Category: Uncategorized

Rural act to fix tax law unintended consequence

Electric cooperative leaders from Kentucky are joining co-ops across America calling on Congress to fix an unintended consequence of changes to federal tax law, warning that co-ops risk losing their nonprofit status if a major ice storm or tornado strikes a state.

To maintain tax-exempt status, no more than 15% of a co-op’s annual gross income can come from sources other than co-op members. Under the new law, government grants are considered non-member income—increasing the risk that co-ops working to restore their systems after major storms or help their community will be forced to forfeit their tax-exempt status.

Other federal or state government funding that could fall into this category are grants for economic development, energy efficiency and rural broadband deployment. 

Without tax-exempt status, co-ops will be forced to return a significant portion of those funds to the government in taxes rather than using the monies for their intended purpose.

“These changes leave a cloud of uncertainty hanging over electric co-ops,” says Marty Littrel, president and CEO of Meade County RECC, one of 26 electric cooperatives in Kentucky. “This uncertainty puts co-ops and their communities in a difficult position as they work to plan for the future.”

The Rural Act is bipartisan legislation that would correct this mistake. Co-sponsors include Kentucky Congressmen Andy Barr and James Comer.

—Joe Arnold

When a heat pump is the right choice

There are several types of heat pumps—ductless mini-split heat pumps and central system air-source heat pumps are the most common.

The ductless mini-split heat pump system, a good solution in replacing inefficient older baseboard heaters, has a compressor outside that is connected with refrigerant lines to the blowers inside. A ductless system can serve up to four zones, so it can heat a small home or be combined with another heating system in a larger home. It’s a great option for a home that does not have a duct system, or if the existing duct system is inefficient or poorly designed.

The second option, the central system air-source heat pump, can be an efficient option if the existing duct system is in good shape. This system’s compressor is also outside, but in this case, it’s connected to the home’s duct system to distribute cold or warm air through the existing vents. 

A third option is a ground-source, or geothermal heat pump, which uses a system that taps into heat that’s naturally underground year-round. Geothermal systems are typically a more expensive investment up front, but they are the most energy efficient and cost effective of all the options.

Pumping up advantages

Heat pumps usually are much more efficient than electric resistance systems and can be a solid solution in a variety of circumstances, from a manufactured home or construction addition to a replacement for a broken or inefficient heating and cooling system. They’re also becoming more popular for central heating in new construction.

If you currently are using electric resistance, heating oil or propane gas, a heat pump can reduce heating costs up to 75%. It also can cut cooling costs. A ductless mini-split heat pump offers heating and cooling flexibility because it can serve multiple zones or be used with another system. 

Safety also is a factor. Heat pumps eliminate the need to burn fuels inside your home and exhaust combustion gases. There’s no risk of carbon monoxide or gas leaks that can come from flaws in a system that runs on natural gas, propane, fuel oil or wood.

PAT KEEGAN and BRAD THIESSEN write on energy efficiency for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

Kentucky co-ops on mission in off-year election

Kentucky’s electric cooperatives are urging local consumer-members in Kentucky’s rural areas to make sure that they are registered to vote and that their registration is up to date ahead of the November 5 statewide election.

Co-ops across the country are joining National Voter Registration Day efforts to create broad awareness of voter registration opportunities to reach tens of thousands of voters who may not register otherwise. The registration efforts are in addition to the Co-ops Vote initiative Kentucky co-ops launched in 2016.

Kentuckians can easily register and update their registration with, the Commonwealth’s online voter portal. County clerks’ offices throughout Kentucky will accept online and paper applications until 4 p.m. local time on the deadline. Mail-in voter registration applications must be postmarked by October 7, 2019.


To be eligible to vote, Kentuckians must:


  • Be a U.S. citizen.
  • Be a Kentucky resident for at least 29 days before Election Day.
  • Be at least 18 years old on or before the General Election.
  • Not be a convicted felon, or if convicted of a felony offense, must have obtained a restoration of civil rights.
  • Not have been adjudged “mentally incompetent.”
  • Not claim the right to vote anywhere outside Kentucky.
  • Young people who are 17 years old but will be 18 years old on or before the November 5, 2019 General Election are eligible to register as well.


Voters who have recently moved need to update their voter registration information by no later than October 7, 2019.

Voters may check their current registration status and where they vote at For questions, contact your county clerk or the State Board of Elections at (502) 573-7100.

Ahead of next year’s presidential election, Kentucky is among three states holding elections for governor. National political observers are carefully watching the 2019 contests in Kentucky, Mississippi and Louisiana for any signs of what they may say about the 2020 national race.

Yet for Kentucky’s electric cooperatives, the off-year election is more than just a barometer of a larger national picture. On November 5, Kentucky voters will elect the commonwealth’s constitutional officers for the next four-year term, and co-ops are again stressing the importance of voting to rural citizens.

“They might call it an ‘off-year election,’ but we are on mission to remind rural voters that they need to stand up for local communities and issues,” says Chris Perry, president of Kentucky Electric Cooperatives. “That’s why Kentucky co-ops enthusiastically support the Co-ops Vote program.”

In addition to advocating for issues that affect the ability of Kentucky’s electric cooperatives to deliver safe, reliable and affordable electricity, co-ops are also leading the drive for more voter participation in the rural areas they serve.

In the most recent gubernatorial election in 2015, Kentucky’s statewide voter turnout was only 30.6 percent. Sixty-six of Kentucky’s 120 counties failed to reach 30% voter turnout, mostly in rural areas.

In 2015, three rural Kentucky counties failed to reach even 20% voter turnout.

The following year, the Co-ops Vote campaign began, aiming to reverse the downward trend in rural voting. In the 2016 presidential election, rural voter turnout in Kentucky accounted for an increase of about 85,000 voters between 2012 and 2016.

Despite the increase in the number of voters in 2016, Kentucky’s voter turnout as a percentage of registered voters slightly decreased, down one percentage point compared to 2012, from about 60 percent in 2012 to 59 percent in 2016.

Kentucky’s off-year elections typically draw far fewer voters to the polls. In 2011, the voter turnout was a measly 28.6%, and in 2007, 37.8% of registered voters cast ballots.

“If rural Kentuckians want elected leaders to pay attention to their concerns, voting is the most effective method,” says Chris Perry, president of Kentucky Electric Cooperatives. “I encourage all Kentuckians to join me in making the commitment to vote.”

Anyone who can vote, no matter where you live or whether you are a co-op member, can participate in the non-partisan Co-ops Vote and take advantage of its voter resources. Just visit and take the pledge to vote in this year’s elections. Once you’ve registered, you’ll have access to information on registering to vote, where to vote, and background on all the candidates.

“The communities and rural areas served by co-ops are facing challenges that require attention and respect,” Perry says. “It’s easy to attack rural electric cooperatives. We are paying attention to see who gives co-ops and their members a fair shake in Frankfort.”

What to pack for Youth Tour









The flip of a switch

Electric reliability depends on big plans and small fixes 

Next time you flip a switch and the light comes on, think about the time it didn’t in a spectacular way for nearly 4,000 Kentucky electric co-op members.

Around 1 a.m. on a day in May 2011, a snake slithered into a Berea-area substation—that’s one of those fenced-in areas full of wires and transformers where high voltage gets stepped down for use in your home.

A snake is shaped a bit like a wire, and the last act for this reptile connected a couple of conductors not meant to be connected. Metering equipment shorted out, rupturing the voltage regulator and sparking a fire that destroyed most of the equipment in the substation.

Lights came back on for the co-op members less than 24 hours later. But the snake and the substation tell a larger tale of what it takes to keep electricity flowing. That larger story is that while building and maintaining a reliable electric grid calls for billions of dollars and thousands of miles of power lines, you also have to sweat the small stuff.

To find out what it takes to make sure you have electricity whenever you want it, we went to the source of the power.

For co-op members in Kentucky, that power comes from one of three large organizations, called generation and transmission cooperatives (G&Ts), because, of course, they make sure that electricity gets generated, then transmitted to your local electric cooperative. Your local co-op is called a distribution co-op because it distributes that power to the homes and businesses in your area.

East Kentucky Power Cooperative, which is based in Winchester, supplies 16 distribution co-ops in primarily the eastern half of the state; Big Rivers Electric Corporation is the Henderson-based G&T for the three distribution co-ops along the northwest Kentucky border; and the Tennessee Valley Authority, which technically is not a cooperative G&T, but instead is a federal corporation, provides electricity to 154 local power companies in seven states, including five distribution co-ops in southwest Kentucky.

Representatives from all three tell similar stories about the enormous job of keeping the electricity flowing 24/7. And they all talk about critters—woodpeckers for Big Rivers and buzzards for TVA.

“Woodpeckers love our poles; they’re apparently delicious,” says Mike Chambliss, Big Rivers’ vice president of system operations. Big Rivers developed a mesh covering to prevent the woodpeckers from weakening the poles. TVA installs buzzard shields to keep the birds off its power lines and transmission towers.

Nick Comer, the external affairs manager with East Kentucky Power, says it began using an attachment to go around the base of a substation fence, with a lip sticking out at the top so snakes can’t crawl up, over and in.

Planning and security

Preventing interference from varmints is just part of running the electric grid, which the National Academy of Engineering calls the most important engineering achievement of the 20th century. Comer, Chambliss and Ernie Peterson, the Kentucky general manager for TVA customer delivery, all describe
their mission as providing reliable, affordable and safe electricity—and they say each of those is critically important.

“You start with the fuel source,” says Peterson, which in Kentucky is mostly coal and natural gas, as well as some hydroelectricity, nuclear power and, increasingly, solar energy and other renewable power sources. “You’ve got to get that fuel to the power plant and then the plant’s got to be able to reliably convert that fuel into electricity, and then you’ve got to have all the proper transmission equipment in place so you can get the electricity to the distribution cooperative where they have all the right transformers and wires and communications equipment to get those electrons to the individual homes, businesses and industry.”

One key to getting all that done is planning. Massive, detailed planning. Every few years the three G&Ts produce a document of more than 200 pages called an integrated resource plan. In between are annual planning sessions.

East Kentucky Power is in the middle of its several-monthlong strategic planning session, involving dozens of staff and board members. They’ll analyze and talk through markets and finances for the different fuels they use, the future of renewable energy, environmental and other regulations, the status of their power plants and what the future cost of electricity might be.

All that planning results in power being off for only about two hours a year for the average utility customer in the United States. And the trend is improving. According to one standardized measure (a measure that excludes both extremely short outages and especially long and widespread outages), the average American was without power for just 127 minutes in 2016, down from 144 minutes 10 years earlier. The number of outages per consumer declined slightly as well, from 1.33 a year in 2007 to 1.3 in 2016. The length of each of those outages declined from 109 minutes in 2007 to 99 minutes 10 years later.

That reliability doesn’t happen without a lot of work. At Big Rivers, quarterly meetings of maintenance, engineering and operations staff review and find solutions for any problems.

Richard Easton is a maintenance leadman with Grayson RECC and part of the all-important team that keeps the lights on. Photo by Tim Webb

And they make up practice problems to solve.

“You have to anticipate that things are going to go wrong,” says Chambliss. “If a car hits a pole you have to have a plan and you have to revise that plan frequently and you have to drill on that plan. You have to create scenarios and put your people to grueling exercises.”

How do they get the ideas for the grueling scenarios?

“We come up with scenarios like you have this huge rain event where the roads are flooded and closed, then just as the rain stops, you have a major windstorm,” says Chambliss. “We blow everything down and now tell people to figure out how to get the lights back on. Last year we used an earthquake.”

Physical security and cybersecurity add another ingredient to reliability. The G&Ts talk about installing cameras to prevent theft of copper wire from substations. They describe protections from the thousands of electronic threats every day to the electricity network. Reliability involves working with state, regional and federal groups, especially the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, which develops and enforces standards to keep the lights on.

So electric utility reliability requires steps as big as building firewalls against internet hackers to as small as developing barriers for snakes. Entire departments are tasked with keeping trees and other vegetation away from where they can interfere with power lines.

For TVA’s Ernie Peterson, that broad and varied work and expertise is worth the attention it gets.

“I’ve spent some time on mission trips in other countries where having electric power, if you had it at all, is certainly not reliable,” says Peterson. “We’re blessed here to have electric power available to us anytime we want, truly at the flip of a switch. That doesn’t just happen.”

By Paul Wesslund, from Kentucky Living, October 2018.


A co-op success story | Kentucky steel plant nearly doubling capacity

Expansion emphasizes partnership between industry, Kentucky’s electric cooperatives and state government

Kentucky electric cooperative leaders are cheering an announcement by the Nucor Corp. that it will invest $650 million to nearly double its steel-making capacity at a plant in Gallatin County served by Owen Electric Cooperative.

“We are thrilled Nucor has chosen to invest and create additional jobs in Kentucky,” said Mark Stallons, president and CEO of Owen Electric. “All parties have been committed to developing a close working relationship in order to develop solutions that satisfy each organization’s expectations. Nucor has been an excellent partner.”

Leaders of Owen Electric Cooperative, which serves the mill, and East Kentucky Power Cooperative,  the wholesale energy provider to Owen Electric, worked closely with Nucor officials to support the phase II expansion, which is expected to add another 70 jobs.

“We would like to thank Governor Matt Bevin, our local officials, East Kentucky Power Cooperative and Owen Electric, our teammates and the entire community for their support,” said John Farris, vice president and general manager, Nucor Steel Gallatin. “The project will allow us to better serve our automotive and value-added customers.”

Kentucky offers the lowest industrial electric power rates east of the Mississippi – one of its many attractive features for manufacturers. That played a role in Nucor’s decision, as the mill is a major electricity customer and the phase II expansion will create significant additional demand.

East Kentucky Power Cooperative President and CEO Anthony “Tony” Campbell welcomed the decision.

“Nucor’s decision to bring high-quality jobs to Kentucky is wonderful news. This emphasizes the critical importance of affordable, reliable energy for Kentucky’s industries to compete in the global economy,” Campbell said. “Nucor is an important partner for Owen Electric and EKPC, and we are proud of our longstanding relationship.”

Since Governor Matt Bevin took office in 2015, one out of every four dollars invested by economic development projects in Kentucky has been in Kentucky Touchstone Energy Cooperative territory served by East Kentucky Power Cooperative. That figure does not include even more investments in areas served by Big Rivers Electric and the Tennessee Valley Authority.

“Nucor is doing incredible things at its Kentucky steel mill,” Bevin said. “We are excited that, after a substantial investment in 2017, the company has decided to move forward with its phase II project and create additional job opportunities for the county and surrounding communities.

“The steel and primary metals industry are a driving force behind the commonwealth’s surging economy, and this announcement reflects the distinct advantages we have to offer engineering and manufacturing companies. Nucor is certainly a major player in this industry, and we are grateful for their commitment to continue forging success right here in Kentucky,” Bevin continued.

This second phase will increase the mill’s annual capacity from 1.6 million tons of coiled sheet steel to approximately 3 million tons. As well, it will allow the mill to produce coils up to 73 inches wide.

In May 2017, Nucor announced its phase I project; construction of a new building and installation of galvanizing and pickling lines. That phase, expected to open in the first half of 2019, represents a $176 million investment creating 75 full-time jobs. The two phases position the mill to produce substantially more, wider and value-added products, suitable for a broader range of manufacturers and products.

“This investment is another major component of our planned strategy for long-term profitable growth,” said John Ferriola, Chairman, CEO and president of Nucor. “Together with the new galvanizing line, this expansion increases our presence in the important Midwest market, specifically in the automotive, agriculture, heavy equipment, and energy pipe and tube sectors.”

Nucor purchased the former Gallatin Steel Co. from Gerdau SA and ArcelorMittal in late 2014 for approximately $780 million. The mill currently employs 465 people.

In Kentucky, Nucor and its affiliates employ approximately 2,000 people and include Nucor Steel Gallatin, Steel Technologies LLC, Republic Conduit, and Harris Rebar. Nucor also owns the David J. Joseph Co. and its six subsidiary River Metals Recycling facilities across the state, which collect and recycle scrap metal.

Headquartered in Charlotte, N.C., Nucor Corp. is North America’s largest recycler and the nation’s largest producer of steel and steel products. The company employs more than 25,000 people at about 200 facilities primarily located in the US and Canada, including several wholly owned subsidiaries.

The company has three segments: steel mills, steel products and raw materials. Nucor’s products include, carbon and alloy steel – in bars, beams, sheet and plate, hollow structural section tubing, electrical conduit, steel piling, steel joists and joist girders, steel deck, fabricated concrete reinforcing steel, cold finished steel, steel fasteners, metal building systems, steel grating, wire and wire mesh.

Founded in 1955, Nucor Corp. traces its roots to 1905 when Ransom E. Olds, Oldsmobile’s creator, left his company after a stockholders dispute. He formed REO Motor Co., which evolved into the Nuclear Corporation of America, and ultimately became Nucor in 1971.

Beautify the Bluegrass project ends


Thanks to the participation of many of Kentucky’s electric co-ops, and several civic-minded organizations across the state, the second-annual “Beautify the Bluegrass” project was a success. Twenty-three projects, from cleaning up roadways to improving the appearance of some of Kentucky’s state parks, were submitted for consideration as the overall winner.

The Beautify the Bluegrass Committee is currently reviewing the entries to select the top 10. A public Facebook campaign will decide the final five, and Gov. Matt Bevin’s office, which was a partner in this initiative, will pick the overall winner.  The announcement of the governor’s pick will be made at Kentucky Living’s “Best in Kentucky” awards show, which will be held at the Kentucky State Fair on Aug. 23.

The winner of the contest will enjoy a catered barbecue meal with the Governor and/or his representatives for up to 200 people.

“We applaud the governor for envisioning Beautify the Bluegrass,” says Chris Perry, president and CEO of the Kentucky Association of Electric Cooperatives. “Like our member-owned co-ops, Governor Bevin recognizes the value and values of hometown Kentucky. What better way to improve our quality of life than to make improvements where we live?”

Watch the video created by Jackson Energy about their project:



A Day In The Life Of A Lineworker

Mike Mason’s day as a lineworkerfor Shelby Energy Cooperative actually started the night before. He was getting ready for bed when a woman reported her power out. It was Mason’s turn to be on call overnight for the Shelbyville-based utility. He drove to the woman’s house, identified a problem in the base of the meter, installed a temporary fix until an electrician could get out the next day and returned home two hours later. He reported to the co-op office at 7:30 the next morning.

“I like hunting down problems,” says Mason. “I know I’m doing something the members can’t do themselves. They depend on us.”

I meet Mason and his co-workers to write this story about a day in the life of a lineworker. I discover a group of people who carefully follow the rules of an elaborate system that lets the rest of us make magic by flipping a switch. It’s a system of little pieces of hardware, big trucks and a warehouse full of tools.

While every day is different, the same is true of the 713 lineworkers who work for Kentucky’s 26 electric co-ops providing power to more than 1.5 million co-op members.

Lineworkers are quick to credit other jobs at the utility—accountants who process their paychecks or the member services reps who talk to unhappy callers with power outages.

Still, we’re all fascinated by this unique profession involving high voltages and climbing poles in the snow and cold. That’s often what the lineworkers like best about the job.

“I like being outside and not at a desk all day. I get to meet a lot of different people,” Benji Bohannon says. “I like being at the top of a 40-foot pole and watching the sun come up over a beautiful countryside. A lot of people don’t get to see that.”

Today, Mason starts his day in a room with the rest of the lineworkers, each planning their day around stacks of paper—checklists, maps and work orders.

In addition to coordinating plans, these guys (there are a few women among the more than 15,000 co-op lineworkers around the country) need to keep track of a lot of equipment. They need to be wearing safety gear or have it close at hand—hard hat, safety glasses, fire-retardant uniforms, steel-toed shoes, regular work gloves, hot-line safety gloves.

Electric work is unforgiving

But before driving to their jobs, they turn their attention to the weekly safety meeting.

Safety coordinator Sarah Newton announces that while catastrophic contact with electric current is always a top concern, today’s meeting would focus on “slips, trips and falls that can cause very big issues.”

They then hear from Tony Dempsey, a member of the statewide safety team at the Kentucky Association of Electric Cooperatives.

“Working on electric lines isn’t dangerous,” says Dempsey, seeming to contradict every other safety message. But then he makes his point: “It’s unforgiving and it’s hazardous, but accidents don’t have to be a part of our work. We have the tools, we have the rules, the employees and the knowledge that can keep it from being dangerous.”

That safety emphasis seems to be working. From 2006 to 2015, co-op lineworkers across the country reported 53 injuries from falls, including falling off poles. In 2016, that number was zero.

By midmorning, the convoys are ready. I follow three lineworkers driving three trucks: a service truck, a bucket truck pulling a trailer with a large spool of wire, and a digger truck with a huge auger on top and pulling a trailer with a backhoe. They head across the county to relocate a ground-mounted transformer, moving it 500 feet uphill, near an underground connection at a new barn.

“It’s going to be muddy out there after the rain we’ve had,” says Rick Shaw, the crew leader who is a revered lineman among co-workers, with 41 years’ experience at Shelby Energy. “When you’re working on underground connections, mud is not your friend.”

Safety takes time

At the driveway into the worksite the crew faces the first of several time-consuming obstacles: managing a right turn without ripping out the mailbox. They drive to where they can turn around, allowing a left turn onto the property.

The trucks ease up the crushed-rock driveway, avoiding the soft ground on either side. Once there, the crew members change into rubber boots.

The men gather for a routine job briefing. They open a metal-clad clipboard, reading through a stack of forms, noting the address, cross street and account number—should they have to report an accident, location info would be quickly available. All three sign the form.

They break their huddle and de-energize the lines they will be working on, and let the office know the power has been cut. For the next two hours, they use the backhoe to dig out the transformer and carry it up the hill for rewiring into its new location. When they finish, they pack up and top off the gas tanks on the way back to the office, where they check paperwork and equipment for the next day’s jobs.

Everything the lineworkers did that day seemed to take a long time.

When asked about it later, Jason Ginn, Shelby’s manager of Operations, says “We don’t think this is taking a long time. We just think, this is how you do it. We don’t say, ‘hurry up.’ We look out for each other.”

From the June 2018 issue of Kentucky Living