month I went to Washington, D.C., with 75 electric co-op leaders
who wanted to remind Congress to focus on consumers as it writes
energy legislation. We were part of a group of 2,700 people from
nearly 900 co-ops in 46 states, asking senators and
representatives to act on our slogan of putting "Consumers
Making a priority of consumers
might seem like an obvious thing to do. But federal policy could
end up favoring the largest energy corporations rather than
ratepayers, as lawmakers try to help douse California’s four-alarm
fire of electricity shortages and high rates (see "Future of
Electricity" for more on the California crisis).
In fact, policies now under
consideration ignore the unique role that local, consumer-owned
electric co-ops can play in the electric utility industry. Those
proposals would allow the nation’s largest utilities to further
dominate the market, and would lay a new set of regulations on all
utilities, including cooperatives, even though co-ops haven’t
contributed to the California disaster.
The co-ops made that point by
publishing an ad in Washington newspapers, saying that while
millions of Californians face blackouts and price gouging,
consumers of Anza Electric Co-op in Anza, California, have kept
the lights on and prices under control. How? By belonging to their
local electric co-op, which exists not to produce profits, but to
give its consumer-owners the best price and service.
The co-op leaders also made that point by visiting
their elected officials during those days in early May. The good news is that
Kentucky’s two senators and six members of Congress recognized that electric co-ops,
which serve about 10 percent of the people in the nation and about 33 percent
of the people in Kentucky, are an important part of the electric utility industry.
They stressed the importance of developing a national energy policy, which is
currently being written in the White House, and the part that Kentucky can play
in that policy with its plentiful coal fields. Most of all they said that California’s
energy crisis has strengthened their resolve to protect Kentucky’s electric rates,
which are among the lowest in the nation.