.

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.

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:


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.

Last September, Tennessee’s electric cooperatives were privileged to participate in the opening ceremony of the Tennessee State Fair in Nashville. And during the fair, we provided Tennessee residents the opportunity to share their concerns about the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Clean Power Plan.

A year later, we are again participating in the “lighting of the Midway,” and, yes, we are still having issues with the EPA.

The EPA recently released its final Clean Power Plan. This version of the rule calls for a 32-percent cut in greenhouse gases by 2030 (compared with 2005 emissions). The draft version of the plan called for a 30-percent reduction.

We’re concerned about the quality of the air we breathe and the impact carbon sources have on the environment. We’re concerned about the world we leave for our children and grandchildren. But we’re also concerned about the world we live in today — in particular, the reliability and affordability of the electricity on which we depend each day.

The Tennessee Valley Authority has significantly reduced carbon emissions from the coal-fired generating plants that help supply the electricity that powers our states. Before the Clean Power Plan even takes effect, TVA has already reduced carbon emissions by 30 percent from 2005 levels.

Some aspects of the final rule are still unknown. At more than 1,000 additional pages, it is still being analyzed for its impact on Tennessee and other parts of the country.

Our concerns are that the EPA rule could create reliability problems and unnecessarily drive up costs. States and regional power providers (like TVA) are best situated to control the generation and distribution of power. Utilities across the nation are incorporating renewable energy sources and making improvements that have vastly improved air quality.

“Safe, reliable and affordable” means something to us. We’ll keep you updated on the impact of the rule and how your co-op can speak up for your members.

David Callis, executive vice president and general manager

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another successful Washington Your Tour is the in books. All told, that makes 50 times that Tennessee has made this annual investment in our rural youth.

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

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

Cook was one of two students from Baldwin County, Alabama chosen to go to Washington, along with hundreds of other kids from across the country. This year’s Tour brought 1,700 students to DC. Tennessee alone accounts for 10% of that number.

You might not think that a one week trip could make a difference in someone’s life. But you would be wrong to think that. A phrase that I have heard from participants – past and present – is that this was the “trip of a lifetime.”

That’s the goal toward which we are aiming.

The students learn about their government, our nation’s history, electric cooperatives (we are sponsoring the trip!), and they learn how to make a difference in their community.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By David Callis, executive vice president and general manager

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s just say it – we’re tired of cold weather.  This winter has brought us bitter cold, snow, and multiple rounds of ice. Statewide, our systems have experienced tremendous damage that has taken days – in some cases weeks – to repair.

The Cumberland Plateau was hit the hardest with an inch of ice. High winds compounded the strain, resulting in fallen tree limbs, downed power lines and broken poles.

Cumberland County Emergency Management officials called it the “worst natural disaster in the history of Cumberland County.” Veteran emergency responders said the damage was comparable to an EF-2 tornado ravaging the entire county. Clyde Jolley, longtime Volunteer Energy Cooperative employee, said, “In my 42 years with VEC, this is one of the worst weather events I’ve ever seen. We had more than 700 broken poles and an estimated $9.5 million in damage to the system.”

At the peak of the storm some 40,000 VEC members lost power. The Tennessee Valley Authority’s transmission line outages caused a loss of power to five VEC substations, and major breakers were lost at three other substations.

Nature can destroy in a few hours what took years to build. Before the storm left the area, VEC employees were already hard at work for their members, calling for assistance from neighboring cooperatives.

The hallowed cooperative principle of Cooperation among Cooperatives took center stage from the beginning of the storm until the last member was reconnected many days later.

VEC crews received assistance from crews from Appalachian Electric Cooperative, Athens Utility Board, Caney Fork Electric Cooperative, Cumberland Electric Membership Corporation, Fort Loudoun Electric Cooperative, Holston Electric Cooperative, Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation, Rockwood Electric Utilities, Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative and Upper Cumberland Electric Membership Corporation as well as contract crews from Davis Elliott, Galloway, MPS, Seelbach and Service Electric.

Co-op members, many of whom were without power for days, recognized the difficulty of the situation and the effort that VEC was making.

Rody Blevins said 650 people were on the scene working to restore power and were supported by dozens of other staff members. “We appreciate the hard work of our folks and the help we received from around the region,” Blevins said. “And we especially appreciate the patience and support from all our members who were affected by this devastating storm.

“This has been one of the most challenging weather events in the history of Volunteer Energy Cooperative, and we are very grateful for the cooperation, dedication and patience of everyone involved.”

The members of Volunteer Energy Cooperative can attest to the fact that Cooperation among Cooperatives isn’t just a mantra; it’s how we co-ops do business.

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

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

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

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

By its very nature, electricity is charged – positive or negative. Unfortunately, energy policy has become politically charged. That’s not something of our choosing, but it is the reality in which we operate.

That’s where we come in. We need to be their source of information. Because of the abundance of opinions – many of them incorrect – in the energy policy arena, we have an obligation to our members to provide them with facts. Many people are making decisions based on erroneous information.

Let’s help them know what they don’t know they don’t know.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Concern for community: Make it an everyday thing.

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

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 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.

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.

David Callis, executive vice president and general manager

When we talk about our community, we’re usually referring to a town or neighborhood. The nation’s electric cooperatives have a somewhat different perspective on community. Our community is local yet it extends hundreds of miles away.

A good illustration of that concept involves a Virginia co-op aptly named Community Electric Cooperative. Tennessee line crews have worked there following two recent storms, providing emergency assistance. Community EC also sent crews north to aid with power restoration efforts in areas devastated by Hurricane Sandy. Those linemen, who had already worked several days maintaining and restoring electric service at their own co-op, packed their bags, loaded their trucks and headed north into New Jersey and New York.

Tennessee’s electric cooperatives have adopted “Community” as our theme for 2013. For us, it’s more than just a slogan. Our roots in the community go back to the farmhouses and meeting places where we were formed. Today, those community beginnings remain woven into the fabric of everything we do, and our electric cooperatives live out that commitment to our members every day. The work we do is for the benefit of the members we serve — not for shareholders, investors or faraway owners.

From the time the first lines were strung in our communities until today, it’s been a never-ending commitment. In the early days, keeping the lights on was enough. Yet as times change, new needs arise. Our co-ops are always there to meet the challenges and strengthen the bond between community and cooperative.

Today, our member-owned electric cooperatives are vital social and economic components of the communities we serve, providing much more than just keeping the lights on.

As I’ve mentioned before, we can’t control every aspect of what goes into determining the price of electricity. Another large and important part of our “community” is the Tennessee Valley Authority. At one time, most of the electricity we use was generated by TVA’s hydro and coal plants. Over the years, the percentage of hydro power has diminished, nuclear power came on the scene and coal-fired generation has declined. It’s a daunting task for TVA to generate the power that our communities need at a cost we can afford.

As energy prices have risen, we’ve emphasized energy efficiency and conservation. That’s a delicate balancing act as new ways of using electricity are introduced to our communities; think about the number of televisions, appliances and phones plugged in at your home. Our educational efforts also include safety, renewable energy solutions, economic investment and youth programs. Often, electric co-ops are among the largest taxpayers in the towns or counties we serve.

Innovation adds challenges to operating our systems, but it’s nothing we can’t handle. As we’ve done over the course of our existence, we’ll adapt and meet the changes of our communities.

As for those linemen from Community EC, they were joined in storm-ravaged areas by hundreds more from other states, including Tennessee. They were tired, and they needed rest. But while their co-ops back home were in good shape, there were others that were in need.

Even though those that were in need were hundreds of miles away, they were never really out of the reach of the cooperative community. You never really are.

Tennessee electric cooperatives send volunteers to restore power in Virginia, Maryland

NASHVILLE – As the massive Hurricane Sandy bears down on the Atlantic Seaboard, 60 lineworkers from Tennessee’s electric cooperatives are prepared to assist with power restoration once the storm subsides.

“Seven Tennessee cooperatives are sending volunteer lineworkers and equipment to assist cooperatives in Virginia and Maryland,” said David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “We expect this storm to cause extensive power outages, and our crews are staged in the area to respond quickly once it is safe to do so.”

Emergency work plans were put into place on Friday, Oct. 26, and crews from Tennessee headed for Virginia and Maryland beginning early on Saturday, Oct. 27. This cooperation is enabled through mutual aid agreements between electric cooperatives.

Assisting Northern Neck Electric Cooperative in Warsaw, Va.:

  • four lineworkers from Chickasaw Electric Cooperative, Somerville

Assisting Rappahannock Electric Cooperative in Fredericksburg, Va.:

  • five lineworkers from Duck River Electric Membership Corporation, Shelbyville
  • four from Fort Loudoun Electric Cooperative, Madisonville
  • 12 from Powell Valley Electric Cooperative, New Tazewell

Assisting Choptank Electric Cooperative in Denton, Md.:

  • eight lineworkers from Fayetteville Public Utilities, Fayetteville

Assisting A&N Electric Cooperative in Tasley, Va.:

  • 10 lineworkers from Appalachian Electric Cooperative, New Market

Assisting Craig-Botetourt Electric Cooperative in New Castle, Va.:

  • nine lineworkers from Southwest Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation, Brownsville

Assisting Community Electric Cooperative in Windsor, Va.:

  • eight lineworkers from Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative, South Pittsburg

Tennessee’s Mountain Electric Cooperative, Mountain City, is expecting more than 10 inches of snow to fall in its service area as a result of the hurricane.  MEC abandoned plans to assist in Virginia and are now prepared to respond in the event of snow-related outages.

The Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association is a trade association representing the interests of Tennessee’s 23 electric distribution cooperatives and the 1.1 million members they serve.

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Trent Scott | [email protected] | 731.608.1519

Updates will be provided as additional details become available.

Jim Allison, president and CEO of Duck River Electric Membership Corporation, has been named as a director for the Tennessee Regulatory Authority by Gov. Bill Haslam.

“TECA staff has been supportive of Jim’s selection, and we’re extremely pleased to learn of his appointment as a TRA director,” says David Callis, executive vice president and general manager for the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “Jim is a well-respected leader, and brings extensive utility industry experience to the TRA.”

A media release from Gov. Bill Haslam’s office is attached.


Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Executive director, two directors appointed to reconfigured TRA

NASHVILLE – The newly reconfigured Tennessee Regulatory Authority (TRA) has its first full-time executive director and two new part-time directors after Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s reforms were passed during this year’s legislative session.

Haslam worked with Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey (R-Blountville) and House Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) on the joint appointments of business executive Earl Taylor as executive director and utility industry veteran James Allison as a director.

The governor also appointed Herbert Hilliard, executive vice president and chief government relations officer of First Horizon National Corporation, as a TRA director.

“It is our job to make state government as accountable and responsive as possible to Tennesseans,” Haslam said. “These appointees bring years of experience and expertise to the TRA. I am grateful for their willingness to serve our citizens and appreciate the lieutenant governor and house speaker for their efforts in this selection process.

Passed during this year’s legislative session and signed into law by Haslam, HB 2385/SB 2247 changed the membership of the TRA from four full-time members to five part-time members and established the executive director position, the first of which was to be jointly appointed by the governor, lieutenant governor and house speaker.

The TRA sets utility rates and service standards of privately-owned telephone, natural gas, electric and water utilities.

Taylor practiced law in Johnson City for ten years and has an executive background as part owner of the CBS affiliate in Knoxville and as a business developer in Knoxville, the Tri-Cities area, Florida and Texas. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and a J.D. from the University of Memphis. Taylor serves as a Metropolitan Knoxville Airport Authority commissioner, Knoxville Fellows Program mentor and as a Young Life of Knoxville committee member.

Allison has utilities experience in Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia, and is also regarded as one of the top instant replay officials in college football after having been an on-field official in the Southeastern Conference for more than 12 years.

Hilliard has spent 42 years at First Horizon and is currently the board chair for the National Civil Rights Museum, a board member of Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Tennessee and a commissioner for the Memphis/Shelby County Airport Authority.