Electric Co-ops Seek Fairness Among All Utilities

By Erin Kelly

Electric cooperatives are not-for-profit entities and therefore do not pay federal income taxes. Usually that is a good thing. It means co-op electric rates are set to only cover co-op costs. There is no incentive to charge more than is needed; any profit (known as a margin in the co-op business model) is returned to consumers as credits.

But when it comes to government incentives to transition to newer, cleaner fuel sources, not paying taxes is a problem. Other utilities have long received federal tax breaks for providing power from solar, wind and other renewable energy sources. Co-ops cannot tap into those programs because they are exempt from those taxes.

The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association is working to change that. It is urging congressional leaders to provide electric co-ops with direct payments to develop clean energy projects. These would provide incentives comparable to the tax breaks granted to investor-owned utilities such as Xcel Energy and Black Hills Energy.

In a letter to top congressional leaders, NRECA, the American Public Power Association and the Large Public Power Council asked for direct payments to member-owned and community-owned utilities to help employ technologies such as battery storage, carbon capture and electric vehicle charging networks.

“Allowing public power utilities and rural electric cooperatives to receive these tax credits in the form of direct payments for building clean energy infrastructure would ensure that all utilities serving all Americans would have equal access to these federal resources,” said the May 14 letter, which was signed by NRECA CEO Jim Matheson, APPA President/CEO Joy Ditto and LPPC President John Di Stasio.

“The direct payments would be used to help offset project costs — increasing the incentive for further investments — and would enable public power utilities and electric cooperatives to own these facilities directly. It would also mean more local projects, with local jobs, under local control,” the letter stated.

The issue is one of NRECA’s top legislative priorities for this session of Congress.

The letter points out that co-ops and community-owned electric utilities together serve nearly 30% of all retail electric customers.

“The president and Congress have ambitious climate goals that cannot be met by leaving nearly 30% of the nation’s electric utility customers without access to incentives and support,” the three association leaders wrote.

President Joe Biden has set a goal of eliminating carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector by 2030 to help slow climate change. Matheson and the other association leaders called that “a daunting challenge” with a hefty price tag that will be borne in part by co-op consumer-members and public power customers.

“As such, we cannot afford inefficient or ineffective policies,” they wrote.

Erin Kelly is a staff writer at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

United Power Announces New EV Charging Station

Brighton-based electric co-op United Power recently announced its second electric vehicle charging station is now open and available for public use. Located at the Market Street Mart in Keenesburg, the 63.5 kW DC fast charger fills a gap for rural electric vehicle owner and drivers between Brighton and Fort Morgan. This EV charging station was installed with help from a grant from Charge Ahead Colorado, a program from the Colorado Energy Office.

Co-op Brings Fiber to Eastern Plains

Earlier this month, Limon-based electric cooperative Mountain View Electric Association announced an exciting partnership with Conexon Connect to bring a fiber-to-the-home network to its rural communities. Eventually able to serve all of its members in Arapahoe, Crowley, Douglas, Elbert, El Paso, Lincoln, Pueblo and Washington counties, MVEA’s broadband project will bring nearly 5,800 miles of fiber, gigabit-speed internet to more than 135,000 Coloradans.

MVEA recognized a need for high speed internet in its rural communities and this project will “close the digital divide” between those who have access to advanced technology and those who don’t. This division was especially highlighted these past 14 months in the time of the pandemic when our world turned to virtual solutions for education, telehealth and work-from-home situations.

The co-op says customers should begin being able to subscribe to broadband services beginning in the second quarter of 2022 with a five- to six-year total build timeline.

New Website Promotes Beneficial Electrification

These days there are more efficient and cleaner electric technologies and appliances available for heating our homes, providing hot water and cooking our food. Electric technologies improve comfort, cooking performance, health and safety, and, in many cases, can reduce energy costs. They are also are a major part of the solution to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and impacts on climate change.

The Beneficial Electrification League of Colorado launched a new website in June to promote these efficient electric technologies to Colorado homeowners. The new “Love Electric” website (loveelectric.org) helps educate consumers on electric heat pumps, heat pump water heaters and induction cooktops. The website also provides a list of rebates from utilities and local governments. It is a resource for finding qualified heat pump and heat pump water heater installers, which can aid homeowners in getting bids on their next heating or cooling and water heater system upgrades.

But what is “beneficial electrification?” Switching from a non-electric energy source to an efficient electric energy source is beneficial because the electrical grid is increasingly powered by renewable energy. According to loveelectric.org, this means the electrification of certain home appliances and systems can:

  • Reducecustomer costs,
  • Lowergreenhouse gas emissions,
  • Improveindoor air quality, and
  • Utilizegrid resources more efficiently and flexibly.

BEL-CO is a coalition of utility, government, environmental and energy efficiency organizations, including the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, the Colorado Energy Office, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association and the Colorado Rural Electric Association.

Visit loveelectric.org today to find out how you can electrify and energize your home systems and be part of this movement of beneficial electrification.