Monday, January 20

Listing the Challenges

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

As we near the end of another year, we brace for a wave of lists recounting memorable performances (good or bad), “in memoriams” honoring people we’ve lost over the past 12 months and retrospectives looking back on events and stories that impacted our lives in 2019. I won’t make a list. But if I did, it would be very short and would be centered on the challenges we face every day in the electric utility industry.

The first item would be our physical threats. Outside threats to your electric service used to be confined to trees, ice and strong winds as well as squirrels, birds and an occasional snake.

That’s a lot to deal with in any year. Yet, as technology has improved, it has brought along with it different threats. Advancements in technology have created cybersecurity concerns. Technological advances have made your life more convenient. But, as your local utility makes it easier to check your account, it also puts your information at risk. Electric utilities today spend significant resources to ensure that your data is safe. There are attempts to access our systems all day, every day, from around the world. The threat has even created a need for additional insurance coverage for losses due to cyber theft.

That threat also extends to the electric grid we’ve built over the past 80 years. Just as your home’s technology has advanced, so have our tools for managing electric infrastructure. Equipment that used to require an employee to be physically present can be monitored remotely. Fiber networks have improved communications and allow us to effectively use technology to avoid or reduce outages. Utilizing those tools, however, requires resources to protect them from intruders.

We’re on top of it, but it’s a never-ending task to stay ahead of cyber criminals.

Another challenge is the intersection of energy issues and policy. The current political environment is one of the more intriguing in our nation’s history. The U.S. Senate is on a different page than the House, and both, depending on the day of the week, can sometimes be on a different page than the administration. There is increased animosity and polarization between the parties — and sometimes within the parties. That might be entertaining for political pundits and newscasters, but it’s no way to “run a railroad.”

As we near the end of this year — and the end of Congress’ current session — more than a few issues that impact our industry remain unattended. Some are political and require legislation; others are regulatory and will take time to accomplish. All ultimately could impact the cost of electricity.

We’re on top of it, but, again, keeping up with the political challenges is a never-ending task.

Our member-owned corporations have weathered ups and downs — from economic recessions to natural disasters to political uncertainty. No matter the challenges, cooperatives remain focused on our consumer-owners and the communities we serve.

I could have a much longer list. There are countless things that are vitally important to our members, but the main thing is safe, reliable and affordable electricity. We’ll continue to provide that for the rest of the year and beyond.

For the latest information on some of the legislative issues facing electric cooperatives, please go to www.tnelectric.org and click the “Policy and Advocacy” tab.

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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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