Democratic Member Control



Steve Freese
President and CEO

September was a month of fulfilling Cooperative Principle Number 2, “Democratic Member Control.” The idea behind this principle is that cooperatives are democratic organizations controlled by their members. These members actively participate in setting policies and making decisions. The first step of this democratic control is having members express where they stand on issues affecting their electric cooperatives; it is no different for Wisconsin electric cooperatives.

In mid-September, we participated in the Region 5 National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) meeting in Des Moines, Iowa. Cooperative leaders from Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin had the opportunity to express our members’ positions on various national issues. The road to this regional meeting started at your electric cooperative’s annual meeting when you elected your electric cooperative board of directors. Those board directors then represent you and your cooperative at the state and federal levels by providing input to both our statewide and national trade organizations. These two organizations take member input to determine their stance when lobbying on issues.

The issues covered in Des Moines included supporting an equitable treatment in energy tax policy, so electric cooperatives have fair treatment with other energy providers when Congress considers tax-exempt financing loans or energy incentives. We also urged NRECA to undertake legislative and regulatory initiatives to fund research, development, and construction of nuclear power. Nuclear power is a low-carbon dispatchable resource that is critical for the reliability of the nation’s power supply. We also urged NRECA to undertake appropriate federal legislative and regulatory initiatives to address spent nuclear fuel and nuclear waste responsibly.

Then, in late September, eight cooperative leaders representing Wisconsin’s eight congressional districts, along with representatives from Dairyland Power Cooperative, our generation and transmission member, joined WECA Vice President of Government Relations and External Affairs Rob Richard and me in Washington, D.C., for a one-day fly-in to lobby our members of Congress on issues affecting our member cooperatives.

One of the significant issues is a proposed rule from the Department of Energy (DOE) that would require shifting transformers made from grain-oriented electrical steel (GOES) cores to amorphous steel cores. GOES, the industry standard, currently accounts for more than 95 percent of the American distribution transformer market. In DOE’s effort to increase transformer efficiency, in many cases by only 1% or less with this rule, the supply chain shortage will worsen because manufacturers would be required to change production lines to less readily available amorphous steel. Currently, the United States has one domestic producer of amorphous steel. Moving to amorphous steel cores, as proposed by DOE, would require this sole American supplier, with its current market share of less than 5 percent, to accommodate the entire distribution transformer market and rapidly increase its operations. This supply-chain delay and shortfall will be catastrophic if we want to stabilize the grid and provide enough new transformers to accommodate all the new electric vehicles on the market.

The second major issue we talked to our members of Congress about is something I have shared with you in this column before—the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed rules to limit greenhouse gas emissions from new and existing fossil fuel-fired electric generating units under the Clean Air Act. We shared with congressional representatives our belief that the proposed rules contain unrealistic and unachievable timelines. The compliance deadlines endanger new and existing natural gas plants and all but ensure coal units will shut down. It is unlikely that the infrastructure could be put in place due to the Wisconsin Public Service Commission’s permitting process, cost, supply-chain challenges, public opposition, and land ownership/access. We believe the rules threaten baseload electricity production, reliability, and affordability. We also shared our support for the Farm Bill and broadband legislation.

September was a very busy month for your cooperative leaders as they effectively advocated on your behalf in fulfillment of the Second Cooperative Principle to represent you. As a witness to their effort and dedication, you can all be proud of the work they put in to influence NRECA’s policy resolutions and the entire Wisconsin congressional delegation’s stance on energy issues to maintain safe, affordable, and reliable electricity.