When Sen. John Hoeven was a boy growing up in North Dakota, he attended annual meetings at Verendrye Electric Cooperativewith his father, Jack.

That early co-op connection helped inspire the senator and former governor to become a champion for electric co-ops and their members, says Josh Kramer, executive vice president and general manager of the North Dakota Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives.

“Senator Hoeven is no doubt a great advocate for electric cooperatives,” Kramer says. “He is a leader in the Senate, and he and his staff understand our industry and issues. He not only supports us, he volunteers to take the lead and rallies his colleagues on matters important to electric cooperatives and rural America.”

The Republican senator is a lead sponsor of the bipartisan Flexible Financing for Rural America Act, which NRECA estimates could save co-ops more than $10 billion in interest payments on their federal loans. Co-ops would be able to refinance their Rural Utilities Service loans at current low rates without prepayment penalties. The savings would help co-ops invest more money in their systems and keep members’ rates down.

The senator also took the lead in pushing the U.S. Department of the Treasury to make clear that electric co-ops qualified for loans under the Paycheck Protection Program. The loans helped small businesses keep their workers employed during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In May 2021, Hoeven helped break ground on a new lineworker training center that is a joint project of NDAREC and Bismarck State College. The senator, working with fellow members of the North Dakota congressional delegation, helped secure a $4 million grant for the project from the U.S. Economic Development Administration. The 26,294-square-foot center is expected to open on the statewide association’s property in Mandan in 2022.

“This new training facility will help ensure a skilled workforce to expand and maintain our electric grid for years to come,” Hoeven said at the groundbreaking ceremony.

In 2016, NDAREC presented Hoeven with the Helping Hand Award, which recognizes “dedication and personal commitment to rural electric cooperatives; co-op leadership, through both personal and public example; and long-term contributions to the cooperative movement.”

“Senator Hoeven understands our industry, cooperatives and the challenges of providing power to rural America,” Kramer says. “Further, he recognizes rural economies cannot develop without the work of electric cooperatives. … He’s a really good friend to cooperatives.”

Before being elected to the Senate in 2010, Hoeven served as North Dakota’s governor for 10 years. While governor, Hoeven was an advocate for upholding the North Dakota Territorial Integrity Act, which protects and preserves the service areas of electric co-ops in the state, Kramer says.

Hoeven says electric co-ops are crucial to his state’s success.

“Cooperatives play an important role in communities across North Dakota, as well as the country, in creating jobs and economic growth,” he says. “We appreciate the opportunity to work with our electric cooperative members to advance their priorities and provide affordable, reliable energy for our homes and businesses.”