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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Mike Knotts, Director of Government Affairs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By 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.

Wind energy development in the United States is rushing past recent growth records. For example, 6,819 megawatts of generating capacity were installed in 2011; in 2012, that figure jumped to more than 13,000 MW, according to the American Wind Energy Association. In total, the U.S. has more than 60,000 MW of installed wind power capacity.

Since 1 MW powers 750 to 1,000 average homes, more than 45 million American residences could be powered by wind. I say “could be” because wind doesn’t blow constantly. In fact, in our part of the country, there are very few places where the wind blows consistently enough for it to be a reliable power source. While we can’t rely on wind 24/7, it is one tool to have as part of a balanced generation fuel mix.

The industry boomed thanks to federal subsidies for construction of wind farms, sharp drops in production costs and rural economic development projects. Construction of the turbines themselves, however, is not the full cost associated with installing wind production on the electric grid.

Across the country, 50 electric co-ops either own wind turbines or buy output from wind farms, amounting to 4.3 gigawatts, or about 9 percent of the U.S. wind generating capacity. Of course, states in the Upper Midwest and Great Plains enjoy more opportunities for wind power than most others.

The Tennessee Valley Authority’s wind power site is on Buffalo Mountain near Oak Ridge. In 2004, TVA greatly expanded its wind-generating capacity by adding 15 very large turbines to the three original smaller ones at the site.

The newer turbines expanded the capacity of the Buffalo Mountain site to 29 MW of generation, or enough to power about 3,780 homes, according to TVA. The turbines are about 260 feet tall, and the blades are 135 feet long. They have a capacity of 1.8 MW each. The three original turbines, with a capacity of 660 kilowatts each, are 213 feet tall, and their blades are 75 feet long. Generally, the higher the tower, the better the access to the wind.

The primary federal subsidy for wind power project development — federal production tax credits — is available only to for-profit electric utilities. That means not-for-profit electric cooperatives can’t take advantage of the subsidies. Extension of the production tax credit is a hot topic in Washington, D.C., and the credit is likely to end soon.

To get competitive prices, electric co-ops and their wholesale power providers must sign agreements to buy electricity from private-sector wind projects or arrange long-term leasing agreements with a developer who qualifies for the federal incentives, rather than developing wind projects on their own. This would include the expense of transmitting the power from the Midwest to Tennessee.

While the idea of generating electricity from the wind seems to be a no-brainer — the fuel is free, after all — its costs rob wind power of some of its luster. If your cooperative were to rely upon wind generation to power your home, the utility would also require some form of backup power source to combat the intermittency of the wind. In essence, the utility must have redundant sources of generation. And that is very expensive.

Electric cooperatives are no strangers to innovation. As technology continues to advance, we will work hard to provide you with affordable, reliable electric power in a way that makes the most sense for your community.
To learn about other ways we’re looking out for you, visit www.tnelectric.org.

Late spring/early summer is absolutely one of the most beautiful times to live in Tennessee. The mild temperatures and brilliant blue skies just call out for a little extra time listening to the birds from the backyard hammock. In my case, it’s listening to the kids play, but undoubtedly this is a time of year to get outside and enjoy nature’s beauty. As one of my favorite musicians sings, “Life’s way too short to waste it all inside.”

The great weather this time of year does more than just inspire us to spend more time outdoors, though. As winter fades away, it is inevitable that you’ll see neighbors starting yard projects, road builders paving new highways and your local electric cooperative’s lineworkers busy with projects to keep the power flowing.

As the temperature outside rises, so does the amount of time your air conditioner will run to keep the inside of your home cool. That means higher electric bills, sure, but most would agree it is a small price to pay for the comforts of modern society — right? Well, there are some people who hope to use the increased activity outside and your higher electric bill to their advantage so they can separate you from your money.

This is the time of year that I start to hear about scams and attempts to steal from you, using your electric service as a cover story. Please be aware of these real-life schemes so you will not fall victim:

Phone calls asking for payments

You receive a phone call from someone who claims to work at the cooperative offering a friendly reminder that your electric bill is past due. The caller ID may even display the name of the co-op. The caller tells you that you can avoid late fees or having your service disconnected if you make a payment over the phone by giving them a credit card, prepaid debit card or checking account number.

This is a common type of scam called “phishing,” and it works just the same via email. There are lots of variations, but a phishing scam uses common, publicly available information to trick you into believing you are talking to a legitimate individual or institution. Scammers then try to convince you to give up important information like Social Security numbers, bank account numbers or credit card information.

Never provide your private financial information to someone who calls you directly. Many cooperatives offer pay-by-phone options and may even call to tell you that your bill is past-due. But your co-op will never call you to initiate a payment. Make the phone call yourself. And be sure you are calling the phone number provided to you by the co-op. If you ask that same “friendly voice” who dialed you in the first place for a number to call back, the scammer will gladly provide you with his or her own number.

A knock at the door

Two men knock on your front door after parking a large white truck in front of your house. They tell you that they are employees of (or contractors working for) your local cooperative and need to perform some work on the poles along the road. They unload some tools and walk around your property. After a quick trip to the store, you discover the men are gone and your lawnmower and television are missing.

This is an unfortunate but true story that happened to a cooperative member here in Tennessee. Thankfully, the culprits were only interested in stealing property and not in any other more serious crimes. However, it is important to note that if your co-op needs to access your property to perform work, authorized individuals will be driving marked vehicles and carrying identification.

If you have any doubts at all about the legitimacy of the individuals, call the co-op directly to confirm their identity and ask if any work is scheduled at your address.

The “magic” black box

The advertisement you recently saw in a magazine or on the Internet claims that an “amazing new device” will lower your power bill by 30 percent just by plugging it into an outlet. The ad says the device is so effective that “power companies will hate this.”

While I am just as hopeful and excited as you might be for new scientific discoveries, an old adage applies here: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” One of these products, advertised heavily on the Internet, is simply two wires buried in a plastic container of sand.

You will see a lot of these advertisements at the end of the summer and winter but rarely in the spring or fall. Why is that? If you buy this magic box in the first week of September, plug it in and wait for your next electric bill, chances are your bill will, in fact, be dramatically lower. Why? Because temperatures are cooler, your air conditioner is no longer running nonstop, and you used less electricity. But, by the time you figure out the scam, the “money-back guarantee” will have expired — and your wallet will be just a bit thinner.

Mike Knotts, director of government affairs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mike Knotts, Director of Government Affairs for the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association

“It will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward evermore.”
— John Adams, second letter to Abigail Adams, July 3, 1776

In my opinion, no single act has shaped modern human history as much as the Continental Congress declaring the United States of America to be a free and independent nation. The ripples of this audacious decision have been felt across the globe ever since. However, as you might remember from history classes, the struggle to realize this declaration took another five years of bloodshed and two more years of negotiation. The Treaty of Paris, which granted formal independence to the American colonies, was signed in September 1783. This was nearly two years after Gen. Charles Cornwallis surrendered the British army at Yorktown, Va.

The courage that was required by the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence was astounding. They surely knew that by affixing their names they would be labeled as traitors to the British crown, the most powerful nation in the world, and likely be signing their own execution papers. Yet they did it anyway, John Hancock boldly making sure his signature was large and clearly seen.

Yet, despite the amount of time that lapsed from the day Hancock famously affixed his signature to the date of actual independence, we continue to celebrate July 4 as the birth of our country. And rightfully so. I hope you will take some time and heed the suggestions of John Adams. Attend a parade, host a picnic for friends and family, play a game with your kids and cheer loudly as the fireworks explode overhead.

The courage of our founders greatly inspires me. Almost every time I travel to Washington, D.C., I take time out of my schedule to visit the National Archives and view the original copy of the Declaration of Independence. I take some time to look at the old and weathered document and think about what those men must have been feeling as they signed away their lives. Was it pure joy, apprehension — or both? I also typically take a moment to pray and thank God for their bravery. We live in the most prosperous nation in the history of the world and are showered with unprecedented blessings because of our founders’ actions.

Your local electric cooperative is keenly aware of these blessings and takes a lot of pride in providing you with the energy required to enjoy so many of them. While I might celebrate July 4 with a day on the lake or perhaps by enjoying a quiet morning at home, many of the men and women of your co-op will be hard at work ensuring the flow of power remains uninterrupted and your events go off without a hitch. These dedicated employees are devoted to protecting your way of life, providing the necessities we take for granted and the luxuries we freely enjoy. They are willing to sacrifice their own time and fortunes to ensure the blessings of others. Maybe that work is not as glamorous as signing the Declaration of Independence, but I think it’s pretty darned inspiring, too.

Another way your cooperative shares the blessings of our liberty is by providing a way for young people in your community to experience American history first-hand. You will read in the pages of this magazine next month about the annual Washington Youth Tour, sponsored by your local cooperative and the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association, but I hope you are fortunate enough to hear the story directly from the young people your cooperative sponsored this year. As you read this article, they will have just returned from Washington, D.C., and their experiences will be fresh. I assure you these young men and women will be full of enthusiasm — phrases like “trip of a lifetime” and “awe-inspiring” will likely fill their explanations to you.

And once ignited, the enthusiasm these young people feel for the “Great American Experiment” is hard to extinguish. Nearly 50 years after penning his prediction about how Americans would commemorate our “day of deliverance,” Adams was asked to suggest a toast be made to his name. He replied: “It is my living sentiment, and by the blessing of God, it shall be my dying sentiment: Independence now and Independence forever.” Four days later, he lay on his deathbed and could hear cannons firing outside. In what might have been among his last words, he very simply shouted, “Independence forever!” The day was July 4.

On May 1, the 107th Tennessee General Assembly adjourned its second session and brought to a close legislative business for the year – it’s earliest finish since 1998. The TECA Bill Tracker is finalized, and available by clicking the links below.

A $31.5 B budget for the state government was approved, which is a a $400 M reduction over last year’s $31.9 B budget. Even with the reductions, state employees will receive a two-and-a-half percent increase in their base pay and there will be a 0.25% reduction in the state sales tax levied on food. The state’s inheritance tax will phased out over a six-year period, and the gift tax will be eliminated entirely. A great deal of attention was paid to Governor Haslam’s proposal to modernize the State’s employment policies, also known as civil service. Ultimately, after some contention over the issue, the Tennessee State Employee Association supported the measure and it passed by large, bi-partisan majorities.

Another successful initiative of the Governor was to alter the make-up of the Tennessee Regulatory Authority from four full-time directors to a traditional five-member Board of Directors who would serve part-time.  A new Executive Director, initially appointed by the Governor and subsequently appointed by the Board of Directors, will manage the day to day operations of the TRA.  The final version of the bill contains a requirement that TRA submit an annual report to the Governor comparing the rates of regulated and non-regulated utilities (including electric utilities).  While the comparison of electric rates is not germane to TRA, as they do not regulate cooperative or municipally-owned utilities, TECA staff will pay close attention to these reports to ensure accuracy and relevance of any information included.

Upon the conclusion of the session, all bills not passed by both chamber and signed by the Governor are now officially “dead.”  When newly elected Legislators return to Nashville in January 2013, all bills and resolutions must be filed anew.

Final TECA Bill Summary

Electric cooperative interests were well protected throughout the session, as the entirety of TECA’s legislative agenda was resolved satisfactorily.  The bills of greatest importance included:

Trespasser Liability (Sen. Brian Kelsey/Rep. Vance Dennis)
By codifying the common law that a property owner owes no duty of care to a trespasser, electric cooperatives will see an increase in its protection against liability from copper thieves and other criminal activities on cooperative property.

Board Meeting Access (Sen. Delores Gresham/Rep. Vance Dennis) – The general subcommittee of the House State and Local Government committee unanimously agreed with our position that access to electric cooperative board meetings is best determined by electric cooperative members, rather than the legislature.

Pole Attachments (Sen. Brian Kelsey and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey/Rep. Debra Maggart) – This perennial issue saw much more legislative attention, due to the co-sponsorship of Lt. Gov. Ramsey and several committee hearings that included testimony on the bill.  Ultimately, electric cooperative member-owners owe a debt of gratitude to the Lieutenant Governor and the members of the Senate Commerce Committee who failed to make a motion that would bring the bill to a vote. This is a very unusual event in the senate, and sent a strong message to the cable industry about the depth of support enjoyed by electric cooperatives in Tennessee.

 

The week of March 12 was an eventful one in Nashville, to say the least. More than 200 devoted directors and employees from Tennessee’s electric cooperatives were in the state capital to participate in the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association’s annual Legislative Conference, Day on the Hill and Legislative Reception. Taking time away from their busy schedules, these individuals heard from and talked with some of Tennessee’s most powerful governmental officials about the key issues impacting your local community — and your member-owned electric co-op. I had the privilege of coordinating these two very full days, but fortunately I was unable complete all of the activities myself. I’ll get to that in a minute.

The events began when Gov. Bill Haslam addressed the group. “It is an honor to travel around the state and meet people who really do care about their communities, and you all represent businesses that do that,” said Gov. Haslam. “You really are trying your best to provide a service that people need at the lowest possible cost. I am grateful for what you are doing.”

Rather than merely speaking to the conference attendees, the governor asked a pretty simple question: What do we think his job is? Or, stated differently, what should he be doing to best perform his job as the chief executive of state government? Answers to his question spawned discussion about job recruitment, energy policy, environmental protections and the role and function of state government. Haslam discussed his initiatives to modernize state government, especially its employment practices, in order to provide the best services for the lowest cost.

At the conclusion of his time, it was our honor to present the governor a special copy of “Barns of Tennessee,” a popular book that features photos — most of which were submitted by the readers of this magazine — of some of Tennessee’s most picturesque farms and barns.

During the conference, TECA staff explained to co-op directors and employees how this year’s redrawing of House and Senate districts is impacting the representation of rural and suburban Tennessee in both the State Legislature and Congress. Because growth in urban areas of the state has been greater than that of rural regions, the balance of power in the General Assembly is shifting due to these demographic changes. We stressed that it is important to recognize these changes and be proactive in our efforts to ensure that your co-op remains strong for the future.

State Sen. Jack Johnson of Franklin provided an update on the priorities of the Senate, specifically the activities of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Labor and Agriculture. Sen. Johnson is the chairman of this very important committee, which has broad jurisdiction over many issues, including most that impact the operations of your local cooperative. He approaches his duty very seriously and is responsible for maintaining the civility and fairness of the debates that take place in the committee. We believe he does an excellent job running the committee and appreciate his willingness to answer the tough questions.

Attendees were also briefed on pending legislation that would impact Tennessee’s electric cooperatives. The common theme among all the bills that were discussed is the unique way in which your cooperative operates — through you, the owner. Our association becomes concerned when legislation would limit a board’s ability to act in the best interests of its members. We believe that our cooperative governance structure provides the most effective way to operate a nonprofit business because you elect the directors who set the cooperative’s policies. Cooperative members are best served when these local policies are made by local board members elected to run the co-op. This locally controlled business model nearly eliminates the need for the state or federal government to be involved in the cooperative’s affairs.

Armed with this information, the attendees then set out to meet with their legislators to help them better understand electric cooperatives and the specific pending legislation that impacts our ability to provide safe, reliable, affordable energy.

The primary issue facing electric cooperatives this year is nothing new — pole attachments. Electric utilities charge cable TV and telephone providers when they attach their wires to electric poles. Think of this like rent — your cooperative owns a house, but the cable and telephone company wants to rent out a room in the house. However, renting a room makes the cost of living in the house higher because that additional renter uses more of the house’s resources (electricity, heating and cooling, water, etc). You might even have to get a bigger house just to accommodate all the extra renters.

Cable and telephone companies believe that government should mandate that this “rent” be lower. Much lower. But co-ops know they charge fair rates that are based on the actual cost of buying, installing and maintaining a pole. These costs are then spread out among everybody who is sharing the pole. Pretty simple, huh?

Thankfully, the members of Tennessee’s legislature have seen the efforts to regulate pole attachments for what they are: an attempt to get a free ride. During this year’s Legislative Conference, our attendees were able to see presentations from both sides of this issue given to Chairman Johnson and the Senate Commerce Committee during a committee session. While no vote was taken that day, the result was clear: Electric cooperatives and their locally elected boards are doing what is right for their communities.

I wasn’t there to help present the arguments to the Senate Commerce Committee. And as I mentioned at the beginning of this column, I’m thankful I wasn’t. Just an hour or two before the presentation began, I was at Baptist Hospital with my wife, welcoming our fourth son into the world. Mom and baby Drew are doing great. God has blessed me with a great job, but an even better family.

Mike Knotts, Director of Government Affairs for the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association

For years, I’ve heard the saying, “Patience is a virtue.” I’m not sure I’ve ever really thought about what that means. Have you? I just hear it, reflexively agree with it and move on to the next thing. Just another cliché, something that people say.

According to Wikipedia, “A virtue is a positive trait or quality subjectively deemed to be morally excellent and thus is valued as a foundation of principle and good moral being.” I know Wikipedia might not be the most authoritative source, but I think this entry passes the smell test. So, if I actually believe that definition, do I live in such a way that demonstrates patience? After all, actions speak louder than words — as we’ve always been told. Does our society really value patience?

In my opinion, it is undeniable that we are an instant-gratification nation. Fast food, ATMs, disposable diapers, digital cameras — all are incredible luxuries that have without doubt shortened our attention spans. I work in an industry that literally changed the world — but where patience is defined in milliseconds. Our margin for error is so slim. When you flip the switch, you expect the lights to come on. If the power stops flowing for just a second, all those digital clocks start blinking “12:00,” and the phone calls start pouring in to your co-op.

And these were only 20th century changes. The Internet has exponentially increased our ability to demand more and more information in less and less time.

For example, I am a voracious consumer of news. I have a need to stay connected to current events but see very little of it on television anymore. The 5 o’clock news has not been a part of my routine since I was in high school. I might read the newspaper to learn more detail of a major story, but almost never do I learn about it for the first time in the pages of my local daily. Most of my news comes to me now in near-real time through websites, email updates and social media like Twitter.

These advancements are not bad things; they are just changes. It’s hard to argue against the value of societal advancement. Take the automobile, for instance. Just because we’ve been trained to expect to cross the state in a matter of hours instead of days doesn’t mean we are impatient. We might be getting less patient in some of the ways we live our lives, but those changes by in large have enriched us and made us a more comfortable and prosperous people.

But what about those things that still require us to exercise patience? Parenthood has certainly put me to the test. I have three young sons, including 4-year-old twins, so there has been no shortage of opportunities to demonstrate my patience. Or, more appropriately, my lack thereof. I have to constantly remind myself that I can’t expect my boys to perfect a new task the first time, and I can’t expect them to grow without a lot of stumbles along the way.

When I arrive at the office, I again face the same struggles. It is my job to get involved in the details of how your elected representatives write the law. And the legislative process can sometimes be slow and arduous, it can sometimes be quick and haphazard, but it always requires careful diligence. However, it can be easy to sometimes jump to premature conclusions and not do the hard work that is necessary to make good decisions and accurate judgments.

Case in point: As a lobbyist, there are some lawmakers on whom you just come to rely. Experience has shown you time and time again that they are supportive of your organization and what it stands for, and when it comes time to cast a vote, they usually make the right decision. So what do you do when they suddenly reverse course and do something that could be incredibly harmful to the things you care about?

This happened to me recently. I could not believe the name when I read it at the top of the page. Someone I had come to rely upon suddenly appeared to be in opposition to the interests of electric cooperatives. Why? My first reaction was to take decisive action. Fire up the engines, and let’s head off to battle.

But wait a minute: Why would someone change their position when the circumstances surrounding that issue have not changed? Why would someone embrace a multimillion-dollar impact to our industry that would cause electric bills for almost all Tennesseans to unnecessarily rise? There had to be a reason. So I made a decision that flies in the face of our impatient, 24-hour news cycle culture. I decided to wait until I could actually talk to the person and determine what their motives might be.

So far, that decision has been a good one — both for my virtue and the interests of the member-owners of Tennessee’s electric cooperatives. There was a reason, and my first reaction would have made the situation much worse. So don’t forget: If patience truly is a virtue, then it just stands to reason that good things come to those who wait!

Mike Knotts, Director of Government Affairs for the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association

One man. One vote. It doesn’t get much simpler than that. Every citizen in the U.S. has the right to equal representation.

We may take this principle for granted, but it is one of the cornerstones of our form of government, a representative republic. What makes our system of government different from a democracy, however, is that our votes are cast in order to elect an individual who will represent us in a legislative body that deliberates and decides the people’s business. Our own vote does not directly decide the issue being debated.

So that means every American has a number of elected officials who represent them. At the federal level you are represented by two U.S. senators who are elected by the citizens of an entire state.You are also represented by one U.S. representative (frequently referred to as a congressman), who is elected to represent one of 435 geographical districts across the nation.These districts are apportioned in such a way that each district contains approximately the same number of citizens.

At the state level, you are represented by one state senator and one state representative. These individuals each represent differing geographic districts that contain a proportional number of the state’s citizens. Local governments are organized in a similar fashion, although there are differing methods by which they operate depending on the makeup of individual counties and cities.

While the news media today tends to pay lots of attention to the president of the United States or the goings- on of the Congress, the fact that state legislatures have the responsibility of determining how the representative districts are drawn is sometimes overlooked. Every 10 years, after completion of the U.S. Census, state representatives and senators take on the task of reapportioning the districts to guarantee equal representation for the people. They determine the boundaries for the U.S. House of Representatives districts in their states in addition to the State Senate and House lines.

While every district must be proportional in population to the other districts, are there a number of different ways to draw the lines to come up with an equal result?You bet. Does that mean politics may influence the outcome?You bet! Is that a bad thing? Well, assuming equal representation is achieved, no, I don’t believe so.

The General Assembly recently completed the process of redistricting the nine Congressional districts, 33 State Senate districts and 99 State House districts in Tennessee. This reapportionment was different, as it was the first time in history that the Republican Party has controlled the state Legislature during the process. However, the timing of the process was very similar to previous reapportionments.

There were certainly some winners and losers in the design of the districts. House Republican Leader Gerald McCormick told tnreport.com, “Any time you have 99 politicians carving up anything, you’re going to have some controversy, so I expect there will be some creative tension.” It would be impossible to please everyone’s wishes for how to draw the lines, and some in our state were indeed not happy. As former Speaker of the House Jimmy Naifeh was quoted (I can only assume tongue-in-cheek), “Just because I did it doesn’t make it right.” Well, like it or not, politics is a part of our governing process, and the party in control will certainly choose alternatives that benefit its vision for governance.

As an organization whose interests are primarily rural and suburban, we at the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association are very interested in how these new districts will impact our ability to promote policies that keep your cooperative strong. Tennessee’s population has changed over the past 10 years, and the population growth in urban areas has been faster than that of our rural communities. Will this demographic shift make it more difficult to advocate for our electric co-op member- owners? Time will tell for sure, but an objective analysis shows that the maps appear to be drawn fairly and with an attempt to group together communities of like interest. Will some of our strongest supporters be impacted by these changes? Your votes at the ballot box will determine the answer to that question.

Because the new districts will take effect upon the conclusion of — not before — the November 2012 election, I encourage you learn what districts you live in.Maps are available on our website, www.tnelectric.org.

So what does all of this mean to you? This is an election year, and this fall when you go to the polls to vote (you are registered to vote, right?), you may very well find that you live in a new district or the person you are accustomed to representing you will be changing.

Mike Knotts, Director of Government Affairs for the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association

I love “The Andy Griffith Show.” That’s not exactly breaking news, I know. It’s only one of the most popular television shows in history. And I suppose having a father whose name is Don Knotts may have helped pique my interest many years ago. But few can disagree that there is just something about that program that resonates with people across America.

While my father was not the actor who played the iconic Barney Fife, I do relish the thought of life in Mayberry. Life was simple, doors were not locked, people helped one another during hard times, Aunt Bee’s cooking was the best (except for those pickles!) And occasionally the Darlings rolled into town to pick a song or two.

Over the past couple of years I have enjoyed exposing my three young boys to Andy and Opie and the rest of the characters. Sometimes they get a history lesson. “Dad, why does Barney have to ask Sarah to call the diner? Why doesn’t he just use his iPhone?” Sometimes they learn a great moral lesson about telling the truth or the consequences of unethical or unlawful behavior. Sometimes they see how important it is to serve others — can you think of a single episode where Andy Taylor does anything for his own gain? And sometimes they just laugh at Barney’s wide-eyed look of frustration when something else didn’t work the way he planned.

Yes, I love “The Andy Griffith Show.”

And while I readily admit that the world we live in is much different than Mayberry, couldn’t we all learn a little bit from it? I think so. Honesty, integrity and selflessness are not character traits that we readily associate with our political leaders of late, but I can tell you that those qualities still exist — and in great supply. But then again, maybe our world isn’t that different from Mayberry. For real fans of the show, you might recall that Mayor Stoner had a hard time respecting the separation of powers between the mayor and sheriff — that is, until a black bear and ornery bull taught him otherwise.

I’ve been involved in politics and government for more than 15 years now, and my experience has ranged from stuffing envelopes for political candidates to serving on the staff of a member of Congress as well as being appointed by the president of the United States to a position in his administration. I’ve seen a lot of good people working very hard for the future of this country and, yes, even a Mayor Stoner or two.

So when I came to work for the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association a little less than one year ago, I was given the responsibility of protecting the interests of Tennessee’s electric cooperatives before both the state and federal governments — no small task, but one I have readily accepted.

As a member-owner of an electric cooperative, you share a unique experience with about 1 million other rural and suburban Tennesseans. You don’t just buy your power from your local co-op; you own your local co-op! The reality of that statement is that you are an owner of a business that is critical to our modern society, is technically complex, requires lots of money to build and operate and is a vital part of our communities. Oh, and the product you sell can kill you if not handled properly. This is serious business!

So it is only natural that the activities of your cooperative are frequently the subject of proposed new laws or government regulations. As these changes are proposed and debated in Washington, D.C., and Nashville, we will always advocate positions that keep your cooperative strong and able to provide safe, reliable and affordable energy to your home and business. And we will do what it takes to ensure that the millions of voices of our association are both heard and respected.

As I have been telling electric cooperative employees across the state, we have a unique responsibility to help guide our lawmakers to sound energy policies. Our association takes this responsibility seriously. I look forward to using this column as well as our website at www.tnelectric.org over the years to come to keep you informed about these issues.

Hopefully our editorial oversight will better than the Mayberry Sun, Opie’s newspaper that focused on Mayberry gossip.