Tester Introduces Bill to Lower Energy Costs and Build Electric Infrastructure in Montana

Senator's Bipartisan Bill Will Increase Access to Capital for Montana Rural Electric Cooperatives

(Thompson Falls, Mont.)-U.S. Senator Jon Tester introduced legislation to lower energy costs for Montanans and build out electric infrastructure in rural communities.

Tester’s bill, the Improving Rural Access to Power Act, will increase access to capital for rural electric cooperatives so they can make improvements to the electric grid and make electricity more affordable for more than 400,000 Montanans.

“When Montanans see lower energy costs, they have more money in their pockets to shop, invest, and increase opportunities for their families,” Tester said. “This bill will allow rural electric co-ops to make the kind of infrastructure investments needed to build a stronger business environment so local entrepreneurs can expand and create more jobs.”

There are 25 rural electric cooperatives in Montana that distribute energy to all 56 counties and serve nearly half of the people living in the state. These consumer-owned businesses operate expansive power grids that includes more than 56,000 miles of distribution power lines.

“This bill strengthens electric cooperative financing options and helps ensure access to capital as co-ops maintain and expand the critical infrastructure that powers rural Montana and other rural American communities,” said Dave Wheelihan, CEO of the Montana Electric Cooperatives Association. “We strongly support this legislation and thank Sen. Tester for his commitment to rural America.”

Rural electric cooperatives have created their own lending associations to provide financial services and help facilitate loans to each individual cooperative to make upgrades and expansions to their local power grids.

Tester’s bill will specifically increase rural electric cooperatives’ access to capital by allowing the Federal Home Loan Bank to voluntarily purchase securities issued by qualified cooperative lending associations. This additional line of capital will help inject more funding into electric cooperatives, allowing them to make necessary investment upgrades across Montana.

Tester earlier this year helped pass a major provision to reduce barriers to routine vegetation management in utility corridors, guaranteeing that rural electric co-ops can maintain transmission infrastructure in heavily forested areas.

Tester this week held major telecommunication executives accountable to increase access to the latest wireless technologies in rural communities.

Tester’s Improving Rural Access to Power Act is cosponsored by Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kan.).