Editorial

'Tis the Season for Reason 

by Richard G. Johnstone Jr., Exec. Editor


Richard Johnstone

About the time you’re reading this, the 140 members of the Virginia General Assembly will be arriving in Richmond to address the great (and a few not-so-great) issues of the day. As Virginia ’s emergence in recent years as a high-tech heavyweight has shown — and as recent elections have confirmed — the Old Dominion is rapidly

becoming the Bold Dominion, with the electric crackle of new ideas on education and transportation causing quite a stir in the hallowed halls of the (recently and beautifully remodeled) State Capitol.

There are also ripples moving through the tectonic plates of the state’s politics, as Virginia ’s population growth continues to shift north and east, carrying with it the epicenter of her political influence. A related development is that Virginia is now very much a two-party state. In the aftermath of last November’s elections, we’ll be welcoming 10 new delegates and eight new senators to the 2008 General Assembly. We will also see a change in the control of the State Senate, which is now in the hands of Democrats, while the House of Delegates remains in Republican hands.

So what do these changes portend for Virginia ’s 13 consumer-owned electric cooperatives? In general, good news. The General Assembly is now very much bipartisan, something that electric cooperatives have always been. Also, many members of the General Assembly have made it clear that consumer protection will be a major theme this year as legislators consider a wide array of bills. As utilities owned by our consumers, cooperatives have always been consumer advocates, looking out for the proverbial “customer at the end of the line.”

But with change also, and always, comes challenge. Most involve geography, since electric cooperatives for the most part serve rural areas, small towns and emerging suburbs; more and more legislators, though, hail from urban areas. Another, more specific geographic challenge is that cooperatives do not serve in the Richmond-to-Virginia Beach corridor north of the James River, and this dynamic part of Tidewater Virginia has a large and growing legislative delegation.

As electric cooperatives have always done, though, we’ll reach out to elected officials of all political stripes from all parts of the Commonwealth, and work with them on issues of concern to our consumer-owners. Since electric cooperatives are overseen by boards of directors elected by and from the membership, these 150-plus elected cooperative leaders constitute a strong and natural grassroots cadre of consumer advocates, who are listened to and respected by state legislators.

In addition, cooperative consumer-owners have become involved over the years in advocating on behalf of fellow co-op members, expressing views on such major issues as electric deregulation in 1999, and electric re-regulation last year. This involvement by citizens who care about their community and their cooperative is the largest single factor in the success that electric cooperatives have experienced over the years in the halls of the State Capitol.

This year’s General Assembly will be considering a huge hopper-full of bills addressing a daunting array of complex issues, including some involving electric utilities, energy providers, and environmental concerns. You can be sure that your electric cooperative leaders will be conveying several basic messages to our elected leaders. These messages are important, though not new, and in fact have formed the basis of the cooperative business approach since we were formed by citizens interested in electric service to rural areas back in the 1930s and ’40s.

In brief, electric cooperatives strongly support:

 — Reliable electric service

 — At reasonable rates

 — Produced and delivered in an environmentally responsible manner.

Because cooperatives are an integral part of our communities, we have a record of strong reliability. Because cooperatives are not-for-profit, we are able to provide electric service at cost to our consumer-owners. And because cooperative employees live and work in the communities where our consumer-owners live and work, we obviously care deeply about the health and well-being of these communities. One example of environmental stewardship is that electric cooperatives have a sound track record over many years of demand-side management programs, education and assistance supporting efficient use of electricity, and other efforts aimed at reducing the need for electric power during times of peak demand.

So as Virginia ’s elected officials consider bills that may affect you and the utility you own, please know that your electric cooperative leaders will continue to participate actively in the process, as reasonable people seeking reasonable solutions to at-times complex issues.

 

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