Tester Talks Priorities with Montana Electric Cooperatives

Group discusses goals, challenges for rural electric co-ops

(U.S. Senate) – U.S. Senator Jon Tester met this week with representatives from the Montana Electric Cooperatives Association to discuss the group’s legislative priorities and update them on his work in Congress.

“As a member of a rural electric co-op, I know firsthand just how important they are to folks in rural Montana,” Tester said. “Co-ops provide the energy we need to run our farms, homes, and businesses, and keep the lights on at schools and hospitals. I’ll continue fighting to make sure they have the tools they need to continue serving rural communities across our state.”

Tester met with Ryan Hall, Gary Wiens, and Brent McRae of the Montana Electric Cooperatives Association, Doug Hardy of Central Montana Electric Power Cooperative, Chris Christensen of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association Board of Directors, and other members of the Association’s 2019 delegation.

The group discussed challenges they face including a proposal in the Trump Administration’s 2020 budget that calls for selling off transmission assets for the Bonneville Power Administration and Western Area Power Administration, which would increase rates for both cooperatives and ratepayers. Tester told the group he opposes the plan, and will work to keep the transmission assets under public ownership.

The group also discussed the Association’s concerns with provisions in the 2017 tax bill that threaten their tax-exempt status, and legislation before the U.S. House of Representatives that would amend a pension plan many co-ops use.

In February, Tester reintroduced his Improving Rural Access to Power Act, which aims to cut energy costs and improve electric infrastructure in rural Montana by increasing access to capital for rural electric cooperatives.

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