RICHMOND, Va.—NRECA CEO Jim Matheson kicked off the 2023 round of Regional Meetings with a strong caution about threats to grid reliability and a hopeful message about the power of electric cooperatives to advocate for commonsense policies and offer solutions that are innovative, effective and community-focused.

“We are the ones at the tip of the spear on this issue, and I think that’s where we ought to be,” he told the audience at the Regions 1&4 meeting in Richmond, Virginia. “We’re innovative. We’re nimble. We’re responsive to local conditions. We know what’s important, and we get the job done.”

Matheson said reliability is under pressure from factors like rapidly growing demand for electricity and inadequate baseload supply, and he pointed to recent extreme weather events that led to blackouts, brownouts and calls for curtailed power use.

“The stakes are real in this discussion,” he said. “This is happening now.”

But Matheson saved his strongest words for what he called “out of touch” policymaking in Washington, D.C. He pointed to a recent annual report from the North American Electric Reliability Corp. that said the No. 1 risk to reliability in the U.S. is “bad energy policy.”

“First time that’s ever happened,” he said. “That’s just staggering.”

He discussed at length the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed power plant rule, which he called “a danger tree hanging over our entire industry.” The plan, he said, is fatally flawed because it ignores reliability and affordability while mandating severe cuts in emissions on unreasonable timetables using unproven technologies like carbon capture and storage and hydrogen fuel.

“Policy matters,” he said. “And some folks in Washington, they just don’t get it.”

Matheson offered several steps needed to get the industry back on more solid reliability footing.

“Job one is to stop shutting down generation,” he said.

Other steps included developing and embracing new energy technologies, pursuing more load management and efficiency efforts, integrating more technologies on both sides of the meter and building more generation capacity.

Matheson closed by touting the value of bringing the co-op story to federal policymakers, noting that co-op relationships and partnerships within their communities, the trust of their members, their embrace of innovation and their ability to be responsive to local conditions all resonate strongly in Washington.

“When co-ops collectively speak with one voice, people in D.C. pay attention,” he said.

He promised that spreading the reliability message will continue to be a priority for NRECA.

“Electric cooperatives are the leading, most aggressive voice on reliability,” he said. “We’re going to keep fighting.”