Power, politics, progress and the cooperative way

I grew up on a modest farm in deep southern Illinois with six ­siblings. I remember when I was five and a group of men came to set a meter pole. I remember that day in 1941 because those men ­threatened to throw me in the hole they were ­digging because I was being a nuisance.

It is amazing that was 75 years ago, and the power those magic wires brought to our farm was ­transformational. I remember electric motors replacing gasoline motors and electric lights helping us sort the fruit from our orchards, along with the refrigerator and electric stove that helped my mom feed seven kids.

Those transformations were ­significant, but were only the tip of the iceberg of what the future would hold.

Power, progress and politics…the word power is an integral part of our vocabulary. The power is on. The power is off. After a storm we might call a neighbor and ask do you have any power? We might call our ­cooperatives power companies.

In 1934 less than 11 percent of farms had electricity. I have a lot of respect for the Eisenhower initiative to develop an interstate road ­system, which tied rural areas and cities together. But I put the rural elec­trification of America ahead of that in terms of value to farm families.

Politics has always been a part of that progress. We owe a lot to the early pioneers of rural electrification. I believe they had no idea the impact it would have in terms of progress for rural America.

We are the beneficiaries of the past and present visionaries. And I am proud of my family’s legacy in the REA. My farm is served by SouthEastern Illinois Electric Cooperative. My father was an active board member at that cooperative for 39 years and my brother followed him.

Political involvement is still critical. For instance, I’m terribly disappointed by the President’s lack of support for the coal industry in Illinois. As a ­former senator from Illinois, he must realize the key role the coal industry has in southern Illinois and other places.

Dustin Tripp, President/CEO of SouthEastern Illinois Electric Cooperative says, “Coal has proven to be the most abundant, reliable and ­economical fuel to generate elec­tricity in the United States. Since 1980, coal use for electricity has increased 170 percent while key emissions have decreased 90 percent. Advancements in coal ­technology, like those used at the Prairie State Generating Campus, ­continue to improve efficiency and reduce emissions.”

It does seem to me that each time we get a new regulation we meet it and then we get an even more stringent one, which has huge ­implications for ­cooperative ­members. I’m aware that the EPA released the Clean Power Plan, which has the potential to ­dramatically alter the ability of ­existing and future ­generating ­facilities to ­operate. But the ­unprecedented action of the Supreme Court put a stay on that. It is only a temporary patch and I think the issues of climate change and the Clean Power Plan will not go away. We all need to be alert for not only legislation, but ­regulations that can severely hamper our ability to serve rural consumers. Cooperative members and leaders need to be actively engaged in the local, state and national political arena.

A few years ago, I often visited Washington regarding issues for agriculture cooperatives and the farm credit system. I’ll never forget when one senator said, “In the political arena, the people that have the most influence in politics are the ones that show up.”

Glenn Webb served as Board Chairman and President of GROWMARK, Inc., a cooperative formerly known as FS Services, and as a Director of the National Bank for Cooperatives, known as CoBank.
Glenn Webb served as Board Chairman and President of GROWMARK, Inc., a cooperative formerly known as FS Services, and as a Director of the National Bank for Cooperatives, known as CoBank.

I’m convinced that energy and energy development will be a key ­ingredient in our progress in the 21st century. It will be a front burner issue. I think Illinois electric cooperative leaders are using astute judgment to experiment and be a player in the wind and solar arena. Both coal and natural gas have finite resources. It stands to reason that while coal and natural gas may be the fuels of choice today, we need to be sure that we are on the front line of alternative ways to generate power.

Demand for electric energy will ­continue to increase. More power will need to be generated. A lot of the ­current infrastructure will need modernization. Building for the future takes courage, insight, and vision. I’m confident that today’s leaders and their successors will be in the forefront of building that enthusiastic future before us…building it with courage and wisdom.

Power, politics and progress will continue to be important elements in our pursuits.