Month: January 2021

2021 WIRE Scholarships Available for Kentucky College Students

The Kentucky Chapter of Women in Rural Electrification (WIRE) is offering three $1,000 scholarships to Kentucky college students.

The scholarships are open to any applicant who meets the following criteria:

Student or Student’s family must be served by a Kentucky Rural Electric Cooperative.
Student must have completed at least 60 credit hours at the end of the 2020 Fall College Term.
Student must attend a Kentucky college or university
The scholarship application deadline is JUNE 14, 2021. Scholarship recipients will be notified in July.

Scholarships will be awards based on academic achievements, extracurricular activities, career goals, recommendations from professors and community leaders, and financial need.

Application should be returned to Mary Beth Dennis, c/o Kentucky Electric Cooperatives, P.O. Box 32170, Louisville, KY 40232.

2021 WIRE application

Pole position

When schoolchildren learn about electricity, the lesson often focuses on how energy is generated, showing the transformers and wires that ultimately connect power to their homes and schools. It can be easy to overlook one of the most vital components of safe electric service: the utility pole.

Electric utility poles are most everywhere people live and work, so it may seem like they are natural growths, like trees that miraculously sprouted at just the right distance and height for Kentucky’s electric cooperatives to string 100,000 miles of power lines. In reality, co-ops built their pole system and they regularly inspect, maintain and, when necessary, replace poles to keep electric service safe and reliable.

Because co-ops operate in areas with terrain and distances that can be difficult to serve, they proactively manage vegetation and change poles under optimal conditions rather than waiting for a natural disaster. These electric service maintenance costs are built into each co-op consumer-member’s bill.

Pole attachments

The electric utility pole network also is used by cable, telephone and broadband companies, relieving them of the burden of having to build, maintain and expand their own systems. Before a telecommunications company can make a “pole attachment” to an electric utility pole, the co-op first must ensure that the pole is structurally sound for all intended uses and meets electric reliability and safety standards, including those that apply to adverse conditions, such as ice storms.

Given the inherent dangers of electricity, the line technicians who work on these poles are specially trained and equipped. If an electric utility pole is sufficient to provide electric service but needs to be replaced to accommodate a new pole attachment, the telecommunications company is required to pay for the “make-ready” cost. However, a recent telecommunications campaign is arguing that electric utilities should subsidize the costs of these pole attachments, ultimately impacting the rates that co-op members pay for electric service.

Rates and regulations

The rates and procedures for a telecommunications company to attach its equipment to a co-op pole are set by mutually agreed upon contracts. Attachment rates for cable TV providers are part of filed tariffs regulated by the Kentucky Public Service Commission (PSC) and are some of the lowest in the nation. Over the past several months, the Kentucky PSC has been reviewing regulations governing pole attachments. Kentucky Electric Cooperatives, the statewide co-op association, is involved in these proceedings.

“Co-ops support discussions by the Public Service Commission about how to effectively and fairly regulate pole attachments,” says Chris Perry, president and CEO of Kentucky Electric Cooperatives. “Kentucky co-ops are proud of their solid infrastructure and affordable costs, and welcome communications providers, as we always have, to attach to co-op systems and serve our members.”

The college-coffee connection

Coffee is one of my favorite drinks. I can drink it any time during the day and any time
during the year. I love coffee from McDonald’s and I love coffee from Starbucks. I love coffee from my $19 coffee maker or from some fancy French press machine.

When I was younger, I wondered how my dad could drink so much coffee. His passion for coffee started
when he was working the night shift at the steel mill in Ashland. Coffee keeps students awake at
night to study and gives them a jolt in the morning to get them to class.

Coffee shops also become the social hub where lifelong friends are made. When I was attending the University of Kentucky, my engineering major had lots of classes that began at 8 a.m. That
required an early alarm and dedication to make it to class on time. With my designated parking spot just behind Memorial Coliseum, I had to walk 1 mile across campus to the classroom.

The middle of campus is exposed to the wind and on cold January mornings it cuts right through you. If I stopped in the student union for a cup of hot coffee, it would sustain me through the
first class and help warm me up after the cold walk across campus. By stopping every day for that cup of coffee, I started a habit that continues today. As I write this, I’m on cup No. 2.

The February edition of Kentucky Living, our annual college issue, provides information to help high school students and their parents make the best decision for their future. While the
main focus for choosing a college is typically on the programs offered, other amenities such as housing,extracurricular activities, food—and coffee—become an important part of the decision-making process.

The lessons learned in college last a lifetime, including one’s love of coffee.

Chris Perry, Kentucky Electric Cooperatives President and CEO.

Climbing toward a bright future

Co-ops and state tech schools team up with line technician training centers
When the sun rises on Coin Road in Pulaski County, most of the time you can hear an unusual sound: the popping of steel-toe boots from students climbing poles at the Somerset Community College Lineman Training Center.

Early one morning, teachers at the center watched patiently as nine young men quickly moved up the poles. With one week to go in their eight weeks of training, four already had jobs at electric co-ops or other companies that continue replacing a generation of line technicians moving into retirement.

“This is class No. 62,” says Coordinator Dean Rhodes, who has run the program for the college in Somerset for 12 years. “They get hired right away, make about $28,000 to $31,000 that first year and double their salary in five years. I tell them, ‘This isn’t a job. It’s a career, and it’s all yours. All you have to do is work hard.’”

Kentucky’s Touchstone Energy Cooperatives and the Kentucky Community & Technical College System (KCTCS) worked hard to launch the program in partnership with other utilities and contractor companies. By all counts, the program has been a phenomenal success.

“The teachers are great and make you feel right at home,” says Marcus Anderson, 19, from Campbellsville. “It’s great facilities with amazing people.”

Improving lives

Most of the KCTCS’s nearly 1,200 line technician graduates have come from the Somerset Community College program, and around 600 more have graduated from KCTCS colleges based in Ashland, Madisonville, Maysville, Prestonsburg and Hazard. Programs vary from five to 16 weeks, but all are achieving the same positive results. About 1,000 graduates from the Somerset program alone are working as line technicians today.

“We stay in touch, and most are now married,” Rhodes says. “That’s 2,000 lives we have impacted. And it just multiplies and multiplies. It’s so gratifying when they come up and just say, ‘Thank you for what you did, and what you taught me.’”

In addition to its outdoor training grounds, the Somerset center includes a 26,000-square-foot building equipped with an indoor climbing yard with 40-foot-tall poles and adjacent classrooms. It’s one of the largest indoor training facilities in the nation, enabling training to continue regardless of weather.

It’s not just students out of high school who attend. In one class, almost half were out-of-work coal miners. Many graduates have overcome other challenges. One young woman showed she could meet the physical demands of line work, while some have dealt with economic hardships.

“One young man slept in his car in the parking lot. He didn’t have the money for a motel or gas money to drive home and he was too proud to tell us,” Rhodes says. “We found out and took care of him. He was employed straight out of the program, and was doing very well last time I checked.”

The vital role of co-ops

South Kentucky RECC played a key role in launching the Somerset Community College program by securing a federal Rural Economic Development Loan for construction. The co-op continues to take care of students by stocking the kitchen and providing much additional support.

Jackson Energy CEO Carol Wright, who previously worked at South Kentucky RECC, was instrumental in launching the Somerset center and continues supporting it in numerous ways. If equipment needs mechanical repairs, Sandy “Shorty” McDaniel, one of Jackson Energy’s auto-truck technicians, is always ready to assist. Tables, desks and cabinets have often been donated after visits by co-op employees who saw a need and wanted to help.

“If I need any maintenance or repairs for equipment, I can call Jackson Energy or South Kentucky, and they will take care of it,” Rhodes says. “East Kentucky Power always does our first aid/CPR class.”

After Big Sandy RECC CEO Bruce Aaron Davis suggested that a line worker program be relaunched in Johnson County, Big Sandy Community & Technical College worked with the co-op and other utilities to get the program started there. In October, 14 students graduated.

Rachelle Burchett, director of the Big Sandy college program, says the effort illustrates how outstanding results can happen when people work together.

“You know RECC’s slogan, Our Power is Our People,” she says. “In our community, our power is in our people and being able to collaborate to make a difference in eastern Kentucky.”

Several co-ops offer tuition scholarships for their members who attend. At the Somerset Lineman Training Center, these scholarships cover the $4,200 cost of the program.

“I can’t thank the co-ops and everyone else involved enough for what they have done,” Rhodes says. “It’s been a success because of the collaboration of all the co-ops, the utility industry and the contractors. They came in and backed this program. It’s nothing that I or anyone else did individually.”

Filling a need

One of the key reasons the KCTCS colleges have been successful in placing graduates is because a wave of line technicians are retiring.

This also has increased the demand and compensation for line technicians. In Kentucky, the median line technician salary is $74,304, according to

“The people who laid the groundwork for this, the whole idea was to replace people who are retiring,” Rhodes says. “That hasn’t slowed down since we started.”

Paul Czarapata, KCTCS interim president, says that’s why the mission of the community colleges has never been so important.

“Like many of our courses, the lineman training program has transformed lives,” he says. “We haven’t just helped the graduates find jobs. We’ve launched careers that support many families.”

Dan Newberry, 74, a longtime instructor in Somerset, says he enjoys passing along skills from 31 years of working as a line technician to a new generation and watching the students become successful in good jobs.

“You want them to have a good chance in life,” he says.

Tanner Blair, a 20-year-old from Oil Springs who graduated from Big Sandy Community & Technical College, says the program is enabling him to work in his dream career.

“Every instructor taught the importance of safety on the job and how to be successful,” he says. “I am very thankful for the opportunity provided by BSCTC and recommend anyone interested in the lineman career field to pursue it.”

Ethan Gooch, 19, a student from Richmond, likes the job security and many other aspects of a line technician’s career.

“I love it. I like being outside and way up high,” he says. “I’m willing to travel. It’s fun. You can make a good living, and you always have a job.”

Photo by TIM WEBB

Volunteer muscle creates blessings all around

Where there is a disaster, there is likely a Kentuckian helping, according to Jeff Free, coordinator for the Daviess-McLean Baptist Association Disaster Relief, a subsidiary of Kentucky Baptist Disaster Relief.

“Our two crews are part of recovery,” says Jeff, who also is a planner with Big Rivers Electric Corporation.

“We use chain saws to remove trees that have fallen on houses, roadways and driveways, especially for the elderly or those who have health issues.”

Jeff has been all over the world since he began volunteering in 1994— to South Africa twice and most recently to Louisiana after Hurricane Laura. He also has helped at the site of wildfires. In Louisiana, he and his crew helped a Black grandmother with 10 grandchildren after a big limb had fallen on her home.

“We loved them and they loved us,” Jeff recalls. “The whole world is not like what we see on television. I have a big compassion for people who are hurting.”

Better lives


The Red Bird Mission Work Camp in the Bell County community of Beverly is hardly a dot on any map, but it holds a huge place in Bobby Cotham’s heart.

For 18 consecutive years, Bobby, a field engineer with Gibson EMC, has joined as many as 23 and as few as seven other people for a week to tackle much-needed projects that Beverly’s residents cannot afford to do in the former coal mining town.

Bobby says it’s impossible to choose the most memorable project, but each helps expand someone’s world or makes his or her life better, or sometimes just livable. The team has built handicapped-access ramps that enable people to get out of their home for the first time in years. The crews have rebuilt porches, installed lots of roofs, added rooms, repaired windows and put up decks.

“It is one of the most rewarding experiences,” Bobby says. “Every job is different, but you get to meet these people and by Friday everyone feels blessed.”


Need hope? Look to a farmer

As the world pins its hopes on the distribution of effective COVID-19 vaccines so we can finally emerge from the pandemic, we can look to the Kentucky farmer for inspiration.

Throughout the crisis, farmers have not only kept America nourished, they have innovated and gotten the job done, despite many challenges. The family farms featured in this issue of Kentucky Living show this creative and industrious spirit.

Reading their examples of dedication remind me of the So God Made a Farmer speech by broadcaster Paul Harvey at an FFA convention 43 years ago. You may have heard portions of it in Super Bowl ads in recent years. In a series of scenarios recognizable to the rural reader, Harvey explains that on the 8th day of creation, God needed a caretaker for the paradise he created:

“God had to have somebody willing to ride the ruts at double speed to get the hay in ahead of the rain clouds, and yet stop in mid-field and race to help when he sees the first smoke from a neighbor’s place. So God made a Farmer.”

The farmers I know embody this spirit and a special kind of faith. It takes a remarkable fortitude to weather the ups and downs of a life in agriculture. Even before COVID-19, farmers faced stiff headwinds, from trying growing conditions to falling prices in world markets.

Meanwhile, pandemic-related safety restrictions and an uncertain global economy have taken a tremendous toll. For instance, as restaurant orders plummeted, the glut of output forced producers to euthanize livestock, dump milk, and dispose of perishable products that could not be stored.

Now, in the depths of winter, America is fed while our farmers strategize and pray for a healthier 2021 and a return to some normalcy. Though this year has extra complications, farmers are always thinking ahead, turning, tilling and fertilizing for the next crop, breeding, nurturing and raising the next herd.

Thank you to our Kentucky farmers, who are resilient and have always risen to the challenge.

Chris Perry, Kentucky Electric Cooperatives President and CEO.