Electric Cooperatives Storm Capitol Hill
Editorial: Electric Cooperatives Storm Capitol Hill
By: Marshal Albright, President/CEO
America’s electric cooperatives assembled in Washington D.C. to share our views, ideas, and concerns with Federal agencies and lawmakers. Over 50 representatives from North Dakota, including Director Seymour and I, joined more than 2000 electric cooperative directors and managers from across the country to attend the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s Legislative Conference. NRECA urged co-op leaders meeting with lawmakers on Capitol Hill this week to discuss our priorities:
• Include the development of rural communities in any infrastructure package
• Reject the administration’s proposal to sell the Power Marketing Administrations (hydropower dams)
• Protect electric co-ops’ not-forprofit, tax-exempt status
The conference featured speakers from the Department of Energy (DOE), Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), and Congressional leaders from across the country.
Assistant Energy Secretary, Bruce Walker touted the importance of federal dams (Garrison Dam in N.D., etc.) and transmission lines to electric cooperative leaders despite the Trump administration’s budget proposal to sell off those assets. “People who put budgets together don’t always understand the components of what they’re putting the budget together for,” Walker said in response to a question about the Administration’s budget plan. From a power supply perspective, “I think there’s a recognition that fuel security, fuel diversity is important when you’re talking about the ubiquitous type of service we’re looking to provide with a high level of reliability and resilience,” Walker said.
In his speech, FERC Chairman, Neil Chatterjee warns co-op leaders about threats to the electric grid. Neil Chatterjee said “there is no more important work” for FERC than improving the security and resilience of the electric grid. Chatterjee also said it is “an exciting time” for the electric power industry as renewables, storage, and distributed energy resources contribute to a dramatically changing energy landscape.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md said he supports NRECA’s push for an infrastructure bill to go beyond roads and bridges to include expanded broadband service in rural areas and improvements in the electric grid to make it more reliable and resilient.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., spoke to co-op leaders about the need to train more energy workers to meet future demand. “Start building that workforce of the future that you’re going to need,” he said. Manchin also told co-ops to get ready to serve an increasing number of consumer-members with electric vehicles.
Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, talked to co-op leaders about the implementation of the Farm Bill. Among the many provisions in the five-year bill is one that authorizes $350 million a year in loans and grants to finance rural broadband projects in underserved communities.
Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., tells coop leaders that the climate change agenda should not increase energy costs for impoverished rural residents. “Let’s make sure we don’t explode the cost of energy,” he said. For those that believe climate change is a problem, “we think poverty is more harmful to our citizens,” he said.
Electric Cooperative leaders from North Dakota visited with our delegation and representatives from NRECA to discuss important issues for North Dakota. We discussed a new rule that FERC has proposed that would allow distributed energy resources (aggregators) access to the wholesale power market. This rule would go against the cooperative business model of local control by our boards of directors.
Federal policy, rules, and regulations can have a significant impact on the cost of electric service to our membership. Rest assured, Cass County Electric along with North Dakota’s Electric Cooperatives have a voice in Washington D.C., thanks to our congressional delegation, they understand our issues and go to bat for us when needed.