Matheson: Co-ops Ready to Support Policies That Help Challenged Communities

NRECA CEO Jim Matheson

NRECA CEO Jim Matheson hailed the heroic efforts of electric cooperatives during the COVID-19 pandemic at an energy leadership conference and said co-ops are ready to work with a new Congress and administration to ensure reliable and affordable power for their members.

“Co-ops really are about constructive, positive ideas to help the communities that they serve,” Matheson told the U.S. Energy Association’s State of the Energy Industry Forum held virtually Jan. 28. “That’s how we’re going to look at the tough days ahead in terms of the pandemic and everything else.”

A top policy priority is a bill to allow electric co-ops to reprice billions of dollars in Rural Utilities Service loans without penalty. Being able to take advantage of today’s low interest rates would help co-ops save more than $10 billion and reduce electricity costs for 42 million Americans, many of whom are financially challenged, he noted.

“Most businesses in America have had the ability to refinance and take advantage of the lower cost of capital, but for co-ops it will take an act of Congress,” said Matheson. “Any decision that affects co-ops affects the rates we charge our consumers.”  

NRECA last year forged a bipartisan coalition of 127 House and 25 Senate members in support of repricing RUS loans, but the provision was not included in the final spending package in December.

“We will continue to build on these efforts in Congress to get this across the finish line in 2021,” he said.

NRECA also will work for parity for not-for-profit co-ops on tax incentives for renewable energy, energy storage and carbon capture and sequestration, Matheson said. “It’s important for us to be part of the solution in the deployment of these technologies.”

Should bipartisan infrastructure legislation gain traction, Matheson said NRECA will work to include investment in the electric grid and rural broadband.

“Broadband has got to be part of an infrastructure package,” he said. “We stand ready to ensure that rural America has access to the broadband service that the rest of the country has.”

Matheson underscored how providing reliable and affordable electric service is fundamental to electric co-ops.

“We serve 92% of the persistent poverty counties in America,” he said. “When co-ops talk about affordability, we’re talking about consumer-owned utilities, and these consumers are in challenging economic circumstances. So that affordability issue, I know it matters to everyone, but I want to tell you that it’s a big deal for us. It’s in our DNA, and it’s something we think about every day.”

Listen to a recent NRECA podcast episode on advocating for co-op priorities in the new Congress and new administration:

Cathy Cash is a staff writer at NRECA.