PVEC directors speak up

The Powell Valley Electric Cooperative (PVEC) board of directors is poised for a possible shakeup as three seats are being challenged. Roger Ball, David Kindle and Michael Shockley recently sat down with the Claiborne Progress to discuss their take on the ways in which the cooperative is and has been handled during their individual tenure.

Ball, who has been a director for 30 years, is running for his 11th three-year term. He says he first decided to run for a seat on the board because of the electric rates. He said he was also concerned about keeping big manufacturing companies here and not moving to nearby Grainger County, where the electrical rates were lower.

“At that time, Powell Valley had the highest rates of any system in the TVA network. Out of 161 systems, they had the very highest rate of anybody. When I came on the board, Lafollette Utilities’ rates were 20 percent less than Powell Valley. Their rate, today, is 25 percent higher,” said Ball.

Because of good management, he says PVEC has not had to raise its local electrical rates in the 30 years he has been on the board. Only the TVA wholesale “pass-through” rates, which the board has no control over, has been applied to the customers’ bills, he said.

“Over this time, we have streamlined the operations to where our rates, now, are below the median in the valley. When I came on board, Powell Valley had 106 employees and about 19,500 consumers. Now, they have 58 employees and a little over 30,000 customer/members. That’s the difference in good management,” said Ball.

Kindle, who has been on the board for 24 years, says TVA does not allow the cooperative to return any funds to any of its customers.

“If we have a profit, that money is used to maintain our lines and improve our facilities. Usually, every year we are able to do some improvements,” said Kindle.

Shockley, who is about to celebrate 15 years on the board, says he agrees.

“The monies that we accumulate goes back into the coop where it’s dispersed to where it can be best used,” said Shockley.

Kindle referred to the ability of PVEC to maintain and even decrease its rates. In the early 1990s, the cooperative was able to cut the rate by five percent.

“Unless we have a major storm that would wipe us out, I don’t see an increase (in the rates) for at least the next five years,” said Kindle.

Ball further explained the way in which PVEC handles capital credits.

“TVA doesn’t allow co-ops to do capital credits in their system. TVA is the regulator of the systems that are under their power supply. You’re to charge what you need to operate, instead of building in an excess for rebates later,” said Ball.

As for herbicide spraying, Ball says he has never had a personal call from anyone complaining about the method used to eradicate brush along rights-of-way. He said the most important thing to consumers is reliability at a low cost – something spraying brush has accomplished

“It’s very hard to get workers to cut the rights-of-way by hand. It’s also cost-prohibitive. We don’t spray close to anybody who does not want it.

“We originally did the spraying by helicopter, which was much more irritating to people. So, we started the backpack hand spraying. Every rural system, that I know of, in the country does spraying. The product we use is the same as what most farmers use in this county.

“If people are going to have reliable power, you have to keep the trees and brush out of the electric lines,” said Ball.

Kindle agreed, saying he allows PVEC to use the same hack- and- spray method on his own farm.

“If I wasn’t on the board, I would say we need to keep it. I’ve got cattle running underneath the power lines, and I’ve not had a single problem,” said Kindle.

Although the cooperative has always had an opt-out policy, the practice of mailing information about it began in spring 2017.

Ball said there have been a total 120 customers – about four-tenths of one percent – who have chosen to forego spraying of their properties.

Shockley agrees with the assessment.

“I think it’s been blown out of proportion. Spraying is an economical way to control the rights-of-way. That saves the members a lot of money. The people who chose to opt-out – 120 to 31,000 customers – you’re talking a minute percentage of the population. So, apparently, it’s not as big a deal as it sounds like,” said Shockley.

He said he understands the concerns of those beekeepers who do not want herbicides sprayed nearby.

“I don’t want to see the bees taken out, either, because they’re very valuable to our fruit and all other pollination. More than likely, that’s not going to be affected by most of our spraying. Most of it is done in rural areas and in the woods,” said Shockley.

Open meetings are another concern raised by the challengers. All three men say the meetings have always been open to the customer/members.

“I’ve never known of anyone who was not allowed to come. Those who want to speak during the meeting need to sign up, beforehand. A regular audience member does not,” said Ball.

Kindle said the sign up procedure is necessary so that any concerns raised by the speaker can be immediately addressed by the board.

During his tenure, Ball says the cooperative has made many advances including the running of two-way feed line from Kyles Ford to Tazewell. This line is used for backup in case of major outages.

Powell Valley Electric continues its initiative to bring broadband Internet service to every consumer. All three men agree this will be accomplished within the next three to four years.

“If we can do it in four years and not have a rate increase, I’m for it,” said Kindle.

Shockley said of the project that broadband will open even the most rural of areas to cutting-edge technology.

“Anyone with an electric meter will be able to access it,” said Shockley.

Kindle referred to the way in which the new PVEC facility, located across the road from the Claiborne Justice Center, was paid.

“The building we’re in right now was purchased with extra jobs that we did. It did not cost the Powell Valley customer one, red cent. We did it with a project for Sunset Digital. We used that money to buy that building and renovate it. Our customers do not have one penny in that building.

“Our employees did a lot of the work. Like, on a rainy day when they couldn’t or didn’t need to be out in the field working, they were working on that building,” said Kindle.

He estimated the total project, which took a little over one year to complete, cost about $3 million.

The major reason for the new facility, Kindle said, was due to space limitations.

“All our equipment is now stored inside. Where we were, we didn’t have the room for the employees. They’re not sitting on top of one another, now,” said Kindle.

Shockley says he has seen many improvements during his tenure. The installation of digitized meters, for instance, has eliminated the need for meter readers to physically visit each customer home or business, saving a substantial chunk of money, he said.

Looking to the future, Ball says TVA and PVEC will likely research the use of solar and wind power. Today, the costs are prohibitive, he said.

Ball, Kindle and Shockley say they are proud of the many advances Powell Valley Electric has brought to the area.

“We’ve tried to be good stewards of the coop to the benefit of all our members. We have a strong financial standing. I don’t think there’s a lot of bad stuff you can say about the way the coop is running, now. The sitting board, right now – we get the job done,” said Shockley.

Ball says he considers it a privilege to serve on the board.

“I’m grateful to have been able to make a contribution to my community by seeing that the cooperative is run more efficiently.

“No one has been more concerned about cost effectiveness than this board,” said Ball.