Fall Foliage, Ovando, Montana

MEC’s 2023 Legislative Summary

Posted: June 1, 2023
Mark Hayden, GM

In early-May, the 2023 Montana Legislative Session in Helena came to a close. Montana’s 25 electric cooperatives, representing over 400,000 Montanans, sponsored and celebrated the passing of three priority bills during the session. The first bill was HB320, which added “utility service vehicles” to the state’s move-over law. Previously, the law only required motorists to slow down or move over when passing emergency vehicles or tow trucks. The second bill, HJ6, approved an interim study of power reserves before the 2025 session. The study will examine options to prevent rolling blackouts, due to wholesale power interruption during times of extreme weather events. Finally, SJ10 was approved, which voiced the state’s opposition to breaching the Lower Snake River Dams.

In April, I traveled to Washington D.C., along with MEC’s District 4 Trustee, Roy Handley, and District 6 Trustee, Dena Hooker, for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) Conference. NRECA represents the 832 distribution cooperatives and 63 generation and transmission (wholesale) cooperatives that serve power to 42 million Americans. Each year, NRECA organizes this event to bring electric cooperative issues to Washington. We had the opportunity to meet with all four members of the Montana Congressional delegation to discuss power grid reliability challenges sweeping the nation.

Americans expect reliable, resilient and affordable electricity. The nation’s energy policies must meet this fundamental expectation, which is why I joined dozens of cooperative leaders and elected member representatives, like Roy and Dena, to take a united message to Capitol Hill and federal agencies. America’s electric cooperatives collectively urged Congress to modernize the federal permitting process, alleviate supply chain challenges, preserve RUS electric infrastructure financing, expand rural broadband access and maintain USDA rural development resources. But what does this mean, specifically?

To simplify, congress should:

1. Pass legislation to create a more streamlined federal permitting process to reduce inefficiencies and costs, while providing more certainty for electric co-ops.

2. Address supply chain issues, which inhibit co-ops from accessing key materials, which can lead to reliability issues. They also need to address labor shortages, long-term manufacturing growth and domestic steel production.

3. Preserve the Rural Utilities Service (RUS) electric infrastructure financing and new clean energy initiatives to support the implementation of modern electric infrastructure.

4. Oppose policies that lead to higher energy prices for rural families, businesses and communities.

5. Continue funding broadband programs to meet the unique challenges of serving rural areas. A reliable broadband connection is vital and creates new ways to “live, learn and earn in rural America.”

6. Retain important programs like the Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant program the Rural Cooperative Development Grant program and the Rural Energy Savings program.

These programs continue to improve lives across rural America, by lowering costs, creating jobs and boosting home energy efficiency. Our joint efforts and grassroots approach have already generated notable results. One of which is a reduction in environmental review paperwork for cooperative loans from 70+ pages to just four. Another is USDA’s $9.7 billion in funding, programs and incentives to buy or build new clean energy systems under the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). These funding opportunities will support cooperatives, like MEC, as we make clean energy transitions in an economical way without passing expenses to you, our valued members.

America’s rural electric cooperatives focused their unified voice on an immediate and ongoing investment in the power grid to better serve the American people. MEC takes great pride in delivering affordable, safe and reliable energy to our members. Representing our membership at Capitol Hill is key to delivering on these core principles.