Never in my wildest imagination did I think I would be writing this column under a stay-at-home order in the living room of our family farmhouse in rural Hazel Green, but here we are. The COVID-19 pandemic has scrambled everything in our ordinary lives, from our ability to go to church, to exercising our right to vote. But we are resilient and resourceful, and that is apparent in our ever-present ability to adapt.
Within 22 days, our president had declared a major emergency in all 50 states and most territories through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), making this the first time in the history of our country that a major emergency exists in every single state. As your statewide electric cooperative association, we have been participating in conversations with virtually every level of government, so we can best prepare for what lies ahead. Our goal, which is supported by every agency and elected official we have contacted, is to help our electric cooperatives do what they do best—keep the lights on.
Since the crisis began, our team has been working on behalf of your electric cooperative to best respond to what has happened, and to prepare for what is to come. We are working with Homeland Security, Wisconsin Emergency Management, Governor Tony Evers, the Public Service Commission, and dozens of state and federal legislators from both sides of the aisle.
While we never expected this, we have been preparing for it for years. We have often worked with Wisconsin Emergency Management on storm recovery support. When three electric cooperatives were denied storm damage claims of more than $500,000, we worked to reverse that decision. We worked with the Wisconsin legislature and governor to clarify the law. We lobbied successfully for passage of a new state sales tax exemption for mutual aid services provided between electric cooperatives, allowing co-ops to recover sales tax payments on mutual aid services from storms.
Other WECA legislative successes include changes to the Wisconsin cooperative statute bringing the potential for new services of direct benefit to co-ops and their members. These include the ability to write loans for energy efficiency, energy conservation, wiring safety, and emergency back-up generation. As essential/critical workers, employees of your electric cooperative are on the front lines working to keep the lights on so medical staff, EMTs, law enforcement personnel, and all first responders are able to do their jobs to help us recover from this pandemic.
Right now, we are working with federal legislators to clarify that electric cooperatives are eligible for the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Payroll Protection Program. This will have a significant impact, especially with the escalating rate of unemployment.
As people all across the state are out of work, many are struggling to pay their electric bill, which is a great burden for our not-for-profit electric cooperatives. For this reason, we are also hard at work making sure the emergency stimulus dollars will provide support for electric cooperatives and their members.
Back in 2005, then-President George W. Bush launched the effort to create the nation’s most comprehensive pandemic preparedness plan, saying, “If we wait for a pandemic to appear, it will be too late to prepare.”
We were not expecting this, but through our relationships, our commitment to priorities, our educational efforts, and the support of all of our members, we are prepared.
We are in your corner. Please stay healthy and stay safe.