BY CHUCK SODERBERG
The true power of locally owned electric cooperatives is found in the members living and working in the communities we serve. When co-ops are united and working toward common goals, it amplifies their impact and voice.
That’s the role the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives (IAEC) plays in supporting Iowa’s electric co-ops as they work to provide safe, affordable, reliable and environmentally responsible energy.
Our main objective is to support and complement what Iowa’s electric co-ops accomplish at the local level. At the direction of our member cooperatives, we deliver expertise and resources through education and training, legislative affairs, regulatory matters, safety, communications and youth development.
Promoting local governance
We work to make policymakers aware of electric cooperatives and how this business model benefits members and rural communities. Most importantly, we stress that we’re all reaching for the same goal – powering lives at the lowest possible cost.
On the state level in 2018, we championed favorable utility legislation in the comprehensive energy bill that protects local governance and member-owner control of Iowa’s electric cooperatives. We supported further expansion of the state’s move over or slow down law to better protect electric cooperative employees who work along Iowa’s roadways. IAEC also supported Gov. Reynolds’ Future Ready Iowa legislation, geared toward preparing Iowa’s workforce for the jobs of the future; this fits squarely with our cooperative commitment to rural economic development.
As the Iowa Energy Plan entered its implementation phase, we’ve been active in providing information and progress updates to the Iowa Economic Development Authority. Our attention is focused on other state issues, too, including the development of an Iowa Energy Storage Action Plan, the Iowa Energy Workforce Consortium and smart grid discussions.
Relevant education and training are essential as we prepare for an industry amid major change. This past year, 2,500 cooperative directors and employees participated in more than 50 separate training events organized by IAEC. These conferences and workshops provide valuable learning opportunities so cooperative staff and leaders can adapt as technology and consumer needs evolve.
Culture of safety
As we reinforce a proactive safety culture among our member co-ops, effective education is essential to that goal. We continue to build on the success of our apprenticeship program in conjunction with the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities and Northwest Iowa Community College. Three electric co-op linemen graduated from the program last year, and almost 50 co-op linemen are currently enrolled. Several linemen have passed the journeyman’s requirements, which involves 7,000 hours of on-the-job training and testing.
Throughout the year, we provide essential safety training through chainsaw, overhead, underground and transformer workshops and apprenticeship competence sessions. IAEC’s safety team nurtures a proactive culture of safety through job site observations, Rural Electric Safety Achievement Program inspections and monthly safety meetings with our member co-ops.
Engaging future co-op members
We also take a leadership role in many of the youth outreach programs supported by local electric cooperatives. Annually, IAEC joins other statewide associations in coordinating the Electric Cooperative Youth Tour, sending more than 1,800 high school students from 46 states to Washington, D.C., in June. As cooperatives, we understand that our student leaders of today are our community leaders of tomorrow.
These are just a few ways we support Iowa’s electric cooperatives. Each month, throughout the pages of this magazine, we appreciate the opportunity to showcase how cooperatives are actively engaged in bettering the communities they serve.
Chuck Soderberg is the executive vice president of the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives.