SAN ANTONIO, Texas—Testifying before Congress can be intimidating, but electric cooperative leaders should step up when they’re invited to be a witness at congressional hearings on key energy issues, co-op CEOs urged their colleagues at PowerXchange.

“We can’t be bystanders,” said Josh Winslow, CEO and general manager of Brunswick Electric Membership Corp. in Supply, North Carolina. “Whatever influence we have, we’ve got to use it.”

Winslow testified last summer before a House Agriculture subcommittee on the importance of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s economic development programs for rural communities.

He and three other co-op CEOs who have testified before Congress talked about their experiences as part of a March 4 panel discussion led by Hill Thomas, NRECA’s vice president of legislative affairs.

Co-op CEOs are sometimes invited by their lawmakers to come to Washington, D.C., to testify, while others are asked by NRECA to represent the co-op perspective at hearings.

“I got a phone call from NRECA saying 'you’re gonna get a call from [Wyoming Republican] Sen. [John] Barrasso’s staff inviting you to testify, and you need to say yes,”’ said David Tudor, CEO and general manager of Springfield, Missouri-based Associated Electric Cooperative Inc.

“It’s a risky venture. The things you say are in the record forever. But it’s the right thing to do.”

Tudor testified last year before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, warning that the push to rapidly replace always-available energy sources could spark rolling blackouts across America.

Patrick O’Loughlin, president and CEO of Buckeye Power Inc. and Ohio Rural Electric Cooperatives, said testifying before Congress “is an opportunity to stand up and make sure we’re heard.”

O’Loughlin testified last June about the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed power plant rule before a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee.

He told lawmakers that the proposed rule to regulate greenhouse gas emission from coal and natural gas-fired power plants threatens co-ops’ ability to provide reliable, affordable electricity to their members.

“My objective was to make sure I got across the points that were helpful to those lawmakers who were worried about the EPA rule and put some doubt in others’ minds,” O’Loughlin said.

Bob Paulling, president and CEO of Mid-Carolina Electric Cooperative in Lexington, South Carolina, said he was honored to get a phone call from Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy, Climate and Grid Security. Duncan is chairman of the subcommittee.

Paulling told the House panel last September that Americans face dangerous, economically disruptive power outages if the nation can’t overcome threats to reliable electricity.

“We’re all talking about reliability,” he said. “We just need to keep preaching that.”

The CEOs said that NRECA’s legislative team was invaluable in helping them write their testimony and prepare for the hearings. The co-op leaders said they also picked up some helpful tips for their colleagues who testify.

“The hearings can go on for hours, and there are no restroom breaks,” Tudor warned.

Also, it’s important to know that House members don’t take kindly to witnesses who exceed the five-minute limit on oral testimony, Paulling said.

“The five-minute rule is a big deal to them,” he said. “You don’t want to annoy them right off the bat.”