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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By David Callis, Executive Vice President and General Manager

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

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

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

How much energy?

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

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

Where did TVA get the energy?

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

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

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

How close did we come?

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

What lessons are to be learned?

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

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

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

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

By David Callis, Executive Vice President and General Manager

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s not waste the power of that potential.

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

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.

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

When you’re immortalized in song, you can reasonably assume that you’ve made it. When a government agency is immortalized in song, well, that’s profound.

The group Alabama did just that for the Tennessee Valley Authority with their 1988 hit, “Song of the South.” One verse reads, “Well Momma got sick and Daddy got down. The county got the farm and they moved to town. Papa got a job with the TVA. He bought a washing machine, then a Chevrolet.”

Simplistic as it is, the song sums up the agency’s transformative power on the Valley. TVA, one of several Depression-era stimulus projects, revitalized our entire region, controlling flooding and bringing low-cost power and wealth through jobs and investment.

Over the decades, TVA also transformed itself. No longer a beneficiary of federal funding, TVA is fully financed through power sales. Valley residents know the value of TVA to the region. It has turned the corner from being a Democratic Depression-era program to become an integral part of our political, economic and utility infrastructure.

Over the decades, TVA programs have touched every aspect of life in the Tennessee Valley — from farm production to uranium enrichment. TVA powered the engine that enabled the U.S. to end World War II. The same agency has provided countless summers of fishing and boating for multiple generations of families.

In the 2014 budget of the U.S. government, President Barack Obama advocates the administration’s intent “to undertake a strategic review of options for addressing TVA’s financial situation, including the possible divestiture of TVA, in part or as a whole.”

We’ve been down this road before with advocates of privatization calling for the dismantling of TVA and selling it to the highest bidder. To be fair, past efforts have come from both sides of the aisle, from both the Executive Branch and the Legislative Branch. Even though we “liked Ike,” President Dwight Eisenhower once referred to TVA as an example of “creeping socialism” and told friends in private, “I’d like to sell the whole thing.” TVA privatization even figured into the 1976 Tennessee Republican presidential primary between Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford.

Selling TVA to the highest bidder seems like a quick fix for those outside the Valley or to those who are unable or unwilling to look at the facts. Transforming a publicly owned utility that sells electricity at cost into a for-profit entity isn’t a good solution for Tennessee ratepayers.

TVA has dealt with challenges before: recovering from an overexpansion of a nuclear program in the 1980s and weathering the deregulation and restructuring of the electric utility industry of the 1990s and the Kingston ash spill a few years ago. The agency has streamlined operations over the years: The number of employees has declined, and TVA is managed by a part-time board that is more diverse than ever. TVA may have issues to deal with, but we’ll deal with them together — they affect all of us.

Though the federal government owns TVA, the ratepayers in the Tennessee Valley provided the funds that constructed the generation assets and world-class transmission system. The ratepayers have paid back the original loans from the U.S. Treasury — with interest. If there is a divestiture of TVA, it should be a transfer to those ratepayers. It’s ours; we built it.

Simply put, TVA may be federally owned, but it is ratepayer-built.

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

From an early age, we’re taught to speak for ourselves. It’s part of the process of growing up and developing our own identity. “Please, may I have some more?” eventually gets you more food. Pointing out that your malicious sibling broke the lamp may keep you out of trouble.

You gain confidence and a sense of self-worth.

Mark Twain put it this way: “Each of you, for himself, by himself and on his own responsibility, must speak. And it is a solemn and weighty responsibility, and not lightly to be flung aside at the bullying of pulpit, press, government, or the empty catchphrases of politicians. … You cannot shirk this and be a man.”

When we speak for the electric cooperatives of Tennessee, we do so out of a sense of duty and responsibility. We also do this because we are the electric cooperatives. Our directors and officers are members of the cooperatives. So, we are the members that we represent. We know what our communities need, and we know what is harmful to our communities. We work hard to get the facts right.

And we speak up for ourselves.

Co-ops are ingrained into the communities we serve. When people rely on you, it’s important that you do your work honestly and with unquestioned integrity. Your community’s reputation is on the line — as is ours. We take that charge seriously. It’s important to us that we get the facts correct when we speak.

You’ll always see our names on the byline of any story.

Doing so eliminates confusion. When the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association addresses an issue, either in the media, legislature or community meetings, you can take confidence knowing that we’re being honest and forthright — in the light of day, in the glare of the spotlight.
A number of “news” sources these days allow anonymous posting of comments. In fact, it’s become a vocation for a certain segment of our society. No identification, minimal fact-checking and, all too often, no honesty.

It’s also difficult at times to tell where some news stories originate. Some entities use willing third parties — obscure entities with important-sounding names and clever acronyms — to push their agenda. To use Spiro Agnew’s term, these “nattering nabobs of negativity” exist mainly to promote someone else’s scheme without attaching their names. The days of needing a news bureau and skilled pressmen are gone; all that’s needed now is a cool-sounding name, a website and flashy graphics.

All too often, those entities specialize in duplicitous, fact-deprived stories, usually aimed at maligning someone else’s good name. Not patently false, but rarely identifiable as the truth. And far, far away from being fair and honest.

The goal is twofold: It purposefully creates confusion about an issue and hides the identity of the entity that’s up to no good. Online, drive-by character assassination. The journalistic version of a schoolyard bully.

That’s not how we operate — we never have, and we never will. Whether it’s in the pages of The Tennessee Magazine; on, Facebook or Twitter; or in the halls of the legislature, when we speak for you, it will be bold, direct and honest.

“It is a solemn and weighty responsibility, and not lightly to be flung aside.” It’s a responsibility from which we’ve never shirked.

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

My good friend Kent Lopez is manager of the Washington Rural Electric Cooperative Association, serving in a position similar to mine. Kent is a transplanted Tennessean, and he recently shared the following about his work:

“My alarm goes off an hour earlier this time of the year. The State Legislature is in session. So I spend some extra time every morning getting ready for the day because there are special people relying on me. There is the rancher in Nespelem, the motel owner in Winthrop, the wheat farmer in Ritzville, the school teacher in Colfax … Each one has joined his or her neighbors to own and run their own local electric utility. They do this because they believe it’s in the best interest of their community. They do it without making a profit so their community will profit. They do this because they believe that the decisions that affect their community should be made locally, by individuals like themselves and their neighbors. Like I said, they are very special people. That’s why my alarm goes off an hour earlier this time of the year. I’ve got very important work to do.”

I’ll readily confess that I don’t begin my day like Kent. But my efforts, and the work of our entire staff at the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association and The Tennessee Magazine, are no less focused on supporting our cooperative members across our state. Our government affairs staff has worked nonstop over the past several weeks as our own legislative session began. Other staff have been busy communicating with our members across the state, planning for a busy year of cooperative education and training.

Andrew Carnegie envisioned his Carnegie Corporation as a foundation dedicated to the goal of doing “real and permanent good in this world.”

That describes perfectly the work of Tennessee’s electric cooperatives. Too often, Wall Street gauges success from one quarter to the next, cutting expenses and making rash decisions that undermine long-term growth, all in an effort to drive up stock prices quickly.

We measure success on Main Street over a much longer period — at least a generation or two.

Our co-ops are run by our members — which is a difficult concept for some to accept. How does that work exactly? A governing board is elected to set policy for the co-op. That board is composed of local co-op members who volunteer to serve.

That’s the purest, most direct form of local control — local people making decisions that are in the best interest of the community. And they’re decisions that bring about “real good” for today and “permanent good” for tomorrow.

So, for the banker in Bumpus Mills, the accountant in Sparta, the farmer in Hillsboro, the insurance adjuster in Ramer, the dentist in Hohenwald, the vineyard owner in Jamestown and the retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel in Jefferson City, we recognize the effort you put in serving your community. It’s not done for recognition or prestige; it’s done because you’re committed to making your community a better place.

People rely on you. The work you do on behalf of the co-op members in your community is important. It’s important to the members of your cooperative, and it’s important to us at TECA.

We keep that in mind every day, whether it’s publishing The Tennessee Magazine, educating tomorrow’s leaders through our youth programs, training workers on electrical safety or protecting your interests in the legislature.
It’s very important work.

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

By now we’ve all come to the realization that the Mayans were wrong. Or, more accurately stated, we were wrong about the Mayans. Just because their calendar ended on Dec. 21, 2012, didn’t mean civilization was going to end on that date. The lesson we all should have learned is that calendars just mark an arbitrary point in time.

It’s true that we tie a number of starting points to Jan. 1, but we do that out of simplicity, not because of some cosmic reasoning. In 2013, a number of things are much different than in 2012. Sadly, more than a few are still the same — like congressional budget fights.

For co-ops in Tennessee, we’re looking at a couple of significant changes: two new leaders as we start the new year. Bill Johnson is the new CEO at the Tennessee Valley Authority. (I wrote about him in the December 2012 issue of The Tennessee Magazine. He’s already more than a month into the job.) For electric cooperatives, we have a new leader for our national association, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), which represents more than 900 rural cooperatives — and their more than 42 million members — in 47 states.

Republican Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, who represents Missouri’s 8th Congressional District, will be NRECA’s fifth CEO upon her retirement from the House in February. She officially joins NRECA on Feb. 11 and assumes her duties as CEO on March 1. An association executive before joining Congress, where she has been a strong supporter of rural America, she is respected on “both sides of the aisle” and has a proven ability to bridge political and policy divides.

“We conducted an exhaustive search to identify the very best individual to lead a great association,” said NRECA Board President Mike Guidry. “We’re convinced we found that person in Jo Ann Emerson. Her background as a member of Congress and a trade association executive,―coupled with her extensive knowledge of the issues facing electric cooperatives and rural America,―make Jo Ann eminently qualified to lead NRECA and represent the interests of our members.”

The success of these new leaders will be critical to our success — and to your need for efficient and economical electric service. We’re blessed in Tennessee to have a robust, reliable electric grid. We need a strong and responsive TVA as our power supplier and regulator. Your cooperative and TVA work hand-in-hand to build and maintain that network. None of that just happens; it requires planning and cooperation.

NRECA, under Emerson’s leadership, will be leading the charge as we combat legislative efforts that could add to the regulatory minefield we already traverse. Her skills in working for the good of rural communities will be as useful as her years in Congress. Our cooperative goal is to continue to support the communities where our members live, work and play, maintaining and improving your quality of life.

Emerson said as much in a statement announcing her new position: “Energy has a direct relationship with the vitality of rural America. Without reliable, affordable electricity delivered by electric cooperatives serving thousands of communities, millions of Americans would be left without the energy that brings economic opportunity, unsurpassed quality of life and the promise of growth in the future.”

Here’s hoping that 2013 is successful for us, for our new leadership and, most importantly, for you.

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.