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?