Duane Noland, President/CEO of the Association of Illinois Electric Cooperative
Take time to be politically involved
Energy issues shuffled, but loan legislation in the mix
In May, 85 cooperative leaders from across Illinois took time off from their jobs and farm work to travel to Washington, D.C. to show grassroots support for the National Association of Electric Cooperatives’ (NRECA) legislative efforts. These citizen-lobbyists joined more than 2,500 fellow co-op members from across the U.S. in a blitz of Capitol Hill. They were asking for support of fair, affordable and achievable energy-climate legislation, a “timeout” on the EPA using the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gas emissions and support for maintaining Rural Utility Services funding.
I want to publicly thank these co-op leaders for their efforts. It is a difficult time for many of them to leave their jobs or farms when they are in the middle of planting season. But they realize this legislative work is a high priority, too. They realize the old saying – you need to make hay while the sun shines — is true. And I can’t imagine a more critical time to be politically involved.
It’s amazing how much Congress has on its plate at this time. They just completed healthcare reform and moved on to financial reform due to all the Wall Street issues. It looked like climate change legislation was the next issue, front and center. However, Arizona’s immigration law now has this politically challenging issue competing for the attention of Congress.
Now there is some uncertainty about what will come next, immigration or climate change? Or will climate change legislation be cut back and only the energy piece of that puzzle addressed? We worry about the cap and trade component of the current climate change bill because we see that as a cap and tax and very costly for electric cooperative members and the economy.
So, if climate change legislation is slowed up that is not necessarily bad. We have to get it right. But make no mistake, we would rather have the certainty of legislation than the uncertainty of the EPA putting in rules and regulations that we really can’t live with, and the EPA is moving forward with carbon regulation right now.
There is, however, some good news. A new bill could help electric co-ops assist members with low interest energy efficiency improvement loans. The Rural Energy Savings Program Act is tailored for the rural cooperative member because many of our members are on fixed incomes or low incomes, but may not qualify for the programs of our community action agencies. This program would allow them, through very low-interest loans, to make energy efficiency improvements. The electric co-op would make the loan from funds provided by RUS and then repay the federal loan as members pay back their loans. So it would have a very low cost to taxpayers.
We think this will have wide bi-partisan support. Members of Congress including Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.), and Rep. Phil Hare (D-Ill.) said in our meetings with them in May that they would be co-sponsoring that legislation. I’m sure we will see others agree to help pass this. So stay tuned.
This also dovetails nicely into the stimulus grant to the Illinois electric cooperatives through the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO). It is a $1.5 million program that will help Illinois co-op members make energy efficiency improvements. Read more about this on page 20.
We also realize we need to engage, inspire and educate the next generation of co-op leaders. That is why we sponsor the Youth Day in Springfield program and the Youth to Washington Tour. In April, we had 250 young leaders at the state capitol building and they met with their state senators and representatives. They also heard from Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, who is the Democrat candidate for U.S. Senate. In June, we will be sending a select group of young leaders to Washington, D.C. and they will meet with our U.S. Congressional representatives.
This is an election year. I urge all of you to stay informed and participate in the process. To learn more go to www.ourenergy.coop.
Duane Noland, President/CEO of the Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives is a former state senator, active on his family farm near Blue Mound and a member of Shelby Electric Cooperative.
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