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Legal Limits

The state Supreme Court�s ruling restricting services electric co-ops can offer may be right or it may be wrong. But it definitely hurts Kentucky.

This month’s article Supreme Court Ruling Restricts Co-op Services describes the court�s decision. The case concerns whether a McKee-based electric co-op can set up a business selling propane gas. But the sweeping decision restricts electric co-ops across the state from providing any service other than electricity.

When electric co-ops began in the 1930s, it wasn�t because farmers wanted electrons flowing through their houses. It was because they looked at the lights of the cities and saw a world leaving them behind. They wanted to share the lifestyle and productivity brought by lights, refrigerators, washing machines, and motors.

Their isolation from the modern world wasn�t caused by any technical problem of stringing power lines to the country. It was because electric companies couldn�t envision a way to reap large profits from farmsteads.

So the federal government set up the Rural Electrification Administration to provide loans and technical advice. And the farmers formed their own utilities�private, not-for-profit corporations owned by the people who used the services.

These co-ops saw their mission broadly. They weren�t about technology; they were about finding ways to bring modern society to people who wouldn�t otherwise have access to its benefits.

Jackson Energy Co-op asked its member-owners how it might help the community, and affordable propane gas services came back as one of the answers.

Co-ops across the state and nation have responded in similar ways, offering telephone, home security, and satellite TV when none was easily available outside large cities.

Today�s need in the country is for affordable access to high-speed broadband Internet service. Electric co-ops had been working with state and national leaders to see whether co-ops could help bring the Internet to rural Kentucky. The Supreme Court decision appears to put an end to those discussions.

Electric co-ops are now working on how to best respond to this court decision.

The Supreme Court ruling hinged on how many times the word �electricity� appeared in the law, and where commas were placed. The Supreme Court may have a point when it comes to grammar. But it comes at the expense of the quality of life for people who live in small-town and rural communities of Kentucky.

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