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General manager of Mountain Electric Cooperative weighs in on article

Dear Editor:
 
I would like to point out some errors and/or mischaracterizations concerning last week’s front page article entitled “Southeastern US pays slightly more for electricity”. First, rates in the southeastern region of the nation are not higher than average. Average residential electric rates in the southeast are 11% less than the national average. Furthermore, average TN residential rates are 15% less than the national average. It should also be noted that MEC, a rural electric cooperative, has residential rates that compare very favorably with electric distributors surrounding its service area. MEC’s latest annual residential rate survey (August 2013) showed MEC as having the third lowest rate out of 12 electric distributors in the surrounding area.

The general tone of the article seems to be placing some kind of blame on electric cooperatives for the plight of low income families that don’t have the means to make energy efficiency (EE) home improvements. The struggles of low-income families are everywhere, not just in the rural areas, so their needs have little to do with the type of utility providing service.  Rural electric cooperatives have been essential in raising the standard of living in rural areas, by serving these areas when no one else would and engaging in non-power activities, such as promoting economic development to improve living conditions in the communities they serve.

MEC has been proactive in promoting EE and is always open-minded to new programs that benefit our membership.  We have many programs to educate and assist members in becoming more energy efficient, including:

·Heat pump loan program – provides financing of electric heat pumps;

·New Homes program – pays cash incentive for meeting energy-right home efficiency ratings;
·In Home Energy Evaluation Program – pays cash incentives for energy saving home improvements. The loan financing program mentioned in the article is a program being promoted by Appalachian Voices and is modeled after a pilot program implemented in South Carolina. By using USDA loans, the program would provide low interest EE loans and would integrate the loan payment with the electric bill. For example, the current energy right heat pump loan interest rate is 6%. With USDA funding, that interest rate could be reduced to +/-3%.In theory, the monthly dollar energy savings from the EE home improvement would roughly equal the monthly loan payment resulting in no net additional cost to the member. Once the loan was paid off, the member would see permanent monthly savings. I personally like the program concept. However; there are some issues. In order to implement a program similar to the South Carolina program, state legislation would have to be enacted to allow MEC to integrate the loan payment with the electric bill and to tie the loan to the meter location. MEC and other TN/NC co-ops have expressed an interest in this program, will continue evaluation and, if in our member’s best interest, will push for legislative action to enable a program such as this to be implemented in Tennessee.

Joseph A. Thacker, III
General Manager
Mountain Electric Cooperative