NEW ORLEANS—Electric cooperatives must go beyond being members’ trusted energy advisers to become “trusted energy investors” that offer innovative solutions accessible to everyone, NRECA President Curtis Wynn told co-op leaders Tuesday at NRECA’s Annual Meeting.

“In this new role as trusted energy investor, I want to make the case that, through well-planned and smart investments, we can make the next generation of electric cooperatives a reality for all of our members,” said Wynn, who is also president and CEO of Roanoke Electric Cooperative. “It matters to the future of our co-ops.”

Wynn offered several examples of innovative investments:

  • Alfalfa Electric Cooperative in Cherokee, Oklahoma, and its generation and transmission co-op, Western Farmers Electric Cooperative, helped convert the heating and cooling systems at all three Cherokee schools from natural gas to electric heat pumps. At Cherokee High School, which was using an aging natural gas system and space heaters, the electric heat pumps reduced winter gas consumption by at least 85% and the total energy bill by more than 20%.

  • At Roanoke, the co-op offers energy audits to low-income members to help make their homes more energy efficient and lower their monthly electric bills. The Upgrade to Save program, modeled after similar co-op efforts in Kentucky and Kansas, makes improvements to members’ homes, and the members pay the co-op back each month out of the average energy savings created by the efficiency upgrades.

  • Co-ops are increasingly interested in helping bring electric buses to their local school districts. In Minnesota, Dakota Electric Association and Great River Energy were the first co-ops to partner on an electric school bus and are sharing data with other co-ops about what they’ve learned from their two-year pilot program.

“America’s electric co-ops can be a force for the future,” Wynn said. “We must act boldly, with purpose and with a sense of urgency. At next year’s annual meeting, I hope that the few examples I have shared today and at the regional meetings last fall become the norm for cooperatives.”

“But remember, next year’s annual meeting will be here before we know it,” he said. “Speed to market is critical. So, when we act matters.”

Wynn left co-op leaders with three suggestions: Use NRECA, its partners and the co-op network to address common challenges in new ways; consider new adaptive business strategies that seize opportunities to become trusted investors behind the meter; and be inclusive about addressing the needs of all members, especially those with significant energy burdens.

“In all things, just remember: It matters to the overall health of our network,” Wynn said. “It matters to our cooperative and the communities we serve. And, most importantly, it matters to our member-owners.”

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