Making and delivering electricity to you requires a complex system of well-maintained power plants and electric lines. But there’s a whole other side of the business that calls for a different kind of expertise.
Every day, decisions are made in Washington, D.C., that affect electricity rates and the way electric co-ops deliver safe, reliable power to their member-owners. America’s electric co-ops keep up a constant dialogue with members of Congress.
Dan Yates, Kentucky Association of Electric Cooperatives (KAEC) vice president of Government Relations, says, “KAEC and each of the 46 other state associations maintain constant contact with their state’s congressional delegation in Washington. We keep them up-to-date with phone calls and e-mails, and face-to-face conversations on energy issues, taxes, and regulations. ”
Two members of Kentucky’s congressional delegation play a vital role in national energy policy. On the House side, Representative Ed Whitfield (Republican, First District, which includes Hopkinsville) serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Senator Jim Bunning (also a Republican) serves on the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
With several new Republican senators from other Southern states, there is renewed enthusiasm for working out a comprehensive national energy bill. Two key issues are the possibility of drilling for gas and oil in Alaska, and the construction of new electric transmission lines in the rest of the country. The costs of these projects could affect what electric co-op members pay for their electricity. Additionally, proposals for new regulations on such diverse items as pollution control devices, overtime compensation for workers, and safety concerns could also have financial and record-keeping impact on electric co-ops.
That’s why the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) is yet another important voice for co-op members.
Ted Case, legislative director of NRECA’s Government Relations Department, says, “We have three main goals. First, we educate new members of Congress about the importance of electric co-ops to the nation’s economic development. Second, we strive to protect the gains we’ve made already. It’s very important for us to have continued access to the Rural Utilities Service loan program, which helps co-ops build new facilities. . . Third, we look at the overall picture, making sure that comprehensive energy legislation takes into account the unique circumstances of electric co-ops.”
Each year, NRECA organizes a legislative conference with about 2,500 participants. From all parts of the nation, individual co-op CEOs, board members, and representatives of statewide associations converge on Washington for two days of intense activity.
Dennis Cannon, KAEC vice president of Member and Public Relations, says, “On Tuesday, our whole group spends about 45 minutes to an hour with each of our senators. A co-op staff member gives an overview of issues, then the senator speaks, then we have a question-and-answer period. On Wednesday, we break into smaller groups, with co-op members visiting with the representative from their service area.”
Senator Jim Bunning says, “I look forward to the co-ops’ visit each year. I especially enjoy discussing current topics with the managers because they keep me up-to-date on how energy policy affects their membership. These people are so involved with every aspect of their communities that we can talk in-depth about many issues. They make my job easier because they are able to look ahead and discuss legislative issues that Congress needs to take up in the future.”
To add your voice to the conversations in Washington, visit the Kentucky Association of Electric Co-op’s Web site at www.kaec.org, then click on “Contact your Legislators.”