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COMMENTARY ARCHVES
   

DECEMBER COMMENTARY
by Share Brandt

 

Become a 21st Century
Minuteman for Rural Electrification

The Rural Electrification Administration (REA) low-interest loans were first offered to the already established private utilities. However, these utilities wanted to serve only the most populous rural areas, and they wanted to charge rural consumers high rates in order to assure their normal profits. Profits were not the intended purpose of the REA loans.

That is when REA’s first administrator, Morris L. Cooke, advised President FDR that not-for-profit electric cooperatives were the only way to provide affordable electric service to farmers. Utility industry executives were dubious about the farmer’s ability or inclination to go into debt for electricity and were sure the new co-ops would fail. One utility executive said: “Let the farmers build electric cooperatives; then when they fail, we will buy them up at 10 cents on the dollar.”

Intimidation Response

Farmers and their electric cooperatives did not fail and are still thriving today. During those early years, more and more electric cooperatives were established, which prompted the private companies to fight harder against this interference with their profits. The power companies engaged in strategies to “cherry pick” the customers in the more-populated fringes of rural areas while leaving the poorer ones without power. They drove from farm to farm, warning farmers against joining a new co-op, telling them they would be putting a mortgage on their property. In reality the farmer only put at risk a $5 membership fee.

This battle went on for years. It prompted electric cooperatives to establish the “Minuteman for Rural Electrification,” dedicated to the promotion and preservation of the rural electrification program. Volunteers were issued a certificate of appointment that featured a logo of the Willie Wiredhand character in colonial minuteman garb with a rifle. The Minutemen advocated for their electric cooperatives to keep electric rates affordable for rural America.

Today electric cooperatives still serve the least-populated areas without adding profits for investors. We continue to advocate for affordable electric rates because we serve a disproportionate number of low-income people compared to other utilities in more populated areas.

Activism Needed Again

Our concern today is that in September the administration officially abandoned an all-of-the-above energy strategy in favor of a new, all-but-one approach that effectively removes coal from the nation’s fuel mix in the future. The policy, proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), sets stringent limits on carbon dioxide emissions from future coal or natural gas plants. Trouble is, the new standards are impossible to meet with existing technology.

As we wait for the proposed new standards for our existing coal plants in June 2014 we are working to implore the EPA to recognize our reliance on coal. Wisconsin depends on coal for over 60 percent of its affordable electricity; for many rural electric cooperative members the percentage is higher. We have invested heavily in our coal plants to reduce all types of emissions where technology is available. We need time to run those plants to recoup those investments while preparing to invest in newer, cleaner technologies as they become commercially available and not just scientific research projects.

Please enlist in our new campaign to tell the EPA we cannot afford an all-but-one energy strategy. We need to use an all-of-the-above approach using our domestic resources to provide affordable, reliable and safe electricity to power our homes and industries. Make your voice heard through the Cooperative Action Network at www.ACTION.coop.

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