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Co-op Power For The World

Reliable electric power for a 24-hour medical clinic; to refrigerate food; for a welding shop to provide jobs in a small community. For more than 2 billion people around the globe, the benefits of electricity are still just a dream.

Helping turn those dreams into reality is the International Programs of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA). And the people of Kentucky’s electric co-ops are working with other American co-op members and employees to share their experience and expertise in a variety of projects around the globe.

Jim Durnil, president of NRECA’s International Programs, says, “More people will be without electricity tomorrow than today because the rate of population growth is greater than the connection rate to electricity systems in developing countries.”

That lack of electricity is similar to the situation in rural America 60 years ago. In many areas of the world, utilities still don’t want to extend electricity beyond their immediate areas because of the high costs.

NRECA’s International Programs offer a solution by promoting the cooperative model for rural electrification. Cooperative principles such as open membership, democratic control, and members’ economic participation are the cornerstones of the rural electric program, a proven method of communities working together to help themselves.

Durnil says that showing people how to work together to accomplish goals they’ve chosen for themselves is just as important as getting the lights to come on.

“When you bring electricity to rural areas with the co-op model, you bring those communities something more than electricity. You bring good governance and you involve the entire community,” says Durnil.

With a full-time staff of about a dozen employees in Arlington, Virginia, NRECA’s International Programs coordinate several initiatives. One of those efforts arranges for overseas visitors to come to America to see firsthand how co-ops run their daily businesses, observing such details as billing customers, planning transmission lines, installing meters, and making repairs.

The International Programs also send Americans to distant countries to provide local assistance as rural communities take the first steps to bring electricity to their homes. Since the program began in 1962, more than 500 co-op specialists have traveled to 65 nations to share their expertise. Co-op personnel share their technical savvy, organizational skills, and detailed experience about how to finance, build, and maintain electric service.

Current projects include a plan to help the small town of Pignon, Haiti, have electricity for its medical clinic, lights at the airport, and power for computers at a community school. In the Nicaraguan villages of El Mohon and Tierras Blancas, the first electric co-op organized in that country in 20 years is providing electricity for a coffee growers’ co-op and refrigeration for roadside markets. In a remote part of the Philippine Islands, Kentucky volunteer and Big Rivers Electric Co-op Vice President of Operations Travis Housley coordinates an electric co-op program that’s helping several villages become more self-sufficient.

In 1985, NRECA added the International Foundation to its overseas programs. For the first 15 years, the Foundation focused on practical physical help with the donation of equipment. Each year the Foundation gathers and ships tons of new and refurbished goods such as conductors, insulators, meters, transformers, pole-climbing gear, and construction equipment.

United Utility Supply, a supply co-op affiliated with the Kentucky Association of Electric Cooperatives in Louisville, collects surplus and donated materials in several locations for shipment overseas.

When old transformers are replaced with new models in the United States, sending the older but still functional items to fledgling co-ops in other parts of the world makes good business sense for American co-ops. And it gives cash-poor co-ops overseas a way to obtain the materials they need to improve services for their members.

James Willis, director of operations for NRECA’s International Foundation, says, “Since 2000, we’ve refocused our efforts to provide more site-specific development ideas to go along with the donated equipment. Our volunteers serve as team leaders for projects in countries such as Nepal, Liberia, and Honduras.”

Willis continues, “We take a holistic approach to help young co-ops provide more than just electricity to their members. We help with community development, economic development, and developing more participation of the local people. Our goal is to provide practical help that fits the needs of the local area.”

To find out more about bringing electricity to the developing world, visit this Web site:

Next month: Kentuckian Travis Housley helps bring electricity to the Philippines

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