Press Release

Scorecards rate rural electric cooperatives in Tennessee

Organizations from seven Southeastern states assessed electric co-ops to give members the information they need to get more benefits from their utilities

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 16, 2022

CONTACT
Bri Knisley, (937) 725-0645, brianna@appvoices.org
Dan Radmacher, (540) 798-6683, dan@appvoices.org

Today, advocacy organizations across seven southeastern states released scorecards that examine the policies and programs of the region’s rural electric cooperatives across a number of areas, including governance, transparency, energy efficiency, member access to renewable energy and other factors. Though no co-op across seven states scored more than 65 out of 100 total points, co-ops in Tennessee achieved an average score of 28 points.

Tennessee co-ops performed better on democratic governance practices than most states, though only four Tennessee co-ops were found to allow member-owners to attend board meetings and also posted meeting times and locations on their websites. Powell Valley Electric Cooperative, where member-owners have organized for various changes to policies and practices over the years, scored the highest of any Tennessee co-op with 51 points overall.

“Electric cooperatives are member-owned; but as the years have passed, members have become removed from the decision-making process and even the ability to participate — leaving decisions to boards and staff,” said Bill Kornrich, a member of grassroots group Powell Valley Electric Cooperative Member Voices. “Over the past five years, a group of Powell Valley members has been able to engage constructively with board and staff to promote transparency and support member concerns, including: opening board meetings to members, notifying members of upcoming board meetings, assisting with promotion of broadband access and creating an ‘opt-out’ policy for those members who do not wish to have chemicals sprayed on the right-of-way on their property.”

Electric cooperatives in Tennessee tended to underperform on the renewable and energy efficiency services they provide to member-owners. The Tennessee co-op that performed best in this category, Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation, achieved just half of the points of top scoring co-ops in Kentucky and Virginia. This outcome highlights the importance of policy to ensure that rural communities are able to access a full range of energy programs, as places where states set net metering standards or clean energy goals saw higher scores on services. The Tennessee Valley Authority does not allow net metering.

Broadband is an area where Tennessee co-ops performed particularly well, thanks in part to policy change and significant funding made available via the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act. Half of the 22 electric co-ops scored in Tennessee are providing broadband internet access to at least some of their members.

“Electric cooperatives in Tennessee demonstrated how nimble and responsive these utilities can be following the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act in 2017,” said Bri Knisley, Tennessee campaign manager for Appalachian Voices. “In 2022, the Inflation Reduction Act has made billions of dollars available for electric cooperatives to implement renewable and energy efficiency programs that would increase affordability and resilience for their members. Tennessee electric cooperatives can make a significant impact in their communities by taking advantage of these resources.”

The Southeast Regional Electric Cooperative Scorecard is hosted on the website EnergyDemocracyYall.org, a hub for organizations working to build energy systems that serve the communities they live in. Website visitors will find an interactive source of information where they can look up specific data about electric cooperatives like geographic and demographic details of their service areas, and information about governance, board composition and accessibility of electric cooperatives.

The scorecard release is part of a joint project between Appalachian Voices, Shareable, Partnership for Southern Equity, Energy Alabama, One Voice, Kentuckians For The Commonwealth and Mountain Association via the Advancing Equity and Opportunity Collaborative. Scorecards were released today for rural electric co-ops in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.

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