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Tri-County REC secures federal support for regional high-speed internet project

MANSFIELD, PA — The Federal Communications Commission announced today that Tri-County Rural Electric Cooperative was among the successful bidders in the Connect America Fund II Auction, securing federal support that will enable the utility to make broadband internet service available to its consumer-members across north-central Pennsylvania.

The cooperative, with headquarters in Mansfield, Pa., was awarded $3.2 million in annual support for 10 years through the auction process.

“We are excited for the opportunity to deliver high-speed, fiber-optic internet service to the homes, farms and businesses across our service region,” said Craig Eccher, Tri-County president and chief executive officer. “This will provide our rural region of Pennsylvania with first-class internet service and enable our consumer-members to enjoy smooth, uninterrupted live streaming and lightning-fast download speeds that those living in urban areas take for granted. We also expect the availability of broadband internet service to spur economic development in our region, creating opportunities in areas such as telemedicine and distance learning, and opening doors for future business ventures.”

With the federal support in place, Eccher said the cooperative will proceed with plans for a full fiber roll-out across the co-op’s service territory over a six-year period. The cooperative serves more than 16,600 consumer-members in Bradford, Cameron, Clinton, Lycoming, McKean, Potter and Tioga counties.

“Our goal is to bring broadband to rural communities just like we brought electricity to them back in the 1930s,” Eccher said. “The entire initiative is a six-year project with 2,700 miles of fiber delivering high-speed internet to our members. We are eager to move forward with a project that has such transformational possibilities for our region.”

News of Tri-County’s success in the Connect America Fund II Auction comes just weeks after the cooperative was awarded a $1.5 million matching grant through the Pennsylvania Redevelopment Assistance Capital Project program. The state funding will be utilized for the first phase of the co-op’s multi-year broadband deployment. The phase-one work entails construction of 103 miles of fiber in Potter County.

Eccher said the cooperative will begin seeking proposals to design and construct the Coudersport-area component of the broadband network next week, with physical construction to begin in 2019.

Tri-County broadband project

Tri-County broadband project to begin following award of $1.5 million grant

Tri-County Rural Electric Cooperative has been approved for a $1.5 million state grant to construct 103 miles of above-ground fiber that will expand access to broadband internet service to 1,400 consumers in Potter County.

Gov. Tom Wolf announced the award Aug. 7, and representatives of the Governor’s Office, Potter County and Tri-County hosted a joint press conference in Coudersport that same day to outline the cooperative’s proposed fiber-to-the-home project in Potter County.

The project will make broadband internet service available to 830 residential, 540 seasonal, and 13 commercial customers in townships surrounding Coudersport.

Funding for the project will come through the state’s Redevelopment Assistance Capital Project program, a grant program administered by the Office of the Budget for the acquisition and construction of regional economic, cultural, civic, recreational, and historical improvement projects.

The construction of the fiber is expected to create 27 jobs, with an additional four full-time jobs created permanently as a direct result of this project.

“Access to broadband opens the lines of communication in many ways,” Gov. Wolf said. “By bringing faster internet service to rural Pennsylvania, we are supporting current residents and existing industry and doing a lot to attract people and businesses to the region.”

Craig Eccher, president and CEO of Tri-County Rural Electric, notes the project is just the first phase of a long-term effort to boost internet speeds throughout the cooperative’s service area.

“Our goal is to bring broadband to rural communities just like we brought electricity to them back in the 1930s,” Eccher said. “The entire initiative is a six-year project with 2,700 miles of fiber delivering high-speed internet to our members. We are excited to get started on phase one.”

He said requests for proposals for the project will be issued this week, and he expects fiber construction to begin in 2019.

“We are greatly appreciative of Gov. Wolf’s support for this project, as well as all of the help we received from Sen. Joe Scarnati, Sen. Gene Yaw, Rep. Martin Causer and Rep. Clint Owlett,” he added.

Currently, more than 800,000 Pennsylvanians lack access to robust, reliable, high-speed internet, hindering healthcare, education, and business development opportunities, all items critical to economic development. Over 520,000 of those residents without access reside in rural areas. This project aligns with Gov. Wolf’s Broadband Initiative, a dedicated effort to provide high-speed internet access to every household and business in Pennsylvania that was launched earlier this year.

Area legislators applauded the release of $1.5 million in state funds for Tri-County’s rural broadband expansion project.

“Quality broadband service is vital to the livelihood of the rural communities we represent, affecting our local economy, educational opportunities and access to health care,” Scarnati said. “This is an important and much-needed investment in our future.”

“I commend Tri-County Rural Electric officials for their initiative in addressing the need for broadband service in our communities,” Causer said. “In today’s world, quality internet access is becoming just as important as the electric service the cooperatives made possible decades ago. This is great news for our region.”

“I want to thank the governor for releasing this funding for the Tri-County Rural Electric Cooperative Fiber to Home project,” said Owlett. “I was happy to advocate for this injection of funds, which will help improve broadband access for the region. This is a total game changer and just the first step in increasing service to the entire Northern Tier.”

With headquarters in Mansfield, Pa., Tri-County Rural Electric Cooperative has served the residents of northcentral Pennsylvania since 1937. Today the cooperative provides electricity to over 16,600 members in Tioga, Potter, Bradford, Lycoming, Clinton, McKean and Cameron counties.

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Spring into Savings | New Co-op Connections Deals

Just in time for the warmer weather, we’ve got new offers available with the Co-op Connections Card that will interest everyone at your co-op.

Want to save up to 30% on baseball, concert or movie tickets? Our TicketMonster.com deal has you covered. Want to get the perfect technology gift for your upcoming graduate headed off to college? Cardholders get big discounts on laptops, tablets and more through the Dell Member Exclusive Store. Want to bring a smile to Mom’s face this Mother’s Day? Save 20% off flowers and other unique gifts with our new deal from 1-800Flowers.com.

Encourage your members to visit www.connections.coop and find all the ways to save with The One Card That Does It All®.

Touchstone Energy Cooperatives Score Above the Rest

On May 11, the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) announced, “Energy utilities face serious challenges as customer satisfaction drops 3.2 percent.”

With an ACSI score of 71.9 on a scale of 0 to 100, the energy utilities sector dropped again for the third straight year. On a positive note that speaks to the cooperative difference and value of membership, Touchstone Energy Cooperatives remain the highest rated utility group.

The ACSI highlights in their latest report that, as a group, cooperatives “still do better than investor-owned and municipal utilities. Touchstone Energy Cooperatives stays ahead of the smaller electric utility cooperatives despite slipping 4 percent to 77. The gap between Touchstone and the competition widens as all other smaller cooperatives plunge 8 percent to 72.”

In comparison, municipal utilities declined 6.8 percent overall to an ACSI score of 68 and large investor-owned utilities fell 2.7 percent as a group to 72 (see chart below).

When asked about the utility sector decline, ACSI Founder and Chairman Claes Fornell said, “Utilities customers are sensitive to two things: price and disruption. Demand for energy is inelastic and nondiscretionary, meaning consumers have little choice but to pay regardless of price. While energy prices have been stable and have not increased dramatically, wages remain stagnant and monthly energy bills are a constant drain on disposable income. Consumers expect the lights to turn on and the A/C to work when they flip the switch. ACSI data suggests that consumers have reduced confidence in utilities’ ability to respond and recover from outages.”

Here is the full press release, and you can download the full report and learn more about ACSI scores by visiting www.theacsi.org. If you are interested in taking a deeper dive into the drivers of cooperative member satisfaction and engagement, visit the Touchstone Energy interest area of cooperative.com to review the National Survey on the Cooperative Difference and the case studies featured in the Best Practices Knowledgebase.

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Governor Wolf signs law giving utility workers more protection during emergencies

The power of common sense

In a perfect world, no electric lines would ever be downed by ice, wind or errant vehicle. But that’s not the reality we know, especially in the forested areas of rural Pennsylvania. Occasionally, the power does go out – despite our best efforts.

When it does, our focus turns to getting that power back on quickly and safely for you, our members. To do that means not only getting our line personnel to the areas where service has been interrupted, but also ensuring their safety while they repair or replace the lines, poles and transformers. Protecting our cooperative line workers while they are on the job just makes common sense.

And now, that just got somewhat easier, thanks to cooperative-supported legislation recently passed by the Pennsylvania General Assembly and signed by Gov. Tom Wolf on Nov. 4, 2015.

Known as Act 61 of 2015, this “Move Over PA” law provides greater protections to cooperative and utility line workers engaged in restoring service during emergencies. Specifically, the law includes line personnel as emergency service providers within the first 72 hours after an emergency is declared or until the expiration of a declared emergency, whichever is later.

The measure was introduced last spring by state Sen. Michele Brooks (R-Mercer), who represents counties where many electric cooperative members live and work.

“Risking their safety, these men and women are out at all hours of the day and night in the worst of weather to ensure we receive services,” stated Brooks. “This legislation is one way we can help protect them.”

The law requires vehicles to yield to line personnel actively engaged in emergency situations. Line crews are now legally considered emergency service responders, joining police officers, firefighters, ambulance personnel, highway maintenance and construction personnel, emergency medical services personnel, and towing and recovery personnel.

Drivers who are approaching or passing an emergency response area (unless otherwise directed by an emergency service responder) must move to a lane that is not adjacent to the emergency response area, if possible. If moving to a nonadjacent lane is impossible, illegal or unsafe, drivers are directed to carefully pass the emergency response area at a reduced speed.

Persons who do not move over or slow down can be found guilty of a summary offense and fined up to $250. Additional penalties are in place if the violation leads to the injury of a worker.

In essence, the legislation simply takes what should be common sense and makes it a requirement. This is especially important in our rural areas, where line crews often have limited space to perform their already dangerous work.

Your cooperative and its directors, along with our sister co-ops across the state, have worked long and hard to get this legislation approved. In a big push last spring, cooperative leaders met with more than 150 legislators and key legislative staff to discuss the importance of this initiative. That effort was rewarded this fall when the Move Over PA legislation was unanimously supported by both chambers of the Pennsylvania General Assembly. It becomes effective in January 2016.

Our line crews work hard to deliver safe and reliable electricity to you, often in challenging conditions. This law will improve the safety conditions as they work along Pennsylvania roads and highways to restore your power during emergencies. In an era of partisan politics, we are grateful that the cooperative approach of doing the right thing by our members, our employees, and our communities still resonates with lawmakers. That’s co-op power. That’s the power of common sense.

Funding available for civic purposes

Pennsylvania Act 187 reads:  Any property presumed to be abandoned and unclaimed under this article that is held by a rural electric cooperative organized or qualified to do business in this Commonwealth under 15 Pa.C.S. Ch. 73 (relating to electric cooperative corporations) may, at the discretion of the rural electric cooperative, be retained and used by the rural electric cooperative…

Every year when Tri-County REC returns Capital Credits to the membership a portion of them are unclaimed.  In past years, those unclaimed checks were returned to the state.  With the passage of Act 187, the cooperatives now keep that money and can use it in three areas: energy assistance, education and civic purposes.  Our Community Services Committee meets twice per year to review applications for Civic Purposes.  This application is for civic purposes only and can be filled out online (see below) or downloaded from here.