Arab Electric Cooperative (AEC) and Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) were founded on a mission to serve — through reliable and affordable energy, a safe and protected environment and thriving economic development.
Perched atop scenic Brindlee Mountain in Arab, Alabama, Arab Electric Cooperative (AEC) serves parts of Marshall, Cullman and Morgan counties. Their members include farmers as well as commuters who work at Redstone Arsenal in nearby Huntsville. The region is home to Guntersville Lake, best known for its world-class bass fishing as a result of its many well-attended tournaments. The woodlands at Guntersville State Park are also popular with both tourists and locals who enjoy hiking, trail running and camping.
Protecting natural resources and wildlife while maintaining the lake and surrounding waterfront areas for recreation is a priority to AEC. This is possible thanks to strong environmental stewardship programs such as those operated by TVA. AEC is especially grateful for the partnership during times when members’ desire for uninterrupted electricity is at odds with the basic needs of other living creatures.
The collaborative forces came in handy back in 2019 when a female osprey selected a power pole in Guntersville as the site for the four-foot nest she would build to nurture her two chicks. To prevent their home from becoming kindling—and cutting off service for the members, AEC worked with TVA wildlife biologists for a month to find a humane method to safely remove the avian family. Last we heard, the birds were thriving in the new residence, and may have adopted a new call that sounds a lot like, “Location, location, location.”
The partnership between AEC and TVA is also instrumental in making infrastructure improvements that will encourage economic development in the area. Stacey White, AEC General Manager, said she and the Board are working with TVA to build a much-needed power substation to support the electrical grid. “(This) will allow growth on our system, which will help to grow our community. We’ve already seen the population increase and it is predicted to continue to rise. The substation will make our grid safer for current members, and allow it to accommodate new ones. And while we embrace new residents and businesses we would like to assure our members that we are here to support their continued service.”
The electric grid improvements will enable streamlined operations designed to improve customer service. It will also create capacity for automation tools that help keep households better informed so they can manage energy consumption with ease, which will inevitably save members money.
AEC is also investing in additional equipment that will provide more cost-effective, efficient and reliable electricity. This includes advanced meters that will improve electric bill accuracy and make it easier to diagnose problems that impact service.
“AEC recognizes that new technology and communication capabilities are essential to maintaining the service our customers expect. While our electric system has served us well, it has remained largely unchanged for decades and is rapidly running up against limitations,” White said.
The AEC is building on the capabilities afforded by the new substations to team up with TVA and create a new recycling plant slated for construction during the second quarter of 2022. “Prior to the new substation, we wouldn’t have had the means to provide electricity to them,” White said. The facility will be able to increase the region’s capacity to process recyclables and keep these materials out of the watershed. This will be even more important as the growing population inevitably generates more waste.
She said, “The TVA Economic Development team has been very helpful with this project, and it’s going to be great for our community.” The building process and site operation will provide many job opportunities and allow talent recruitment in a variety of industries.
AEC has also partnered with TVA through the City of Arab to install street lamps along Highway 231, a main thoroughfare on the route from Arab to Huntsville. “It meant a lot that we were able to do that and that TVA was here to support us,” White said.
People traveling on Highway 69 between Guntersville and Arab will soon enjoy a more scenic route. Local power companies AEC and Electric Board of Guntersville (EBOG) service areas meet in the middle of this causeway. Guntersville needed an infrastructure upgrade to provide a loop feed for their electric system, so AEC and EBOG, along with TVA, have partnered to relocate half of the staggered power poles from to a single side of the road on the causeway.
White points out that teamwork has been critical to the endeavor, “We’ve worked very well together with Guntersville Electric and TVA to make that project happen. It’s an ongoing project that has been quite an undertaking. TVA has provided great support for moving the poles and lines.”
COVID-19 Financial Relief
TVA’s COVID-19 Community Care Fund enabled the Arab Emergency Relief Committee to double the number of families they could help when the pandemic safety requirements prevented many workers from getting a paycheck. AEC matched a $10,000 donation from TVA on two occasions. White said those funds were critical because “the money helped many families in the area keep their lights on. We were thrilled to be a part of that.”
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