Editorial

You Did It!

by Richard G. Johnstone Jr., Exec. Editor

Richard Johnstone

Thanks to your efforts, and those of other electric cooperative member-consumers all across this great Commonwealth, the large, out-of-state cable companies were unable to pass their bill in this year’s Virginia General Assembly!

Congratulations to all of you who raised a mighty chorus of voices so loud, so large, and so insistent, that our state legislators chose not to pass the cable company bill, HB 1439, and its Senate version, SB 890. Instead, in an action by our delegates and state senators that was responsive, insightful, and prudent, the General Assembly asked the State Corporation Commission — the state agency that regulates a number of industries, including electric utilities — to study the whole complex issue of pole attachments during the coming year, and to report its findings back to the legislature.

We believe that this was the best possible outcome for Virginia’s 13 electric cooperatives and our 500,000 member-consumers. This highly technical issue will now be studied by the state agency that has the necessary expertise to make informed recommendations on how these attachments should be handled moving forward. The key for electric cooperatives has always centered on the need to recover the costs we incur when we allow cable companies to attach their equipment to our — actually, to your — poles.

As those of you who have followed this issue closely since January are aware, the cable company bill would have mandated that your electric cooperative accept a lower, subsidy-level fee from the cable companies for these pole attachments. For decades now, electric cooperatives and cable companies have mutually negotiated fees that enabled the cooperatives to recover our costs for allowing such attachments. The proposed cable company bill would have changed that, and would have prevented this cost recovery.

And remember, cost recovery is crucial for electric cooperatives, since we are not-for-profit utilities owned by our customers, who are called member-consumers. Any costs that are not recovered must be passed along to you and all the other member-consumers. The cable company bill could have imposed $3 million a year in unrecovered costs onto Virginia’s electric cooperatives, and thus onto you! And those unrecovered costs would have recurred year after year after year.

But thanks to YOUR involvement — and the outspoken leadership of some key legislators from both sides of the aisle, in both houses — the cable bill did not pass, and the matter is now in the hands of experts charged with ensuring protection of Virginia consumers. Virginia’s electric cooperatives are especially appreciative of the leadership shown by Del. Terry Kilgore of Gate City; Del. Steve Landes of Verona; Del. Tim Hugo of Centreville; Sen. Richard Saslaw of Springfield; and Sen. Phillip Puckett of Tazewell, all of whom showed a deep understanding of this issue and a genuine desire to protect cooperative member-consumers.

So in the end, an unreasonable bill turned into a reasonable outcome. And legislation that would have been grossly unfair to you and your neighbors turned into a professional study that has promise of being fair to all.

And the turning point came not in the halls of power in Richmond, but in the powerful calls of constituents, from Accomack and Appomattox, Clarke County and Clarksville, Leesburg and Lee County, Wakefield and Winchester, and from countless other cooperative consumers everywhere in between.  

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