When the U.S. Department of Energy moved to ban large-capacity water heaters a few years ago, Minnesota’s electric cooperatives turned to Sen. Amy Klobuchar for help.
Federal energy officials viewed electric resistance water heaters holding more than 55 gallons as inefficient and sought to halt their manufacture. But co-ops nationwide protested that they were using those big heaters in innovative programs designed to reduce demand for electricity during peak hours and to “load shift” to harness the power of renewables.
“Large capacity water heaters are the best storage alternative currently available on the electrical power grid because the water heater elements are run through the night, when generation resources such as wind energy are plentiful and loads are light,” Darrick Moe, president and CEO of the Minnesota Rural Electric Association, explained in a 2015 letter thanking Klobuchar for her work on the issue.
Klobuchar, a Democrat, worked with Republican Sen. John Hoeven of North Dakota to pass a water heater efficiency bill that enabled co-ops and their members to continue using large heaters in demand response conservation programs.
“Rural communities across Minnesota and our nation count on electric cooperatives for reliable energy,” Klobuchar said after the bill was signed into law by then-president Barack Obama on April 30, 2015. “Farms and small businesses can rest assured that these cooperatives can continue to provide them with the affordable, efficient electricity they need.”
Moe says Klobuchar “was on the floor of the Senate in the middle of the night pushing for this fix.”
The senator has brought that same energy to a host of issues affecting electric co-ops, says Tim Velde, Minnesota Valley REC board member and the Minnesota representative on the NRECA board.
“Sen. Klobuchar listens, asks questions, and not only signs on to a bill but also works to get it passed,” Velde says.
As co-chairman of the Senate Broadband Caucus, Klobuchar has been an advocate for connecting every American to high-speed internet service. In 2020, the 61-year-old senator helped secure passage of the bipartisan Broadband Deployment and Technological Availability Act, known as the DATA Act. She was a lead sponsor of the bill, which improved the accuracy of federal broadband maps and made it easier for co-ops to secure funding to bring high-speed internet service to the rural communities that need it most.
“Bridging the digital divide is impossible without accurate service maps showing who has broadband access and who doesn’t,” NRECA CEO Jim Matheson said when the bill passed. “The Broadband DATA Act charts a course for a more connected rural America and is a welcome bipartisan solution.
More recently, Klobuchar’s efforts to expand broadband were included in the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill passed by Congress and signed into law by President Joe Biden in November. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act contained $65 billion for broadband infrastructure, a provision that was based on legislation introduced by Klobuchar and Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C.
“As 42 million Americans—including 16% of households in rural Minnesota—lack reliable broadband access, the need for this bill could not be more urgent,” Klobuchar said.
The senator also worked closely with NRECA on the Expanding Access to Sustainable Energy Act, which helps rural co-ops overcome barriers to developing energy storage and microgrid projects. The bipartisan bill, known as the EASE Act, authorized $90 million in federal grants and technical assistance to co-ops. It became law in late 2020.
Klobuchar says she will continue to champion co-op issues.
“Electric co-ops play an essential role in delivering electricity and building out electric and broadband infrastructure,” she says. “They serve the unique needs of rural Minnesota by energizing additional miles of transmission lines and providing for more reliable and affordable energy. I am committed to continued support of our rural co-ops and their important work.”
Klobuchar was the first woman ever elected to the U.S. Senate from Minnesota, winning her first term in 2006. She grew up in Minnesota, where her mother worked as an elementary school teacher until the age of 70 and her father was a newspaperman. Her grandfather worked in the iron ore mines in the northern part of the state.