Thursday, December 3

Committed in Crisis

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David Callis, General Manager, Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association

As the impacts of COVID-19 are felt across Tennessee, our consumer-owned electric co-ops recognize the critical need for energy — especially during a crisis. After food, water and medicine, reliable energy is critical to maintaining health, safety, comfort and connection. Throughout the state, lives have faced upheaval — at work, school, and home. We recognize the important role we play, and we’re not going to sit on the sidelines as this crisis unfolds.

One way we are helping is by continuing to do what we do each day — keeping the lights on. Even that task has been complicated by the coronavirus. When you flip that switch, you expect the lights to come on. We realize that your lives depend on a reliable source of electricity to power your home and businesses; you depend on us to make sure it is reliable. You need to keep your family safe. For us to do our part, we have to keep our employees safe and healthy as they go about their jobs

It looks simple: poles, wires and transformers. When natural disasters move through, things fall down, and line workers respond immediately to put everything back together.

But there is much more going on every day. The electric grid is actually a complex interconnected machine that is monitored 24 hours a day. Technicians have to ensure there is enough energy and that the voltage is properly maintained.

Early into the crisis, our cooperatives made plans to ensure that employees followed guidelines to protect their health. When possible, employees work remotely. When they are required to be on site, social distancing and other safety protocols are followed. It has made some work activities more complicated and has made responding to widespread power outages more difficult.

We also recognize that Tennesseans are facing financial hardships. Electric co-ops across the state are working with consumer-members to set up deferred payment schedules and find sources of additional assistance.

The federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) is designed to provide individuals with a lifeline to help with energy bills. Congress approved $900 billion in LIHEAP assistance to help through the pandemic.

Small businesses are the lifeblood of rural Tennessee. Another program enacted by Congress provides loans through the Small Business Association (SBA). These government-backed loans are available to businesses with fewer than 500 employees and can be used for payroll, rent, utilities and other expenses. Under the terms of the Paycheck Protection Program, much of the loan is forgivable.

The following page provides details on where you can find information for your household or your business. If you are in need, I urge you to seek out this assistance from Tennessee’s community service agencies or the SBA.

If you are unable to pay your bill due to the financial impacts of the pandemic, contact your electric co-op today. Electric co-ops are committed to keeping the lights on for Tennesseans who have been impacted by the pandemic.

One final suggestion — now, more than ever, we encourage you to use energy wisely. A lot of you are spending more time at home, so you are likely to see a surge in home energy use. On page 5 are some steps you can take to help control your energy bills.

The bottom line: Contact your local co-op, and we will help you. We’re truly all in this together.

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About Author

David Callis

David Callis is a 1982 graduate of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, with a degree in business administration. He began his career at the Tennessee Valley Authority in Chattanooga as an accountant, later becoming supervisor of power revenue. A Nashville native, he relocated back to Middle Tennessee in 1992 to join Tri-County EMC in Lafayette first as director of finance and administration and then as general manager. In February 2001, he joined the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association as director of government and public affairs. In June 2010, he was named vice president of statewide services with oversight over government relations, communications and marketing and member relations for the association. He became general manager in January 2012.

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