Oregon’s co-op leaders visited Washington, D.C. for NRECA’s Legislative Conference and held meetings with Oregon’s Congressional Delegation.

By Britini Davidson

For decades, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA)’s Legislative Conference was one of the largest annual gatherings of rural leaders in the nation’s capital. Oregon’s electric co-ops were regular attendees of the event until the pandemic turned a once-bustling Capitol Hill into a virtual ghost town.

Last month, NRECA held its first in-person legislative conference since 2019. Approximately 1,000 co-op leaders attended, including a small delegation from Oregon.

In addition to Oregon Rural Electric Cooperative Association (ORECA) staff, representing Oregon’s electric cooperatives were Douglas Electric Cooperative Director Shirley Cairns, Lane Electric Director and NRECA Board member J. Ingrid Kessler and Harney Electric Cooperative General Manager Fred Flippence.

The Oregon group met with U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley on a range of topics important to co-op members, including the Lower Snake River dams.

“Replacing the power generated by the Lower Snake River dams with clean, reliable power isn’t realistic,” Flippence said.

ORECA thanked the senators for their support of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and direct-pay tax incentives to help co-ops promote energy innovation while keeping costs affordable for their members.

The Oregon congressional delegation also was urged to support the Flexible Financing for Rural America Act, which would allow co-ops to refinance high interest infrastructure loans from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service Electric Loan Program at current market rates, saving co-ops approximately $3.4 billion.

The U.S. House was not in session, but the group also lobbied House staff, key congressional committees and federal agencies.

“It was great to be back in Washington, D.C., with a committed group of advocates for Oregon’s electric co-ops,” said ORECA Executive Director Ted Case.