Mutual Aid Bill Passes Senate Unanimously
March 21, 2018—The Wisconsin State Senate voted 32–0 in favor of a bill that exempts electric cooperatives from sales and use tax for mutual assistance services they perform during disaster recovery. As the bill voted on in the Senate was the Assembly version, which passed in January; the final step for the bill is, being signed into law by the governor.
Rope bill gets Senate committee nod
February 7, 2018—The Senate version of a proposal eliminating the state sales and use tax on labor and materials furnished between electric and telecommunications cooperatives in mutual-aid situations was endorsed for passage this week by the Senate Committee on Revenue, Financial Institutions, and Rural Issues. The vote in a Thursday morning executive session recommending passage was 5–0.
The same committee held a public hearing on the bill (SB-501) Wednesday morning and took testimony from Barron Electric Cooperative General Manager Dallas Sloan, Adams-Columbia Electric Co-op Accountant Liz Hendricksen, and Wisconsin Electric Cooperative Association Government Relations Director Beata Wierzba.
No one testified in opposition to the bill.
LEGISLATURE ADVANCES MUTUAL AID BILL
CO-OP LAW REVISIONS SIGNED
Wisconsin awards honor co-op service
November 10, 2017—Shannon Clark, Richland Electric Cooperative’s CEO and general manager since 1999, received the Wisconsin Electric Cooperative Association’s highest honor at the organization’s 81st annual meeting here November 7.
Clark is the newest recipient of the ACE (Ally of Cooperative Electrification) Award, given for the past 50 years to a nominee judged to have advanced the electric co-op mission in a distinguished manner beyond routine performance of duty.
He credited an earlier ACE Award winner, the late Richland Electric Board President Gilman Moe, for creating “a culture of people putting service above self,” adding that for Wisconsin’s electric co-op community, the commitment to service “makes us what we are.”
Clark has been a long-time leader of efforts to expand telecommunications and data services to rural Wisconsin and has served on numerous local, state and national co-op boards. This summer, he received a regional service award from the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, recognizing his successes promoting rural economic development.
Also at the November 7 event Mary Kay Brevig, communications and public relations manager at Eau Claire Energy Cooperative, was presented with the N.F. Leifer Memorial Journalism Award.
Its namesake was a Vernon Electric Cooperative manager who co-founded what became the Wisconsin Energy Cooperative News. Originally a tabloid newspaper, the Wisconsin R.E.C. News was launched in 1940 as the nation’s first statewide periodical produced for the general membership of rural electric cooperatives.
The Leifer award is given annually to the cooperative selected by an independent judge as having created the magazine’s best local co-op pages during the prior year. Brevig has won the award on three past occasions.
Commitment to utility worker job training and safety was honored at the Wisconsin event as Nathan Steines, director of operations at Barron Electric Cooperative, received the Herman C. Potthast Award for 2017.
In actions a Washburn County (Wisconsin) sheriff’s investigator called “heroic,” Steines came upon a highway accident, contacted emergency personnel, assisted two victims in escaping their overturned vehicle which was leaking fuel, and attended to them until an ambulance arrived.
The Potthast Award is named for the Wisconsin co-ops’ job training and safety coordinator who, for more than two decades beginning in the early 1940s, spearheaded development of safety standards and practices for electric utility workers nationwide.
Wisconsin electric co-ops helping Florida rebuild
Relief convoy headed south
September 11, 2017— Volunteer line crews from 18 Wisconsin electric cooperatives are joining in Florida’s massive recovery effort, helping rebuild shattered electric systems in the wake of Hurricane Irma’s devastation.
The Florida Electric Cooperatives Association, a statewide trade group, put out a call for help last Thursday, anticipating Irma’s Sunday morning landfall and the huge storm’s potential to simultaneously batter the entire state.
Line superintendents from Wisconsin cooperatives got word of the request at a previously scheduled meeting in Stevens Point and immediately began planning their response, assessing availability of workers and equipment.
Those preparations were completed during a busy weekend. Early Monday morning, co-op vehicles began departing from local headquarters across the state for assembly points at Eau Claire, Oakdale, Portage, and Janesville. At least three multi-co-op convoys planned to reach Ste. Genevieve, Missouri by Monday night, and Hattiesburg, Mississippi by Tuesday night, arriving in Florida by late Wednesday afternoon.
All the Wisconsin volunteers are assigned to assist rebuilding at Clay Electric Cooperative, headquartered in Keystone Heights, Florida, northeast of Gainesville. As of Monday morning, Clay Electric had approximately 130,000 members—representing about 75 percent of its system—without power.
More than 50 Wisconsin co-op employees were traveling southward Monday. Participating co-ops include Adams-Columbia, Barron, Bayfield, Central Wisconsin, and Clark Electric Cooperatives, Dairyland Power Cooperative, Dunn and Eau Claire Energy Cooperatives, Oakdale and Oconto Electric Cooperatives, Pierce Pepin Cooperative Services, Price and Richland Electric Cooperatives, Riverland, Rock, and Scenic Rivers Energy Cooperatives, and Taylor and Vernon Electric Cooperatives.
Anticipating a lengthy rebuilding project, a second round of 24 co-op volunteers had been recruited for later rotation into the damaged area.
More than 40 vehicles were dispatched, including bucket trucks, pole-hauling trailers, and digging equipment.
The relief mission is similar to assistance rendered by Wisconsin co-ops 12 years ago following Hurricane Katrina. Personnel from 14 Wisconsin electric cooperatives were dispatched over a four-week period to Louisiana on a rotating basis, helping to rebuild a local co-op distribution system that had been almost totally destroyed.
It’s also similar—on a larger scale—to the ROPE (restoration of power in an emergency) program in which Wisconsin co-ops help each other shorten recovery times when severe weather damages local electric systems.
On three previous occasions since this past spring, ten Wisconsin co-ops have loaned out line crews in ROPE deployments to help others speed up rebuilding of storm-damaged systems.
Hurricane Irma Relief Mission
September 8, 2017—Volunteer line workers from more than a dozen Wisconsin electric cooperatives will be embarking Monday on a relief mission to assist in rebuilding vital energy systems in Florida.
At this time, a final count of participating cooperatives and crew members is not yet available; a conference call has been scheduled for early Monday to review last-minute details.
However, part of the relief contingent will be departing at 9:00 a.m. Monday, September 11, from the headquarters of Rock Energy Cooperative, 2815 Kennedy Road at Janesville.
Prior to Monday’s 9 a.m. departure, there will be a media availability with co-op personnel involved in coordinating and carrying out this project.
For those interested in covering the story—which will undoubtedly be developing over at least the next few weeks—arrival at Rock Energy by 8:00 a.m. Monday is highly recommended.
Hurricane Harvey Local Charitable Funds
August 31, 2017—To find local charitable organizations, click here.
Texas Electric Cooperatives (TEC), the Texas statewide co-op organization, has indicated that cooperative employees “are often the last ones we hear about who need help.” For purposes of assisting with those needs, TEC has established a fund to receive and distribute contributions. Checks may be addressed to:
TEC Hurricane Harvey Disaster Relief Fund
Texas Electric Cooperatives
1122 Colorado Street, 24th Floor
Austin, TX 78701
Funds collected will be distributed directly to electric cooperatives in Texas to distribute locally.
ACE Award Nominations Due
August 7, 2017—Each year, WECA honors the best in Wisconsin's rural electric cooperative community with the Ally of Cooperative Electrification (ACE) Award. Past honorees have truly made outstanding contributions to rural electrification in Wisconsin, and we look to find this year's ACE Award winner.
We strongly encourage you, as the members of your cooperatives, to pinpoint that person who has made a difference in your co-op, and to our broader cooperative family. An awards committee will be appointed to review this year's applicants. Nominations must be submitted in writing per the attached form and received by the WECA office by Friday, September 1, 2017. The award winner will be announced on Tuesday, November 7, 2017, at the WECA Annual Meeting awards banquet in Stevens Point.
Please help us identify this year's ACE Award winner and submit a nomination today.
CWEC Assists Detert Dairy Farm Upgrade
August 1, 2017—Partnering with its statewide organization Wisconsin Electric Cooperative Association, Central Wisconsin Electric Co-op (CWEC) was able to provide over $4,000 in grant funds to Cody Detert to help pay for electrical upgrades to his farm. Wisconsin electric cooperatives, including CWEC, have developed a uniform statewide farm rewiring program entitled Safety First. The program’s purpose is to assist dairy farmers with the cost of rewiring projects and to promote safety. Funding for the Safety First program comes from Wisconsin cooperatives.
Cody recently restarted the dairy operation of the 150 acre family farm located in the Marion area. The dormant portion of the farm was in need of some TLC, so Cody contracted with Olson’s Rural Electric of Clintonville to do the work, which included a service upgrade, hookup of feeding equipment, fans, & milking equipment and upgrading old farm lighting to energy efficient light-emitting diodes (LEDs). “We’re pleased to assist Cody in making these needed upgrades to the farm,” said CWEC Vice President of Member Relations Mark Forseth. “We’re always excited to see a young person carry on a family business. We wish Cody all the best.” Cody indicated he’s already planning to expand his 60 cow herd.
For more information on this statewide program, go to our Farm Rewiring page.
Exploring the Cooperative Difference
July 28, 2017—More than 120 students from throughout the state learned about cooperatives and developed their leadership skills at the Wisconsin Electric Cooperative Association’s 54th annual Youth Leadership Congress at UW-River Falls July 26–28. Activities included team-building exercises that presented challenges requiring cooperation for a successful outcome, presentations by renowned motivational leaders, and district meetings in which students tackled real co-op issues. Pictured above are the six students who were elected to the 2017-18 Youth Board, which is tasked with planning and helping to run next year’s program: (l–r) William Tuchtenhagen, Pierce Pepin Cooperative Services; Conor O’Donnell, Oakdale Electric; Sam Peterson, Oakdale Electric; Gracelyn Footit, Adams-Columbia Electric; Brady Coullthard, Clark Electric; and Darien Traczyk, Barron Electric.
Elections send one new director to WECA board
July 19, 2017—David Hischke, chairman of the Oconto Electric Cooperative board of directors, will be the newest member of the Wisconsin Electric Cooperative Association board when the governing lineup for 2017-18 is seated at the annual meeting in Stevens Point this November.
Hischke’s was the only contested election held during this week’s district meetings at Arcadia, Barron, and Greenwood. Pierce Pepin Cooperative Services CEO Larry Dokkestul was re-elected without opposition in District 2 as was East Central Energy Director Dianne Zimmerman in District 3.
The District 1 seat vacated by Central Wisconsin Electric Cooperative Director Elaine Eckendorf—who reached her term limit on the statewide board—attracted three nominees including Adams-Columbia Vice-Chairman Lawrence Becker and Clark Electric Secretary-Treasurer Charles Lindner in addition to Hischke. Becker currently holds an ex-officio seat on the WECA board through his position as National Rural Electric Cooperative Association director for Wisconsin.
Industries Signal Restructuring Armistice
July 14, 2017—Long-simmering interest in electric restructuring among major industrial power consumers may finally have been taken off even the back burner, reaction to new ratemaking moves by the Wisconsin Public Service Commission (PSC) suggests.
Late last month the commission approved an experimental pilot program called the “Day-Ahead Market Pricing Rider,” allowing Wisconsin Power and Light to offer industrial customers opportunities to shift load in response to power market signals.
Todd Stuart, executive director of the Wisconsin Industrial Energy Group (WIEG), issued a statement saying his members “appreciate WP&L’s efforts to move quickly on innovative real-time pricing options that provide manufacturers with additional rate choices and an ability to have more control in managing their costs.”
The statement appeared to signal that the PSC was close to successfully defusing an issue that triggered a new campaign for retail deregulation beginning about a year ago.
The WIEG membership includes Wisconsin’s 30 highest-volume electricity users and some of the strongest advocates of retail electric deregulation. The central issue driving continued interest in the largely dormant restructuring movement had been the perceived effect of electric rates on business competitiveness, and Stuart called the WP&L tariff “a good example of a utility working with the PSC staff and their customers in a good faith effort to keep us cost competitive in global markets.”
Last summer, an effort to rekindle legislative interest in restructuring was spearheaded by Saukville-based WIEG member Charter Steel announcing it would not further expand its business in Wisconsin because of what it deemed excessive rates paid to WE Energies.
The idea met with a cool reception in the legislature, and the PSC indicated it preferred more creative ratemaking as a means of addressing the industries’ concerns over rates that had eclipsed those in neighboring states—in part because of the cost of new infrastructure built to resolve reliability problems that prompted Wisconsin industries to call for retail choice 20 years earlier.
The Wisconsin Paper Council greeted the WP&L tariff approval with enthusiasm similar to that of WIEG and also sounded the business growth theme.
“Innovative rate options such as the real-time pricing tariffs are an important tool for both retaining and expanding manufacturing in Wisconsin,” Paper Council President Jeff Landin said in a joint statement with WIEG saying both groups “applaud” the PSC action.
Public Service Commission to form Wisconsin Monarch Strategy Committee—Co-op Representatives Sought
July 13, 2017—In a communication to WECA, the association was notified that the Public Service Commission is organizing a committee of Right-of-Way (ROW) stakeholders to explore potential strategies focused on protecting or creating new habitat used by the Monarch Butterfly.
The committee will include representatives from utilities, railroads, state/county/town road departments, and others. If you have an interest in serving as a co-op representative on this committee, please contact Tim Clay by Email or at (608) 467-4598.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service is currently reviewing the status of the Monarch Butterfly for potential listing under the Endangered Species Act.
Price Electric's Tessa Otto Wins Scholarship Award
June 29, 2017—Price Electric Cooperative and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) today announced that Tessa Otto has won the 2017 Glenn English Scholarship. This is one of five scholarships given to college students by the Glenn English National Cooperative Leadership Fund. Scholarship winners have all shown a commitment to the Seven Cooperative Principles.
“Congratulations to Tessa Otto for winning this unique scholarship,” said NRECA Board President Phil Carson. “As a scholarship winner, she demonstrated a sincere appreciation for the principles that guide electric cooperatives to power and empower millions of American families and businesses. I’m looking forward to great things in her future.”
“We’re very excited that Tessa, a member of our cooperative family, has won this prestigious award,” said Price Electric President and CEO William L. Caynor Sr. “It’s very gratifying to see one of our cooperative Youth Tour participants continue to distinguish herself in such a meaningful way.”
Otto attends the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh. Her scholarship award was $10,000.
A panel of judges evaluated applicants based on their GPA, internships, extra-curricular activities, leadership and involvement in cooperative programs.
To be considered for the scholarship, applicants must:
- Have participated in NRECA’s Youth Tour.
- Be full-time students.
- Have completed one year of study at their respective institutions.
The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association is the national service organization that represents the nation’s more than 900 not-for-profit, consumer-owned electric cooperatives, which provide service to 42 million people in 47 states.
Redrafted, pole attachment legislation passes Assembly
June 27, 2017—Revised legislation creating a regulatory framework for wireless service providers to mount equipment on utility poles passed the state Assembly in June, preserving its chances of passage in both houses before an unusually slow-moving state budget bill crowds out all other business in the Capitol.
Whether Senate passage occurs promptly or is delayed until at least September remained uncertain as June drew near a close. Theoretically, bills can be scheduled for floor action through June 30 or until budget passage, whichever is later, but the pole-attachment bill had not been placed on the Senate calendar. Moreover, the budget bill stayed in a holding pattern as lawmakers grappled with education and transportation funding issues. Failure to pass a budget before the state fiscal year ends June 30 has few consequences compared with the same failure at the federal level: It simply means the state continues to operate under its current spending plan until a new one is enacted.
Opposed in its original form by electric cooperatives—who were written out of a new draft early in June—the revised pole attachment proposal (Substitute Amendment 1 to Assembly Bill 348) passed with co-op support.
A memo to all legislators from Wisconsin Electric Cooperative Association Government Relations Director Beata Wierzba said conversations with the bill’s co-sponsors and other lawmakers led to “improved language that makes this proposal a better bill and addresses our unique circumstances.” The bill’s latest incarnation, Wierzba said, clarifies that access to public right-of-way and utility easements does not include private property easements negotiated between electric co-ops and their members, preserves a Federal Communications Commission exemption for cooperatives covering pole attachments and make-ready requirements, and specifies that existing co-op policies apply if a communication provider chooses to deploy wireless antennas in a co-op service area.
Assembly passage was mainly uncontroversial. The substitute amendment was adopted on a voice vote and the amended bill was passed in similar fashion.