ARLINGTON, Va. – More than 1,500 electric cooperative CEOs and other co-op representatives will take co-op priorities to Capitol Hill April 19-23 for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s (NRECA) Legislative Conference and congressional visits. The conference and meetings with lawmakers will be conducted virtually.
“Because they are built by and belong to the communities they serve, electric cooperatives have a unique perspective on local needs and are strong advocates for the rural families and businesses they serve,” said NRECA CEO Jim Matheson. “Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, NRECA and our members have kept open lines of communication with elected officials to advance our shared priorities and secure critical assistance for co-op consumer-members. We look forward to continuing these conversations next week as thousands of co-op advocates conduct virtual conversations with lawmakers.”
Three electric cooperative priority issues
Co-op leaders will highlight three priorities during the congressional visits:
- Refinancing Rural Utilities Service (RUS) loans: Co-ops are pressing for passage of The Flexible Financing for Rural America Act (H.R. 2244, S. 978). The bill would provide critical economic relief by allowing electric cooperatives to refinance USDA Rural Utilities Service loans at lower interest rates without penalty—just as other businesses do. This change would save co-ops and their consumer-members as much as $10 billion.
- Rural broadband: More than 200 co-ops provide broadband service to their consumer-members, but an expanded combination of federal grant and loan funding is essential to close the digital divide. Co-ops are calling on Congress to: support sustained broadband financing that prioritizes projects in areas with the lowest population densities, and provide greater oversight of the Federal Communications Commission to ensure winning Rural Development Opportunity Fund (RDOF) Phase I bidders have the financial, technical and operational ability to provide quality broadband service. The FCC estimates that 34 million Americans still lack access to high-speed internet, the vast majority of whom live in rural communities served by electric co-ops.
- Comparable tax credits for energy innovation: As not-for-profit businesses, electric co-ops cannot access certain clean energy innovation tax incentives that are available to other businesses. Congress should address this by providing comparable access to federal investment and production tax incentives and additional financing options, such as a clean and renewable energy bond program, to support co-op projects that promote clean, affordable, and reliable electricity.
Sen. Grassley wins Distinguished Service Award
Prior to NRECA’s Legislative Conference, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) was presented with NRECA’s Distinguished Service Award, which recognizes a lawmaker’s outstanding contribution to the progress of electric cooperatives and the public power program in the United States.
Grassley was recognized for his unwavering support for America’s electric cooperatives throughout his six decades of public service, including his hometown co-op, Butler County REC. He played a leading role in advancing key electric co-op policy priorities, including enactment in 2019 of the RURAL Act, which saved co-ops from losing their tax-exempt status if they received government grants surpassing 15% of their non-member income. This legislation saved electric co-ops millions of dollars in federal taxes that now go directly toward serving co-op consumer-members.
Grassley also championed legislation to repeal the “Cadillac Tax” imposed on health care benefits that cooperatives provide for their employees. NRECA estimated that its member cooperatives would save more than $30 million a year in pension insurance premiums because of this legislation.
“Butler County REC is proud to be Sen. Grassley’s hometown cooperative,” said Craig Codner, the co-op’s CEO. “We appreciate his advocacy for cooperatives. From his support of legislation to his morning run with Iowa Youth Tour participants, his dedication is evident. We congratulate Sen. Grassley on his much-deserved Distinguished Service Award.”
“We are honored that NRECA has recognized Sen. Grassley with this important award,” said Chuck Soderberg, executive vice president, Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives. “Throughout his decades of public service, Sen. Grassley has gone above and beyond to fight for co-ops, their employees, their communities, and the cooperative business model. We are incredibly grateful to have Sen. Grassley serving the state of Iowa and especially grateful that we can call him a true friend of America’s electric cooperatives.”
“Sen. Grassley is an exemplary friend to electric co-ops and understands well the important role they play across the nation,” said Matheson. “He has helped pave the way for co-op priorities on Capitol Hill, always with the goal of improving the quality of life in rural communities. I commend Sen. Grassley for his unwavering focus on the needs of his constituents and his commitment to ensuring the continued availability of affordable and reliable power.”
The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association is the national trade association representing nearly 900 local electric cooperatives. From growing suburbs to remote farming communities, electric co-ops serve as engines of economic development for 42 million Americans across 56 percent of the nation’s landscape. As local businesses built by the consumers they serve, electric cooperatives have meaningful ties to rural America and invest $12 billion annually in their communities.