Right of First Refusal is Key Issue at 2024 Education and Lobby Days

February 2, 2024—Electric cooperative leaders from across the state gathered in Madison this week for WECA’s 2024 Education and Lobby Days event, which culminated Wednesday with Capitol visits, where members met with state lawmakers to talk about legislative proposals that impact electric cooperatives.

The key issue, WECA VP of Government Relations and External Affairs Rob Richard told the crowd, are SB 481/AB 470, also known as the “Right of First Refusal,” or ROFR. Currently up for consideration in the state capitol, the bills would give Wisconsin incumbent utilities, American Transmission Company (ATC), Dairyland Power Cooperative, and Xcel Energy, the right of first refusal for key transmission projects that allow for cost sharing, which means everyone in a multi-state area who will be served by the line is required to help fund it, regardless of who builds it.

“Most importantly, this legislation retains Wisconsin’s control over the safety and reliability of our state’s power grid, instead of ceding that control to federal regulators,” Richard explained. “We want to have ownership, we want to have control, we want to have a say in how this process is done.

Former PSC Commissioner Ellen Nowak, who now represents ATC, and Dairyland Power Cooperative Executive Vice President & Chief Operating Officer Ben Porath explained the legislation in detail, including how it will impact Wisconsin electric cooperatives and their members.

“One of the things that you probably will hear about the bill is that it is anti-competitive,” Nowak said. “I don't know about you, but I like competition, but that characterization that this bill is anti-competitive couldn't be further from the truth. This still requires competition in all of the building, the bidding of the equipment, and the labor. This bill, in reality, is keeping Wisconsin out of a very messy, and long federal process, and it keeps Wisconsin in control of who owns the critical infrastructure in our state. And I don't know about you, but I feel a lot more comfortable when it's the companies that have been here for 20-plus years, when it's the cooperatives that live and work in the community owning and managing and running our critical infrastructure in the state, not some out-of-state entities.”
Dairyland's Ben Porath and Ellen Nowak of ATC

Many surrounding states have already passed ROFR bills, because without it, the Midcontinent Independent System Operator, or MISO, will select the builder for transmission projects using a timely and expensive bidding process. In committee hearings, a MISO representative said this process alone adds at least two years to the time it takes to build the transmission line, at a time when these projects are critical to the expansion of clean energy.

Porath explained how Dairyland recently participated in competitive bidding process with MISO, which begins with a $150,000 application fee, only to find they were the only bidder. With a ROFR bill in place, all project builders must still do extensive engineering planning and environmental studies to secure state and federal permits, and must be approved by the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSC).

One key benefit of ROFR, Porath explained, is that it allows Wisconsin-incumbent utilities to get the return on investment as the builder of these projects, which for Dairyland will ultimately help keep costs down for all of their electric cooperative members.

“Because these transmission lines are being done for public policy reasons at the federal level, there are incentives and federally guaranteed rates of return,” Porath explained. “So, if you get this opportunity to invest in these, you're going to get basically your full cost recovery, and then a return on your equity portion, and that for the co-op world is a margin. That margin then gets to go against our costs to help keep rates down over the 35 to 40 years that these things are going to be on the books.”

Dairyland Power Cooperative, ATC, and Xcel Energy negotiated MOU agreements to work together under ROFR, but if the bill does not pass, those agreements are moot.

Other key legislative issues discussed with lawmakers this year include:
  • Electric vehicle charging
  • Electric vehicle license plates
  • Imagination Library
  • Green lights for safety
  • ATV/UTV use on state highways (signed into law)

Sheffield Brings Leadership Message to WECA Education and Lobby Days


February 2, 2024—Wisconsin Badgers Volleyball Head Coach Kelly Sheffield was the featured speaker at WECA’s Education and Lobby Days this week. Under Sheffield, Wisconsin women’s volleyball has had unrivaled success including four Final Fours and a 2021 NCAA Championship.

When Sheffield came to Madison, the women’s volleyball team was known as the “party team.” Sheffield changed the culture and the success of the team.
Under Sheffield, the Badgers became one of only three teams to compete in the Sweet 16 every year for the past 10 years, and the Badgers’ 2021 NCAA Championship was the first in program history.

Sheffield’s training starts at square one, with good body language and posture, because, he says, it’s how we communicate. He also emphasized the importance of clear expectations and making sure everyone on the team knows exactly what is expected of them. “Then you can start being the best version of yourself and going about things without fear of repercussions. They have to know what we're going to be about, and with our program, it's blue-collar work ethic, it's selflessness, it's teamwork, it's relentless effort, and continuous improvement. Those are the things we talk about,” he said.
Sheffield, speaking with much humility, talked about the importance of positive thinking in everyday life, and about taking accountability as a leader.

“One thing that I've learned over time, is taking ownership of what we are. I hear a lot of coaches that will say, ‘The team doesn't do this. The team doesn’t do that.’ But when things are going well, they point thumbs back to themselves. They're the reason for that. And I think if my team is doing something that I don't want them to do, then that's my fault. Or they're not doing something that I want them to do. It's my fault. I haven't valued it enough. I haven't rewarded it enough. I haven't scored it in a way that they're competitive... I think leaders have to have that mindset that if the group isn't where you want them to be, that is your fault rather than their fault. And that's something that we try to get our captains to embrace, our seniors to embrace, and our coaches to embrace,” Sheffield said.

Sheffield said the greatest teams are those that demonstrate consistency and are an example of excellence year after year.

Baldwin, Chanz, Shankland Honored with Champion of Electric Cooperatives Awards

February 2, 2024—On Wednesday, WECA presented Champion of Electric Cooperative Awards to U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin), and Wisconsin State Representatives Chanz Green (R-Grand View) and Katrina Shankland (D-Stevens Point).

Representative Katrina Shankland (D-Stevens Point)
L to R: Rob Richard, Lila Shower, CEO, Central Wisconsin Electric Cooperative, Rep. Katrina Shankland, and Jon Congdon, CEO, Adams-Columbia Electric Cooperative.


Shankland has been an advocate for electric cooperatives on key issues, including authoring legislation on wild parsnip, which poses an exposure danger to line crews in the field.

“I want to thank WECA for their important work alongside me and other legislators on our wild parsnip legislation,” Shankland said in accepting the award. “This has been crucial to getting this across the finish line and we are the closest we have ever been. And your organization has been a champion of workers to make sure that they are not being unnecessarily exposed to a very harmful invasive species that can really cause long-term damage to human health. So, thank you all for what you do.”

In 2017, Shankland led the charge advocating for changes to the law relating to the placement of sexually violent persons after a designated placement near the Central Wisconsin Electric Cooperative, where children are often present.

Shankland was first elected to represent the 71st District in the Wisconsin State Assembly in 2012 and has been re-elected five times.

Representative Chanz Green (R-GrandView)

L to R: Rob Richard, Rep. Chanz Green, and Jeff Olson, president/CEO, Price Electric Cooperative

This is Green’s first term in the Wisconsin State Legislature, and he has already been instrumental in his work for Wisconsin electric cooperatives.

Green co-authored the bill to allow electric cooperatives to operate ATVs and UTVs on state highways in certain conditions, which has now been signed into law.

U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin)

Baldwin was unable to attend the awards ceremony in Madison held as part of Education and Lobby Days, but she sent a video thanking WECA for the award.

Baldwin played a key role in the 2019 passage of the SECURE Act, which saved co-ops tens of billions of dollars in pension insurance premiums. She also supported direct-pay incentives for co-ops to deploy new energy technologies as part of the Inflation Reduction Act. She serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee where she advocates for Rural Utilities Service funding, which provides grants and loans to electric co-ops to modernize their infrastructure. Baldwin has also worked on behalf of Wisconsin co-ops on federal regulatory issues.

Baldwin has worked with Dairyland Power Cooperative on spent fuel issues, and advocated for funding for Washington Island Electric Cooperative when the underwater cable that runs to the island suffered catastrophic damage. Baldwin recognized the importance of broadband for rural areas. She fought for federal broadband expansion funding and made a stop at Chippewa Valley Electric Cooperative last summer, one of several Wisconsin electric co-ops awarded federal matching funds.

Fassbind Selected as Recipient of 2023 Potthast Award for Safety


October 20, 2023—The Job Training & Safety (JT&S) Committee has selected WECA Director of Education and Events Wendy Fassbind to be the recipient of the 2023 Herman C. Potthast Award for outstanding service, dedication, leadership, and cooperation with an emphasis on safety. Fassbind has been with the statewide for nearly 23 years and has held her current position for a decade, where she has been instrumental in growing and expanding WECA education and safety program offerings.

“Her hard work, dedication, care, and compassion for her co-op family is second to none. We are all benefactors of the work she does for our professional development that ultimately enhances our co-op safety and mutual aid programs,” the Wisconsin Superintendents Association nomination letter reads.

In her role, Fassbind engages operations staff to develop and implement OSHA training, organizes and schedules the JT&S and ROPE meetings, works with the Wisconsin REC Line Superintendents Association to develop safety programs including content and speakers, and assists with regional mutual aid responses by securing basic needs for lineworkers in the field and on the road.


She was very involved with the recovery following Hurricane Irma, when she worked tirelessly to secure transportation and lodging for lineworkers helping to restore power in the storm-ravaged state of Florida.

“While Wendy doesn’t likely recognize the significance of her contributions to our safety programs, it is awards like these that are meant for that purpose—to let people like Wendy know that their contributions are significant and greatly appreciated, and it is why she is worthy of this award,” the nomination reads.

Each year, the Potthast Award is selected from an outside committee of co-op employees. This is the second time in four years that a member of the WECA staff (of nine people) has been honored. WECA Vice President of Operations Tim Clay was selected to receive the award in 2020.

“I couldn’t be prouder of their role and the dedication to safety that they exemplify. I wanted to acknowledge Tim & Wendy’s service and recognize them for this well-deserved award,” said WECA President and CEO Steve Freese.



“Wendy’s commitment and dedication to serve Wisconsin’s electric cooperatives has made her an instrumental part of what WECA does for its members,” Clay added. “Wendy’s nomination for this award by the Line Superintendents Association is a testament of their appreciation and recognition of what she does to support the state’s safety program.”

 “I am humbled by the kindness and recognition from peers who all work diligently to ensure the health and safety of those who serve in this industry,” Fassbind said. “Nothing is more important. I would like to thank the nominators, the JT&S committee, and everyone who works to enhance safety. I’m very proud to be part of this incredible cooperative community.”

2023 Leifer Award Goes to Pierce Pepin


October 13, 2023—An independent judge has selected Pierce Pepin Cooperative Services as the recipient of the 2023 N.F. Leifer Memorial Journalism Award, bestowed upon the coop adjudged to have had the strongest overall local pages in the Wisconsin Energy Cooperative News over the
previous 12 months. Liz Gunderson, Pierce Pepin's communications coordinator, is the editor of the co-op's local pages.

This is Pierce-Pepin’s first-ever Leifer award since the local-pages contest was established in 1966, although the cooperative has won three individual category awards since Gunderson became the co-op’s local-pages editor in 2017.

Allison Jenkins, co-owner and editorial director of Mill Creek Communication Services, which offers editorial, public relations, and marketing resources to clients in a variety of industries, including agriculture, conservation, and cooperatives judged the 2022–2023 local sections entries. In selecting Pierce Pepin Cooperative Services as this year’s Leifer Award winner, Jenkins said, “GREAT mix of features on community subjects, updates on fiber projects, co-op news/events and energy education. I felt like this co-op had the most appealing pages with a solid mix of writing, content and visual appeal.”

The Leifer Award is determined by a different independent judge each year, always a communications professional and usually one with a co-op background. The judge evaluates a sampling of each of the 19 individualized local sections within the magazine, produced by staff at each co-op and filled with information unique to each co-op.

About the Award: The N.F. Leifer Memorial Journalism Award is named for former Vernon Electric Cooperative manager Norman F. “Lefty” Leifer, who was instrumental in launching what was then known as the Wisconsin REA News in 1940.

Dallas Sloan Named Recipient of 2023 ACE Award


October 6, 2023—Dallas Sloan, longtime community and cooperative leader and former head of Barron Electric Cooperative, has been named the recipient of the 2023 Ally of Cooperative Electrification (ACE) award, WECA’s highest honor. Sloan started his career at Barron Electric as a staff assistant in 1984 and worked as director of member services (1992–1997) and director of operations (1997–2009) before taking over as general manager in 2009. He retired in 2021 after 36 years with the co-op. Sloan served on the WECA board of directors from 2015–2021, including time as vice chair and a member of the executive committee. As a member of the WECA board, Sloan played a key role in establishing WECA’s independence from Cooperative Network and laying the foundation for the current organization. He has been a leading member of ACRE (now America’s Electric Cooperative PAC) since 2001.

During his time at Barron Electric, Sloan was instrumental in lobbying state and federal lawmakers on behalf of electric co-op interests, including the passage of Assembly Bill 583, which eliminated double taxation on cooperatives receiving mutual assistance, and the RURAL Act, which protected co-ops tax-exempt status.

Sloan was an early and strong supporter of clean energy, overseeing the co-op’s installation of a 100-kW community solar array in 2014. In 2018, under Sloan’s leadership, Barron Electric became the first electric cooperative in the Dairyland Power Cooperative to lease an all-electric vehicle and promote EV technology. He also spearheaded actions to protect the Monarch butterfly.

When northern Wisconsin and Barron Electric territory was hit with severe weather including a tornado in 2017 and a derecho and two more tornadoes in 2019, Sloan was instrumental in working with WECA, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and Wisconsin Emergency Management (WEM) to secure the necessary resources for recovery.

In addition to his active community leadership, which includes serving with Barron Kiwanis Club, Barron Area School District Board, Boy Scouts of America, and more, Sloan developed a Community Involvement Program to energize volunteer efforts in the area, and under his leadership, the co-op donated eight acres of land to Barron High School’s FFA Chapter for a crop demonstration program. In 2014 the co-op teamed up with member Nuto Farms to donate more than 3,200 pounds of potatoes to local food pantries, a program that continues to this day. During the pandemic, Sloan opened up the Barron office to the local health department for a drive-thru vaccine clinic.

Under Sloan’s leadership and with his support, co-op staff volunteered time to help in the search for Jayme Closs, who was kidnapped in 2018 after her parents were murdered. Linemen set up a Christmas tree at her school as a sign of hope. Closs escaped her captor after nearly three months in captivity.

According to his nomination for the ACE award, which was submitted by Barron Director of Member Services Jennifer Beaudette, “Dallas has spent his career fulfilling the mission of not only Barron Electric but also NRECA and Touchstone Energy. He leads his life by the cooperative principles and encourages others to do the same. Under his leadership, Barron Electric achieved an 87 ACSI Score, the highest score the cooperative had reached and among one of the highest scores among electric cooperatives.”

Excerpts from additional letters recommending Sloan for the ACE award are below:

“Dallas has organized legislative forums and has
shared his support for cooperative associations at
both the state and federal level through lobbying
efforts to advance the cooperative movement. And through all else, Dallas has demonstrated a sense of leadership and a commitment to the cooperative
principles that guide his work ethic.”

—Former Senate Minority Leader Janet Bewley (D-Mason)

“Dallas has done it all. He is a true leader with a very successful local cooperative, strong bonds in the community and state, and is passionate about the cooperative difference. His record of accomplishment and achievement is certainly worthy of this high recognition.”

—Brian Rude, Former Republican State Lawmaker and Former Vice President of Government and Community Relations with Dairyland Power Cooperative
“Through three decades of dedicated service to the electric cooperative program and prominent legislative leadership, Dallas has consistently shown that he has a depth of common sense and a thorough understanding of both the electric cooperative program and the legislative process, which combined has made him a tremendous asset to the Cooperative program. Dallas Sloan is the type of individual that can make a winning difference to your team and organization.”

—Brian Krambeer, President and CEO of MiEnergy Cooperative

“I have known Dallas Sloan, retired manager of Barron Electric Cooperative, on a board-employee relationship since the first day he arrived at the cooperative in 1984 as a staff assistant. I have had the opportunity to watch Dallas work at virtually every job that exists at a distribution utility from the ground up to the General Manager's position which he assumed in 2009. After 36 years on the job at Barron Electric, he truly understood where the rubber meets the road as far as the members of the cooperative are concerned.”

—Selmer E. Nelson, Longtime (1974-2020) Barron Electric Cooperative Board Member

Dallas Sloan and his wife Diane have three children—Andrew, David, and Hannah.

About the Award:
The Ally of Cooperative Electrification (ACE) Award is the highest honor presented annually by the Wisconsin Electric Cooperative Association. It recognizes individuals who have demonstrated outstanding support and service to the industry on behalf of Wisconsin electric cooperatives and the members they serve.

WECA’s Rob Richard Promoted to Vice President of Governmental Relations and External Affairs

September 22, 2023—WECA’s Director of Government Relations Rob Richard has been promoted to Vice President of Governmental Relations and External Affairs. WECA President and CEO Steve Freese said the elevation reflects the added responsibilities Richard has already taken on, including stepping up when Freese was on medical leave for much of last year. Richard has also taken on the role of executive director for the Federated Youth Foundation and was elected to the legislative committee for NRECA, Region 5.

“Rob has the gift of understanding what is important to the people he works for, and that is what we do. We serve the members,” Freese said. “His connections at the capitol and his life experiences have made him an incredible asset to WECA and Wisconsin electric cooperatives.”

Prior to joining WECA in 2019, Richard worked as senior director of government relations for the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, and spent 16 years as a legislative aide in Assembly and Senate leadership offices, including eleven years working with Freese when he was a state elected official. Richard graduated from UW-Platteville with a degree in history.

I’m very excited to take on the new responsibilities and challenges that will come with this role,” Richard stated. “After assuming the Executive Director position with Federated Youth Foundation earlier this year, I believe this is just one more way for me to further immerse myself in the cooperative culture and assist the WECA membership in the best way that I can. I’m thankful for the trust given to me and incredibly honored to be working with a tremendously dedicated team at WECA.”

Richard’s new position was effective September 1, 2023.

WECN Magazine Earns National Recognition

August 28, 2023—Wisconsin Energy Cooperative News (WECN) magazine has again earned national recognition for content. During the National Rural Electric Cooperatives Statewide Editors Association meeting at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., presenters announced WECN editor Dana Kelroy was selected as recipient of the 2023 Willies Award of Merit in the Best Editorial category for her October 2022 column, “Culture of Co-ops.”

The judges remarked that, “Culture of Co-ops is an excellent editorial. Short, concise, focused approach. Exceptional writing. Effective use of the ‘roll up your sleeves and get it done’ mantra in the lead and conclusion.”

Congratulations Dana!

Wisconsin Electric Co-op Communicators Recognized for Excellence

August 28, 2023—WECA presented awards of excellence for local news content published in Wisconsin Energy Cooperative News magazine at the recent Communication Power conference in Spring Green.

Certificates were awarded in the categories of Co-op News, Human Interest, Photography, and Energy Education for the judging cycle of 2021-2022. Co-op personnel listed below were editors of their local pages during this judging cycle.

Donna Abernathy, president of DLS Communications, served as judge of this year’s entries. Abernathy has decades of experience in electric cooperative communications and presented at the Communication Power conference.

Co-op News

Winner: Jump River Electric Cooperative, Denise Zimmer, editor
Judge’s comments: “This is a very ‘newsy’ newsletter — just as it should be. Of particular note is the article and accompanying photos covering the March ice storm (April '22). Good job on letting members commend employees for their work on restoration. The annual meeting issue really tips the scale in this category.”

Honorable Mention: Central Wisconsin Electric Cooperative, Bert Lehman, editor
Judge’s comments: “Excellent work in meeting the objective of keeping members informed about what's happening and illustrating the news with appropriate photos. Though I know it's not exciting content, I like the board meeting reports.”

Human Interest

Winner: Vernon Electric Cooperative, Dave Maxwell, editor
Judge’s comments: “All three issues exhibit exceptional feature writing. Along with being good reads, I like that you consistently make the ‘co-op connection’ in these articles. Well done.”

Honorable Mention: Rock Energy Cooperative, Jonas Berberich, editor
Judge’s comments: “You excel in writing member-centric features. I enjoyed reading all of them. Of particular note is the effort to make the co-op connection in each article.”


Winner: Rock Energy Cooperative, Jonas Berberich, editor
Judge’s comments: “Feature photography is very nice. And I see there are cutlines written for all. Good work!”

Honorable Mention: Richland Electric Cooperative, Trevor Clark, now of Vernon Electric but editor of Richland Electric’s local pages during this judging cycle.
Judge’s Comments: “Really nice local photos in each issue. I also commend you for writing cutlines.”

Energy Education

Winner: Riverland Energy Cooperative, Beth Alesch, editor
Judge’s comments: “I find 2 energy education articles in each issue. All are specific to local programs and issues. Good work.”

Honorable Mention: Dunn Energy Cooperative, Jolene Fisher, editor
Judge’s Comments: “I see energy education pieces in every issue. Good job in localizing information.”

Congratulations to all award-winners!

60th Annual YLC Held at UW-Stout

July 14, 2023—The 60th Annual Youth Leadership Conference took place this week at UW-Stout, with 73 young people in attendance representing 15 Wisconsin electric cooperatives in attendance. During the three-day event, attendees learned about electric cooperatives and the 7 Cooperative Principles, as well as leadership skills and networking, all in a campus setting.

Activities this year included a presentation from Packer great Gilbert Brown, “The Gravedigger,” a motivational team-building presentation by Craig Hillier, motivational speaker, and author, a safe driving presentation, an etiquette dinner, a hypnotist, and a presentation about cooperative careers from Beth Knudson, NRECA youth programs and training manager. The youth groups also produced their own videos demonstrating cooperative principles. “What an incredible experience,” said Barb Miller, Rock Energy Cooperative director, and WECA board member, who attended YLC for the first time. “Kids are networking, they’re learning leadership, and all about what a co-op is about, at a very young age. This event is very well organized and an advantage for all co-ops. Compliments to everybody that’s involved.” On Thursday as YLC was wrapping up, Miller gathered a group of young people, including those from Rock Energy, and asked about their takeaways. All responses were positive.

“YLC has changed the trajectory of my life,” said Emma Steinke, Youth Board member from Rock Energy who was selected to represent Wisconsin youth at the NRECA Annual Meeting.

The conference culminated with a competitive election for the 2023-24 Youth Board. Those elected serve in a leadership position working to engage more young people with electric cooperatives, they lead the planning of the 2024 Youth Leadership Conference, and they will participate in the 2024 Youth Tour of Washington, D.C.

Fourteen YLC attendees ran for youth board this year, delivering spirited and entertaining speeches to the group, making their case on why they would be good candidates. Six of the candidates were elected, plus one alternate.
The 2023-24 Youth Board members are, in order (L to R):
  • Carson Welter, Oakdale Electric Cooperative
  • Thomas Peters, Rock Energy Cooperative
  • Mya Petersen, Pierce Pepin Cooperative Services
  • Helen Clements, Vernon Electric Cooperative
  • Jayden Mosley, Rock Energy Cooperative
  • Ryther Gehrke, Richland Electric Cooperative
  • Johnah Vircks (alternate), Clark Electric Cooperative

"Gravedigger" Gilbert Brown Featured Speaker at YLC


July 14, 2023—Green Bay Packer Hall of Famer Gilbert Brown, aka “The Gravedigger,” was the featured speaker at the 60th Annual Youth Leadership Conference at UW-Stout in Menomonie this week. Brown sat down for a candid conversation with Vernon Electric Manager of Communications and Member Services Trevor Clark to talk about his anti-bullying campaign, the Gilbert Brown Foundation, motivation and determination, his years as a Packer, and his thoughts on Green Bay’s upcoming season. He also took questions from the engaged audience of YLC attendees, chaperones, and even UW-Stout staff and law enforcement who dropped by for the presentation.

Brown offered up a little about his background with the Packers for the young people who weren’t born yet when he was on the field with Green Bay for 10 years from 1994 to 2004. “We weren’t part of that whole discount double-check,” Brown said sarcastically. “My team didn’t do that. We just went to the Super Bowl, back-to-back. Kicked some tail. Don’t like Bears. NEVER lost to the Lions at home."

On anti-bullying, Brown said, “When I was younger I was bullied, but it was to the point where I knew I could smash them. I knew it, but I had to deal with my Mama when I got home. So I had to try and figure out a different way to handle it. There's always different ways to handle things, not by brute force. Use your mind.” He added, “This is a tough world out there right now. Help somebody.”

After football, Brown started the Gilbert Brown Foundation, run entirely by volunteers, which raises money for 156 children’s charities. He recently purchased a car for a young man living with disabilities who had to walk to work.

Brown says his mother is his biggest role model. “My Mama was my everything, she still is,” he said, adding that when he was 14 he told her he was going to work hard and get to the NFL so he could buy her a house. “And that’s the first thing I did,” he said.

Looking ahead to the Packers’ upcoming season, Brown said, “Get on the Love train!” in reference to the new Packer quarterback, Jordan Love. When asked how he thought Love would do this season, Brown said, “When Brett Favre took over, he sucked. When Aaron Rodgers took over, he sucked. So when Jordan Love takes over, he’s probably going to suck. But it’s year two and year three when you have to give him the benefit of the doubt. He has something in there and I’m waiting for it to come out."

2023 Electrical Safety Poster Contest Winners

June 27, 2023—Congratulations to Stella of Price Electric Cooperative, Colton of Taylor Electric Cooperative, and Everlee of Taylor Electric Cooperative! These young artists took first, second, and third place, respectively, in the 2023 WECA Electrical Safety Poster Contest. This contest, held each May in recognition of Electrical Safety Month, is open to third-grade students from member households of participating co-ops.

First-place winners receive a Chromebook, second-place winners receive a $100 gift card, and third-place winners receive a $75 gift card. Thanks to all the amazing young artists who entered!

Click photos to see enlarged images.

Rob Richard Named Executive Director of Federated Youth Foundation

April 21, 2023—WECA Director of Government Relations Rob Richard has been named the new executive director of the Federated Youth Foundation (FYF), which manages a trust that supports various community and youth organizations. Richard takes over the role previously held by Ethan Giebel, in addition to managing government relations within WECA.

“Rob is a professional self-starter and integral member of our team and will be a perfect fit to lead the next chapter for FYF,” said Steve Freese, WECA president and CEO. “His integrity, experience, and commitment to the seventh co-op principle, Concern for Community, will serve him well and we appreciate his willingness to take on the additional responsibilities.”

FYF is a nonprofit organization formed in 1971 to administer a trust that various Wisconsin cooperatives, including electric co-ops, use to support a wide variety of community projects. The trust is funded by unclaimed capital credits, which are returned to communities in the form of student scholarships and grants to nonprofit organizations such as 4-H, FFA, Rural Housing, police departments, food pantries, and more.

In Fiscal Year 2021–22, FYF reported 67 cooperative members contributed $1,599,795, an all-time high. The Foundation distributed $1,130,597, including 644 college scholarships and 337 charitable contributions. FYF ended the year in good financial condition, with $4,830,117 in total assets in spite of market conditions that led to an unrealized loss on investments of $728,062.

Community Solar and Third-Party Ownership are Key Issues at WECA’s Education & Lobby Days in Madison

March 22-23, 2023—Electric cooperative leaders from across the state convened in Madison this week for WECA’s Education & Lobby Days to talk about key legislative issues and meet with state lawmakers. WECA President and CEO Steve Freese kicked off the meeting, and WECA Director of Government Relations Rob Richard presented on the priorities this year which include community solar, thirty-party ownership, ATV and UTV use on highways, electric vehicle license plates and charging stations, and wild parsnip.

The event included a candid panel discussion Ellen Nowak, former commissioner with the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin; John Quackenbush, former Chairman of the Michigan Public Service Commission; and Jessica Shrestha, attorney with Frederikson & Byron (formerly with Wheeler, Van Sickle & Anderson, S.C.). The discussion came just one day after Senator Duey Stroebel (R-Saukville) and Representatives Scott Krug (R-Nekoosa) and Robert Brooks (R-Saukville) announced a community solar proposal that they say would allow “more free market activity in something that is a highly regulated monopoly.”

Under the community solar proposal, retail electric customers of investor-owned electric utilities would be able to subscribe to a private community solar facility and, their utility would be required to give them credit on their electric bills.

“I'm really fired up about that bill that was introduced yesterday,” Nowak said during the panel discussion. “There are so many flaws. They’re misleading people—they’re leading people to believe that they're actually receiving energy from those solar panels into their house.” She added that the proposal actually means those “subscribers” would be getting subsidies from other customers, and there are no consumer protections to protect people from private solar providers that fail to deliver.

“These out-of-state developers come in with no risk. They have no risk!” Nowak said, incredulously. “I would love to be able to build a business where someone else is paying for all of my capital, and I don't have any consequence if it goes under. It’s amazing, but we're seeing bills introduced in our legislature that do just that.”


L to R: Jessica Shrestha, John Quackenbush, Ellen Nowak, Rob Richard

Third-party ownership also caters to solar developers with little risk, while allowing them to act as utilities, according to Shrestha, which is in conflict with state law.

“This is not your typical rooftop solar where a private company sells and installs a system,” she explained. “The third-party provider installs their own system and then they essentially sell the output for the electricity to the property owner, and they do that through a contract that's either formed as a lease where they're essentially leasing the equipment, and then the property owner has to pay a fixed amount, or it's through a purchase agreement with rates for the actual energy output.”

As a PSC commissioner, Nowak was the only one of the three-member panel to vote against third-party ownership proposals over concerns with the law, the lack of consumer protections, and the potential complications with the grid including cyber-security risks.

“I think, unfortunately, what you're seeing in the Commission today is that commissioners have an outcome-based process. They want to get to an outcome, and then try to justify the way to get there, and that's not how we should conduct ourselves,” Nowak said.

WECA joined other groups in filing for reconsideration of the PSC actions on third-party ownership.

Wisconsin Co-ops Represented at PowerXchange in Nashville

March 10, 2022—The NRECA held its PowerXchange 2023 annual meeting this week in Nashville, with “off-the-charts” attendance, according to NRECA CEO Jim Matheson. Those in attendance during the March 3–8 event include WECA President and CEO Steve Freese, WECA board members, and many other Wisconsin electric cooperative leaders.

President Joe Biden delivered a video address to attendees in the final day of NRECA’s PowerXchange on March 8.

Dairyland Power Cooperative Director of Member Relations and Chief Communications Officer Deb Mirasola, who also serves as Touchstone Energy board president, presented during a general session to the audience of more than 9,000 electric cooperative leadership representatives. (Click photos to enlarge.)

Deb Mirasola Tim Tebow Steve Freese and Tyler Tautges

Other speakers included Tim Tebow, former NFL quarterback, and best-selling author; Ken Jennings, known as the best Jeopardy player of all time; Robyn Benincasa, world champion adventure racer, San Diego city firefighter, and best-selling author; Chris Christensen, NRECA president; Jana Adams, executive director of Touchstone, and Michael Gottlieb of Ballast Research, as well as NRECA CEO Jim Matheson.

The 2024 NRECA PowerXchange will take place March 1–6 in San Antonio, Texas.

Karen Newbury,
WECA board vice chairman,
Price Electric Cooperative
Judy Anibas, board member,
Eau Claire Energy Cooperative (left)
Ed Gullickson, board member, Polk-
Burnett Electric Cooperative and
Dairyland Power Cooperative (left),
Brent Ridge, president and CEO, Dairyland Power Cooperative (right)

Podcast Features Wisconsin Electric Cooperatives

December 19, 2022—Customers First! Coalition (CFC) is featuring Wisconsin electric cooperatives in its latest “Electric Wire” podcast. Rob Richard, WECA director of government affairs, led the discussion along with Kristin Gilkes, CFC executive director. Joining the conversation were Robert Cornell, general manager, Washington Island Electric Cooperative; Monica Obrycki, president and CEO, Eau Claire Energy Cooperative; Karen Newbury, director, Price Electric Cooperative; and Nate Boettcher, president and CEO, Pierce Pepin Cooperative Services.

The group covers how cooperatives differ from investor-owned utilities, and the benefits to members because of cooperation among co-ops. They also discuss energy generation and reliability, the new CHARGE EV network for electric vehicle charging at cooperatives, and bringing broadband to cooperative members.

This podcast is the third in a series profiling the structure of different utility types. The first two covered investor-owned and municipal utilities.

You can listen to episode 30 of the Electric Wire podcast, “Getting to Know Wisconsin’s Electric Cooperatives,” wherever you get your podcasts, or listen and watch on the CFC YouTube channel here:  https://youtu.be/sUjZS7wfNq4

Students win Scholarships in WECA Essay Contest

December 6, 2022—Megan Wagner of Oconto Electric Cooperative, Emma Steinke of Rock Energy Cooperative, and Cicely Kiecker of Chippewa Valley Electric Cooperative took first, second, and third place, respectively, in WECA’s 202 essay contest, open to students who attended the 2022 Youth Leadership Congress. Students were asked to describe the Second Cooperative Principle and what it means to them and their community.

First Place
$1,000 Scholarship

Megan Wagner
Oconto Electric Cooperative
Second Place
$500 Scholarship

Emma Steinke
Rock Energy Cooperative

Third Place
$250 Scholarship

Cicely Kiecker
Chippewa Valley Electric Cooperative

WECA Hosts 2022 Annual Meeting in Stevens Point

November 1516, 2022—WECA’s annual meeting took place in Stevens Point this week, with what was potentially the largest attendance in history. According to WECA Director of Education and Events Wendy Fassbind, 164 co-op leaders representing all of Wisconsin’s electric cooperatives gathered for two days of presentations and
discussion about the issues impacting the industry on November 15–16, 2022. “This is the largest meeting ever that I can remember, and that goes back 20 years,” Fassbind said.

The conference kicked off with a candid and unfiltered presentation by environmentalist and investigative journalist Michael Shellenberger, who is also a best-selling author and Time Magazine’s “Hero of the Environment.” Shellenberger, whose books include San Fransicko: Why Progressives Ruin Cities and Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All, presented comprehensive data that debunks widespread messaging about catastrophic global warming.

“You'll never find this out if you read the mainstream news media, but global carbon emissions were actually slightly declined over the last decade,” Shellenberger said. “Mostly that was a transition from coal to natural gas, which produces half the carbon emissions as coal… The number of people who died from natural disasters has been going down for over 100 years, even as the population has quadrupled. There's been no increase in the
frequency of hurricanes globally, and in fact, there's been a slight decline in hurricanes that have hit land in the United States.”

Shellenberger touted the clean benefits of nuclear energy and joined in a greater discussion on the issue with NuScale Director of Supply Chain Development Michael Brasel, Dairyland Power Cooperative CEO Brent Ridge, 2022 Miss Wisconsin Grace Stanke, an engineering student at UW-Madison who is working to promote clean energy including nuclear, and UW-Madison Grainger Professor of Nuclear Engineering and Department Chair of Engineering Physics Paul Wilson. The discussion was moderated by Dairyland Executive VP and COO Ben Porath

L to R: Michael Brasel, Michael Shellenberger, Grace Stanke, Paul Wilson, Brent Ridge, and Ben Porath

Keith Johnson, account executive,

Federated Rural Insurance Exchange

Tim Clay, vice president
of operations, WECA

David Hischke, WECA board
chair, director, Oconto
Electric Cooperative

Jennifer Beaudette, WECA resolutions committee chair, director of member
service, Barron Electric Cooperative

Craig Thompson, secretary,
Wisconsin Department
of Transportation

Joe Pater, director of the Office of
Energy Information, Wisconsin
Public Service Commission

Joe Murray, director of Political and governmental affairs, Wisconsin
Realtors Association

Shellenberger pushed back on the idea that nuclear should support other renewables, such as wind and solar. “You should not have your most reliable source of energy supporting your least reliable source of energy,” he said.

The annual meeting also included a presentation by Federated Rural Insurance Exchange Account Executive Keith Johnson on the status of the insurance claims and funds, and a presentation by RESCO President and CEO Matt Brandrup, who gave an update on supply-chain challenges.

According to Brandup, RESCO has been able to temper the extreme price increases on equipment such as transformers, so Wisconsin electric cooperatives are not taking as big of a hit as other utilities. Still, he said the number of price increases from their supplier in 2021 and 2022 has been “unheard of,” with six increases last year and four this year. The good news, Brandrup said, is they have much greater allotments expected from ERMCO for 2023, which should relieve some of the supply-chain pressure.

WECA Vice President of Operations Tim Clay presented the manager’s report, including a review of how the organization is taking on major challenges including third-party ownership of solar installations, and he thanked the WECA staff for stepping up in the absence of WECA President and CEO Steve Freese, who has been on medical leave since his cancer diagnosis in June. Board Chair David Hischke echoed that sentiment and presented the chairman’s report saying, “What a year this has been."

Directors from Jump River Electric Cooperative deep in discussion.

Hischke talked about the plan to purchase a building in Middleton to house the WECA headquarters, and the expected savings it will bring. WECA board Secretary-Treasurer Roger Wiff presented on the financial stability of the organization.

Freese made an appearance at the meeting to accept a special ACE award (see below) and recorded this message for attendees: https://vimeo.com/769649644/19739c716e

Chair of WECA’s Resolutions Committee Jennifer Beaudette presented two new resolutions and one amendment to a resolution, related to beneficial electrification (amendment), rural broadband, and closure of generation plants. There was also a new proposed amendment relating to the development of hydroelectric power. All proposals were passed.

Wisconsin Department of Transportation Secretary Craig Thompson addressed attendees about state efforts to build out EV charging infrastructure. Public Service Commission of Wisconsin Director of the Office of Energy Information Joe Pater talked mostly about the wealth of funding opportunities coming from the federal government to support a clean energy transition.

Wisconsin Realtors Association Director of Political and Governmental Affairs Joe Murray broke down the recent midterm election with a discussion about why the expected “red wave” did not happen and how Wisconsin’s political landscape is shaping up.

WECA’s Director of Government Relations Rob Richard talked about the importance of ACRE and how the committee determines which political candidates to support.

Attendees also watched videos recapping the Year in Review: https://vimeo.com/769727648/9a4b5dc71d

And the 2022 Youth Leadership Congress: https://vimeo.com/769814388/f59e7c3be7

Karen Newbury, director, Price Electric, Dairyland Electric Cooperative, and WECA Vice Chair,
and Jeff Monson, director, Richland Electric Cooperative and Dairyland Electric Cooperative


New WECA Board Seated at Annual Meeting

L to R: Mike Wade, Dan Smrekar, David Hischke, Cynthia Thorman, Craig Buros, Steve Johnson, Jerry Sorenson,
Barbara Miller, Dan Hillberry, Roger Wiff, and Karen Newbury

The board members are:

  • Chair David Hischke, District 4: Oconto Electric Cooperative
  • Vice Chair Karen Newbury, District 4: Price Electric Cooperative
  • Secretary/Treasurer Roger Wiff, District 2: Pierce Pepin Cooperative Services
  • Dan Smrekar, District 2: Jackson Electric Cooperative
  • Jerry Sorenson, District 2: Riverland Energy Cooperative
  • Steve Johnson, District 3: Chippewa Valley Electric Cooperative
  • Craig Buros, District 1: Vernon Electric Cooperative
  • Justin Jahnz, District 3: East Central Energy
  • Mike Wade, District 4: Central Wisconsin Electric Cooperative
  • Cynthia Thorman, District 3: Polk-Burnett Electric Cooperative
  • Dan Hillberry, District 1: Richland Electric Cooperative
  • Barbara Miller, District 1: Rock Energy Cooperative
  • Chuck Simmons, invited observer, Scenic Rivers Energy Cooperative and NRECA Director
2023 WECA Executive Committee
WECA Executive Committee
  • David Hischke
  • Karen Newbury
  • Roger Wiff Craig
  • Buros Mike Wade
WECA Finance Committee
  • Roger Wiff, Chair
  • Steve Johnson
  • Dan Hillberry
  • Barbara Miller

At the annual meeting, WECA honored Jerry Sorenson, whose term is up in 2023 and does not plan to run again, and Joe Metro, who also did not run for another term, for their service on the board.
David Hischke presenting a WECA board service award to Jerry Sorenson, WECA director, and general manager of
Riverland Electric Cooperative (left photo), and to Joe Metro, board director of WECA and Polk-Burnett Electric Cooperative (right photo)


Freese, Trescher, Maxwell, Bella, Honored at Annual Meeting

ACE Award

The projection screen read, “And though she be but little, she is fierce,” as Rock Energy CEO Shane Larson presented Marian Trescher with the 2022 Ally of Cooperative Electrification (ACE) award, and it could not have been more fitting. Trescher is a lifelong public servant whose commitment to community has had an exceptional impact on the electric cooperative world and beyond.

“I am so honored to be only the second woman to receive this award,” Trescher said to a round of applause from the audience, which included four granddaughters.

Trescher, ran for the Rock Energy Cooperative board seat held by her husband Howard in 2004, after he passed away. During his 43 years as a director, Marian was always by his side, supporting the cooperative. In 2011, she was elected board secretary and has received many certifications and served on the Federated Youth Board and WECA Education Committee. In her remarks, Trescher recalled launching Rock’s “cooperative queen” program, and traveling the country when their representative won the state and national titles.

Special ACE Award

Many members were happy to see Steve Freese, president & CEO of the Wisconsin Electric Cooperative Association (WECA), attend in person to accept the special Ally of Cooperative Electrification (ACE) Award. Freese thanked the WECA staff and all members for their continued support. “Your calls, messages, cards, and emails mean more than you know,” he said. “And your prayers and the medicine are working.” Freese hopes to be back in the office in January.

Freese has also demonstrated a lifelong commitment to community serving in local and state government, he is also credited with securing the financial stability of Circus World Museum in Baraboo when he took over as leader there in 2007. Freese also served as chief administrative officer of the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation Cooperative before
joining Cooperative Network as vice president in 2015, where WECA was then a division. Freese was tasked with the daunting challenge of re-establishing the statewide as a stand-alone organization after being part of Cooperative Network for 20 years.

David Paudler, Riverland Energy Cooperative board president and then WECA chairman, said, “Even in times when Steve placed his future at risk, he always advocated for our best interests. His dedication and hard work resulted in the momentum that became WECA’s renewal and this will always be part of his legacy.”

Leifer Award

Dave Maxwell, director of member services, accepted the 2022 N.F. Leifer Memorial Journalism Award on behalf of Vernon Electric Cooperative. Maxwell serves as local editor of Vernon Electric’s pages and Leah Call contributes, writing feature stories.

This is the fifth Leifer Award Vernon Electric has won since this publication first began offering awards for excellence in 1966, and the third such honor to be earned on Maxwell’s watch. In addition, the co-op has won multiple category awards, particularly in the area of human interest.

Potthast Award

Ben Bella, safety & loss control manager, accepted the 2022 Potthast Award for his commitment and dedication to safety in the electric cooperative field. Bella has served in this role for more than 12 years, graduating from NRECA’s Management Internship Program in 2017 and earning NRECA’s Loss Control Certificate in 2012.

RESAP Certifications

The following co-ops were honored with RESAP Certifications for safety efforts: Adams-Columbia Electric Cooperative, Chippewa Valley Electric Cooperative, Clark Electric Cooperative, Jackson Electric Cooperative, Richland Electric Cooperative, St. Croix Electric Cooperative, and Vernon Electric Cooperative.

Marian Trescher Selected to Receive 2022 ACE Award


October 14, 2022—Marian Trescher, a lifelong public servant whose commitment to community has had an exceptional impact on the electric cooperative world and beyond, is the recipient of the 2022 Ally of Cooperative Electrification (ACE) award.

Trescher, who spent 27 years as a public school teacher in Janesville and Milton, first became involved with Rock Energy Cooperative through her husband, Howard. During his 43 years as a director, Marian was always by his side, handling schedules and taking notes at meetings. When Howard passed away in 2004, Marian was elected to fill his seat, a position she has held ever since. In 2011, she was elected board secretary. She has received many certifications and also served on the Federated Youth Foundation Board and WECA Education Committee.

In the 1960’s, when Howard served on the board, Marian realized that Rock was the only electric cooperative in the state that did not have the public relations and educational benefit of a “cooperative queen” program, so they decided to start one. They organized the entire program including planning the pageant, recruiting candidates and judges, and attending state and national events with the winners. In the early 70’s, Rock Energy’s queen went on to win the cooperative queen title at both the state and national level as “Miss Rural Electrification.” Marian served as her chaperone, traveling with her to speaking engagements and events across the country.

Marian’s public service involvement also includes the Milton Board of Supervisors, Joint Fire Commission, Planning and Zoning (Chair), Milton Grange, Milton 4- H, Rural Housing Board, polling place lead worker, and more. In the 15 letters of nomination from the various chapters of her life, Marian is consistently described as professional, engaged, kind, dedicated, and extremely organized.

“Over my 32 years in the cooperative family, I honestly cannot think of any person who has embraced and promoted the cooperative business model more than Marian. Marian’s commitment and energy to the cooperative principles have always been a guiding light for Rock Energy.” – Shane Larson, Rock Energy CEO

“Frankly, she represents the very best of what our industry needs and expects.” – Sheldon Petersen, former GM of Rock County Electric Cooperative Association and 2020 special ACE award recipient

“I am unwavering in my belief that Marian has positively impacted millions of lives... She is a lifelong community connector... Marian’s life is a shining example and a model to all, especially young girls. They can see Marian’s life themselves in dynamic roles across multiple sectors.” – Milton Mayor Anissa Welch

“She is a model of which to observe in how she handles tough discussions when viewpoints differ... A leadership style sure to be admired, and one I hope to model.” – Barbara Miller, Rock Energy director, WECA board member, and Marian’s ACE award nominator.

Click image to read article.

In addition to her many hours of community service, Marian also enjoys spending time with her three children, and is an avid supporter of her ten grandchildren, and 14 great-grandchildren.

About the Award:
The Ally of Cooperative Electrification (ACE) Award is the highest honor presented annually by the Wisconsin Electric Cooperative Association. It recognizes individuals who have demonstrated outstanding support and service to the industry on behalf of Wisconsin electric cooperatives and the members they serve.

Ben Bella Selected as Recipient of 2022 Potthast Award


October 14, 2022—Ben Bella, safety & loss control manager, shared services for Eau Claire Energy, Riverland Energy, Oakdale Electric, and Jackson Electric, is the recipient of the 2022 Potthast Award for his commitment and dedication to safety in the electric cooperative field. Bella has served in this role for more than 12 years, graduating from NRECA’s Management Internship Program in 2017 and earning NRECA’s Loss Control Certificate in 2012.

Bella was instrumental in the production of the License to Live video, educating the public on the dangers present in the event of a traffic collision involving electrical equipment, and the 811 Dig-In Video, the dangers of digging where underground lines may be present. He also works to educate children about electricity dangers with presentations for community organizations and schools.

“Ben’s dedication, knowledge, and passion to educate about electrical safety have been essential assets to the safety program. He provides valuable, unbiased insight into various situations as he works patiently with our employees and the public”.—Carol Blaken, member relations manager at Jackson Electric Cooperative

“Ben is an individual with strong leadership, servitude, and integrity. He exemplifies cooperative principles and values. His core values make him an irreplaceable asset who is willing to evaluate, correspond, and aid wherever the need. Ben inspires respect and advocates for safety.”—Steve Knudsen, safety and loss prevention consultant, Federated Rural Insurance Exchange

Bella also serves as the president of Quad State Instructors, which was Quad State, created to allow utility safety professionals to exchange information, upgrade skills, and expand an excellent collection of shared and pertinent training programs. Its membership includes safety professionals from across the country.

Bella previously worked as a technology and engineering teacher in the Altoona School District. He received his master’s in technology management at UW-Stout in 2011.

About the Award:
The Herman C. Potthast Award is named for a man who dedicated his career to safety at Wisconsin’s rural electric cooperatives. Potthast was a state and national leader, instrumental in implementing and promoting instruction and training to ensure safety among those working in the electric cooperative field. Potthast passed away in 1972. The award was created in 1973 and is presented annually.

Vernon Electric Cooperative Wins its Fifth Leifer Award for Journalism

October 7, 2022—Vernon Electric Cooperative is the recipient of the 2022 N.F. Leifer Memorial Journalism Award, bestowed upon the co-op adjudged to have had the strongest overall local pages in the Wisconsin Energy Cooperative News over the previous 12 months. Dave Maxwell, director of member services, serves as local editor of Vernon Electric’s pages and Leah Call contributes, writing feature stories.

This is the fifth Leifer Award Vernon Electric has won since this publication first began offering awards for excellence in 1966, and the third such honor to be earned on Maxwell’s watch. In addition, the co-op has won multiple category awards, particularly in the area of human interest.

The Leifer Award recipient is selected by a different independent judge each year, always a communications professional, and usually one with a co-op background. The judge evaluates a sampling of each of the 19 individualized local sections within the magazine, produced by staff at each co-op and filled with information unique to each co-op.


Dave Maxwell, director of member
services, Vernon Electric Cooperative

Donna Abernathy, a member of the Cooperative Communicators Association, judged the 2021–2022 local sections. Abernathy specializes in helping cooperatives reach target audiences through the strategic development and communication of key messages. Among her many accomplishments, she’s the author of three books about cooperatives, including the award-winning “A Day in the Life of Cooperative America.”

In selecting Vernon Electric as this year’s Leifer Award winner, Abernathy cited the co-op’s “excellent member features” and awarded a bonus point “for going above and beyond on being locally focused and member-centric in content.”

About the award:
The N.F. Leifer Memorial Journalism Award is named for former Vernon Electric Cooperative manager Norman F. “Lefty” Leifer, who was instrumental in launching what was then known as the Wisconsin REA News in 1940.

Lily Gollon Wins Electrical Safety Poster Contest

By Bert Lehman, Member Relations Specialist, Central Wisconsin Electric Cooperative
September 21, 2022

"Oh my gosh I won.” That’s what Lily Gollon thought to herself when she found out that she had won the WECA statewide Electrical Safety Poster Contest.
“I never really won any art contests before,” Gollon said.
Lily’s mom, Melissa, confirmed that Lily was “super excited” after finding out she had won.
Gollon, a student at Rosholt Elementary School, entered the poster contest after Central Wisconsin Electric Cooperative (CWEC) informed the local school districts within its service area about the poster contest for third-graders. Rosholt Elementary School was one of the schools contacted.
Lily Gollon with her parents and her third-grade teacher at
Rosholt Elementary School
– left to right: Joseph Gollon; Lily,
holding her winning poster; Melissa Gollon, holding the
Chromebook that her daughter won; and art teacher Natalie Ockwig.

“I made it a requirement for both of my third-grade classes that they would make the poster and then it was up to the parents to send back the permission slips for who actually got to participate in the contest,” said Natalie Ockwig, art teacher for the Rosholt School District.

Ockwig added that she talked to both classes about poster design and composition.
Gollon said she came up with the ideas for her poster after watching videos in class about the importance of being safe around electricity.
As one would expect, Gollon loves drawing. Her mom said she watches YouTube videos about drawing, and is drawing all the time. One of her favorite YouTube channels to watch is Moriah Elizabeth, who hosts videos about creating different pieces of art.
“She makes a lot of different types of art,” Melissa Gollon said about Lily. “She knows how to do many things. She’s musically inclined. She has a wonderful imagination. She’s a very gifted and well-rounded kid.”
Ockwig concurred that Lily Gollon is a talented artist, and wasn’t surprised to hear she won the local competition of the poster contest.
“When I found out she won the state competition I was super excited for her,” Ockwig said, adding, “She’s a pretty talented child. I kind of thought that she might have a good shot with her drawing ability.”
For her efforts, Gollon won a $25 check from CWEC for winning the local portion of the poster contest, as well as a $25 gift card and new Chromebook from Wisconsin Electric Cooperative Association.

Melissa Gollon said Lily has been using one of her grandma’s devices and doing different drawings with a stylus program, so she was excited to win a new Chromebook.
“I’ve heard that the Chromebook is supposed to be top of the line, so we’re really excited,” said Melissa Gollon. “It’s been kind of a toss-up figuring out what would be a good device for her, and is inclined with her abilities. But it also has the proper parental protections. It’s supposed to be a very secure system to use. We’re very fortunate.”
She added, “The Rosholt school has been wonderful and they’ve done everything they can to boost her and work with her.”

Wisconsin Energy Cooperative News Local Pages Awards Announced

August 26, 2022—Awards of excellence for presentation of local news in the Wisconsin Energy Cooperative News were presented this week at the annual Electric Communicator’s Conference, held this year in Wisconsin Dells. Certificates were awarded in the categories of Co-op News, Human Interest, Photography, and Energy Education for the judging cycle of 2020-2021. Co-op personnel listed below were editors of their local pages during this judging cycle.

An independent, outside judge evaluated a sampling of each co-op’s local page to determine winners in four separate categories. Judging this year was Lani Jordan of Lani Jordan Communications. Jordan was the former corporate director for the nation’s leading farmer-owned cooperative, HS Inc., and has received multiple national awards through the Cooperative Communicators Association.

Co-op News
First Place: Riverland Energy Cooperative, Beth Alesch, editor
Honorable Mention: Eau Claire Energy Cooperative, Monica Obrycki, editor

Human Interest
First place: Scenic Rivers Energy Cooperative, Judy Mims, editor
Honorable Mention: Vernon Electric Cooperative, Dave Maxwell, editor, and Leah Call, feature writer

First place: Rock Energy Cooperative, Jonas Berberich, editor
Honorable Mention: Oakdale Electric Cooperative, Deana Protz, editor

Energy Education
First place: Oakdale Electric Cooperative, Deana Protz, editor
Honorable Mention: Jackson Electric Cooperative, Carol Blaken, editor, and Brandi Shramek, feature writer

Hands-On Focus on Electrification at Energy Issues Summit

August 3, 2022—Electric cooperative leaders from across the state gathered in Eau Claire this week for the 2022 Energy Issues Summit. The full-day event included presentations on beneficial electrification, the future of nuclear energy, the current potential for rolling blackouts in Wisconsin, the transition to renewables and the future of natural gas, and the state and national political landscape. Attendees had the opportunity to take a ride in an all-electric school bus and view the landscape from the sky-high view from the bucket of an all-electric bucket truck.

Natural gas as a bridge fuels
Tamra Reynolds of CoBank kicked off the day with a presentation on how natural gas fits in as the nation transitions to a cleaner energy future. Taking a deep dive into what the future energy mix will look like, Reynolds concluded that natural gas will be a key player in ensuring reliability for decades to come.

“I think natural gas really is going to play anywhere from a moderate to an increasingly important role for what that transition looks like,” Reynolds said.

Fully electric bucket trucks
Terex representatives talked and demonstrated “the world's first all-electric aerial electric bucket truck” and the advantages of adding this to the electric fleet. Xcel Energy owns the vehicle, which will go into service in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area.

According to Terex, the vehicle’s engine and the chassis have separate power systems, so the truck’s operating power does not wind down on the job site while crews are using the bucket. The truck can recharge in less than five hours, and the chassis charges in 90 minutes. Vehicle range is about 135 miles. “This is not the vehicle you send to Alabama to help out with storm damage,” reps admitted, adding that range anxiety continues to be the biggest barrier for electric trucks.

Pictured below: Carol Blaken, Jackson Electric Cooperative Pictured above: Judi Anibas, Eau Claire Energy Cooperative, (Left) and Tim Tiller, Richland Electric Cooperative (Right)

Electric school bus funding
A panel moderated by Keith Dennis, president of the Beneficial Electrification League, offered information on how school districts and contractors can take advantage of $5 billion in federal funding over five years to replace diesel buses with all-electric or propane school buses.

Tony Maietta of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said they already have 901 applications requesting $754 million in the first round of funding, which will award about $500 million in rebates. Low-income, tribal, and rural school districts have priority. Once each application is ranked, awardees will be selected by a random number generator.

With two weeks left until the first-round deadline, the EPA has already received 154 applications from region 5, which includes Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio, requesting 364 electric buses and 86 propane buses. Wisconsin districts have submitted 31 applications requesting 18 electric school buses and 39 propane buses.

To be eligible for funding of up to $375,000 per bus ($250,000 for non-priority districts) and up to $20,000 for charging infrastructure, the applicant must agree to retire one older diesel-fueled bus to be replaced with the new one. Buses from 2010 or older must be scrapped. Buses from 2011 or newer can be sold or donated but must be removed from the fleet.

Maietta says they urge districts to be working with utilities early in the process. “We encourage schools to be working with utilities, co-ops, and energy providers because these buses take a significant amount of energy to charge, and especially at the smaller location you know you might not have that infrastructure ready for that increased load of up to 25 school buses that are going be charging,” he said.

As long as a district has a sam.gov account set up, the three-page application for the electric school bus funds takes only about 15 minutes, according to Maietta.

The deadline to apply for the first round of funding is August 19, 2022.

Risk of rolling blackouts
Marc Keyser of Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO), the regional authority that directs the power supply in 15 states including Wisconsin and the Canadian province of Manitoba, wrapped up the energy summit with a presentation on the risk of rolling blackouts.

Keyser shared historic data that show as the country transitions to more wind and solar energy and retires more coal plants, the available resource at peak times is getting closer to the predicted need, and in an extreme heat situation, we have reached the point where the demand could exceed the supply. Going forward, MISO expects the capacity deficit to grow.

EPA Releases Details on Electric School Bus Fund Application Process

May 2, 2022—The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law’s Clean School Bus Program includes an unprecedented $5 billion to help prompt school districts and their contractors to transition to clean and zero-emission school buses, and the first phase of distribution of those dollars is set to begin.

The first funding opportunity under this program is the $500 million 2022 Clean School Bus Rebate program. On Wednesday, April 27, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced some details of how this program will work.

The EPA is expected to open the application process as early as next week. School districts will have three months to submit applications for funds covering the purchase of up to 25 new buses.

Rebate winners will then be selected by lottery from the districts that apply and will receive funds ranging from $15,000 to $395,000 for the purchase of electric or hybrid buses to replace diesel-fueled buses, and the charging infrastructure.

High-need and low-income school districts, such as those with 20 percent or more students living in poverty, will get priority, as well as rural and remote school districts.

“This is an excellent opportunity to leverage significant federal funds while introducing your members and communities to the benefits of electrification,” said Keith Dennis of the Beneficial Electrification League (BEL).

The federal Infrastructure Law passed late last year provides $5 billion over five years for the replacement of existing school buses with clean school buses and zero-emission school buses that produce either zero or low tailpipe emissions.

For more information about electric school buses, check out this video provided by the Beneficial Electrification League, and for more info regarding the rebate application process, visit www.epa.gov/cleanschoolbus .

Energy Leaders Gather in Madison for Electrify Wisconsin Event

(left) Steve Freese, WECA president and CEO, and (right)
Keith Dennis, president of the Beneficial Electrification League
April 21, 2022—Energy leaders from cooperative and investor-owned utilities as well as state and local leaders, and others working to electrify sectors of the economy gathered in Madison Thursday for a full-day event dedicated to beneficial electrification. The forum was designed to advance cost-effective electrification measures that save consumers money, reduce emissions, and improve the electric grid.

Wisconsin Electric Cooperative Association (WECA) President and CEO Stephen Freese kicked off the “Electrify Wisconsin!” event.

Keith Dennis, president of the Beneficial Electrification League, which co-sponsored the forum with WECA, gave a presentation highlighting the many new economic opportunities in electrification including billions in federal funding for electric school buses, upgrading school buildings, and more.

“This doesn’t mean electrify everything at all costs,” Dennis said. “If it’s not saving money, and it’s not good for the environment, it’s not beneficial.”

Nate Boettcher, president and CEO of Pierce Pepin Cooperative Services, talked about the transition to electric vehicle use and the launch of CHARGE, which promotes and streamlines the installation of residential and public-facing charging stations in co-op areas, and now has 90 participating cooperative.

  Nate Boettcher, president and CEO of Pierce Pepin Cooperative

“What started in a meeting room at Dairyland Power Cooperative has turned into a mission and a calling for all of us,” Boettcher said.

Boettcher talked about how rural Wisconsin was left behind during the initial electrification of the nation, and again with broadband expansion. “Let’s not let history repeat itself. Let’s not forget about rural Wisconsin again,” Boettcher said, encouraging the installation of EV chargers.

“What we hear from members is that this is a big city thing, or a coastal thing,” Boettcher said. “We need to de-mystify that.”

Jeff Springer, manager of innovation and efficient electrification at Dairyland Power Co-op, concurred. “No one is serving rural areas, and no one is going to. But I think we have to do it,” Springer said. “Until people see EV chargers in their area, they don’t think they exist anywhere.”

Jeff Springer, manager of innovation and efficient electrification, Dairyland Power

Public Service Commissioner Tyler Huebner and Craig Thompson, secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, talked about the efforts made at the state level to encourage electrification to lower emissions across all sectors.

Other participants in the forum included representatives from Xcel Energy, Alliant Energy, Wisconsin Office of Sustainability and Clean Energy, Dane County Office of Energy & Climate Change, City of Milwaukee Environmental Collaboration Office, Wisconsin Public Service Commission Office of Energy Innovation, Environmental Law and Policy Center of the Midwest, Environment Protection Agency, Environmental and Energy Studies Institute, Mitsubishi Electric, Slipstream, Elevate Energy, and more.

Focus on Future at WECA 2022 Education & Lobby Days

February 4, 2022—Electric cooperative leaders from across the state gathered in Madison in person this week to meet with state legislators about the issues facing the industry, and for a conference that included presentations and panels of people addressing key topics.

Urban vs. Rural

The two-day event kicked off with UW-Madison Professor of Political Science Dr. Katherine Kramer presenting about her experience researching the urban and rural divide in Wisconsin, and the impact on the political climate. Kramer, author of the awardwinning
book, The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker, said she traveled to the rural areas of the state to have conversations with people at places like gas stations, diners, and churches, and concluded that rural voters feel forgotten.

“What is it that rural voters want? Respect,” Kramer said about what she learned from rural Wisconsinites. “What people really want is not a policy platform. They want to be heard, to be respected.”

Political Analysis
Political analyst Joe Handrick explained the process of redistricting and the impact on elections, followed by a panel discussion featuring Chuck Chvala, former senate majority leader (D), and Scott Jensen, former assembly speaker (R), moderated by WECA President & CEO Steve Freese.

Looking forward to the upcoming gubernatorial, state, and national elections, Jensen said all signs point to a red wave. “Ron Johnson has the wind at his back,” he said. Johnson is a strong conservative and sometimes controversial U.S. senator seeking a third term.

Left to right: Former Assembly Speaker, Scott Jensen, WECA President and CEO, Steve Freese, and Former
Senate Majority Leader, Chuck Cvala

On the state level, Chvala conceded it looks good for Republicans, saying, “You could see a veto-proof majority in the state Senate, because of the gerrymandered maps.” He also pointed out, that the fastest growing areas in the state are Democratic strongholds.

Left to Right: Dairyland Power Cooperative Vice-President of Strategic Growth John Carr, MSO Vice-President and
engineer Lam Chung, OMS Executive Director Marcus Hawkins, and ATC Director of Renewable Integration Tom Dagenais

Reliability Review
One year after the frigid weather that nearly collapsed the Texas electric grid, a panel of some of the most astute and knowledgeable leaders from the field of regional and national reliability gathered to talk about the risks and challenges facing Wisconsin. Dairyland Power Cooperative Vice-President of Strategic Growth John Carr moderated the discussion between leaders from American Transmission Company (ATC), Midwest Reliability Organization (MRO), and the Organization of MISO States (OMS).

While OMS Executive Director Marcus Hawkins said Wisconsin was “not that close” to grid collapse, the panel members agreed there are increasing complexities facing the grid due to the increase of intermittent clean energy that will continue into the future. “Compared to ten years ago, we are operating much closer to the pin than we used to,” Lam Chung, MSO vice-president and engineer said.

Tom Dagenais, ATC director of renewable integration, pointed out MISO declared a conservation emergency last summer when the weather was 84 degrees and cloudy. Such a declaration used to be reserved for days with temps into the 90s, but the cloudiness compromises solar energy.

On solar planning, panel members said that utility-scale solar, as opposed to individual projects, is most efficient and promotes economies of scale. “If you’re just looking at your own solar, you’re not planning for the greater good,” Chung said.

The panel agreed that moving forward, reliability is contingent on the industry working to cooperate, communicate, and share information. “Learning from each other was never more important than it is right now,” Hawkins said.

Left: President and CEO of Federated Rural Electric Exchange Phil Irwin.Right: WECA President and CEO Steve Freese       Left to Right: CFC CEO Andrew Don, WECA President and CEO, Steve Freese, CFC Regional VP Amanda Seger, and Rock Energy Cooperative CEO Shane Larson


Federated Update

Phil Irwin, president and CEO of Federated Rural Electric Insurance Exchange, reported record low claims in 2021, in spite of a growing number of policies. In fiscal year 2020, Wisconsin losses exceeded funds, but he said the numbers have improved greatly since then.

Irwin presented a check to WECA for $94,233 for safety training, for a total all-time investment of $1,134,726

CFC Update
Rock Energy Cooperative CEO Shane Larson, who joins the board in June, introduced National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corporation (CFC) CEO Andrew Don. Don’s presentation included a comprehensive look at how the pandemic has impacted the economy, the supply chain, and the labor force, and the government’s efforts to control inflation while avoiding a recession, which economists project will mean incremental increases in interest rates over the next several years.

As for CFC, Don said fiscal year 2020 –21 fiscal year showed the strongest loan growth in 20 years. In spite of the pandemic, CFC has reported no write-offs since 2013 and has so far not experienced any losses due to the Texas blackouts that forced one co-op into bankruptcy and had another one considering it.

New Plan to Help Bring Electric School Buses to Cooperative-Served Districts

February 4, 2022—WECA has signed on to a national effort to help rural school districts expedite a transition to electric school buses. The Beneficial Electrification League (BEL) has launched the coalition effort in advance of the release of $5 billion in federal funds designated for electric school buses, which was included in the Infrastructure and Jobs Act passed by Congress last year.

The effort brings together cooperative organizations representing more than 300 local utilities in more than 20 states and will guide coordination between utilities and school districts on electric school bus programs.

“The aim of this program is straightforward: No school district or utility should miss out on that opportunity simply because they lack access to information or resources to participate in this valuable federal program,” says Keith Dennis, president of BEL.

The bill includes $1 billion in funding per year for five years for school districts and other organizations to purchase electric school buses or “clean” buses, and charging infrastructure. The program will offer competitive grants and rebates to replace existing buses, but details, instructions, and rules have not been released yet.

Rural electric cooperatives serve more than half of the territory of the nation’s school districts and have an above-average number of low-income students. Great River Energy launched a pilot program in Minnesota in 2017 using an electric school bus, which produced positive results, even in the frigid Midwest weather.

“Our pilot battery electric school bus project has been successful in our cold climate with longer suburban routes and is beloved by the driver, students, transportation provider, and community,” said David Ranallo, director of culture, communications, marketing & member services. “Great River Energy is eager and ready to join the nationwide cooperative network to make this project replicable and equally successful for students everywhere.”

Dairyland Power Cooperative also signed on to participate in the electric school bus initiative.

For more information on the Beneficial Electrification League or the electric school bus plan, go to www.be-league.org or email grants@be-league.org.

Students win Scholarships in WECA Essay Contest

December 28, 2021—Mackenzie Shankle and Katelyn Haschke, both of Oakdale Electric Cooperative, took first and second place, respectively, in WECA’s 2021 essay contest, open to students who attended the 2021 Youth Leadership Congress. Lauren Thompson of St. Croix Electric took third place. Students were asked to write an essay about how electric cooperatives benefit local communities beyond providing electricity.

Shankle won a $1,000 scholarship with the following essay:
"Electric Cooperatives are greatly involved in their communities..."
 Haschke  won a $500 scholarship with the following essay:
"Electric Cooperatives, More Than Just Energy"
 Thompson won a $250 scholarship with the following essay:
"Electric Cooperatives: Investing in our Community"

WECA Holds 2021 Annual Meeting

More than 150 Wisconsin electric co-op leaders gathered in Stevens Point November 11 & 12 for WECA’s 2021 annual meeting. The two-day event included a panel discussion about electric co-ops’ role in bringing high-speed broadband service to rural Wisconsin. In another panel, youth leaders William Tuchtenhagen, Pierce Pepin Cooperative Services, and Tyler Tautges, Central Wisconsin Electric Cooperative, were on hand to join the discussion about engaging young members through electric co-op internships and other opportunities.

WECA’s highest annual awards were presented at an evening banquet. The 2021 ACE Award, given to an individual who has demonstrated outstanding support and service on behalf of Wisconsin electric cooperatives, was presented to Byron Nolde, CEO of Oconto Electric Cooperative.



Major awards for 2021 were presented to Larry Hallett, chief operations officer at
Richland Electric, who won the Potthast Award; Deana Protz, public relations and
communications specialist for Oakdale Electric Cooperative, which won the Leifer;
and Byron Nolde, CEO of Oconto Electric, who won the ACE Award.
Pictured from left to right: Will Tuchtenhagen (screen), Tyler Tautages,
Nate Boettcher, Jessee Singerhouse, and Tim Clay.

The Potthast Award, given to an individual who best represents the qualities exemplified by Herman C. Potthast, a state and national leader in safety education and training, was presented to Larry Hallett, chief operations officer at Richland Electric Cooperative.

The N.F. Leifer Memorial Journalism Award, presented to the co-op whose local pages in the Wisconsin Energy Cooperative News were adjudged to have been the overall best of the previous 12 months, was accepted by Deana Protz, public relations & communications specialist at Oakdale Electric Cooperative and editor of Oakdale Electric’s local pages.

Because the 2020 WECA annual meeting was virtual due to the pandemic and therefore did not include an awards banquet, 2020 award winners were also recognized: David Paudler, president of the Riverland Energy Cooperative board, ACE Award; Sheldon Petersen, former CEO of the National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corporation, special ACE Award; Tim Clay, WECA vice president of operations, environmental and regulator services, Potthast Award; and Mary Kay Brevig and Monica Obrycki, former communications and public relations manager and chief administrative officer, respectively, Eau Claire Energy Cooperative, Leifer Award.

Also recognized were eight co-ops that achieved certification through the Rural Electric Safety Achievement Program: Dunn Energy Cooperative, Jump River Electric Cooperative, Oakdale Electric Cooperative, Oconto Electric Cooperative, Pierce Pepin Cooperative Services, Polk-Burnett Electric Cooperative, Price Electric Cooperative, and Riverland Energy Cooperative.


Chuck Simmons of Scenic Rivers Energy Cooperative spoke emotionally to the crowd at the WECA annual meeting about the challenges and impacts of the pandemic following his unanimous re-election to the NRECA board.

Newly seated WECA Board of Directors
From left to right: Mike Wade, executive committee, Central Wisconsin Electric Cooperative, David Hischke,
chairman, Oconto Electric Cooperative, Justin Jahnz, East Central Energy, Joe Metro, Polk-Burnett Electric Cooperative, Dan Smrekar, Jackson Electric Cooperative, Daniel Hillberry, Richland Electric Cooperative, Barbara Miller, Rock Energy Cooperative, Roger Wiff, secretary/treasurer, Pierce Pepin Cooperative Services, Craig Buros, executive committee, Vernon Electric Cooperative, Jerry Sorenson, Riverland Energy Cooperative, Steve Johnson, Chippewa Valley Electric Cooperative, Karen Newbury, vice-chair, Price Electric Cooperative

In the business session, WECA board members elected at July’s district meetings were officially seated, including Barbara Miller, Rock Energy Cooperative, District 1 director-director; Dan Smrekar, Jackson Electric Cooperative, District 2 director-director; Justin Jahnz, East Central Energy, District 3 manager-director; Steve Johnson, Chippewa Valley Electric Cooperative, District 3 director-director; and Karen Newbury, Price Electric Cooperative, re-elected to the District 4 director-director seat.


New WECA Executive Team

Back row from left: Craig Buros, Mike Wade, and
Roger Wiff.
Front row: Dave Hischke and Karen Newbury
Broadband panel discussion.

The WECA board also voted on its new executive team: Dave Hischke, Oconto Electric Cooperative, chair; Newbury, vice-chair; Roger Wiff, Pierce Pepin Cooperative Servies, secretary/treasurer; and Mike Wade, Central Wisconsin Electric Cooperative, and Craig Buros, Vernon Electric Cooperative, executive committee. Miller was also elected Federated Youth Foundation director.

Oakdale Electric Wins 2021 Leifer Award

The Wisconsin Electric Cooperative Association has announced that Oakdale Electric Cooperative is the recipient of the 2021 N.F. Leifer Memorial Journalism award, which promotes excellence in communication and is presented to the co-op with the strongest overall local content pages in the Wisconsin Energy Cooperative News over the past year.

Deana Protz serves as the co-op’s public relations & communications specialist, which includes the responsibility of editing the local pages. In her eight years as a communications specialist at the co-op, Protz’s work has also won seven awards of excellence in individual communication categories, primarily human interest and photography.

In selecting Oakdale as this year’s Leifer Award winner, an independent judge cited Protz’s creative story ideas and page spreads, awarding a couple of bonus points for creativity. The judge also commended Protz for “fun and relevant” content, noting that every story has a clear connection to the co-op.

Deana Protz transitions to a new position as human resources administrator/executive assistant in early December. WECA and WECN staff would like to congratulate her and wish her well with her promotion.

About the award: The N.F. Leifer Memorial Journalism Award is named for former Vernon Electric Cooperative manager Norman F. “Lefty” Leifer, who was instrumental in launching what was then known as the Wisconsin REA News in 1940. The Leifer Award has been presented annually since 1966.

2021 Potthast Award: Larry Hallett

Larry Hallett, chief operations officer with Richland Electric Cooperative has been selected as the recipient of the 2021 Herman C. Potthast Award. Hallett’s career spans more than 40 years progressing from linework to management. Nominators laud Hallett’s unwavering commitment to safety over the course of his career.

Richland Electric Cooperative General Manager and CEO Shannon Clark writes in part, “In 1998 Richland Electric Cooperative had a workers compensation experience modifier of 1.76. The cooperative had not made any attempt to become a RESAP Accredited System due to the ‘laundry list' of things that would have had to improve. Beyond that, employee morale was such that very few took an active interest in improving the culture. When I interviewed Larry, who was then a journeyman lineman for the operations manager position he made it abundantly clear that if he were to be selected, changing our safety culture would be the number one priority. In 2003 I selected Larry to serve as the Operations Manager at Richland Electric Cooperative.

Locally, Larry has been instrumental in moving us from a system with some serious safety issues to one that has a safety culture is that is ever-present and never complacent. On average our experience modifier ranges near .78. We have experienced but one lost-time accident in recent years. We have been a RESAP Accredited System for about 20 years. Perhaps you can’t measure the accident that didn’t happen, but you can certainly measure the results of a system where accidents haven’t happened.”

Clark also lauds Hallett’s development of the in-house "Safety Pays" programs which rewards employees who make a personal commitment to safety and his participation in the WECA JT&S Committee and the rules sub-committee. Nationally, Hallett was active in participating with national safety summits and provided written input to the RESAP Delegate Committee during the efforts to revise and improve the RESAP program.

“In summary, Larry Hallett has gone above and beyond simply keeping the lights on to making sure that our cooperative and many others in the industry recognized that without safe working practices the world would be a much darker place,” Clark writes.

Pat Hawes, journeyman lineman and transmission maintenance supervisor with Dairyland Power Cooperative writes, “Whenever we’ve had the opportunity to work together Larry makes sure that every aspect is addressed to ensure the safety of everyone. His ability to communicate safety concerns and issues causes everyone on the job to step up their game just a little bit extra that can ensure people go home to their families at night.”

WECA congratulates Larry Hallett, recipient of the 2021 Herman C. Potthast Award.

About the Award: The Herman C. Potthast Award is named for a man of great dedication to training and safety who served Wisconsin rural electric cooperatives for 29 years. He was a state and national leader, instrumental in implementing and promoting instruction and training to ensure safety among those working in the electric cooperative field. Potthast passed away in 1972.

The Herman C. Potthast Award recognizes outstanding service, dedication, leadership, and cooperation among electric cooperatives, with a focus on safety. The award was created in 1973 and is presented annually. A committee from Job Training & Safety (JT&S) calls for nominees and selects the winner.

2021 ACE Award Recipient: Byron Nolde

October 8, 2021—The Wisconsin Electric Cooperative Association announced this week that Byron Nolde, CEO of Oconto Electric Cooperative, has been selected as the recipient of the annual Ally of Cooperative Electrification (ACE) award. The ACE award recognizes individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the electric cooperative industry.

The son of an Army Colonel, Nolde was born in Germany. His father was the last official casualty of Vietnam War. Nolde graduated from Saginaw Valley State University and worked in business, finance, and accounting early in his career. He served as vice president and chief financial officer with Presque Isle Electric and Gas, where he started in 1989. He has served as CEO for Oconto Electric since 2003.

Top and above: Photos from a visit at Oconto Electric
Cooperative with Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin) in 2016.
Nolde at an NRECA conference in 2018. 2018 WECA Education & Lobby Days, Madison, Wis.

In nominating Nolde for the ACE award, Oconto Electric Cooperative Chairman Todd Duame writes,


Nolde at 2021 OEC Annual Meeting
On behalf of Oconto Electric Cooperative (OEC) board of directors, myself, and staff, we are proud and excited to nominate Byron for the Ally of Cooperative Electrification (ACE) Award.

We believe Byron’s extensive knowledge of the utility industry, coupled with his in-depth accounting skills helps OEC maintain a competitive position in an industry that is changing fast. Byron has been instrumental in negotiating OEC’s last two power contracts, with the most recent being secured with Minnesota Power an Allete Co., whose portfolio has grown to include 50% percent renewables, which is very important in being able to meet the recent passing of renewable regulations requirements.

OEC is also a very unique cooperative in that it owns and operates its own 1-megawatt hydroelectric plant. Not only does this provide the cooperative with renewable credits but it enables the cooperative to produce green power. Again, the savings these generate provides rate stability to its members.
   Nolde at 2018 NRECA conference. (center)

Byron has increased OEC’s equity from 30% to 50%, and has diversified OEC’s loan portfolio, which in turn has saved the cooperative thousands of dollars in interest and has helped maintain membership rates. 

In addition to all of the contributions Byron’s industry knowledge and skills provide to the daily function of the business, he is always equally concerned about the membership and their rates. Byron continually keeps the members in mind in every aspect of his duties and responsibilities at the Cooperative, as well as his fellow peers and area cooperative families.

Finally, with all of the above-mentioned accomplishments and contributions to the electric cooperative industry, Byron possesses one of the most important leadership qualities and that is his integrity.

Byron always keeps the cooperative in the forefront of every decision he makes, but also analyzes what is best for the individual and how his decisions with impact “ALL”. His caring attitude and ability to work with everyone supersedes our expectations. We believe you will agree with us, as shown in our nomination application and coupled with the additional support letters from his peers and those that work closely with him, that Byron would represent the qualifications that have been established for this award very well.  

Thanking you in advance for your consideration in reviewing our nomination of our CEO, Byron C. Nolde for this prestigious award. Should you need any additional information, please don’t hesitate to contact me.


Todd Duame, Chairman
Oconto Electric Cooperative


In 2017, Byron was nominated and was a finalist for the Ethics in Business Award, sponsored by the American Foundation of
Counseling Services in Green Bay, Wis. This award acknowledges
those that display leadership qualities of integrity and model strong upright character in today’s business world.
Many people submitted letters in support of Nolde’s nomination for the ACE award. Excerpts include:

“As a member of Oconto Electric, I have witnessed Byron’s leadership in advancing positive change. Examples include: innovative rate structures, reliability enhancements, innovative wholesale electric power pricing contracts, green pricing programs, electric charging stations, and a host of other member-oriented initiatives,” wrote Barbara Nick, who recently retired as CEO of Dairyland Power Cooperative.

“Byron embodies the cooperative spirit with enthusiasm and conviction,” Shane Larsen, Rock Energy Cooperative CEO.

“Byron’s most notable contribution to the programs and services carried out by OEC as well as WECA and NRECA, was that he helped make things happen, not just by his participation but also with valuable insight and guidance,” wrote Beata Wierzba, former WECA government relations director. “He is someone I could always count on.”

“OEC is one of the few cooperatives to achieve the 1 million employee hour ‘No Lost Time” milestone,” wrote Chad Knutson, senior safety and loss prevention consultant with Federated Rural Electric Insurance Exchange. “Bryon played a significant role in the cooperative receiving this award, always stressing ‘Safety First’ with employees.”

“Byron has been an excellent participant in the Wisconsin Manager’s group, serving also as its president. He has faithfully served on the Legislative Committee and has never been afraid to speak his mind, not only to the committee but to our representatives at the state and federal level,”
wrote Robert Cornell, manager of Washington Island Electric Cooperative. “Please give Byron’s nomination for this award the highest priority. He deserves it.”

Nolde has also been recognized for his community engagement and leadership with multiple awards in recognition of his military support and business ethics. He serves as a director on the RESCO board and has served as director of the Electric Coalition Health Insurance Trust.

WECA would like to congratulate Byron Nolde, recipient of the 2021 ACE Award and thank him for his many contributions to the industry.

Wisconsin Energy Cooperative News Magazine Earns National Award

June 25, 2021—The Wisconsin Energy Cooperative News (WECN) took home an Award of Excellence in the Best Historical Feature category of the 2021 Willies Awards. The honor for excellence in co-op journalism was bestowed at this week’s NRECA Statewide Editors Association annual institute in Austin, Texas.

WECN Associate Editor Mary Erickson’s piece, titled “Connections to the Past: Historic Bridges Cross Co-op Country,” was featured in the September 2020 edition of the magazine. Bridges featured included the Tiffany Stone Arch Bridge and Turtleville Iron Bridge, Rock Energy Cooperative; “7 Bridges” McGilvray Road, Riverland Energy Cooperative; Dunnville Bottoms Trail Bridge, Dunn Energy Cooperative; Soo Line “S” Bridge, Eau Claire Energy Cooperative; and the Gilman Swinging Bridge, Taylor Electric Cooperative.

Judges said of the story, “Easy-to-read, folksy style of writing draws the reader in. Highlighting historic bridges in travelogue across five different co-op service areas provides a breadth to the story that more than makes up for not relying on quotable sources. Great photos and descriptions/backgrounds of the unique structures featured.”

“The magazine continues to be recognized for its ability to draw readers in with quality features and information,” said WECN Editor Dana Kelroy. “We hear time and again that readers appreciate the local stories and often read the magazine cover-to-cover each month. We’re incredibly proud of that.”

The award-winning feature can be seen here: https://wecnmagazine.com/article/connections-to-the-past/

Pierce Pepin's Will Tuchtenhagen Awarded $10,000 Glenn English Scholarship

June 25, 2021—Congratulations to Pierce Pepin's very own William Tuchtenhagen for being awarded the Glenn English National Cooperative Leadership Foundation's top scholarship, worth $10,000. Tuchtenagen served on the 2017–2018 WECA Youth Board and went on to be the NRECA Wisconsin State Representative in 2019, where he served as a junior chaperone in Washington, D.C. and participated on the youth education panel at the 2019 NRECA Annual Meeting.
At that meeting, according to NRECA, Tuchtenhagen spoke on a panel about the need for rural broadband. He is currently on his second summer as an intern at Pierce Pepin Cooperative Services, where among other duties, he is very involved in deployment of broadband!
"He is the quintessential co-op kid looking to stay involved in our industry", NRECA said in making the announcement.
The Glenn English National Cooperative Leadership Foundation encourages educational advancement by awarding high education scholarships to eligible students. The Foundation has awarded almost $100,000 in scholarships to NRECA’s Youth Tour alumni since the program’s inception in 2014!
In addition to Tuchtenhagen’s $10,000 scholarship, NRECA announced three winners of the $2,000 “Engineers of the Future” scholarship, and four winners of the $1,000 “Youth Tour Alumni” scholarship. Tuchtenhagen is the only winner from Wisconsin. 
Tuchtenhagen attends Luther College where he is majoring in Political Science and International Studies.


WECA Poster Contest Winners Announced

Congratulations to the winners of the 2021 electricity safety poster contest. WECA was overwhelmed with the number of exceptional entries and impressed with the creativity and knowledge that were displayed. Below are the entries the judges determined best met the criteria for the contest.

This year’s winners are:
  •     1st Place: Trey Wellik, Riverland Energy Cooperative
  •     2nd Place: Lexus White, Riverland Energy Cooperative
  •     3rd Place: Lilliann Horvath, Barron Electric Cooperative
(Click the images to see enlarged versions.)
1st Place Trey Wellik
Riverland Energy Cooperative
2nd Place Lexus White
Riverland Energy Cooperative
3rd Place Lilliann Horvath
Barron Electric Cooperative


APRIL 12, 2021—CALL BEFORE YOU DIG—it could save your life. That’s the message behind a new video released by Wisconsin's electric cooperatives, in partnership with Federated Rural Electric Insurance Exchange. The educational video is intended for both residential homeowners and contractors.


APRIL 2, 2021—Do you have a young artist in your household? We’ve got an opportunity for them to put their skills to work and learn about electrical safety at the same time! WECA is sponsoring its first Electrical Safety Poster Contest, open to all third-grade students of electric cooperative-member households.
Participating students should create a poster supporting electric safety and submit it to their local electric cooperative by May 17, 2021.

Each co-op will select an individual winner, who will receive a $25 gift card courtesy of WECA, and select the top three posters to advance to the state-level round.

The top three posters selected in the state-level round will receive the following prizes:

  • First Place ~ Chromebook
  • Second Place ~ $100 gift card
  • Third Place ~ $75 gift card


February 25, 2021—Governor Evers signed Senate Bill 25 into law today that allows for us to hold our annual meetings virtually.  At left is a photo of the Governor signing it into law.  It was a great effort by everyone involved. Click below to read the release.


January 19, 2021—The Federated Youth Foundation is pleased to once again offer the Charles Van Sickle Endowment Scholarship in 2021. This $2,000 scholarship will be awarded to a pre-law or law student who has an interest in cooperative law. The scholarship is made possible by an endowment established in 2013 to honor Wisconsin’s renowned electric cooperative lobbyist and attorney, the late Charles Van Sickle. The scholarship will be awarded during the Spring 2021 semester.


Electric co-ops care for community

January 6, 2020Thanks to all Wisconsin electric co-ops who stepped up to help members they serve during the pandemic. Thanks to NRECA for telling this story!


Congratulations to Our 2020 Award Winners

Paudler, Petersen Honored with 2020 ACE Awards

December 18, 2020The Wisconsin Electric Cooperative Association announced this week that David Paudler, Riverland Energy board president, has been selected as the 2020 recipient of the annual Ally of Cooperative Electrification (ACE) award. In addition, Sheldon Petersen, former CEO of the National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corporation (CFC), has been selected to receive the “Special ACE Award” which has only been presented two other times in history. The ACE award recognizes individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the electric cooperative industry.

David Paudler – 2020 ACE Award Recipient

David Paudler has served on the Riverland Energy Cooperative Board for 11 years, including three as board president. He has also served for two terms on Wisconsin Electric Cooperative Association (WECA) board, including serving as chairman from 2015–2019.
In nominating Paudler for the ACE Award, Riverland Energy Cooperative General Manager Jerry Sorenson wrote, “To best describe Dave Paudler, I would say he is quietly fierce and has a work ethic that is second to none. His work in the background on many projects laid the groundwork for them to be successful and completed in a way to shine the spotlight on many rather than himself. His dedication to applying the cooperative principles is demonstrated in everything he does as a local and statewide director and in his national level representation.”
Dallas Sloan, Barron Electric Cooperative general manager, described Paudler’s work on the WECA board as “tireless” and “incredible” particularly during the challenging time of the organization’s independent transition.
Niles Berman of Wheeler, Van Sickle & Anderson agreed, saying, “To honor Dave with the ACE Award will do honor to WECA and its members. Dave has demonstrated in so many ways, over so many years, his commitment to cooperatives and his effectiveness as a leader of them.”
Beth Ede, former Riverland Board director, recalled Paudler’s leadership as a colleague in her nomination submission, writing, “His vigilant and consistent positivity allowed me to feel supported as I asked more questions than anyone should be allowed and made me find a comfort in challenging situations for the betterment of REC and cooperatives in general.”
Paudler is also a community leader, serving on the Onalaska Town Board for 18 years including four years as chair. He also served as trustee on the Holmen Area Foundation, and Holmen Community Center board. Paudler holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. He is retired from GCS Software, Inc., where he was president. He and his wife, Elaine, have two grown children.

Sheldon Petersen – 2020 “Special ACE Award” Recipient

This year, WECA has elected to present a “Special ACE Award” to Sheldon Petersen, who has served as chief executive officer of the National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corporation (CFC) and two affiliate organizations, Rural Telephone Finance Cooperative (RTFC) and the National Cooperative Services Corporation (NCSC), since 1995.
During his tenure as CEO, CFC’s loan portfolio grew from about $7 billion to nearly $27 billion. He created an organizational culture focused on member service and a commitment to excellence and expanded CFC offerings to help co-ops adapt to a rapidly changing electric utility industry.
According to Richland Electric Cooperative CEO/General Manager Shannon Clark, here in Wisconsin Petersen has been instrumental in many individual projects, beyond just financing.
Clark wrote, “Whether it be a storm that impacted us locally, or whether it was an important issue like capital credits, governance or a failed underwater cable, Sheldon has always been among the first to martial resources on our behalf—usually after a personal call to the local cooperative.”
“A lot of people think of electric cooperatives as a utility that simply provides electricity—but as we all know we are a membership organization that is a community partner that just happens to be the electricity provider,” Clark continued. “Sheldon has always realized it is our relationships—our network—that make us strong. CFC exemplifies those ideals on Wall Street and Main Street and his leadership has done so much for Wisconsin’s electric cooperatives and its members—it’s truly immeasurable.”
Petersen began his career in the rural electrification program in 1976 as staff assistant for Nishnabotna Valley Rural Electric Cooperative in Harlan, Iowa. In 1980, he became general manager of Rock County Electric Cooperative Association in Janesville, Wisconsin. He joined CFC in 1983 as an area representative and moved to CFC headquarters in 1990.
In July, Petersen, 67, announced that he plans to retire from CFC in 2021, once his successor is in place.
WECA has only presented the “Special ACE Award” twice before—to Governor Tommy Thompson in 2000, and to U.S. Senator Herb Kohl in 2006.

WECA's Tim Clay Awarded 2020 Potthast Award

December 11, 2020The Wisconsin Electric Cooperative Association (WECA) is proud to announce that our own Tim Clay, vice president of operations, environmental and regulatory services, has been selected as the winner of the 2020 Herman C. Potthast Award, which recognizes outstanding service, dedication, leadership, and cooperation among electric cooperatives, with a focus on safety. A committee from Job Training & Safety (JT&S) calls for nominees and selects the winner. Clay is the first representative to be recognized from WECA since 1989.
Ben Bella, safety & compliance coordinator–shared services, Eau Claire, Jackson, Oakdale, Riverland Electric Cooperatives, submitted the nomination saying, “Tim Clay is the epitome of what this award looks to acknowledge and I believe his contributions frequently go unrecognized and can at times be under-appreciated – as he has set a standard of exceptional customer service, dedication, professionalism and technical understanding within and outside the scope of his job and responsibilities. To say he goes above and beyond to serve the Wisconsin Electric Cooperatives, would be a tremendous understatement. There simply is not a better candidate which exemplifies the characteristics of Herman C. Potthast than Tim Clay.”

Robert Cornell, manager of Washington Island Electric Cooperative, said, “Tim fulfills his role at WECA quietly and professionally without any fuss. His environmental background and his understanding of regulatory and compliance issues make him an extremely valuable resource.” Cornell continued, “As a small Cooperative, without a staff to assist me, Tim has always acted like he is a member of the team locally, not just a Statewide staff member. His experience dealing with the Department of Administration, the Department of Transportation, FEMA and the vast alphabet soup of state and federal agencies is impressive and his ability to keep abreast of the numerous safety regulations and notices and then disseminate them to the Cooperatives, along with explanations, makes all our lives easier and safer.”

Clay has served Wisconsin electric cooperatives for 24 years, first working as a compliance specialist beginning in 1996. Before that he held positions as a public health officer and field chemist with an environmental firm.
Much of his time working with electric cooperatives is spent helping distribution co-ops create regulatory policies, emergency response preparedness and coordination, developing statewide positions on legislative and regulatory matters on behalf of WECA’s members, and providing training and technical assistance to electric cooperatives on a variety of safety and environmental issues. In 2016, Clay was promoted to WECA vice president of operations, adding management responsibilities for the internal operat
ions of the association to his previous responsibilities.

Clay earned a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse with an emphasis in aquatic sciences. He also competed National Utility Training and Safety Education Association’s curriculum andis a Certified Loss Control Professional.

“Tim is a fervent leader in our office, with a dedication to working on behalf of the state’s electric cooperatives that is unmatched,” Stephen Freese, WECA president and CEO, said. “He is a respected professional with the unique qualities of exceptional knowledge, combined with integrity and humility. In short, we are all very lucky to have him.”
Clay will receive the award at a formal presentation at a WECA event next year pending the restrictions due to the pandemic. He will be mortified by the attention, so we will be sure to make it a very big deal.

About the Award
The Herman C. Potthast Award is named for a man of great dedication to the training and safety who served Wisconsin rural electric cooperatives for 29 years. He was a state and national leader, instrumental in implementing and promoting instruction and training to ensure safety among those working in the electric cooperative field. Potthast passed away in 1972. The award was created in 1973 and is presented annually.

Eau Claire Energy Co-op Wins Leifer Award for Journalism

Mary Kay Brevig

December 4, 2020It was a close race, but for the fifth consecutive year, Eau Claire Energy Cooperative (ECEC) has taken the top honor and earned the 2019–20 N.F. Leifer Memorial Journalism Award. The Leifer Award recognizes exemplary work of Wisconsin electric cooperatives in producing local content for members in the Wisconsin Energy Cooperative News.
The judges
from Mill Creek Communications Services noted that overall, Eau Claire’s stories were “well written and informative.” They also scored high for excellence in photos, and the combinations of relevant co-op news, information, and features.
Mary Kay Brevig, a recognized leader in co-op communications, retired from her position as Eau Claire Energy’s manager of marketing, communications, and public relations in April. Monica Obrycki, Eau Claire’s chief administrative officer, has served as local editor since May.

  Monica Obrycki
“I would like to congratulate both Mary Kay and Monica for their leadership and excellence in communications, which led to another win for Eau Claire Energy Cooperative,” said Dana Kelroy, editor of Wisconsin Energy Cooperative News. “The finalists in this year’s competition were all very close, and that is thanks to the high bar that is set by Eau Claire and our communicators across the state.”

Finishing second in the running for the 2019–2020 Leifer Award was Richland Electric Cooperative. Trevor Clark, director of outreach services, serves as editor of Richland Electric's local pages.
The N. F. Leifer Memorial Journalism Award is named for "Lefty" Leifer, former manager of Vernon Electric. Lefty was instrumental in the founding of the REA News back in the spring of 1940, making the statewide electric co-op publication the first of its type in the nation. WECA has presented the award in his honor since 1966.


“Keeping the Lights On”: New Specialty Plate Recognizes Utility Workers

December 14, 2020—The Wisconsin Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has announced the availability of a new specialty plate, designed to honor all of the state’s utility employees. Wisconsin’s utility workers are among the essential employees making sure people all across the state have the power they need at home, work and school. The “Keeping the Lights On” specialty plate is now available for a one-time fee of $15, and can be displayed on most cars, trucks, and campers.

“The pandemic has demonstrated just how essential our electric cooperative workers are,” said (insert co-op leader name). “Keeping the lights on is always a top priority, and we are excited to have this specialty plate as an option to show our appreciation to all of the people who work so hard on behalf of Wisconsin residents and businesses.”

Linda McAley of Clark Electric Cooperative was the driving force behind the year-long effort to create the specialty plate. McAley recently retired from her position as the co-op’s director of administrative services after 45 years and took on this project, leading a group to raise the design fee of $15,500, gather more than the 500 required signatures, and follow through until approval from the DMV. The group launched the effort in January and the DMV announced the availability of the plate on December 7.

“Ensuring electric cooperative members have access to safe, reliable, affordable energy is a monumental task that is only possible because of the hard work of all co-op employees – from lineworkers to suppliers, from meter technicians to IT, from warehouse clerks and office staff, to the board of directors,” said McAley. “I can’t wait to see these plates out on the road, and I would like to thank everyone who was supportive of the effort.”The specialty plate is intended only for honor and in recognition, so there is NO annual fee.

The one-time issuance fee of $15 covers production of the plate. Personalized specialty plates are also available for an additional $15 per year.
To order your “Keeping the Lights On” specialty plate, go to: https://wisconsindot.gov/Pages/dmv/vehicles/title-plates/utl.aspx
Supporters of this project include the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, Border States Electric, The Benefitworks, RESCO, Power Systems Engineering, CO-Bank, Wisconsin Line Superintendents, Wheeler Van Sickle, Osmoe Utilities, Eaton, River Valley Architects, APEX Engineering, NISC, EIR Testing, CVTC Electrical Power Distribution Club, OK Sanitary, Dairyland Power, and many of the state’s electric cooperatives including Clark Electric, Eau Claire Energy, Dunn Electric, Adams-Columbia Electric, Price Electric, Jackson Electric, Chippewa Valley Electric, Bayfield Electric, Jump River Electric, St. Croix Electric, Vernon Electric, Scenic River Energy, and Pierce Pepin Cooperative Services. Present and former electric cooperative leaders including Marty Hillert, Jay Porter, Tim Stewart, Jim Anderson, Byron Nolde, Shane Larson, Dean Ortman, Lynn Thompson, Eric Thoreson, Diane Berweger, Dallas Sloan, Steve Lucas, Kenny Ceaglaski, Pat Susa, and the late Dean Tesch also supported the effort.

WECA 2020 Year in Review - Video

November 13, 2020Here's a look back at the challenges and accomplishments of 2020, a year we will never forget!


WECA Holds Hybrid 84th Annual Meeting


November 13, 2020—The Wisconsin Electric Cooperative Association shifted to a hybrid format for the 84th annual meeting in November, with limited staff and some WECA board members in attendance at the Clarion Hotel and Conference Center in Baraboo, and other members and staff joining virtually. Board leadership announced the statewide is in good financial shape, in spite of the pandemic, which caused the cancellation of many programs.

David Hischke was re-elected to the board to represent District 4. There were no nominations for the open District 3 seat, so the board will work to fill that position with an appointee.

New Leadership positions include:
  •  Chair – Judi Anibas
  •  Vice Chair – Roger Wiff
  •  Secretary/Treasurer – David Hischke
  •  Executive Committee – Mike Wade and Jerry Sorenson
WECA President and CEO Stephen Freese presented outgoing WECA Board Chairperson Diane Zimmerman with the Director’s Award and thanked her for her service following two terms (six years) on the board.​

DATCP Encourages Consumers to Participate in Cybersecurity Awareness Month

October 1, 2020—For many Wisconsinites, 2020 has been a groundbreaking year for the use of technological connection to maintain daily life. Our jobs, our schools, societal well-being, economic prosperity and nation’s security are dependent on the internet.
Under the overarching theme of “Do Your Part. #BeCyberSmart.”, the 17th annual National Cybersecurity Awareness Month (NCSAM) is focused on encouraging individuals and organizations to own their role in protecting their part of cyberspace. This year’s campaign stresses personal accountability and the importance of taking proactive steps to enhance cybersecurity.

Throughout the month of October, the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) will share tips and information for consumers and businesses related to the NCSAM weekly themes.

License to Live: Wisconsin Electric Cooperatives Launch Educational Campaign for Drivers

August 3, 2020—A near-catastrophic traffic accident, witnessed by a co-op employee whose actions very likely saved the teen driver’s life, has led to a cooperatively created educational video and curriculum teaching drivers what to do if they should become involved in a crash involving power lines and other utility equipment.

Sponsored by all of Wisconsin’s electric cooperatives, “License to Live” was developed by employees of five electric cooperatives and WECA in conjunction with the Federated Rural Electric Insurance Exchange and Safe Electricity. The video and accompanying materials will be distributed to all driver’s education instructors in the state of Wisconsin starting in August. Plans also call for establishing a partnership/alliance with the Department of Transportation’s “Zero in Wisconsin” initiative, with the goal of making the program required training for all new drivers in the state and having related questions included on the written driver’s test.

“Our goal throughout this entire project has been simple. Education and awareness. If we can put together a quality product illustrating what to do during a car vs. pole emergency, it WILL save lives,” said Ben Bella, safety & compliance coordinator for four electric co-ops and a member of the committee that launched this campaign.

​To learn more about “License to Live” and view the video, go to: https://safeelectricity.org/license-to-live/

Clark named to Governor’s Task Force on Broadband Access

July 14, 2020—Shannon Clark, CEO & general manager of Richland Electric Cooperative, was asked to serve on the newly formed Governor’s Task Force on Broadband Access. Governor Tony Evers signed Executive Order #80 creating the task force July 14. The task force will advise the governor and Wisconsin State Legislature on broadband actions and policy.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored that access to high-speed broadband is a necessity, not a luxury, and folks across our state have had to adapt—from kids and educators shifting to virtual classrooms, workers having to work from home, and even folks using telemedicine to visit with their doctor,” said Gov. Evers. “I’m proud the People’s Budget made the largest investment in our broadband infrastructure in Wisconsin history, but we know we have more work to do and we have to connect the dots on how lack of reliable, affordable broadband affects folks across our state. This task force will bring together experts from across the state to research and recommend solutions that state leaders can adopt to connect every person in Wisconsin.”
Clark brings considerable expertise to the task force, including his experience launching the consortium that became Genuine Telecom, a telecommunications company providing telecommunications services including high-speed internet to businesses and homes in the Richland County area. Clark also serves as board chairman for the National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative (NRTC), which provides technology solutions for over 1,500 electric and telephone cooperatives across the United States.
More information about the task force and be found at https://urbanmilwaukee.com/pressrelease/gov-evers-signs-executive-order-creating-governors-task-force-on-broadband-access/?fbclid=IwAR0ecxf7riApHSeuj-6lVRb4INR0lWlbR6zhygNK_DMiagPk064SJ2EhWdI.

New Study Shows Two-Thirds of WI Rural Counties Continue to Lose Population

June 4, 2020—Two factors that help slow or potential can help reverse rural decline can be affected by state and local policymakers: a diverse industry mix and access to high-speed internet. Read 'Deconstructing Depopulation: Rural Characteristics & Population Change' to find out more.



Wisconsin Electric Co-ops Launch “Milk Gallon Giveaway” in Support of Wisconsin Dairy Farmers


June 5, 2020—Wisconsin electric cooperatives are coming together to support Wisconsin farmers, hit hard by the pandemic, by offering free gallons of milk to members. In honor of June Dairy Month, the Wisconsin Electric Cooperative Association and 15 electric cooperatives have partnered with Kwik Trip for the “Milk Gallon Giveaway,” to distribute potentially more than 100,000 gallons of milk.

The June issue of Wisconsin Electric Cooperative News includes a coupon for participating cooperative members to redeem at an area Kwik Trip in exchange for a free gallon non-fat, 1%, or 2% milk, to be redeemed at Kwik Trip on or before July 16, 2020.
Wisconsin’s member-owned electric cooperatives serve 57 percent of all dairy farms in the state. Wisconsin dairy farmers stand to lose hundreds of millions of dollars due to the response to the coronavirus. The “Milk Gallon Giveaway” is an effort to reduce the excess milk product and ease the impact on all area farmers.

If you do not see a coupon in your issue of Wisconsin Energy Cooperative News, that means your cooperative may be supporting dairy farmers in other ways, such as supporting food banks, dairy committees, scholarships, or ice cream, cheese, and butter giveaways.

WECA Expands Eligibility for 2020 Essay Contest

May 14, 2020—All Wisconsin high school students and college freshmen, whose primary residence is served by an electric cooperative, are eligible to enter the 2020 WECA Essay Contest, which offers cash scholarships for the top three winners. The essay contest is usually open exclusively to attendees of the Youth Leadership Congress, but that event has been cancelled this year, due to the pandemic.

Students interested in entering the contest must submit a 600 to 1,200-word essay in response to a question related to electric cooperatives and youth involvement. A panel of three judges will review the essays and select the top three winners, who will be awarded scholarships of $1,000, $500, and $250. Entries must be postmarked by August 26, 2020.
For more information, click the button below or send a message to Tina Walden, WECA Executive Assistant and Youth Coordinator.

COVID-19 and Wisconsin’s Electric Cooperatives

April 3, 2020—Wisconsin’s electric cooperatives are proud to power our communities when it matters most. Business continuity plans developed by electric cooperatives are designed to maintain the health and safety of the people working for them and to ensure that business critical operations continue without interruption. These measures help ensure that your electric co-op continues to provide reliable electricity during a business continuity event.
With so much information, it is important to utilize credible sources. Below is a list of links for Wisconsin co-op members to access the latest information:


Federal Relief Package Includes Support for Electric Co-ops

April 3, 2020—During this time of crisis, the Wisconsin Electric Cooperative Association (WECA) and other statewides joined with the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) to ensure electric cooperatives and their members are not left behind, as Congress fast-tracks relief packages in an effort to best respond to the epidemic, and also ease the effects of a suddenly embattled economy.
The $2 trillion coronavirus relief package passed last week includes many of the requests made by NRECA CEO Jim Matheson to bring help to electric cooperatives and their members by offering millions in aid for families in need, particularly those struggling to pay their utility bills. The bill includes funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster relief, Small Business Administration, and broadband programs. Also, the Small Business Administration loans included in the bill allow for loan forgiveness if the funds are used by the borrower to pay utility bills, which will serve as a valued option and incentive for members and offer assistance to electric cooperatives.
Here are some of the key provisions for co-ops in the nearly 900-page bill:
  • Adds $900 million for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which helps low-income and moderate-income consumers pay their utility bills.
  • Adds $100 million for grants through the USDA RUS ReConnect broadband program and $25 million for the RUS Distance Learning and Telemedicine grant program to expand investments in telemedicine and distance-learning services in rural areas.
  • Adds $45 billion for the disaster relief fund administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Co-ops often rely on these funds to restore power after storms and other emergencies.
  • Creates a $349 billion Paycheck Protection Program that provides federal government loan forgiveness (under Small Business Administration Section 7(a) loans) for small businesses to pay up to eight weeks of basic expenses, including electric, telephone, and internet bills. 
  • Creates a $10 billion SBA program to provide grants of up to $10,000 to small businesses to pay their workers and pay rent or mortgages, among other uses. Co-ops with fewer than 500 employees may be eligible for this grant program if they plan to apply for SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loans. Certain restrictions on those loans have now been waived.
As the full effect of the pandemic continues to unfold, Congress is considering a fourth relief package. NRECA, along with WECA and other statewides, is already working with lawmakers on policy proposals important to electric co-ops to address short-term challenges created by the current crisis and long-term opportunities for economic growth.

Group Launches Application for Wisconsin Specialty License Plate to Honor All Utility Workers

January 24, 2020—Supporters of Clark Electric Cooperative in Greenwood are launching an effort to create a specialty Wisconsin license plate that would recognize all people working in the electrical industry in the state.  The proposed design includes the phrase “Keeping the Lights On”, and features an image of a lineman.

In order for the plate to be produced, the group needs to submit 500 signatures from licensed Wisconsin drivers who commit to purchasing the plates at a ONE-TIME cost of $15, which covers the cost of production. The group is also raising funds for the development and design fee, which is $15,500.  The purpose of the plate is to honor and recognize all persons working to ensure Wisconsinites have access to safe, affordable, and reliable electricity.

Vehicles that qualify to display the specialty plates include automobiles, motor homes, private trucks weighing 8,000 pounds or less, and farm trucks weighing 12,000 pounds or less.

The group promoting the “Keeping the Lights On” specialty plates hopes to complete the process and make the plates available to the public by April of 2021.

To provide your signature or make a donation in support of the project, go to the links below or contact Linda McAley, PO Box 65, Greenwood, WI, 54437-0065.

Lighting the Way for our Global Community

January 17, 2020—In the fall of 2019, four Wisconsin linemen joined others from Illinois and Iowa and embarked on a life-changing mission – to bring electricity to an impoverished, rural village in Guatemala for the first time.

Partners for a Brighter Tomorrow is made possible by Wisconsin cooperatives and their communities, and NRECA International, a non-profit 501(c) (3) charitable organization, whose mission is to increase individual and community access to electricity in all parts of the world.


January 13, 2020—The Federated Youth Foundation is pleased to once again offer the Charles Van Sickle Endowment Scholarship in 2020. This $2,000 scholarship will be awarded to a pre-law or law student who has an interest in cooperative law. The scholarship is made possible by an endowment established in 2013 to honor Wisconsin’s renowned electric cooperative lobbyist and attorney, the late Charles Van Sickle. The scholarship will be awarded during the Spring 2020 semester.


WECA welcomes Jennifer Taylor to staff

December 9, 2019—Jennifer Taylor joined the Wisconsin Electric Cooperative Association as the new executive assistant. Jennifer is a Watertown native and a 1995 graduate of UW-Madison. She brings years of administrative experience to the position, and as an artist, she also brings creativity and the ability to assist with visual media. Jennifer lives in Madison with her husband, David, and two cats.


Lighting the way for a brighter future

November 27, 2019—Twenty-five hundred miles from Wisconsin, south of the Mexican border in a primitive, rural village of Guatemala, there is an American flag flying high, side-by-side with a native flag. It was placed there just weeks ago by the villagers as a symbol of gratitude for the life-changing mission taken on by 12 linemen from electric cooperatives in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Iowa.


Association picks new leadership team


November 6, 2019—The executive committee of the Wisconsin Electric Cooperative Association (WECA), elected at the statewide co-op organization’s November annual meeting in Stevens Point, includes (l–r,) Judith Anibas of Eau Claire Energy Cooperative (secretary-treasurer), CEO Mike Wade of Central Wisconsin Electric Cooperative, Diane Zimmerman of East-Central Energy (chair), David Hischke of Oconto Electric, and CEO Dallas Sloan of Barron Electric Cooperative (vice-chair). Also serving as statewide directors are William Fischer of Rock Energy, CEO Jerry Sorenson of Riverland Energy, Roger Wiff of Pierce Pepin Cooperative Services, Karen Newbury of Price Electric Cooperative, and Robert Hess of Oakdale Electric, representing Dairyland Power.

Awards recognize co-op service


November 5, 2019—Winning recognition for distinguished service to Wisconsin’s electric cooperatives were (l–r) Mary Kay Brevig, Eau Claire Energy Cooperative’s communications and public relations manager, receiving the N. F. Leifer Memorial Journalism Award for excellence in her co-op’s local pages of Wisconsin Energy Cooperative News; Larry Dokkestul, recently retired CEO of Pierce Pepin Cooperative Services, with the ACE (Ally of Cooperative Electrification) Award—the group’s highest honor—for dedicated service to cooperatives surpassing routine performance of duty; and Mary Hodowanic, accepting the Herman C. Potthast Award on behalf of her husband, Jim Hodowanic, the late operations manager of Chippewa Valley Electric Cooperative. The Potthast Award honors conspicuous contributions to job-training and safety education for employees of Wisconsin’s energy cooperatives.

New communications staffer welcomed

October 4, 2019—Julie Lund, newly hired for the position of Director of News and Communication at WECA, begins her duties October 4 at the statewide organization’s Madison offices. Lund will succeed Dave Hoopman who currently holds the position and plans retirement at the end of November. A Wisconsin native, Lund is a UW – La Crosse graduate holding a degree in Mass Communications with emphasis in television production. She has been a news reporter, producer, and anchor at TV stations in Rhinelander and Madison. She has also held a variety of media related positions with the State of Wisconsin. Lund is to assume the duties of WECA’s director of news and communication in her own right as of December 1.


Guatamala: Partners for a Brighter Tomorrow


October 1, 2019—Twelve volunteer linemen from Wisconsin, Illinois, and Iowa electric cooperatives are traveling to Guatemala today to help a rural village get electricity for the first time. This project—Partners for a Brighter Tomorrow—will provide power to 42 homes, a school, and a health post. This project was made possible by NRECA International, a non-profit 501(c) (3) charitable organization, whose mission is to increase individual and community access to electricity in all parts of the world.

Leaders descend on D.C. for fall fly-in

September 5, 2019—Leaders from Wisconsin’s electric cooperatives spoke this week with members of their congressional delegation on the importance of passing two key pieces of legislation. The RURAL Act would amend the tax code to ensure electric cooperatives do not lose their tax-exempt status when they receive federal, state, or local government grants and assistance, such as FEMA disaster relief and rural broadband grants. This measure would fix an unintended consequence of a change in the tax code from the 2017 tax reform bill. Without this fix, the current tax provisions would threaten our members’ ability to recover from major natural disasters or deploy critical infrastructure for broadband.

Magazine garners more national awards


August 6—Two Wisconsin Energy Cooperative News articles received national recognition in August, in a competition designed to reward strong efforts in co-op journalism.

The October 2018 article “Empowering Enterprise” and the April 2019 story “Good News is No News” each earned an Award of Merit from the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s Statewide Editors Association.
The October article, describing Central Wisconsin Electric Cooperative’s long-term success fostering economic development in the communities it serves, was honored in the category of Best Feature Communicating a Cooperative Principle or Touchstone Energy Core Value.
The April story, honored in the category of Best News Feature, contrasted negative public and media perceptions of environmental quality against the reality of several decade’s environmental improvement, exemplified by massive growth of U.S. energy production and consumption since 1970 even as pollutant emission volumes have plummeted. 
The awards mark the Wisconsin statewide magazine’s second consecutive year of double recognition. Last year, the magazine won in the Best Editorial category and the Best News Feature category.

Habitat-restoration projects are blooming at Wisconsin’s electric cooperatives


July 30, 2019—There’s a certain buzz in the air around many of Wisconsin’s electric cooperatives, and it’s hovering around the pollinator gardens that have been popping up on co-op properties throughout the state.

At some co-op headquarters, traditional floral landscaping and stretches of sunny green lawn have been replaced with native pollinator plantings that are just coming into bloom. Often tended by co-op employees, these plants attract the pollinators—including bees, butterflies, and birds—that are needed for the reproduction of about one-third of all human food crops, as well as 75 percent of flowering plants, according to pollinator.org.

Co-ops hail disaster funds included in state budget

July 3, 2019—Rural energy consumers won’t be left to cope on their own when natural disasters strike, thanks to a pair of bipartisan provisions included in the state budget bill signed into law today by Governor Tony Evers.
The Wisconsin Electric Cooperative Association (WECA) hailed retention of the two items in the budget package, one providing direct assistance to a cooperative forced to repair and replace an underwater power cable knocked out of service by winter ice, and another re-establishing electric co-ops’ eligibility to make direct application for aid from the Wisconsin Disaster Fund. 

Monarchs Still Need Help

You can create a monarch butterfly habitat in your own garden this spring.

Finance Committee: Island Cable Repair Stays in Budget

(left) Byron Nolde, CEO, Oconto Electric Cooperative and (right)
Robert Cornell, manager, Washington Island Electric Cooperative

May 16, 2019The Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee voted Thursday to retain funding in the state budget bill that offers disaster assistance for the repair and replacement of the underwater cable that failed last June, cutting off electricity to the residents of Washington Island.

The power failure—caused by recurring winter ice damage over multiple years—forced Washington Island Electric Cooperative to switch to more expensive backup generation until the cable could be spliced. With close cooperation from state and federal agencies on routing and permitting, a replacement cable was installed last fall and current costs are now approaching $4 million.

Teamwork Time


April 30, 2019This year’s budget process will be out of the ordinary in multiple ways. Tony Evers is the first Democrat to win the governor’s office in eight years, and both legislative houses reviewing his budget proposal are controlled by Republican majorities. Former leaders of both parties in the State Senate and Assembly recently speculated that 2019 might see three different budget bills: Governor Evers’ plan, another one crafted by legislative Republicans, and finally a compromise adopted well after the customary June 30 deadline. (Unlike the federal government, Wisconsin doesn’t shut down anything when a budget is late; the prior one simply stays in effect.)

ROPE Deployment Underway


April 4, 2019Wisconsin electric cooperatives and others served in neighboring states by the Dairyland Power Cooperative generation and transmission system participate in a mutual assistance program known as ROPE—for Restoration of Power in an Emergency. A large ROPE deployment was underway Friday after the call for help went out on Thursday from Freeborn-Mower Cooperative Services headquartered at Albert Lea, Minnesota. An estimated 400-500 poles were downed and approximately half the accounts on the Freeborn-Mower distribution system were without power in the wake of storms—snow, ice, mixed precipitation, and wind—that tore across the upper Midwest Wednesday and Thursday. Continue here...

Monarchs Still Need Help

March 28, 2019Several times these past couple of years I’ve delivered updates on what’s been happening with the monarch butterfly and the decline of other pollinator species in North America. These are obvious concerns from the standpoint of environmental quality; less obvious but very real is our concern over the effect reduced butterfly numbers could have on rural utility operations The unfortunate fact is the monarch population east of the Rocky Mountains has declined by more than 80 percent over the past 20 years. Read the full story here.

Click here to learn how to create your own monarch butterfly habitat.

Dairyland Power Announces Major Solar Energy Facility

March 18, 2019—Dairyland Power Cooperative has finalized a power purchase agreement with Ranger Power for the proposed 149 megawatt Badger State Solar Project. Dairyland will purchase the entire output of the planned solar photovoltaic facility, which is proposed on the land of participating private landowners in the Towns of Jefferson and Oakland in Jefferson County, Wis. The Badger State Solar Project will generate enough renewable energy to power over 20,000 homes. Ranger Power is the developer of the solar energy facility. Pollinator habitat is also planned for the site. Read More

Clark picked to head NRTC board

March 15, 2019—Richland Electric Cooperative CEO and General Manager Shannon Clark was elected board chairman of the national Rural Telecommunications Cooperative (NRTC) Sunday by fellow directors on the 17-member governing panel. Read More


Build future leadership, co-ops told at NRECA gathering

March 15, 2019—The leadership provided by electric cooperatives is “uniquely valuable” to the communities they serve and today’s co-op leaders must prepare new generations to take that leadership into the future, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association CEO Jim Matheson told attendees at the organization’s annual meeting in Florida Monday. Read More


February 1, 2019—The Federated Youth Foundation is pleased to once again offer the Charles Van Sickle Endowment Scholarship. This $2,000 scholarship will be awarded to a pre-law or law student who has an interest in cooperative law. The scholarship is made possible by an endowment established in 2013 to honor Wisconsin’s renowned electric cooperative lobbyist and attorney, the late Charles Van Sickle. View application here.

New Lobbyist Begins at WECA

January 7, 2019— Rob Richard, formerly of the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, assumed the position of Wisconsin Electric Cooperative Association’s (WECA) director of government relations January 2. Richard comes to WECA from the position of senior director of government relations for the Farm Bureau. His pre-Farm Bureau resumé includes 15 years' experience as a legislative aide in the Wisconsin State Assembly and state Senate, including a stint as an aide to Freese when he was a member of the Assembly between 1991 and 2007.



Barron's Chris Kroeze Makes 'The Voice' Final

December 12, 2018—Barron's own Chris Kroeze has reached the live finale of 'The Voice'. Tonight's vote will determine the winner. Watch Chris live on NBC at 7 p.m. and vote for Chris on NBC.com or via the Voice app.


Youth Board Member Shares Experiences

December 6, 2018—WECA Youth Board member and Wisconsin NRCEA Youth Delegate, William Tuchtenhagen recently spoke with The River Falls Journal about the importance of cooperative youth programs.

"Youth programs have been something that are really important to cooperatives as of late because they are trying to bring in the next generation of cooperative owners." Says Tuchtenhagen.

Good luck Chris Kroeze

November 5, 2018— Good luck to Chris Kroeze, a member of Barron Electric Cooperative brother of a co-op lineman, who is competing in the knockout round of The Voice tonight.


October 1, 2018— Dairyland Power Cooperative conducted a controlled demolition of the Alma Station Stack today, as part of Dairyland Power's project to safely complete the decommissioning of the station. Alma Station came online in 1947 and helped power the region until its retirement in 2014. Click here to watch the video of the demolition. 



October is National Cybersecurity Awareness Month

October 1, 2018—National Cybersecurity Awareness Month is a collaborative effort between government and industry to ensure every American has the resources they need to stay safer and more secure online. Click here to view a comprehensive guide from the Department of Homeland Security, to help develop your cooperative's Cybersecurity strategy.


August 23, 2018— Impostor scammers are posing as a local utility company in order to demand money for supposed late payments or required upgrades. Wisconsin residents should be on the lookout for threatening calls about their gas or electric accounts and hang up on anyone who demands immediate payment on behalf of the local utility provider. Read more about scams here  

Wisconsin Youth Tour Wraps Up D.C. Experience 

June 15, 2018— A delegation of youth members from Wisconsin's electric cooperatives have just completed an exciting and educational week in Washington D.C. Delegates participated in workshops with peers from cooperatives all across the country, met federal legislators, and got to visit the White House, as a part of the NRECA Washington D.C. Youth Tour program.


WECA Promotes Electric Cooperative Careers

June 13, 2018— Wisconsin Electric Cooperative Association staff attended the 2018 FFA Convention and engaged with FFA students on the many career opportunities available in the electric cooperative world.



Seasonal Safety: Electrical Safety on the Water

May 17, 2018—Whether close to home or while on vacation, hot summer temperatures beckon many people to activities in and around the water. To help ensure that the fun stays in these summer activities, it is important to keep safety in mind. Safe Electricity shares tips to help keep you and your loved ones safe when enjoying water recreation activities this summer. Continue reading on our Seasonal Safety page.


ROPE Lassos a Legislative Win

April 16, 2018—Wisconsin’s sales and use tax on services and materials furnished in mutual assistance between electric and telecommunications cooperatives became a thing of the past Monday afternoon, as Governor Scott Walker signed a reform proposal shepherded to enactment on the final day of the legislative session after a full year’s lobbying effort by the Wisconsin Electric Cooperative Association.


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.


January 9, 2018—The Wisconsin Legislature is moving forward with a bill creating a sales and use tax exemption for mutual assistance services performed by electric cooperatives or telecommunications utilities during a disaster period. Seen here, Wisconsin Electric Cooperative Association Government Relations Director Beata Wierzba makes a point concerning Assembly Bill 583 during a January public hearing of the Assembly Committee on Energy and Utilities. Flanking Wierzba at left and right are Adams-Columbia Electric Cooperative CEO Jay Porter and Barron Electric General Manager Dallas Sloan, both of whom presented testimony describing the value of mutual aid among utilities and the effect of taxing materials previously taxed and labor provided in assisting disaster recovery.


November 27, 2017—Cooperative leaders gathered in Madison the Monday after Thanksgiving to witness Governor Walker applying his signature to changes in Wisconsin’s Chapter 185 co-op law, approved earlier in November by bipartisan majorities in both legislative houses. The last major revision of state law applying to cooperative governance took place in the 1980s, and the more modest recent changes update existing provisions. The most significant provision for electric cooperatives simplifies their existing authority to make consumer loans to their members to finance work by third parties for energy efficiency and conservation improvements, to improve electrical safety or achieve code compliance, or for emergency backup generation. 

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 rebuildRelief 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 needs 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.

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 at left 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.
A tireless consumer advocate and former CEO of NRECA, Glenn English spent his career championing the cooperative business model and fighting to improve the quality of life for all Americans.
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.

Associate Membership

Associate membership in the Wisconsin Electric Cooperative Association provides a continuing opportunity for providers of goods, services, materials, and equipment to build and maintain networking contacts with Wisconsin's electric co-ops and others with interests and needs related to all aspects of the electric power industry.

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