The true power of locally-owned electric cooperatives are the consumer-members living and working in the communities they serve, and when those co-ops are connected, their collective energy gives them state-wide reach.
That’s the role the Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives (AIEC) plays in supporting the goal of ensuring that co-op members always have safe, affordable, reliable energy.
“Our main objective is to complement what Illinois’ electric co-ops do at the local level,” said Duane Noland, AIEC president/CEO. “We aggregate all of their great work, so we can talk about it collectively to all of the interested parties in the state who potentially have an impact on co-op members through laws, regulations or public policy.”
At the direction of our affiliated electric cooperatives, the AIEC is regularly involved in education and training, legislative affairs, tax and regulatory matters, economic development and regional planning. It also provides a framework for coordination of many activities that provide more meaningful results when addressed through collective action.
It’s not unusual for Illinois’ lawmakers to deal with as many as 3,000 bills and amendments during a legislative session, while many never advance beyond committees or face numerous revisions during hearing and review processes. Keeping track of even major changes is no small feat.
Besides members of the Illinois general assembly, there are also regulatory commissions, typically made up of appointees who may be more familiar with major investor-owned utilities than they are with member-owned electric cooperatives.
“It’s all about making lawmakers aware of who we are, what we do and why we do it,” said Nick Reitz, AIEC vice president of Government Relations. “We need to do whatever we can to help them understand who we are and most importantly that we’re all reaching for the same goal – providing the best electric service we can at the lowest possible cost.”
When it comes to safety, operating efficiency and governance, skills and training can help an electric cooperative run more successfully and serve its members better. But when co-op employees are spread across several locations and committed to maintaining 24/7 operations, getting true value for training dollars can be challenging.
The AIEC serves 24 electric co-ops in 90 of the state’s 102 counties. The safety and training department provides safety, specialized schools and professional development training for cooperative directors, management staff and employees.
Engaging future co-op members
The AIEC also takes a leadership role in the youth outreach programs supported by its local electric cooperatives. It coordinates the Youth to Washington Tour, sending more than 65 high school students to Washington, D.C., every June. Each spring nearly 250 outstanding students get an up close look at democracy in action when they meet their elected representatives during the Illinois Electric and Telephone Cooperatives Youth Day in Springfield.
“As cooperatives, we understand that our student leaders of today are our community leaders of tomorrow,” said Ashley Graham, AIEC Youth Tour coordinator. “What better time to teach these students about the cooperative business model and co-op careers than through our youth programs?”
Illinois cooperatives have been taking students to Washington, D.C. and the Cooperative Youth Leadership Camp for 60 years.
For many Youth Tour participants, the co-op sponsored trips are the furthest they have ever ventured from their home communities without their families. They also provide exposure to state and federal government operations, and opportunities to learn and practice skills that will serve them for a lifetime.
“We promote the life skills that today’s generation values, like building relationships, developing leadership skills and enhancing their resumes,” said Graham.
Participants develop strong relationships with their sponsoring electric co-op that often include speaking or volunteering at annual meetings and other co-op events. The results are meaningful community service hours and experiences that often inspire college application essays or can lead to technical or member services career opportunities after graduation.
These are just a few ways the AIEC supports Illinois electric cooperatives, and everything it does is aimed at one goal: bettering the communities they serve.