Category: Coop News

President Biden’s Infrastructure Plan: What Electric Co-ops Need to Know

President Joe Biden has announced a sweeping $2 trillion infrastructure and jobs plan that would affect electric cooperatives by increasing investment in broadband and electric vehicles, strengthening grid resiliency and dramatically reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

A key provision would make not-for-profit electric co-ops eligible for the first time for direct-pay investment tax credits and production tax credits for clean energy generation and storage projects. One of NRECA’s legislative goals this year is to ensure that co-ops are included in any federal incentive programs that encourage the use of renewable energy.

“For far too long, electric cooperatives have not had comparable incentives to develop energy technologies,” said Louis Finkel, NRECA’s senior vice president for government relations. “This has held back innovation.”

It is now up to Congress to turn Biden’s blueprint—the American Jobs Plan—into legislation. NRECA will work with lawmakers to help craft the details that are most important to co-ops, said CEO Jim Matheson.

“We’re encouraged to see electric co-op priorities reflected in President Biden’s infrastructure proposal,” Matheson said. “As we plan for a future that depends on electricity as the primary energy source for a majority of the economy, strategic investments in grid modernization and energy innovation are critical. Equally important is support for expanded rural broadband and other efforts to help rural families and businesses.”

As Congress begins drafting the bill, “we look forward to staying engaged to ensure that the priorities of rural America and electric co-ops remain front of mind,” Matheson said.

Here’s a look at some of the highlights of Biden’s proposal: 

Tax Incentives for Renewables

  • Makes electric co-ops eligible for the first time for direct-pay investment tax credits and production tax credits for clean energy generation and storage projects. The tax credits are expanded and extended for 10 years. Tax-exempt co-ops would finally get incentives comparable to those provided to for-profit companies to develop energy technologies.

Grid Improvements

  • Invests $100 billion in the electric grid to “create a more resilient grid, lower energy bills for middle-class Americans, improve air quality and public health outcomes, and create jobs … on the path to achieving 100% carbon-free electricity by 2035.”
  • Creates a targeted investment tax credit to spur the buildout of at least 20 gigawatts of high-voltage capacity power lines.
  • Reforms and expands the Section 45Q tax credit for carbon capture and storage projects, making it easier to use to retrofit existing power plants.
  • Establishes a new Grid Deployment Authority at the DOE that permits better use of existing rights of way along roads and railways and supports creative financing tools to fund more high-voltage transmission lines.
  • Develops an Energy Efficiency and Clean Electricity Standard aimed at cutting electric bills and pollution, increasing competition in the market, spurring more efficient use of existing infrastructure and continuing to leverage carbon-free energy from existing sources, such as nuclear and hydropower. 

Broadband

  • Invests $100 billion in infrastructure to deliver reliable broadband to every American, especially the more than 30 million in communities that lack infrastructure for even minimal internet access, namely rural areas and tribal lands.
  • Prioritizes support for broadband networks owned or operated by or affiliated with local nonprofits and co-ops as providers driven by “a commitment to serving entire communities” rather than profit.
  • Prioritizes deploying “future proof” broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved areas for 100% delivery of high-speed internet access nationwide. 
  • Levels competition for rural electric co-ops by requiring for-profit providers to fully reveal their prices. 

Electric Vehicles

  • Invests $174 billion in the electric vehicle market, including grant and incentive programs for state and local governments and the private sector to build a national network of 500,000 EV chargers by 2030.
  • Enables automakers to ramp up domestic supply chains from raw materials to parts, retool factories to compete globally and employ American workers to make batteries and EVs.
  • Offers U.S. consumers point-of-sale rebates and tax incentives to buy American-made EVs. Biden said the plan will ensure that EVs are affordable for American families.
  • Replaces 50,000 diesel transit vehicles with EVs and electrifies at least 20% of the nation’s yellow school buses through a new Clean Buses for Kids Program.
  • Sets the federal government on a course to electrify its fleet by buying EVs when it replaces old vehicles. 

Support for Rural Communities

  • Proposes $5 billion for a new Rural Partnership Program to spur local economic development, led by rural communities, to meet critical needs. 
  • Provides tax credits, grants and other assistance to build, sustain or retrofit more than 1 million affordable, energy-efficient homes and extend affordable housing opportunities to rural and tribal areas.
  • Invests $20 billion in 10 regional innovation hubs and a Community Revitalization Fund to create new businesses in rural regions and community-led redevelopment. 
  • Quadruples support for the Manufacturing Extensions Partnership to boost minority and rural involvement in technological advancement.
  • Calls for $30 billion for R&D to spur innovation and job creation, including in rural areas, involving advanced technologies in communications, energy and biotechnology.
  • Calls for $12 billion in community college infrastructure to address “education deserts” in rural communities, boost local economies and improve energy efficiency.

Authors: Erin Kelly and Cathy Cash.

Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) extended through April 15th

Community Action Agencies across Kentucky have extended the enrollment period for the Crisis Component of the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). Applications for the Crisis Component will now be accepted through April 15, 2021, or until designated funds are depleted on a first-come, first-serve basis. Qualified residents should apply at their local Community Action Agency. To locate your local office, please call 800-456-3452. 

To utilize the Crisis Component, applicants must have a household income at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty guidelines, as well as have received a “disconnect” notice from their utility company or be within four days of running out of a non-metered fuel such as propane. Additionally, this year applicants can also apply if they have a late or overdue amount or if they are on an arrearage payment plan.

The applicant must be responsible for home heating costs or pay heating costs as an undesignated portion of rent. Crisis applicants who participate in a Pre-Pay Electric Program would be eligible if they are within 10 days of running out of pre-paid electric services.

For everyone’s safety, Community Action Agencies may provide special accommodations, adjust locations and times, and may ask that LIHEAP applicants follow safety protocols. Because these may change and vary between counties, applicants are encouraged to contact their local Community Action office for more information.

Kentucky’s Community Action Agencies administer LIHEAP in partnership with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as a pass-through block grant from the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services. More information about LIHEAP, including contact information for county-specific office contact information, can be found at the Community Action Kentucky website at www.CAPKY.org.

The last mile

Though the concept of serving “the last mile” is often spoken in the relatively new challenge of delivering high-speed internet to rural Kentucky, electric cooperatives have embraced “the last mile” for generations, and to this day.

Not-for-profit electric co-ops are led by, belong to and were built by the very people they serve, the people on the last mile. Conversely, for-profit utilities generally serve more densely populated areas, an average of 32 customers per mile of electric line. Though co-ops serve an average of only eight consumer-members per mile of electric line, through responsible practices, careful planning and expert management, they provide safe and reliable service to the last mile at competitive rates.

Value and values

The strength and resiliency of electric cooperatives can be traced to proactive maintenance and infrastructure investments. That’s where the value of your co-op’s service is found—in the electric grid.

“It’s a system that’s become so reliable, it’s understandable some people take it for granted,” says Chris Perry, president and CEO of Kentucky Electric Cooperatives. A resilient grid utilizes different types of generation—such as coal, natural gas, solar and hydro—to seamlessly work together to provide safe, reliable and affordable power to the last mile of Kentucky co-op members. Yet Perry warns that political forces aiming to dismantle that diverse energy mix “threaten to sacrifice the on-demand reliability and affordability of co-op electric service. Kentuckians deserve a robust discussion before drastic changes are made that could impact future reliability and affordability.”

Kentucky’s electric co-op system is designed and built to withstand high winds, powerful storms, cybersecurity threats and other disruptions. When major outages do occur, such as after February’s ice storm, co-ops work together to help restore power. Your local co-op, local co-op board and local employees respond to needs in your local area, uniquely suited to understand your local community.

The cooperative way

The 26 electric cooperatives in Kentucky serve more than 1.5 million co-op members in 117 counties. Kentucky Electric Cooperatives is the statewide association that publishes Kentucky Living. Co-ops share information and practical advice, pooling their resources to encourage innovation and high standards in safety training, disaster response, communications, technical knowledge, economic development and advocacy.

“We advocate for all co-op members,” Perry says. “Yes, to the last mile.”

COVID-19 Relief Passed by Congress Helps Co-op Members

Congress has approved a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill that could help struggling electric cooperative consumer-members pay their electric bills.

The American Rescue Plan Act provides an additional $4.5 billion in emergency funding for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program. The money, available through September 2022, helps pay for home heating and cooling for low-income households, including elderly and disabled people and families with young children.

NRECA, along with six other energy-related associations, sent a letter to congressional leaders on Feb. 4 urging them to increase LIHEAP funding by $10 billion.

The relief package also allocates $21.5 billion in additional funding for emergency rental assistance, which helps people pay their rent and utility bills, including both past due and future payments. Funds will be available through September 2027.

Homeowners hit hard by the pandemic will be eligible for assistance as part of a new, nearly $10 billion program to help them pay their mortgage, utility and internet bills. The money will be dispersed by states and local governments through September 2025.

“This package provides some much-needed relief to co-op consumer-members who have suffered job losses and other economic devastation caused by the pandemic,” said Louis Finkel, NRECA’s senior vice president of government relations.

The Senate passed the legislation Saturday, and the House approved it Wednesday. President Joe Biden, who made COVID-19 relief the first legislative priority of his administration, signed the bill into law Thursday.

In addition to helping people pay their electric bills, the legislation includes potential broadband funding opportunities, gives more money to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Disaster Relief Fund and expands support for small businesses.

The bill includes $340 billion in COVID-19 recovery funds to state and local governments, which have the option to use the money for broadband deployment if they choose. It also establishes a $7.2 billion emergency connectivity fund at the Federal Communications Commission that aims to close the homework gap by providing funds to eligible schools and libraries to pay for up to 100% of internet service, Wi-Fi hotspots and equipment costs.

The legislation also provides $25 billion in grants to restaurants devastated by the pandemic. The businesses can use the money to pay their electric and internet bills, along with other eligible expenses.

Co-ops battered by storms, fires and other disasters could benefit from an additional $50 billion in the bill for the FEMA Disaster Relief Fund. 

Congress also expanded eligibility for loans under the Paycheck Protection Program to most nonprofits, affirming guidance from the Treasury Department and the Small Business Administration on electric co-op eligibility. The program is designed to help small businesses keep their workers employed during the pandemic. They can also use the money to pay their utility bills.

Erin Kelly is a staff writer at NRECA.

House Bill 320 approved: opens broadband to co-ops

In a significant win for the electric cooperative program in Kentucky, the General Assembly approved legislation Tuesday that allows regulated electric cooperatives to add broadband service, and earmarks $250 million in federal funding to encourage broadband deployment in unserved and underserved areas. The bill now goes to Governor Andy Beshear for his signature or veto.
 
Supported by a grassroots campaign of Kentucky’s electric cooperatives, House Bill 320 does not include any changes to existing pole attachment regulations that would have led to electric rate increases. Instead, the bill requires the Public Service Commission to promulgate updated pole attachment regulations by the end of the year.

After the Kentucky Senate unanimously approved the bill late Tuesday afternoon, the House followed hours later.

The bill sets aside $250 million from Kentucky’s share of the federal coronavirus relief package, but only $50 million of the funds will be allocated before April, 2022.

Republican Senate Pro Tem David Givens said lawmakers were “planting the seed” and could make more decisions about funding in the future.

“Let’s get people doing it right before we start overfunding or funding in ways that cause potential mischief or poor investments,” Givens said.

Co-ops urge lawmakers to vote NO on ‘pole tax’

To protect co-op consumer-members, Kentucky’s electric cooperatives are urging lawmakers to vote down any attempts to tack broadband costs onto the electric bills of local ratepayers.

Some for-profit telecommunications companies are behind an effort to pass along the “pole attachment” costs of broadband expansion to electric cooperatives. This cost shift would trigger rate increases by the not-for-profit cooperatives. Despite co-ops explaining this net effect of pole attachment charges, telecom companies are pushing forward with this plan anyway.

“Legislators need to hear from you and other local electric ratepayers that these multi-billion dollar for-profit companies who are already receiving hundreds of millions of tax dollars to expand broadband service, should not pad the pockets of their shareholders by adding these extra costs to your power bill,” said Chris Perry, president and CEO of Kentucky Electric Cooperatives.

  • FACT: If broadband providers succeed in passing along these unrelated broadband costs to electric bills, all ratepayers will see higher electric bills, not just the ones who might gain broadband service.
  • FACT: For years, Kentucky’s electric cooperatives have worked to accommodate the needs of telecommunications providers, allowing access to the cooperative pole network and relieving telecoms from the burden of having to build their own systems.
  • FACT: Kentucky’s electric cooperatives have engaged in good-faith discussions with broadband providers and the Public Service Commission to review and modernize pole attachment regulations with the shared goal of speeding up broadband expansion while preserving the safety and reliability of both the public and line workers.
  • FACT: If an electric utility pole is sufficient to provide electric service, but enhancements to the pole are necessary to accommodate an additional attachment (such as broadband), those “make ready” costs are the obligation of the broadband company, not a local cooperative.

“Broadband companies must not be allowed to hide the cost of doing business in the electric bills of rural Kentuckians,” Perry said. “Co-ops are owned by the people we serve, we are working to protect your interests, and we need your help, so lawmakers understand this issue is important to you.”

Click here to tell your legislator “STOP Hidden Fees by Voting NO on Pole Attachments in Kentucky.”

Rural Kentucky pins broadband hopes on House Bill 320

Rural Kentucky’s long and frustrating wait for high-speed internet broadband service may soon get an historic boost.

With an overwhelming and bipartisan 91-4 vote on Wednesday, the Kentucky House approved legislation that allocates $250 million for broadband expansion and allows electric cooperatives to add broadband service.

“Those of us from the rural areas of this state have waited and waited and we’ve become impatient,” said House Speaker Pro Tempore David Meade (R-Stanford). “And it’s time to do something. The funds are here. The need is evident. So, let’s strike while the iron is hot.”

Sponsored by Rep. Brandon Reed (R-Hodgenville) and Rep. Jason Petrie (R-Elkton), House Bill 320 now heads to the Kentucky Senate, where it has the backing of rural advocates such as the Kentucky Farm Bureau and Kentucky Electric Cooperatives.

Introducing the bill on the House floor, Reed explained “it moves broadband forward in the Commonwealth of Kentucky with significant investment,” and “will clear the way for rural electric cooperatives to feasibly provide broadband service in unserved and underserved households and businesses through an affiliate.”

Though electric cooperatives did not spearhead the legislation, co-op leaders said they welcome and appreciate the confidence and trust legislators place in co-ops’ ability to serve the last mile.

“On the whole, areas served by regulated electric cooperatives in Kentucky are underserved by current broadband providers,” said Chris Perry president and CEO of Kentucky Electric Cooperatives, the statewide association of co-ops. “Because our co-op members need and deserve access to reliable high-speed broadband service, co-ops are encouraged that House Bill 320 breaks down unnecessary restrictions on who is allowed to provide broadband service and identifies crucial funding to make rural broadband service a reality.”

As the bill was introduced on Wednesday, an amendment offered by Meade boosted funding from $100 million to $250 million.

“Some of our areas have three to four homes per mile, and those areas will never be enticing to those large communication companies to service,” Meade said. “We’ve seen that year after year as we have been up here passing legislation to deregulate telecom companies and to establish avenues for additional money to entice them to expand to that last mile. And when I say ‘last mile,’ I mean to that last house on that small county back road in rural areas.

“We have seen that everything we have done has not been able to accomplish this ultimate goal. But with this bill, we are making a giant leap towards that goal. With this bill, we are saying to rural Kentucky, we know your need, we have heard you, and we care for you.”

The legislation would permit a local electric co-op to assess the practicality of offering broadband service through a subsidiary. Currently, 19 of Kentucky’s 24 local distribution cooperatives are not permitted to provide broadband service to their members. Yet four electric cooperatives in Kentucky are among hundreds nationally already successfully engaged in broadband expansion. House Bill 320 would put all co-ops on equal footing regarding broadband service.

House Bill 320 does not mandate that an electric cooperative provide broadband service. Instead, each co-op would determine whether entering the broadband business could be accomplished without jeopardizing the co-op’s primary objective of providing safe, reliable and affordable electricity to its members.

“Throughout every discussion, co-ops have insisted that any broadband expansion should not result in electric cooperative members paying more on their current electric bill,” Perry said. “This principle holds true with House Bill 320 which co-ops support as written and strongly oppose any amendments to this legislation that would pass the costs of broadband expansion onto the electric bills of local Kentuckians.”

As senators prepare to consider the bill, it’s being sent with a passionate call for action.

“We have 32,000 children in the state of Kentucky without internet,” said Rep. Phillip Pratt (R-Georgetown), “We have counties everywhere that do not have internet. This is a move forward to get this to the unserved and underserved areas of Kentucky. I would encourage everyone to be a Yes vote because this is sorely needed without a doubt.”

Wicked Winter Weather Leads to Power Outages for Millions Across Nation

Millions of Americans were without power Tuesday as brutal winter weather spiked demand for electricity, causing widespread outages and forcing Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and other states to institute rolling blackouts to conserve energy.

Texas was by far the hardest-hit, with more than 4 million customers without power as of Tuesday afternoon. Oregon, Kentucky, Louisiana and West Virginia also had more than 100,000 outages, according to poweroutage.us.

Electric cooperatives and other utilities struggled to meet consumer demand that exceeded power supply as temperatures plunged and ice and snowstorms wreaked havoc. More storms are expected later this week.

“Due to continued frigid weather across Texas, the regional electric grid is operating under emergency conditions,” Pedernales Electric Cooperative said in a statement on its website. “Utilities statewide, including Pedernales Electric Cooperative (PEC), have been directed to reduce demand. As a result, service interruptions will occur throughout the PEC service territory.”

PEC said the service interruptions will continue “as long as the regional grid operator experiences peak demand.”

Neighboring Louisiana reported nearly 156,000 outages throughout the state early Tuesday, according to poweroutage.us.

“Due to the increase in power usage caused by the colder than normal temperatures and strain on the electrical infrastructure, our grid and transmission operators are no longer able to meet the demand of the network of transmission lines, and as a result load-shedding measures have become necessary until further notice,” said the Association of Louisiana Electric Cooperatives in a statement Tuesday. “At this time, Louisiana electric cooperatives have not been given an estimated time on how long these load-shedding outages will last.”

Kentucky co-ops were reeling from back-to-back ice storms.

“With the help of daylight, co-ops are assessing the extensive damage to their systems from back-to-back ice storms with crippling accumulations,” Kentucky Electric Cooperatives said in a tweet Tuesday morning. “About 100,000 consumer-members are without power in what looks to be a prolonged restoration effort.”

Missouri, Oklahoma and Virginia each reported outages in the range of 50,000 to 100,000. Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Kansas, Mississippi, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina and Ohio reported 10,000 to 50,000 outages.

Some co-ops urged their consumer-members to reduce their use of electricity during the weather emergency so that everyone could get at least some power.

“The Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas ask members to immediately limit the use of electric service through the next 24 hours to ensure that members will continue to receive at least a minimum of electric service,” the statewide association said in a statement Tuesday. “Additional appeals may be necessary.”

Andrew Lachowsky, vice president of planning and market operations for the Arkansas association, said that rolling outages are possible unless electric consumption is reduced immediately. Because of the extremely cold weather, demand is exceeding supply for utility customers in the western part of the state, he said.

“This is an unprecedented time, and we urge electric cooperative members to immediately reduce the use of electrical requirements by turning off or not using non-essential lights and electric appliances, especially electric water heaters, clothes dryers and dishwashers and to turn heating thermostats to lower settings,” Lachowsky said.

Co-ops rushed to assist their neighboring co-ops whenever possible, but many were unable to divert crews from their own territories as more storms headed their way.

Crews from Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative in Virginia were helping restore power Tuesday to consumer-members of Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative in the aftermath of a weekend ice storm.

“Here’s a look at what our crews are facing,” SVEC said in a tweet that showed photos of downed trees hitting power lines. “Your continued thoughts and prayers are welcome through the restoration process!”

Erin Kelly is a staff writer at NRECA.

Stay clear of downed power lines

Kentucky weather can be unpredictable. Many think the danger is over after the storm passes, but the most dangerous time can be during the storm recovery period.  

Keep your distance from downed power lines and know what to do if you see one. 

If you see a downed power line, which could be making contact with tree limbs, vehicles and puddles, always stay clear at least 40 feet as the ground around the line may be energized up to 35 feet. Avoid walking in water after a storm.

Assume that all downed lines are live power lines and never attempt to move a line or anything else touching it. There is no way of knowing whether or not the power line is still live. Large overhead power lines can carry more than 700,000 volts of electricity. Fatalities can occur when someone comes in contact with a live wire of only a couple hundred volts.

If a power line has made contact

If someone has made contact with a power line, do not try to rescue the person. You can’t help if you become a victim. Immediately call 911 for assistance, and contact your local electric utility to turn off the power.  

If your vehicle comes in contact with a downed power line, stay inside. Call 911 or honk your horn for help, but tell everyone to stay away from the vehicle. 

If you must exit the vehicle for safety reasons, jump clear of the vehicle. Do not let any part of your body or clothing touch the vehicle and ground at the same time. Land with your feet together and shuffle away (in small steps or a bunny hop, making sure to keep your feet together) to avoid electric shock. Keep moving away until you are at least 40 feet from the vehicle. 

Downed lines on your property 

If you have a downed power line on your property, do not go near it; assume it is energized and dangerous. Contact your local electric cooperative with specific information on the location of the downed line. Wait until after the co-op crew or emergency officials have confirmed it is safe to clear the debris. 

For power restoration, make sure the co-op has your current contact information on file. 

We know firsthand how dangerous electricity is because Kentucky’s electric cooperatives work with it all day, every day. It is no accident that safety is our top priority.

NRECA urges broadband funding review

NRECA is urging the Biden administration to review the winners of $9.2 billion in federal funds for rural broadband to ensure they can truly meet their bid obligations.

“We stand up for the 42 million people we serve,” NRECA CEO Jim Matheson said. “When it comes to the unserved, it’s disproportionally rural communities. Broadband may be provided by electric cooperatives or someone else, but we must make sure the technology and the level of service are accurately reflected in the bids.”

Matheson on Feb. 1 sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission accompanied by a white paper from NRECA and NRTC describing concerns about certain winning bids in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Phase I and offering remedies if an FCC review finds winners unable to meet their commitments.

“Our focus is on making sure that every unserved American has access to reliable and robust broadband that will meet not just their needs today but also into the future,” Matheson wrote. “NRECA and our member cooperatives stand ready to work with the FCC and other stakeholders to make sure RDOF Phase I is a success and to move forward with planning for phase II.”