Co-op Concerns in an Era of Change

by Jack Reasor, President and CEO, Old Dominion Electric Cooperative, and the Virginia, Maryland & Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives

Jack Reasor

As we move from 2008 into 2009, this is seen as a time of great political change: The United States has elected its first African-American president; the Democratic candidate won Virginia’s electoral votes for the first time in over 40 years; one political party will control the House of Representatives, the U.S. Senate and the White House for the first time this century; and our economy is in the depths of a downturn not seen since perhaps the Great Depression.

Yet, in the midst of all of this political change, the Virginia General Assembly will convene in early January as it has every January since 1971 and will meet as it has for over 350 years. While change may seem slow in this Assembly, the 2009 Session of the General Assembly will also meet in the shadows of change. On Jan. 20, as America inaugurates its first African-American president, Virginia will acknowledge its role in this historic event (as well as boast that Virginia was the first state to elect an African-American as governor). And change will be afoot in Richmond as well, since this Session will be influenced by the fact that all 100 members of the House of Delegates will be up for re-election this fall; this Session will be Governor Kaine’s last before he leaves office; and, this budget must receive monumental change in the face of economic uncertainty.

There is one other area that faces change, if you believe the press accounts: laws and regulations reflecting environmental policy. Congress has been debating legislation concerning global climate change for over a year and both candidates for president promised significant action on environmental legislation if they were elected. President-elect Obama has indicated that the environment will be one of those areas getting his immediate attention and Governor Kaine has proclaimed 2009 the year of the environment in Virginia for his administration.

In various communities around Virginia, it is the responsibility of 13 electric distribution cooperatives to be sure you stay connected to the power grid so electricity can flow into your homes and businesses. At Old Dominion Electric Cooperative, it is our responsibility to be sure that nine of those cooperatives have the power they need to run through their lines. We do that by owning and operating some power-generating facilities; by owning an interest in generating facilities that someone else operates; through contracts to purchase power from other power providers; and, by buying power from the market. Generally, the power we buy from the market is our most expensive power, so we are always looking at the possibility of long-term purchase-power contracts or owning more generation. Currently, we own several gas-powered combustion-turbine generating plants, interests in a coal plant and a nuclear power plant, and are committed to buy power by contract from a methane gas plant at a landfill site, power from a wind farm and power generated from a small hydroelectric facility. As of Jan. 1, these facilities will only provide enough power to meet about half of our members’ electricity needs.

How do we meet the remaining load and our future load over the next 10, 20, 30 years and beyond? We will need to meet this obligation in several ways. First, we will encourage our cooperative members to be more efficient and use less power in the future. Second, we will look for as many economic and technically viable renewable sources of generation that we can find to meet our members’ needs. Third, we are always pursuing contracts with other generators to find good deals for our members. Finally, we will ultimately need to build more generation.

Which leads me back to our discussion of change. As your delegates and senators and members of Congress make decisions regarding environmental laws that impact power-generating facilities, I hope you will ask them three questions: What is your plan to make sure we have the electricity we will need in the future? What are you doing to fund the research required to make emission-free, affordable electric plants a reality? How much will your decisions increase my electric bill?

They are basic questions that need to be answered before new laws are passed. The governmental-affairs department of your electric cooperative association will be asking these questions and doing everything we can to be sure our elected leaders have the facts they need to make wise decisions. Change can be good. We need to make sure that environmental changes are good for our environment and good for the consumer.  

What’s Your View?

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