Month: March 2020

Youth Tour goes ‘virtual’

Coronavirus changes co-op plans

(March 27, 2020) – With the Frankfort Youth Tour of Kentucky’s electric cooperatives postponed by the COVID-19 pandemic, elected leaders are making sure that the 150 high school juniors selected for the leadership program are still receiving a virtual dose of civic engagement.
Video messages by Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams and Representative Samara Heavrin highlight the “Virtual Frankfort Youth Tour” released by Kentucky Electric Cooperatives. Other elected leaders are also invited to add their messages to the video.

“Now more than ever we need those of you who are eligible to register to vote, and we need poll workers” says Adams, whose message focused on rural voting. He credited his election in November to voters in rural counties saying: “My grandfather made me this wooden state of Kentucky after I won my race. Look how many counties are red, rural counties. Never forget every vote counts.”
Previously scheduled for March 17, the 2020 Frankfort Youth Tour was to also kick off this year’s Co-ops Vote initiative to encourage civic engagement by local consumer-members of Kentucky co-ops. Electric cooperatives serve 117 of Kentucky’s 120 counties.
“We are really sorry to miss the opportunity to take students to Frankfort. It’s not only an opportunity for our students to learn more about Kentucky’s government, but for those that go on to the Washington Youth Tour, it creates an even deeper connection between local and national leadership” says Sarah Fellows of Nolin RECC.
For nearly fifty years, Kentucky’s local electric cooperatives have sponsored youth tours of both Frankfort and Washington, D.C., selecting rising young leaders in their service territories to gain a personal understanding of American history, civic affairs, and their role as citizens and members of electric cooperatives.
“It saddens me that we had to cancel the Frankfort Tour, but it was the best decision,” says Vanessa Blagg of Jackson Purchase Energy. “Our students’ health and well-being are of the utmost important to us.”
“My mom told me the trip to Frankfort was cancelled,” says Gabe McFadyen, a Warren RECC student. “I’m bummed, but I understand.”
Heavrin, who was sponsored on the 2009 Washington Youth Tour by Warren RECC, says the experience opened her to career opportunities she didn’t know existed. After working on Capitol Hill and the Kentucky State Treasurer’s office, Heavrin was elected in November to represent Kentucky’s 18th House District, serving Grayson and Hardin Counties.
“I became the youngest woman ever to serve in the Kentucky General Assembly and I truly give that all up to my opportunity to be on the Washington Youth Tour,” Heavrin says. “I’m so thankful Kentucky Electric Cooperatives invested in me just like they are investing in you today. What an incredible opportunity you have to learn more about our government and a life as a public servant.”
In deciding to postpone the 2020 Frankfort Youth Tour, Kentucky Electric Cooperatives heeded the call of Governor Andy Beshear to avoid large social gatherings. Since then, Beshear has only intensified those public health directives.
“The safety and quality of life of our local co-op consumer-members are our priorities,” says Chris Perry, president and CEO of Kentucky Electric Cooperatives. “We hope to find an alternative date in the future to continue this important commitment to Kentucky’s future.”

We’re all in this together

We’re in the middle of the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic now, but when the crisis has passed, I hope we can look back at this disaster to recognize its irony. I hope we can say that a virus that forced us to stay away from each other also brought us together.

It’s something that your local electric cooperative knows well, that when our communities are facing the greatest challenges are the times we also see the best of our neighbors and friends, a sense of civic duty and a resolve to do what it takes to not only overcome an obstacle but move forward as well. Kentucky’s electric cooperative program began as America was clawing its way out of the Great Depression. Since then, we have weathered many storms and tragedies, the sacrifice of our soldiers in war, natural disasters, the ravages of drug abuse, farming downturns and a changing economy that left many of our communities behind.

Our parents and grandparents found the will and the ways. Then, as now, we’re all in this together.

As this current crisis continues to unfold at a dizzying pace, Kentucky’s electric co-ops have taken measures to encourage the health and safety of local consumer-members and of co-op employees so that nothing threatens the uninterrupted service of safe, reliable and affordable electricity. 

I hope you see this special April Travel Issue of Kentucky Living as further testament to that uninterrupted flow of Kentucky energy. Though every individual Kentuckian, industry and business is affected by the economic stranglehold of this pandemic, our hope for the future is bolstered by acts of kindness and the promise of better days ahead.

I think about the beautiful and interesting tourism attractions and destinations highlighted in this month’s issue. Be sure to call ahead or check online to see whether the events and places featured here are affected by pandemic protocols. For those that have had to curtail operations, I encourage you to save this magazine all year long as a handy guide of places to go, enjoy and support in the future. Kentucky’s tourism treasures are going to need our help.

I have confidence we will support them. After all, we’re all in this together.


COVID-19 Threat Triggers Nationwide Co-op Response

Faced with a national public health emergency and heightened concerns among members about the spread of the coronavirus, electric cooperatives are taking steps to deal with pandemic contingencies. 

“We have closed our offices and are maintaining all administrative services with employees who are teleworking from home, and line crews are using a video conferencing app to do their morning check-ins,” said Krista Bouchey, a communications specialist with Orcas Power and Light.  “Lineworkers are taking their rigs home at night and staggering their visits to our yard and warehouses, so they don’t have to congregate on the loading docks.”

Assignments requiring the physical presence of staff are now filled by a single staffer supported by colleagues working remotely, she added.  

The Eastsound, Washington-based distribution cooperative serves about 15,000 members across an archipelago 100 miles north of Seattle. With gatherings by more than 50 people prohibited by an executive order from the governor, Orcas Power has canceled annual and district meetings and has used social media to conduct candidate forums in preparation for director elections that will proceed by mail-in ballot. 

“We’ll use a teleconference app for our board meeting this week and air the first part of the meeting on Facebook Live,” Bouchey said.

A co-op subsidiary that provides broadband service has geared up to support affected school systems, enabling online classes for high school students regardless of whether their families subscribe to the service.  

“The schools will provide them with laptops, and our broadband company will provide hotspots granting them access to school-related content,” Bouchey said.

Months-Long Preparations

Co-op managers of human resources and safety and loss control began raising concerns about novel coronavirus exposure and its effects on operations in January as the first deaths in China’s Wuhan Province were making headlines. 

Inquiries and information-sharing intensified across the co-op network in early February, and the pandemic preparedness, response and mitigation sections in co-op emergency operations plans were reviewed.  Many co-ops have devoted time and space in safety meetings and staff communications to their individual preparations in recent weeks.

“We have been planning for this over the past several weeks,” said Tim Culpepper, CEO of Cullman Electric Cooperative, who says the pandemic threat represents a unique situation. “We are fortunate to have technology that will allow some of our employees to work from home.”

The co-op notified its more than 43,000 members around Cullman, Alabama, that both of its offices are closed until further notice.

“For those employees who need to be at the office, we are developing a modified schedule to limit the number of employees at our facilities at any one time,” said Culpepper. “We are also fortunate that almost all customer transactions can be performed over the phone, through the internet, at a kiosk or at the drive-thru.”

Minimizing Contact 

Following recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that discouraged gatherings of more than 50 people for eight weeks, many co-ops are notifying members that annual meetings and other community events typically held in spring will be postponed or canceled.

“The attendance at EnerStar’s Annual Meeting is well above 250 people and has the potential to attract more than 1,000 people,” said Michael D. Clark, president and CEO of Paris, Illinois-based EnerStar Electric Cooperative

In a message to his members on March 16, Clark cited a mandate issued by Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker last week prohibiting large crowds.

“The election of the board of directors will proceed as scheduled,” Clark wrote, adding that completed ballots are being collected at the co-op’s night lockbox. “The cooperative highly encourages members to mail their ballots in the pre-addressed, stamped ballot envelope they received along with their ballot in mid-February.”

Prepared for Uncertainty

While many co-ops are taking actions to limit staff density and member contact for at least two weeks, officials are continuing to follow reports from the CDC, their state emergency management agencies and the federal government for long-term guidance. 

“The Jackson EMC emergency management team has implemented the pandemic response plan to address increasing concerns and mitigate the impact of the coronavirus on our co-op and our communities,” April Sorrow, director of public relations and communications for the Jefferson, Georgia-based distribution co-op, said in a statement March 16. 

“Our offices will be open for drive-thru traffic only” through March 27, she said.  “We will also scale-down office personnel, with most of our employees telecommuting. During this period, we’ll suspend disconnections of service for nonpayment.”

Many co-ops are already preparing for the economic disruption members will face as a result of protracted pandemic restrictions, including loss of income, unexpected childcare expenses and related household cost increases.

“Members may have difficulty in the coming weeks with potential unexpected coronavirus impacts of illness, quarantine, lack of regular income or caring for an affected family member,” said Kathryn Gloria, vice president of corporate communications and community services for SECO Energy

The Sumterville, Florida-based distribution co-op is waiving late fees and allowing for special payment arrangements for members.

New Hampshire Electric Cooperative notified its 81,000 members and account holders March 16 that service disconnections would be suspended and late charges waived for the duration of the national emergency. They also told members that staffing at co-op offices would be reduced to minimize the threat of exposure.

“We appreciate our members’ understanding and patience,” said Steve Camerino, president and CEO of the Plymouth, New Hampshire-based co-op. “We encourage all our members to follow public health officials’ guidance on what they can do to protect themselves and their community.”

Derrill Holly is a staff writer at NRECA.

See NRECA’s COVID-19 hub on for key resources for co-ops, including guidance on business continuity planning and communication, as well as event schedule changes.

Frankfort Youth Tour postponed

Kentucky’s electric cooperatives heed Governor’s caution amid COVID-19 concerns

Frankfort, Ky. – Kentucky Electric Cooperatives Frankfort Youth Tour which annually sends 150 high school juniors from across Kentucky to the state capitol has been indefinitely postponed out of public health concerns amid COVID-19.

“The safety and quality of life of our local co-op consumer-members are our priorities,” said Chris Perry, president and CEO of Kentucky Electric Cooperatives. “Based on the recommendation of Governor Beshear to avoid large social gatherings and in an effort to protect all Kentuckians, we made the decision to postpone the 2020 Frankfort Youth Tour. We hope to find an alternative date in the future to continue this important commitment to Kentucky’s future.”

Previously scheduled for Tuesday March 17, the Frankfort Youth Tour includes remarks from elected leaders, tours of the State Capitol and Governor’s Mansion and civic education at the Kentucky History Center and Museum. For nearly fifty years, Kentucky’s local electric cooperatives have sponsored youth tours of both Frankfort and Washington, D.C., selecting rising young leaders in their service territories to gain a personal understanding of American history, civic affairs and their role as citizens and members of electric cooperatives.