Each year, the National Association for Electric Cooperatives, NRECA, hosts a legislative conference in Washington, D.C., which allows cooperative directors and staff to make Congressional visits and discuss pertinent issues.
This year, co-op representation totaled 1,500 attendees who held discussion on several issues, including these three concerns:
- Maintain the federal pole attachment exemption for electric cooperatives – electric distribution systems are designed and constructed to carry electrical wires and equipment, but in 1978, Congress wanted swift deployment of cable television, so they gave the FCC jurisdiction over rates, terms and conditions for telecommunication lines attached to utility poles. They exempted electric co-ops because of their locally-directed governance structure. As not-for-profit utilities, co-ops charge cost-based rates for services, including pole attachments; however, if Congress takes cooperatives out from under the exemption and the FCC mandates a federal uniform attachment rate, then co-op members may find themselves subsidizing for-profit cable companies that do not have interest in serving all those that we serve, especially those in the most sparsely populated locations. If the companies do not pay the cost to attach, then all cooperative members, even those without access to the cable service, pay the cost difference.
- Extend the Geothermal Tax Credit – Geothermal heat pumps take heat from the earth and convert it into a heating and cooling source for homes and businesses. It is an extremely efficient system, but its initial capital cost is expensive. Current tax credits help offset the cost for geothermal heat pumps as well as other types of facilities. However, without Congressional action, the Geothermal Heat Pump Tax Credit will abruptly expire at the end of this year unlike the subsidies for solar and wind, which will lessen over time. Unlike solar and wind, though, this renewable resource works 24/7 year round.
- Support FEMA reauthorization – Because electric cooperatives serve only seven consumers per mile of line (on average), and those consumers are spread across approximately 75 percent of the nation’s land mass, maintaining FEMA funding after disasters is essential to restoring electric power in areas that often include the most rugged terrain. The House of Representatives has passed HR1471, the FEMA Disaster Reform Act of 2015, which provides for the first ever reauthorization of this critical program as well as an expedited process for applicants. Now the legislation awaits Senate approval.
Also at this year’s legislative conference, the Action Committee for Rural Electrification, or ACRE, unveiled a new program, the Co-ops Vote campaign designed to remind those who run for office that residents in the rural communities do vote. It also encourages cooperative members to vote in the upcoming national election. You can follow the movement on Facebook at CoopsVote. As a non-partisan organization, ACRE is interested in helping and supporting those elected officials who are willing to work with electric cooperatives to keep electricity reliable and affordable for their member owners.