A preliminary draft of the agenda for TVPPA’s 2017 All-Member Meeting seemed to check all the usual boxes, but the TVPPA staff planning the meeting realized there was something missing.

“When we looked at the agenda, we came to feel like we were doing all the talking,” said TVPPA Communications Director Phillip Burgess. “So we started to think about ways to get some peer-to-peer communication going – get our members talking to one another.”

The subsequent brainstorming resulted in a “Roll Call” panel discussion, during which representatives of six Valley districts shared with the audience of more than 150 assembled TVPPA-member utility executives what’s important in their respective pieces of the footprint.

“It’s at the local-power-company [LPC] level, and the district level, where the diversity of ideas, perspectives, issues and concerns are really driven,” said TVPPA Chairman Greg Williams, who moderated the session. “It’s important to recognize that the strength of our association lies within the unity and solidarity of that process.”

Here’s a sampling of what the panelists had to say:

David Smart / West Kentucky RECC, Mayfield, KY: Smart laid out multiple Kentucky District priorities, one of which is broadband service to rural customers/members.

“To make things clear,” he said, “we’re thankful for TVA. None of us want to deal with the Kentucky Public Service Commission, [but] our group feels like the old-school, permission-based thinking is holding us back from meeting the needs of some of our customers.”

In particular, Smart said, local power companies “should be able to own and operate broadband systems in their own service areas … TVA should support, and not be a hindrance, to that process.”

Keith Hayward / North East Mississippi EPA, Oxford, MS: Hayward contributed his two cents on the broadband issue, but also offered a tip of the hat, on behalf of the Mississippi District, to TVPPA.

“One of the things that gets lost a lot, I think, as we deal with rates, regulatory issues and things of that nature is the wonderful job TVPPA does in the education arena,” he said.

“Some of us [in the Mississippi District] wanted to make sure we put out those kudos and make sure they have that front and center moving forward – continuing to keep up with new technologies, making sure our employees do the best they can to serve our members,” Hayward said.

Mark Kimbell / Gallatin, TN, DE: Kimbell said he and his Central District colleagues are noting the degree and rapidity with which the Valley’s leadership is “just completely turning over” – he cited the scheduled June retirement of TVPPA President/CEO Jack Simmons and the end in May of Greg Williams’ two-year run as TVPPA’s chairman.

“We also have several [TVPPA-member] managers retiring,” Kimbell said, “so we have a real change within our industry here, and I think that’s going to be important moving forward in terms of our relations with TVA – all our relationships in the Valley. It’s important for us to stick together, talk to each other, learn from each other and do the best we can for our customers.”

John Bowers / Pickwick EC, Selmer, TN: At the center of the Western District’s radar screen, Bowers said, is economic development.

“West Tennessee is home to several of the more distressed counties in our state,” he said, “and that’s a big problem. We’ve seen industry leave, and we really haven’t grown any of that back over the last few years.”

Hand-in-hand with economic development, Bowers said, is rates. The proposed 2018 move “is a very big change in a very short amount of time,” he said.

Jarrod Brackett / Fort Loudoun EC, Vonore, TN: Brackett said TVA’s proposed 2018 rate change is “a big issue at the top of our priority list” in the Southeastern District.

“People are becoming more and more concerned about our product because it’s becoming a bigger part of their budgets,” he said. “People pay a bigger percentage [of their income for power] than they used to.”

Two other things that are top-of-mind in the Southeastern District, he said, are  TVA’s regulatory process – “We feel sometimes like we’re in the wild west, not knowing what to look for or expect next” – and TVA’s “aging” transmission system.

“We do have concerns there, that we constantly need to monitor and help TVA work toward solutions,” he said.

Lee Brown / Erwin, TN, Utilities: Speaking for his Appalachian District colleagues, Brown did a nice job of getting to the heart of what drives TVPPA-member executives in every district.

“I think as long as we stay focused on service, we’ll always be relevant,” he said. “If we lose sight of the fact that we’re all about service, and focus on something else, we’re going to be in trouble.

“If we can’t work together or work for what’s the best for all involved,” Brown said. “all bets are off. Let’s keep in mind our relationships and how important those are to the end result of all that we do.”