NRECA CEO Jim Matheson says the association is engaging in a broader form of advocacy that goes beyond the traditional. (Photo By: Michael W. Kahn)
PITTSBURGH—Advocacy has been a bedrock of NRECA since its founding 75 years ago, but today CEO Jim Matheson believes it's time to take that to the next level.
At the first of NRECA's 2017 regional meetings, Matheson announced a "broader form of advocacy to serve members," covering a wide range of issues "beyond the policy side."
"It's not advocacy like you normally think about," Matheson told more than 700 co-op leaders attending the Regions 1 and 4 meeting at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Sept. 7.
Matheson cited three examples, each of which was among the top issues of concern identified in a recent NRECA member engagement survey. He began with something rural Americans are increasingly asking their electric co-ops to provide: broadband.
"We know that broadband is key to economic viability in the 21st century, and we hear from our member-consumers who don't have access to good broadband that they're anxious to have it," said Matheson.
"It's complicated," he said, citing myriad challenges ranging from competitive pressures to the need for government support. And, he added, NRECA "should not tell you what to do."
"What we should do is provide decision-making information, so that you can approach this issue with eyes wide open," said Matheson, adding that the information must be free of any bias toward or against entering the broadband business. "Every co-op has its own individual set of circumstances," he said.
Cybersecurity—which Matheson called "a huge challenge for all of us"—is another important advocacy issue.
"NRECA is leveraging $11 million in [Department of Energy] grants to develop resources for co-ops," said Matheson.
He cited the Rural Cooperative Cybersecurity Capabilities Program, or RC3, which "develops a set of standards and best practices, and a regimen for continuous process improvement for your co-op to take on the cybersecurity issue."
A third new advocacy issue is distributed energy resources.
"There's a lot of change in the industry. NRECA is working with several of our members in an effort to minimize risk and maximize the opportunity," said Matheson.
"We need to work on sharing business models and leading practices."
Matheson also stressed that NRECA is continuing its traditional advocacy programs, saying "we need to keep our focus."
The association has had "multiple meetings with executive branch agencies," and Matheson has met personally with Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt six times.
"I've been working with him on the Clean Power Plan issues and the Waters of the U.S. We've had real success," he said.
"Rural America spoke in the last election, and we derive strength from that."