Electric cooperative leaders at the 2018 Legislative Conference April 9-10 heard firsthand how key lawmakers on Capitol Hill respect the pivotal role of co-ops in rural economies across the nation.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., told the audience of 2,000 that lawmakers continue to work on a Farm Bill. Roberts expects the bill to include essential provisions for the success of rural America, including funding for the Rural Utilities Service and the Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant Program. On REDLG, he noted the “important role this program plays in no-cost financing” for rural projects in the current environment of tight budgets.

Roberts did not indicate a timeline for releasing the Senate’s draft of the Farm Bill but indicated he’s pursuing a bipartisan approach to ensure the legislation can get more than 60 votes to clear the Senate.

Roberts also emphasized the need to achieve “a common sense approach to regulation.”

Murkowski Highlights Co-op Innovation

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, extolled the electric co-ops across her state for delivering reliable, affordable and cleaner energy to their members.

“Alaska is becoming a proving ground for innovation and success” in rural energy development, she said.

Murkowski highlighted the work at Cordova Electric Cooperative in energy efficiency, renewables and storage as well as its participation in a Department of Energy Radiance project with several labs and universities. Her committee met with Alaska co-ops, including Clay Koplin, the co-op CEO and mayor of the city, in Cordova last year.

Murkowski also commended Meera Kohler, CEO of Alaska Village Electric Cooperative and NRECA Alaska director. She noted how Alaska co-ops are displacing diesel generation with hydro, wind, solar and “improving lives and protecting the environment.”

“Your willingness to travel here to engage with Congress is truly, truly appreciated,” she said.

The Senate Energy panel will explore rural energy in an April 19 hearing, she told the conference. Doug Hardy, general manager of Central Montana Electric Power Cooperative, and Matt Greek, senior vice president of research, development and technology at Basin Electric Power Cooperative, will testify.

Klobuchar: Co-ops Are ‘Good for This Country’

“The whole idea of a co-op is good for this country and for energy,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., who serves on the Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee and Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

Klobuchar recalled her visits with electric co-ops in her home state and some of their energy efficiency programs, including Steele-Waseca Electric Cooperative’s free large-capacity water heater with the purchase of a solar panel. The “battery in the basement” saves energy in rural areas.

“When we do policy, we need to acknowledge it’s not one-size-fits all,” she said.

The senator also helped form a rural broadband caucus among colleagues. “In rural America, we want kids who grow up there to be able to live there,” she said. “They believe they are not going to be able to compete without broadband.”

More coverage from Legislative Conference:
Perdue Underscores 'Seismic Shift' of Rural Broadband
Matheson: Member Advocacy Vital for Policy Success