BY KEVIN CONDON
For Iowa’s electric co-ops, our cooperative principles guide us in good times and bad – even during derecho storms and global pandemics. Your local electric co-op strives to power your family and community no matter what may come our way.
Advocating with lawmakers and elected officials with a unified co-op voice during policy debates impacts how your co-op provides safe, affordable, reliable and environmentally responsible power.
While COVID restrictions have changed how we advocate, it has not changed why we advocate. We focus on advocacy because we care about our consumer-members. We know that when our communities are strong, the co-ops are strong. When the pandemic hit, Iowa’s electric co-ops supported policies that helped our rural agribusiness members, including biofuels, food processing and small manufacturing. While we will continue advocating on behalf of member industries, as well as issues like renewable energy, safety, economic development and taxes, we’ll likely be starting the new legislative session much like the last one ended – with limited physical access to the Statehouse.
Because the co-op mission of powering lives and empowering communities remains constant, we will always find ways to adapt to challenges. Virtual advocacy is not the same as talking face-to-face, but it is still essential. When possible and appropriate, your co-op engages with lawmakers directly. When that’s not possible, we reach legislators through phone calls, emails, social media or whatever pathways materialize.
The Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives manages our grassroots advocacy efforts through the Iowa Rural Power initiative. We recently updated our advocacy website at www.iaruralpower.org, which now includes our Voter Activation Center and a new “Bill Tracker” feature to help electric co-op member-consumers stay informed about legislation important to rural electric cooperatives.
As Iowa’s electric co-ops look back on 2020, we reflect on the August 10 storm that hit our state with little advanced warning. The devasting derecho storm that swept through Iowa with the force of a Category 4 hurricane caused thousands of power outages and left a path of destruction that required an extensive restoration effort.
While stopping the derecho was beyond our control, we can limit the damage of these powerful storms and restore power faster by keeping trees and other vegetation away from power lines. Vegetation management is an important part of protecting the electric grid and ensuring reliable service. But in some instances, prescriptive easements prevent utilities from adequately clearing vegetation that can cause outages and create safety concerns. Iowa’s electric cooperatives support plans that would allow utilities a specified vegetation management clearance to maintain reliable service and minimize outages.
A few years ago, Iowa’s electric co-ops attempted to pass legislation to gain vegetation management clearances but were opposed by groups who claimed that the legislation infringed on property rights. With the memory of the derecho still fresh in our minds, we hope those groups and lawmakers will consider the rights of the member-consumers down the line who want to keep their lights on.
Kevin Condon is the director of government relations for the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives.