From energy storage to broadband to solar power, electric cooperatives are delivering innovative solutions to their consumer-members, and NRECA is advocating “common sense” policy to clear their path, NRECA CEO Jim Matheson told energy leaders at a Jan. 24 forum in Washington.
Advances that co-ops have made in renewable energy, batteries, microgrids, carbon capture and more attest to their desire to meet their members’ needs, he said, and government policy should promote broad research and development to support such community-based innovation.
“Co-ops have this remarkable track record of innovation,” said Matheson. “Now the consumers decide if they want panels on their roof or to put in storage. Consumers are more and more in the driver’s seat. That consumer focus is the only focus we have.”
Matheson delivered his remarks at the 15th Annual State of the Energy Industry Forum sponsored by the U.S. Energy Association.
NRECA’s advocacy priorities this year will include pursuing flexible energy and infrastructure policy, rural broadband access, greater grid resilience and environmental regulations that support and encourage energy R&D, he said.
Matheson noted that even with a divided federal government, many co-op priorities offer opportunities for bipartisan success.
One such priority is broadband, where more than 100 co-ops are working to connect some of the 23 million mostly rural Americans still without access to high-speed internet. Robust federal grant and loan programs are needed to support this effort, he said.
“We have to change current federal policies” to ensure universal broadband access, Matheson said. “We don’t advocate a technology or a business model. We want consumers to have broadband whatever the technology is.”
Matheson underscored how electric co-ops are community-based and approach challenges with flexibility and an understanding of local needs. He mentioned several national co-op successes:
- A tenfold increase in co-op-developed solar power since 2015.
- The largest solar-battery storage facility in the United States at Kauaʻi Island Utility Cooperative in Hawaii.
- The Wyoming Integrated Test Center for carbon capture and sequestration at Basin Electric Cooperative’s Dry Fork Station, a state-of-the-art coal-based power plant. NRECA and member co-ops support the project.
- Several ongoing co-op battery projects, including one at United Power Cooperative in Brighton, Colorado, that could save consumer-members up to $1 million.
“We’re focused on enabling a better future for the communities that we serve,” said Matheson. “We look forward to continuing this conversation throughout 2019.”
Cathy Cash is a staff writer at NRECA.