Sen. Thom Tillis has helped ensure that North Carolina’s electric cooperatives are among the most successful in the nation at winning federal funds for projects that benefit rural communities, co-op leaders say.

“North Carolina co-ops received about $10 million in grants and loans just this fiscal year,” says Nelle Hotchkiss, chief operating officer at the North Carolina Association of Electric Cooperatives.

She says the state’s co-ops regularly rank No. 1 or 2 at receiving the most money from the Rural Utilities Service Electric Loan Program, which helps co-ops pay for infrastructure investments, and the Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant Program, which empowers co-ops to pass on funds to local businesses for job-creating projects in rural areas.

“Sen. Tillis has always been helpful in providing letters of support for our funding requests and working with localities,” Hotchkiss says.

The Republican senator also “understands our need for reliability and affordability for dispatchable electricity,” she says.

“He recognizes the concerns we have with the recent EPA power plant regulations, and he wants to know how he can be helpful with that.”

The Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed rule would eliminate carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by 2035. NRECA opposes the proposal, saying it depends on unproven technology and unrealistic timelines and threatens the reliability of the electric grid.

Tillis also is aware of the supply chain delays plaguing co-ops and is trying to help solve the problem, Hotchkiss says. The senator introduced legislation in June 2023 to stop the Department of Energy from enforcing new energy efficiency standards for transformers that could force co-ops to wait even longer to receive the crucial equipment.

“If finalized as proposed, the standards will yield minor energy savings and further disrupt the nation’s supply chain by causing lead times to procure transformers to increase from months to years,” says a press release issued by the senator’s office when he introduced the bill.

Hotchkiss says the positive relationship between the senator and the state’s co-ops dates back to 2006, when he was elected to the North Carolina House of Representatives.

Tillis served for four years as state House speaker, leaving in 2014 when he was elected to the U.S. Senate.

“He already knew all about electric cooperatives long before he became a senator,” Hotchkiss says. “He is very open to working with anyone on either side of the aisle to get things done.”

Tillis says electric co-ops are essential to North Carolina’s economy.

“More than 2.5 million North Carolinians, in every corner of the state, rely on electric cooperatives to power their homes and businesses,” he says. “Our state’s 26 cooperatives are crucial in keeping North Carolina the No. 1 state in the nation to do business. I am proud to support their work to increase reliability, resiliency, and affordability for their members by fighting back against overburdensome regulations and investing in the future.”

Tillis’s staff regularly contacts the statewide association to seek co-op input on energy legislation, Hotchkiss says.

“I just met with his local staff to do a check-in with them on our issues,” she says, adding that the senator always takes time to meet personally with co-op leaders who come to the nation’s capital for NRECA’s annual Legislative Conference.

“We had breakfast with him in the members’ dining room at the Capitol last time we were there,” she says. “And he’s great with our Youth Tour kids.”

The 63-year-old senator takes a special interest in technology and has talked with co-op leaders about how artificial intelligence could affect the industry, Hotchkiss says. Tillis was a top executive at IBM and PricewaterhouseCoopers before his political career.

“He considers himself kind of a tech nerd and is always looking to the future,” she says.