Rural electrics want government help


Rural electric cooperatives are among those standing in line for the country’s next coronavirus relief package.

The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the group representing rural co-ops in Oklahoma and elsewhere in the U.S. asked congressional leaders for relief this week. More than 30 such electric cooperatives are members of the Oklahoma Electric Cooperatives Association and serve the entire state.

CEO Jim Matheson in a letter wanted Congress to consider remedies for electric cooperatives.

“Many states have mandated moratoriums on utility disconnections and some members of Congress have proposed a similar federal moratorium,” NRECA CEO Jim Matheson wrote in a letter to congressional leaders. “At the same time, electric bill nonpayment is increasing nationwide and electric load from commercial and industrial users has dramatically decreased.”

Matheson reminded lawmakers that co-ops are not-for-profit, have no shareholders and return excess revenue to their consumer-members. Co-ops returned $1.2 billion to their members in 2018 alone.

“Because of this structure and the desire to keep energy costs as low as possible, some electric co-ops have limited reserve margins to sustain high rates of nonpayment,” he wrote. “As a result of nonpayments and load falloff resulting from economic hardship, some not-for-profit electric cooperatives are facing significant operational shortfalls. Without federal assistance, co-ops may face severe financial distress.”

NRECA is also asking lawmakers to include federal loan, broadband and disaster relief provisions in the next bill.

Lawmakers are expected to consider another sweeping relief bill later this spring as a follow-up to the $2 trillion CARES Act they passed in March. That legislation contained several provisions sought by NRECA, including an additional $900 million for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which helps some low-income and moderate-income consumers pay their utility bills. But not all struggling families qualify for that aid.