Electric Co-op Association Fighting Climate Policy Ironically Laments Financial Impact of “Historic” Extreme Weather

AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan

While a number of U.S. utilities are actively embracing an energy transition, rural electric cooperatives have yet to begin leading the fight action on climate change.

In fact, because co-ops own a large portfolio of coal plants across the country, they have often been at the forefront of opposing federal climate policy.

The Virginia Association of Electric Cooperatives, recently put together a petition demanding Congress stop Environmental Protection Agency regulation of greenhouse gas emissions, arguing that Congress should do it. But when Congress tried to do it in 2009, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) dragged its heels and declined to support the efforts.

This mindset at NRECA, the Washington, DC-based association, originates with its members. For example, the Intermountain Rural Electric Association, has been reportedly working to oust a member of the board who is considered “green” and who stopped the group from sending tends of thousands of dollars to fund climate deniers. And the anti-action messaging from a Virginia rural electric cooperative caused one member to criticize the organization for “wasting members’ money challenging the world’s scientific community.”

Given this history of behavior, it was quite a shock to read the latest piece of news from NRECA lamenting the expensive impact that extreme weather had on co-ops around the country:

Big natural disasters added up to big money in 2011, and many of the nation’s electric cooperatives could be including projects to repair the damage permanently in their construction plans for 2012.

“The year 2011 is already in the record books as a year of historic extreme events,” Undersecretary of Commerce Jane Lubchenco said recently. “There have now been 12 extreme weather events [each] totaling at least $1 billion in damages.”

We’ve seen some failure to connect the dots on climate and extreme weather in the press, but this is a completely different level of absurdity.

At a time when climate and meteorological experts are calling climate change the “steroids” for extreme weather, electric cooperatives are busy trying to downplay the problem in order to avoid the consequences of transitioning away from coal — even while recognizing the immense economic costs already incurred by electricity infrastructure.

In fact, a recent study published in the American Economic Review showed that the true cost of coal is actually about $0.17 cents per kilowatt-hour when factoring in the health and environmental consequences.

How high do those costs need to be before cooperatives, which have so much at stake, start recognizing the need to take action?

9 Responses to Electric Co-op Association Fighting Climate Policy Ironically Laments Financial Impact of “Historic” Extreme Weather

  1. Leif says:

    I would think that it would be a “no brainer” for rural power to support renewable power generation, the heart of diversified power. It could help all its members with custom power savings for each. Expand solar PV at prime locations, wind at another, efficiency another. Monthly “Energy Money” sent to the Wall Street pockets would get to stay in the community.

  2. Alan Nogee says:

    It should be a “no brainer.” They can also often generate renewable energy less expensively, because of access to low-cost financing and lack of private investors to satisfy. Unfortunately, “no brainer” seems to apply to many (though not all!) of the coops themselves.

    It should be noted that a number of times the national association, NRECA, has remained officially neutral, individual coops were still active opposing climate and clean energy legislation–even after obtaining exemptions from having to comply.

  3. Leif says:

    It may be that a higher general medical cost is associated with many of the rural co-ops. Coal plants are often cited close to or up wind of disadvantaged demographics. (Often in need of public assistance.) Perhaps “coal” is even giving a “preferred costumer rate” to lock support?

  4. Joan Savage says:

    A portfolio of depreciated coal plants probably keeps consumer costs low for the moment (or that might be the PR version of it anyway), rather than the co-op investing in newer equipment like wind turbines. Were subsidies for wind, solar and small hydro adequate so that they could have lured the co-ops away from the fossil energy generation?

  5. Andy Olsen says:

    Coops can be changed by their membership if people get involved, organize and show up. It’s a commitment but there have been a number of successful changes in places like Pedernales.

    And there are a wide variety of coops out there with different approaches. For example, see Kit Carson Electric Cooperative in AZ.

    It would be interesting to hear what NRECA has to say in response to this article.

  6. David B. Benson says:

    Here in the Pacific Northwest none of the coops, often called PUDs, have coal burners. Their primary complaint is the cost of transmission for the growing fleet of turbines; to a man the CEOs dislike the variabilty of wind generaion and the associated high costs of the transmission required.

    What they do like are the small scale so-called run-of-the-river (or irrigation canal) new hydro generators. The electricity from these can readily be managed and the relatively low cost is appreciated.

    One of the more enlightened of these ex-power engineers appears to be actively persuing the possibilities of small modular NPPs.

  7. Nancy says:

    Here in AZ, the coops are pretty much fighting tooth and nail AGAINST clean energy. They don’t want Energy Efficiency, and they don’t want solar. Hello?! In the latest ‘you can’t make it up’ decision, 3 GOP members of the AZ Corporation Commission voted to allow trash-burning to count as “clean” energy, thus displacing solar in the Mohave County Electric Coop area (near Kingman) until 2023. Adding insult to injury, the trash-burner will be located in PHOENIX, with the 2nd dirtiest air in the U.S., while the trash-generated kWh’s will count as “solar” power in Mohave County.

  8. Nancy says:

    I wonder what the good people of Mohave County would think about killing the solar industry for 11-12 years. I wonder what the people who are going to live near the trash-burner would think about the pollution and toxics counting as ‘clean’ energy. My boss is trying to pass an amendment that would require notification, but we likely don’t have the votes. Anyone know a reporter at the Onion? It would be a fantastic story.

  9. Nancy says:

    NRECA’s lobbyist is a former Congressman, Glenn English. They have avoided coal compliance for 30 years and are still whining.