Pandemic Could Cost Nation’s Electric Cooperatives $10 Billion
New research by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) finds electric cooperatives stand to lose $10 billion through 2022, due to the pandemic and economic slowdown it has caused.
NRECA projections find electric co-ops will see a decline of $7.4 billion in operating revenues as electricity consumption falls by 5 percent. Job loss and decreases in income are expected to lead to additional delinquencies, resulting in a loss of $2.6 billion through 2022. The report projects reductions in electric co-op sales of 6.1 percent in 2020, 6 percent in 2021, and 3 percent in 2022.
Pandemic Hits Wisconsin Farmers Hard
Farmers are in crisis and in need of assistance, according to association groups requesting action from Governor Tony Evers. In a letter to the governor, the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation and others are requesting $50 million in direct cash relief to help farmers through the coming weeks and ensure stability of the food supply.
“Never before have we ever experienced the type of crushing economic destruction that this pandemic has brought across our commodity markets. It has devastated our labor force, threatened our supply chains, created panic buying from retailers and consumers, and will likely bankrupt many multi-generation farms in Wisconsin,” the letter reads.
Agriculture Industry Impacts Include:
- Dairy—$66 million loss in February and March alone due to declining milk prices. Projected losses reach hundreds of millions as farmers dispose of milk and/or cut production.
- Pork—Projected production loss of $44.4 million as 25 percent of Wisconsin hog market is lost due to shuttering of food service industry.
- Beef—$180–200 million in losses in 2020 due to declining prices and 25 percent loss of packing capacity.
- Potatoes—$17 million in current estimated losses. Oversupply due to lack of food service demand expected to result in $100 million in losses for 2020.
NRECA Disputes Claims by Bankrupt Frontier That Could Further Delay WIsconsin Broadband Expansion
The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) is disputing a claim by embattled Frontier Communications, which claims it has recently made major strides in fulfilling a 2015 promise to extend broadband service to thousands of people, including some areas of Wisconsin. In making the claim with the the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Frontier could block utility cooperatives from accessing money to extend broadband service to those areas under a new federal funding program that will auction the areas to other providers, including specific funding for utility co-ops, this fall.
NRECA and the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA) have asked the FCC to investigate the claims, saying in a letter, “While Frontier is missing CAF buildout milestones for 10/1 Mbps service, losing a large number of customers, hemorrhaging cash, and seeking bankruptcy protection, it strains credulity for it to claim that it has upgraded service to 25/3 Mbps in 16,000 census blocks in eight months,” the WISPA and NRECA letter argued. “We find this hard to believe.”
NRECA has asked the FCC to expedite the investigation as to not delay the October auction, and ultimately further delay broadband access to people still living without service in rural Wisconsin. Those census blocks in dispute fall in some Wisconsin electric co-op counties including Polk, St. Croix, Marathon, Adams, Columbia, Marquette, Juneau, Iowa, and Sauk.
PSC Launches Internet Hotline, Interactive Map
Wisconsin’s Public Service Commission (PSC) has launched a new interactive map and a hotline to help direct people to internet services during the pandemic.
The online map shows a map of free, open Wi-Fi connections, many of which are in schools, libraries, or other public buildings that are physically closed. The tool is accessible by smartphone. https://maps.psc.wi.gov/apps/PublicWiFiLocations/
The PSC has also set up a phone line to help explain what internet and phone services are available in each area of the state. The hotline number is 608-267-3595 and it is staffed during normal business hours.
More than 28 percent of Wisconsinites living in rural areas do not have access to broadband service, according to a 2019 report by the Federal Communications Commission. Last month the PSC approved $24 million in grants to help bring high-speed internet service to underserved
Proposal for “Keeping the Lights On” Specialty Plate Moves Forward
A group based out of the Clark Electric Cooperative area has successfully gathered the required signatures and donations needed to move forward with a proposal to create a specialty Wisconsin license plate honoring all persons working in the electric utility industry.
If the submitted proposal is approved, the plates will be available for a one-time fee of $15. The fee covers production cost.