DANA KELROY | Editor, Wisconsin Energy Cooperative News | Wisconsin Electric Cooperative Association
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MADISON, WIs. (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.
The latter item restored a policy in place throughout the fund’s (WDF) history until an agency reinterpretation in 2017 disqualified electric cooperatives, compelling them to seek assistance by applying through local governments whose jurisdictions don’t match cooperative service areas or the geography affected by a tornado or other natural disaster.
The underwater cable spanning Door County’s Porte des Mortes Strait had been supplying power to Washington Island Electric Cooperative for 37 years until cumulative damage from winter ice shoves caused it to fail last spring. Costs arising from restoration of service placed a heavy burden on the community of fewer than 900 served by the state’s smallest electric co-op.
“The solution of these problems is an example of bipartisan cooperation at its best,” said WECA President and CEO Steve Freese. “It proves that in a time of political polarization, people can still come together for the good of their communities.”
With pledges of support from Republican lawmakers including State Rep. Joel Kitchens (Sturgeon Bay) and State Senators Andre` Jacque (De Pere) and Howard Marklein (Spring Green), the provisions were written into the Democratic Governor’s original budget proposal and kept intact through the months-long legislative review.
In a letter to Evers last week, Freese noted the importance of state disaster assistance for rural communities, “especially since many communities served by electric cooperatives have average median income levels well below the state average.”
“Like municipal electric utilities,” Freese wrote, “electric cooperatives operate on a not-for-profit basis.” Moreover, they serve “some of the most remote areas in the state and operate on far less revenue per mile of line than all other kinds of electric utilities,” he said.
The state’s 24 electric cooperatives provide energy services for approximately 600,000 member-owners across rural Wisconsin.
The Wisconsin Electric Cooperative Association (WECA) is a statewide trade association providing a variety of services including government relations, education and training, and communications for its membership of 24 electric distribution cooperatives and one generation and transmission cooperative, whose co-op member-owners reside in Wisconsin, Illinois, upper Michigan, Iowa, and Minnesota.