Evers Signs Electric Co-op Legislation | $322M in Utility, Rental Assistance Available | Texas’s Blackout Crisis Affects CFC Credit Rating | Beware of High-Pressure Solar Sales | NRTC’s Clark Ends Term as Chair

Evers Signs Electric Cooperative Legislation

Governor Tony Evers has signed 2021 Wisconsin Act 5 into law, which “changes current law to allow a cooperative to hold an annual member meeting or special member meeting and conduct votes remotely.” Additionally, the bill allows a cooperative’s board of directors to adopt bylaws that are effective only in an emergency and provide emergency powers to a cooperative in anticipation of, or during, an emergency.

The Wisconsin Electric Cooperative Association (WECA) worked with lawmakers including Senator Patrick Testin (R-Stevens Point) and Representative Rob Summerfield (R-Bloomer) to push the legislation to revise state statute so that electric cooperatives are protected from potential legal challenges to actions taken during a virtual meeting.

The Wisconsin Senate and Assembly both passed the legislation on voice votes.

$322 Million in Utility, Rental Assistance Available in Wisconsin

Wisconsin residents affected financially by the coronavirus pandemic may be eligible for up to a year of assistance for rent and utility payments. Governor Tony Evers announced $322 million is now available through the new Wisconsin Emergency Rental Assistance Program. For more info, go to doa.wi.gov.

Eligible applicants include Wisconsin residents who are behind in rent or at risk of eviction, have seen their income reduced by the COVID-19 pandemic, and/or earn a household income at or below 80 percent of the county median income. Once approved, rental and utility assistance payments are made directly to the landlord or utility provider on behalf of the tenant.

The effort is funded by the Federal Emergency Rental Assistance Program, administered by the U.S. Department of Treasury.

President Joe Biden has also signed a $1.9 trillion coronavirus-aid bill, which includes an additional $4.5 billion for utility bill assistance.

Texas’s Blackout Crisis Affects CFC Credit Rating

The financial vulnerability of utilities following extreme cold that knocked generators offline and drove up energy prices in Texas has affected the credit rating of the National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corporation (CFC), which mainly serves electric cooperatives. S&P Global Ratings dropped CFC’s long-term credit rating from A to A-. According to the latest quarterly financial disclosure, the Texas market accounts for 15 percent of CFC’s $27.1 billion in outstanding loans.

CFC has not had any loan defaults in its electric utility loan portfolio since fiscal year 2013. According to Reuters, the credit rating agency said ERCOT could exercise so-called uplift provisions, which means the unpaid bills of defaulting utilities would be absorbed by remaining participants, which would weaken their credit standing. About 98 percent of CFC’s portfolio consists of loans to rural electric systems.

Brazos Electric Power Cooperative Inc, the biggest electric co-op in Texas, has already filed for bankruptcy protection, citing a disputed $1.8 billion debt to the state’s main grid operator. Brazos has $85 million in outstanding secured loans and letters of credit with CFC. Two dozen other electric co-ops in Texas say they have bills they cannot pay.

Beware of High-Pressure Solar Sales

Members of Riverland Energy Cooperative have reported several cases of high-pressure sales tactics used by persons selling solar installations for residential homes who claim to be working in partnership with their local utility. The salespersons push for a fast decision, made in a short time, raising red flags, so several of the members reached out to Riverland for verification.

“As a practice, we do not endorse or partner with any specific solar vendor on residential installations as we work with many different vendors based on the member’s choice of vendor,” said Riverland General Manager Jerry Sorenson.

If you are considering a solar installation, experts recommend getting multiple bids, researching funding options including pending public policy decisions, and never make a decision before you are ready, regardless of the sales pitch.

If you feel you have been targeted by high-pressure or misleading sales tactics, contact the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

NRTC’s Clark Ends Term as Chair

Calling 2020 “a pivotal moment in history,” chairman of the National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative (NRTC) Shannon Clark, who also serves as CEO and general manager of Richland Electric Cooperative, joined NRTC CEO Tim Bryan in hosting the national co-op’s annual meeting as part of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) virtual annual meeting.

Clark spoke about how the pandemic exposed the critical nature of broadband expansion efforts and touted the work done to help connect rural America, even before COVID-19 hit.

“Imagine where we would have been had we not already done much of the hard work to connect members to vital electric and broadband services,” Clark said. “And even where those connections did not yet exist, we rallied to meet the needs of members and non-members, from standing up Wi-Fi hotspots to opening the doors of your facilities to COVID-19 testing and vaccination centers.”