By Steven Johnson | ECT Staff Writer
NASHVILLE, Tenn.—NRECA CEO Jo Ann Emerson called on electric cooperative leaders to forge a new legacy for the co-op movement by mobilizing their 42 million members to advance the cause of reliable, affordable electricity.
Speaking at the 72nd NRECA Annual Meeting, Emerson challenged co-op managers, directors and staffers to swell the ranks of the Action.coop campaign and bring what she called “common sense” to federal energy policy.
“This is a fight for our survival, and, by God, we are going to put everything we have into it,” she said March 3 at the Music City Center. “We turned the lights on. We keep the lights burning. And now, our goal is to make the light bulb come on in Washington.”
Delivering a serious yet upbeat message, Emerson said co-ops face a great challenge in dealing with Environmental Protection Agency regulations that target the nation’s fuel mix.
But co-ops’ will to meet that challenge is even greater, Emerson added, as she asked attendees to enlist 10 people each in Action.coop when they return to their communities. Action.coop already is responsible for 284,500 messages to EPA, she said.
“Our challenge is set: Tell the EPA what climate regulations will do to our families, our businesses and our communities. And it doesn’t matter if they don’t like our story because at least they will hear our story. And, wow, do we have a story to tell. Cooperatives work,” Emerson said.
Emerson spoke on the first day of the three-day annual meeting, which organizers estimated will attract 9,600 participants to activities under the theme “Co-op Nation: Strong and Proud.”
The centerpiece of the annual meeting is the March 4 business meeting, where voting delegates will review member resolutions and help to set a course for the association’s future.
Other highlights include policy briefings on key issues, director education programs, a sold-out TechAdvantage Expo of vendors and a performance by country artist Martina McBride.
In a 25-minute speech interrupted half-a-dozen times by applause, Emerson emphasized that co-ops are national leaders in energy efficiency and renewable energy, owning and purchasing more than 5.7 gigawatts of renewable capacity and 10 GW of hydropower.
“That’s more than 10 percent of the U.S. total. With one-twentieth of the generation in the U.S. and one-eighth of the energy customers, that is a remarkable achievement,” Emerson said.
Yet intermittent sources such as wind and solar cannot replace the coal-based generation that has been the backbone of the electric grid, Emerson warned.
As a result, she said, co-ops need to be heard on EPA plans that would hamstring future coal plants by requiring expensive carbon capture and storage controls that are not commercially viable. EPA plans to issue emissions standards for existing coal plants in June.
“These regulations practically mandate an increase to the cost of energy. It is wishful thinking and at great expense to our members,” she said.
Emerson said co-ops have the power to build a future in which they act as engines of community development, improve the quality of life in rural America and deliver electricity free of unreasonable restraints.
“This vision is closer than we think. This vision is within our reach. But we’re going to have to fight for it, whether we want to or not,” she said.