By this time in any given year, I’ve attended several business meetings at electric cooperatives across Tennessee — from Mountain City to Halls and a lot of places in between. Every year, I’ll drive hundreds of miles and spend numerous Saturdays and a few Friday nights at different places around the state. At most cooperative annual meetings, the featured entrée is hot dogs or barbecue. Entertainment is by a gospel quartet or local band. The food is always great, as is the music.
This year, however, the number of meetings I’ve attended? Zero. For the rest of the year? Maybe one or two … but, likely, zero. If any year has tested our business model (and our patience), this is it. Other than the entertainment, these meetings are business meetings — required events where the trustees and management of the cooperative deliver annual reports to the member-owners of the cooperative.
But they are also social events. And we are social animals. We may argue and bicker over issues from time to time, but we are neighbors, friends, sometimes “frenemies,” and we enjoy each other’s company. At most meetings, you might think you are attending a family reunion, a neighborhood block party or even a church homecoming. Then someone starts talking about fiber optics and solar farms.
Our cooperatives have adapted well this year — just as other businesses have. Annual meetings have been a mix of live online events or prerecorded video presentations. A few enterprising cooperatives have had “drive-thru” annual meetings — all observing CDC recommended social distancing guidelines that protect the health and well-being of the attendees and the co-op employees. It’s not ideal, and it’s certainly not our preferred way of doing things, but it gets the job done.
We’ve stepped up this year to assist those in need. Together with our partners at the Tennessee Valley Authority, the state’s electric cooperatives have donated thousands of dollars to assist homeowners and businesses. We continue to work with our member-owners as they deal with financial upheavals.
Even in this disjointed year, electric cooperatives have a good story to tell. Growth hasn’t slowed. Across the nation, electric cooperatives continue to lead the way in bringing renewable energy into the mix. We actively promote the development and deployment of clean energy projects. Our co-ops and TVA invest capital in or purchase power from renewable energy projects regardless of where they are located. This strategy inserts clean energy sources into the nation’s fuel mix and reduces clean energy costs for co-ops.
This melding of past and future, family atmosphere and business focus, is really nothing new for electric cooperatives, even though this year makes it a lot different. At the heart of it is how much we care about our communities. One of the hallmarks of cooperatives is “concern for community,” one of our bedrock principles. This dogged determination to do whatever it takes to keep the lights on and improve the quality of life in the communities we serve is what sets us apart from others.
We’re here for the long haul. We will get through this — and we’ll do it together.