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Illinois Country Living

Duane Noland

N. Duane Noland, President/CEO
AIEC

Commentary:

It’s Our Energy and Our Future
You have the right to ask questions of your leaders

I’d like to take you back just a decade or so. The experts then said deregulation of the utility industry was a great idea. It would save money and make the utility business more efficient. I was in the state legislature at the time and I remember vividly one of the large investor-owned utilities based in my home district and how they were adamantly in favor of deregulation.

It sounded like a good idea.

Then the cooperatives came to me and said, “We understand that, however, because of our business model of member ownership and democratic control we would like to have local control over whether or not to enter the deregulated market. With our locally-elected directors we can be more responsive to what our member-owners want.”

Hindsight has been 20-20 and shown that it has not been the success that the investor-owned utilities had hoped for. We probably made some mistakes.

I think because in 1997 the co-ops understood their business model and understood that the deregulation decision should be made locally they made the right decision. That’s one thing we got right because co-op leaders spoke up and their elected representatives listened.

The investor-owned utilities told us we could have our cake and eat it too. It turned out we ate it and had no cake left.

Co-op leaders have one motivation—keeping the lights on and keeping the rates as low as possible for their fellow member-owners. In a way that means electric co-ops are truly the only consumer-advocate utilities in this new energy debate over climate change and what to do about it.

Pressure is mounting in Congress to do something about climate change. And while political debates in Washington, D.C., may seem far away, the outcome will have a direct impact on your cooperative – and on you.

Climate change is but one aspect of a looming energy crisis created by increasing demand and decreasing capacity to meet that demand. Experts now say some areas of the country will be short of power within one or two years.

And yet energy supply isn’t an issue our elected representatives are spending a lot of time on. These forces, the desire by government to reduce greenhouse gas emissions quickly and the growing demand for power by consumers, are about to collide.

Some people say we can meet demand through efficiency and renewable energy. The reality is we need all the efficiency and renewable energy we can get, but that will not be enough.

To avert an energy crisis, the federal government must exercise true leadership, the same leadership that got Americans to the moon in the 1960s. Without that leadership – without a sound, responsible plan – government risks not only the reliability of our electric system, but literally the ability of many Americans to be able to afford to pay their electric bill.

We, as electric co-op members and constituents, must call on elected officials to provide this leadership. That’s why I want to encourage you to contact your elected officials.

You don’t need to be an energy expert to ask questions. Asking questions helps find the answers to solve the problem of balancing climate change goals with keeping your lights on and your electric bills affordable.

Right now, members of Congress as well as state elected officials are hearing from lots of different interest groups who have ideas about how to address climate change. No one is talking to consumers, however. We need a plan people can live with today while we deal with the climate change problem of tomorrow.

To make things easy, the National Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives (NRECA) has created a Web site that will send an e-mail for you. Go to www.ourenergy.coop and plug in your address.

 


N. Duane Noland is the President/CEO of the Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives, Springfield. He is a former state senator, active on his family farm near Blue Mound and a member of Shelby Electric Cooperative.

The opinions and views of guest commentators are their own and may not represent those of the Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives or the electric co-ops of Illinois.

© 2008 Illinois Country Living Magazine.
Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives

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