More than 2,000 representatives from electric cooperatives across the United States participated in the 2023 Legislative Conference of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) from April 16-19 in Washington, D.C.
The primary focus of messages to the Arkansas congressional delegation was maintaining reliable electricity for the American people.
“Affordable and reliable electricity is an issue of growing concern among members of NRECA,” said NRECA President Jim Matheson. “American families and businesses expect the lights to come on whenever they flip the switch, and we’re concerned that the reliability of the grid is at great risk.”
He pointed to rolling blackouts that took place in nine states last December as evidence of “a stressed grid.”
The Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas group met with the Arkansas congressional delegation: Sen. John Boozman, Sen. Tom Cotton, Rep. Rick Crawford, Rep. French Hill, Rep. Bruce Westerman and Rep. Steve Womack.
During sessions with officials, electric cooperative leaders discussed five major issues that impact reliability with policymakers. The issues were the growing demand for electricity as other sectors of the economy are electrified; decreasing electricity supply due to the retirement and insufficient replacement of existing power generation facilities; supply chain challenges; permitting delays that prevent new electric infrastructure from being built; and ongoing issues with natural gas availability.
Recent reports by the North American Electric Reliability Corp. (NERC) underscore the risks to electric reliability, Matheson said. NERC warned last year that the U.S. is experiencing a “disorderly retirement” of older electric generating plants without replacement power coming online fast enough to meet growing demand. “Demand is going up, and supply is going down — and that’s not a good trend if you want to maintain system reliability,” Matheson said.
In addition to advocating for attention to reliability issues, electric cooperative leaders pushed for robust funding for rural broadband and rural development in the new five-year Farm Bill that Congress is considering.
The bill is likely to include funding for the Department of Agriculture’s ReConnect Program, which provides loans and grants to electric cooperatives and other groups to provide high-speed internet service to rural communities.