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Electric Co-op Group
Resumes Independent Operations

July 7, 2016, MADISON, WI—The Wisconsin Electric Cooperative Association (WECA) returned to operation as a stand-alone organization this week, following the move of its offices to a new headquarters in downtown Madison during the Fourth of July holiday weekend.

The WECA’s governing board conducted its first meeting in the new headquarters Thursday.

Following discussions involving all cooperative business sectors in Wisconsin beginning last year, the WECA ended its role as a division of Cooperative Network effective July 1. The affiliation with Cooperative Network, the statewide trade association for cooperatives in Wisconsin and Minnesota, dated to the 1996 unification of WECA with the then-Wisconsin
Federation of Cooperatives.

The nation’s first statewide electric cooperative association, the WECA had operated as a stand-alone organization for three-fourths of its 80-year history. The group marked the 80th anniversary of its founding on April 30.

“WECA has a long, successful history of fulfilling its mission to help electric cooperatives provide safe, reliable, and affordable energy to the state’s rural areas,” said David Paudler, WECA board chairman, who explained the return to independent status as a necessary response to “challenges that are unique to electric cooperatives among the many sectors represented in a joint co-op organization.”

“Through its first 60 years, the WECA responded successfully to issues that threatened the very survival of electric cooperatives,” said Steve Freese, WECA president and CEO. “The issues uniquely confronting electric cooperatives today present no lesser threat to our co-ops and their member-owners.”

Paudler cited federal regulation he said “could make it impossible for the co-ops to continue their mission of providing reliable, affordable electricity to rural residents and businesses.”

“Nationwide—and Wisconsin is no different—electric cooperatives serve populations that are exceptionally vulnerable to the damaging economic consequences of ill-considered regulation,” said Freese, who noted that most of the Wisconsin counties with extensive electric co-op service areas have disproportionate numbers of elderly residents on fixed incomes and lower-income households, and have household incomes below the statewide mean.

“Unlike investor-owned or municipal utilities, electric cooperatives have no investors or government entities to fall back on,” Paudler explained. “If economic challenges get out of hand—whether because of a natural disaster or expenses imposed by a regulatory agency out of control—there’s no one to bear the cost but the co-op members who own the organization. That’s why we have a literal survival interest in staying alert to public policy issues and keeping involved.”

Independent operations mean 100 percent of the dues paid by electric cooperatives as well as 100 percent of the time and effort of the WECA staff can be committed toward electric co-op-specific issues, Paudler said.

Additional areas of WECA focus in the rapidly changing electric utility industry include greater reliance on renewable energy resources, Paudler said.

“Electric cooperatives—nationwide and in Wisconsin—already lead the electric utility industry in exploring renewable energy resources,” he said. “Full focus of time and resources toward these efforts will help ensure electric co-ops continue to set the standard in renewable energy generation.”

WECA provides member education, communications, government relations and other services on behalf of 24 local electric distribution cooperatives and one generation and transmission cooperative serving member-owners in Wisconsin and parts of Illinois, Iowa, and Minnesota.

A pioneer of the U.S. electric cooperative movement in ways beyond its founding as the first statewide association of its kind, it launched the nation’s first statewide publication for electric co-op members, a newspaper called the Wisconsin REA News, which has since evolved into the monthly Wisconsin Energy Cooperative News magazine (WECN). The magazine celebrated its 75th anniversary with its July 2015 edition.

WECA is now located at:

222 West Washington Avenue
Ste. 680
Madison, WI 53703