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 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mike Knotts, director of government affairs

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

Power Marketing Administrations

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

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

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

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

Rural Utility Service

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

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

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

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

Tennessee Valley Authority

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

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

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

Mike Knotts, director of government affairs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mike Knotts, director of government affairs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Management gurus James Collins and Jerry Porras penned a book in the mid-1990s titled “Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies.” The book, based on a six-year research project at Stanford University, examined 18 long-lasting companies. In the foreword the authors write, “… visionary companies distinguish their timeless core values and enduring purpose (which should never change) from their operating practices and business strategies (which should be changing constantly in response to a changing world).”

Tennessee’s electric cooperatives aren’t quite as well known as the companies of the study. But, when it comes to longevity and singleness of purpose, we’re definitely in the same league. Our cooperatives have been around for 75 years and counting.

Management techniques come and go, operational strategies flourish and then fade away, but core values remain constant. Over the years, your cooperative has likely had several leadership changes; employees retire and new hires take their place. Each generation brings changes in style and vision.

With an ever-changing cast, how do we stay focused on our primary purpose from decade to decade? The one thing that doesn’t change: the member-owners of the cooperative. Collectively, we’re owned by the members of the communities we serve.

To stay true to that core value, cooperatives answer directly to the membership. Members are elected to act as a governing board — making decisions on behalf of all the members. Board members enact policies that are in the best interests of the membership, and, in turn, the directors select a CEO to manage the day-to-day operations. The CEO answers to the board, and the board answers to the rest of the membership, through periodic re-election.

Breaking that down to Collins and Porras’ statement: The board selects management, which develops business strategies that adapt to a changing world; co-op members select a board that adheres to never-changing core values.

While policies have evolved since Tennessee’s first co-op was formed in the mid-1930s, the basic structure has provided a framework that has lasted well. We’ve not only survived but thrived because of that foundation on which we’re built. That “core value” of member ownership is what provides the enduring purpose of serving our communities.

It’s a model that works best when members participate. Co-op members throughout the state can, and should, attend their cooperative’s annual business meeting.

Each annual meeting is built around a business session, which always contains operating and financial reports that, along with other details, help provide vital information to you as a co-op member — to show that your cooperative’s leaders have been good stewards during the past year.

Most of these meetings are held from August through October. Given the numerous entertainment options that compete for our attention, most feature a variety of other activities — from health fairs to safety demonstrations to live entertainment. It’s just a few hours out of your schedule, and, as Bill Cosby used to say, “You might learn something before it’s done.”

The cooperative business model is one that works for small and large co-ops alike. It’s a model that is built to withstand economic highs and lows. It’s a model that is built to deal with natural disasters or man-made challenges.

It’s a model that’s built to last. The proof is there year after year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Near the end of “Saving Private Ryan,” as Tom Hanks’ character is dying, he leans forward and mutters one last command to the young private: “Earn this.” He speaks the words after most of his men have died saving the private’s life. He speaks the words to the soldier in an effort to convey the magnitude of the sacrifice made on his behalf.

Moving forward with a new team in place for 2012, “Earn this” is our internal watchword at the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association.While not as dramatic as a life-or-death struggle, the foundation on which we’re building involves a legacy that began in the 1930s.Early cooperative leaders were more than pioneers. The tactics they used were revolutionary, and the business acumen they possessed was cutting edge. Investor- owned utilities and legislators first ignored them and then tried to run them out of business. The co-op organizers took them on — and won. They were fighting for a better life for themselves, their children and their communities.

More than 70 years later, those cooperative principles and goals remain unchanged.Whether the work was done in the 1930s or the 1990s, we have a legacy of service and commitment that is to be earned — not squandered. Just like our predecessors from the ’30s, we’re committed to using nothing less than the best tools and technologies available to us today. Though the methodology is dramatically different — electronic social media has replaced the telephone party line — the basic principles of our business model remain the same.

As we move forward at TECA, we’re aware of our task, and we have our focus Squarely on you — the co-op members.In addition to publishing The Tennessee Magazine, TECA provides energy marketing assistance and a variety of education and training to today’s cooperative leaders. We also coordinate legislative efforts to protect the interests of the electric cooperative members in the state.

Those black-and-white images of the past serve as silent sentinels that repeat the charge to earn their sacrifice — a charge that we embrace with a tremendously talented group of employees with more than 160 years of varied experiences working on behalf of rural Tennessee. That background and commitment power our progress as we work for you — for the next 70 years and far beyond.

Our leadership team:

Robin Conover, vice president of communications and editor of The Tennessee Magazine; Mike Knotts, director of government relations; Todd Blocker, director of member relations; Trent Scott, communications coordinator.

Chris Kirk, Ron Bell and Susan Pilgreen round out the staff of The Tennessee Magazine. Amy Jordan, Tina Smith, Andrea Knight and Miyuki Fowler provide accounting, human resources and administrative support.

As for myself — I have more than 25 years of public power background. My decade of work as TECA director of government relations was preceded by service at Tri-County Electric in Lafayette and the Tennessee Valley Authority in Chattanooga.

For much more information on TECA and bios of the employees that work on your behalf, click here.

by Tom Purkey, Executive Vice President and General Manager for the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association

I had a wonderful November. Each year representatives from all Tennessee electric co-ops gather for an annual membership meeting, just like the individual cooperatives do, featuring speakers who provide a host of useful information and political leaders to report on our state and country.

This year’s meeting was special for me: It was my last. I gave my usual report to the representatives of the 23 member electric cooperatives that make up the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association; however, on the first evening, I was honored that more than 400 people attended a reception for me. Four managers who do what I do at other states even came and made really kind remarks.

It was a wonderful way to finalize my tenure at TECA. Seeing friends from the past as well as current friends and folks with whom I work … it was the highlight of my career. But besides that, I had my wife, Sharon, and all four of our children and six grandchildren by my side. That was special. Being able to introduce my whole family to the managers, directors, employees, attorneys and other guests was very rewarding.

I originally reserved this column to introduce you to the newest Purkey — a grandson scheduled to arrive mid-December, the fifth child for my son, Justin, and daughter-in-law, Lisa. But he’s decided to choose his own delivery date, so at the time of publication, he’s still in a “holding pattern.” When I think about “Baby Purkey,” I can’t help but wonder what’s in store for him as he lives his life. What does his “future plan” look like?

No one can answer that question, but everything we do will affect his life. A preacher at our church recently said that any kind deed we do to another person resonates eternally and changes things in other people’s lives forever. That statement is a sobering thought: that we are all constantly changing the lives of people around us.

Having grandchildren will certainly keep me on my toes at all times, especially knowing that every good deed is like a rock being tossed into a lake … the resulting waves go out over and over again, affecting the water clear to the shoreline. We generally refer to it as the “ripple effect.”

I look forward to touching the life of our new grandson as well as the lives of the rest of the grandchildren, and I’m hopeful that their lives will reflect the good deeds that they see from all their family, including their Papa and Granny.

I have enjoyed my career at TECA, and I’ve been blessed with a wonderful family. Goodbye, and may God bless each of you in everything you do.