Case in Point

Case in Point – August 2023

From left, Reps. Dan Newhouse, Cliff Bentz, Mike Collins and Cathy McMorris Rodgers visited Ice Harbor Dam during their trip to Washington state. Photo courtesy of Ian Macari

For many Americans, congressional hearings are often seen as distant events detached from real world issues, usually reserved for lobbyists in ornate Capitol Hill committee rooms. Yet sometimes a congressional hearing comes to a local high school auditorium and focuses on a topic connected to our way of life.

Such was the case when U.S. Rep. Cliff Bentz—chairman of the Water, Wildlife and Fisheries Subcommittee—organized a fascinating, fact-based and local hearing on the future of the lower Snake River dams. It was a well-attended hearing at Richland High School in the Tri-Cities.

I made the trip alongside many Oregon electric co-op leaders, and we are glad we did. I have been involved in Snake River Dam issues for a long time and have written extensively about it in this magazine. But this hearing was perhaps the best complete argument I have heard on why these projects must be maintained.

Bentz organized an impressive array of witnesses who testified passionately on how breaching the lower Snake River dams would negatively impact agriculture, navigation and electric utility consumers.

The congressional panel, which also consisted of Rep. Mike Collins of Georgia, and Washington Reps. Dan Newhouse and Cathy McMorris Rodgers, heard testimony from an array of federal officials. Bentz had clearly done his homework, and he pressed the federal agencies on their authority to breach the dams.

I also thought Bonneville Power Administration’s John Hairston made a powerful case on how the dams proved their worth during the extreme weather events—both hot and cold—that have hit the Northwest in the past few years.

I know this debate is highly contentious, and perhaps few minds will be changed by this information. However, I commend Bentz for bringing the U.S. Congress to the Northwest, making democracy a bit more accessible and shedding light on an issue that directly affects all of us who live here.

Executive Director Ted Case

Case in Point

Case in Point – June 2023

Ted Case headshotUntil last year, Harney Electric General Manager Fred Flippence had never been to Washington, D.C. Now, after 3 work trips in a year, he is becoming a seasoned pro on Capitol Hill. His visits have included a private meeting with the director of the Bureau of Land Management and testimony before a congressional subcommittee.

The reasons Flippence has achieved this notoriety are many, but it’s not because his electric cooperative is one of the biggest in the nation—at least when it comes to population. Harney Electric has approximately 1,200 members, spread over a territory only slightly smaller than the state of West Virginia. This comparison drew gasps when Flippence addressed a crowd of more than 1,000 electric co-op leaders at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s legislative conference in April in downtown Washington, D.C.

The next day, Flippence—at the invitation of Chairman Cliff Bentz—testified in front of a subcommittee of the House Natural Resources Committee on the impact of the Endangered Species Act on his sprawling high desert territory.

Harney Electric, which encompasses areas in Eastern Oregon and portions of northern Nevada is, as Flippence often reminds people, not a rural electric cooperative. It’s a frontier electric cooperative. The federal government has massive holdings in Harney’s territory, most notably the BLM and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).

At the hearing, Flippence discussed the challenges of dealing with federal agencies. He testified how the USFWS denied a permit to run power lines through its refuge until Flippence pointed out the line would provide electricity to the USFWS office.

He also described the BLM’s plans to have Harney underground hundreds of miles of power lines to protect sage grouse. This plan was shelved only when the co-op objected that not only would it not protect the sage grouse, but it would also bankrupt the co-op.

By all measures, it was compelling testimony from the straight- talking Flippence, who has a unique way of describing how federal policies will impact the pocketbooks of his members, most of whom he knows by name. He may be new to Washington, D.C., but he is making sure he’s being heard in the corridors of power. In his view, his members may be scattered between lonely miles of sagebrush, but they still deserve a powerful voice.

Case in Point

Case in Point – April 2023

Ted Case headshot

I’ve written extensively about the days the lights came on in rural America in my two books on rural electrification. As it turns out, I didn’t know what I was talking about.

Yes, I interviewed people who remembered vividly when power came to their farms in the 1930s. They spoke about the hardship before electricity and the painful wait to get it.

Yet, I never fully appreciated their words until last month when Oregon electric cooperatives, working with NRECA International, sent a crew of lineworkers to electrify the small village of Ventura, Guatemala—a rugged, bone-dry place where villagers live a life of subsistence working in the coffee fields. Their isolation makes it all but certain their government will never provide electricity to them.

That job was left to us. Oregon co-ops decided to undertake an international rural electrification project in 2019, a big commitment for our small statewide. We had to fundraise and get a crew of lineworkers to volunteer to spend 2 weeks away from their families.

After the pandemic canceled our first project, I doubted we could pull it off. But the plan came together. We assembled a 10-man crew, none of whom spoke much Spanish. Throughout long, hot days, these men—who are no less than heroes—befriended the villagers and each other, building the infrastructure with little of the equipment they rely on in America.

Toward the end of the project, I traveled there with a small group of co-op leaders and partners, bringing along my Spanish-speaking teenage daughter to help translate, participate in a service project and celebrate this feat of engineering.

During a village tour, we visited the home of an incredibly gracious woman who makes less money each day in the coffee fields than my daughter spends daily on a Starbucks latte. The crew was prepared to energize her home, which has dirt floors and no doors, but is now wired with 4 lightbulbs and 2 wall fixtures.

As she gave us a tour, there was a sense of anticipation. My daughter asked the woman what she looked forward to most about having electricity. She wasn’t sure, she said, adding with raw emotion, “I’ve been waiting for it for so long.”

Then, the breaker was flipped. We watched her and her 2 children stare at an illuminated lightbulb as if it were some magical beacon.

I now understood what others had been telling me. This woman may not know all the ways electricity will transform her family’s life. That will come soon. But in that moment, which my daughter and I will never forget, we knew one thing about this proud woman in a remote village, long ago forgotten: Her wait was over.

Executive Director Ted Case

Case in Point

Case in Point – February 2023

Ted Case headshotThe Oregon Legislative Assembly is underway in Salem, with leaders of both parties pledging to take on some big challenges that were front and center during last year’s campaign: the housing crisis, homelessness and education, among others. Governor Tina Kotek has announced one of her priorities is making government accountable for all Oregonians.

In the past several sessions, the Oregon Legislature has passed legislation to reduce carbon emissions and bolster renewable energy, including an ambitious clean energy standard.

This session, the Oregon Rural Electric Cooperative Association is focused on educating lawmakers—many of whom are in their first term—about how Oregon electric co-ops are doing their part for the environment with an energy portfolio that is approximately 96% emission-free.

We are immensely proud of our track record as some of the cleanest utilities in the country, but we’re advising elected officials that we have big challenges to address so we can be accountable to the more than 500,000 Oregonians we serve.

These challenges include wildfire mitigation, vegetation management, supply chain issues and perhaps the biggest challenge of all: protecting the federal hydroelectric dams. Hydroelectric dams are critical to maintaining an affordable, reliable and renewable power supply in the Pacific Northwest.

Undoubtedly, there will be heated debate in our capitol as legislators tackle these challenges. That is the nature of our democracy. We wish our elected officials well as they roll up their sleeves to make our state a better place to live.

Executive Director Ted Case

Case in Point

Case in Point – December 2022

Photo of Ted CaseShe hadn’t responded to my email, which was odd because normally Erika Paleck wrote back to me within minutes. While she was a relatively new member of the Oregon Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s board—where she served as the representative for West Oregon Electric Cooperative—I greatly valued her perspective.

Erika and I shared a passion for baseball, a game she couldn’t get enough of. (She missed ORECA’s summer meeting to attend the Major League All-Star Game, a decision I told her wasn’t even a close call.)

Weeks before our annual meeting, I’d asked Erika if she would help plan the directors’ roundtable. She accepted immediately, brimming with ideas. Emails flew back and forth, and I enjoyed her straight talk and self-deprecating humor.

But on this day, there was no word from her. Then, that afternoon, I received word that Erika had tragically died hours before.

It is hard to articulate the sense of loss for her family and the Oregon cooperative family. Her husband, Bob, is a former director at West Oregon, and Erika had quickly risen to board chair, a star on the rise.

Erika PaleckRecently, I’d watched her cogently explain to U.S. Representative Suzanne Bonamici why West Oregon had the highest rates in the region—not an easy conversation to have. Yet, Erika was poised and articulate, and clearly had a bright future as an Oregon co-op leader.

“I have plans for you,” I told her.

And I did, because Erika was opinionated and civic-minded, a voracious reader who was exceptionally clear-eyed about the political polarization facing our country.

We paid tribute to Erika at ORECA’s 80th annual meeting, but there is a sense that we missed out—that the best was yet to come for a person who had already lived an extraordinary life but was just now making her mark with us.

Our thoughts and prayers are with her family and our West Oregon family. Baseball’s World Series is over, the bats and mitts put away. But may we take solace in that Erika is now in a place where there are no rainouts, and the season never ends.

Executive Director Ted Case

Case in Point

Case in Point – November 2022

Photo of Ted CaseLast month, I participated in a keynote panel at the Oregon Connections Conference in Ashland on the status of broadband deployment in our state. The OCC is the largest gathering of broadband providers, vendors and policymakers in the state, including several of Oregon’s electric cooperatives.

Specifically, the moderator asked panelists to describe this point in time regarding our country’s broadband telecommunications infrastructure, with the pretext we will have unprecedented funding from the federal government.

I told the audience that if broadband deployment is analogous to the advent of rural electrification from 80 years ago, then America is stuck in 1950. That year, 80% of American farms had electricity—a major improvement from where we started, but not good enough.

Just 15 years earlier, in 1935, only 10% of farms had electricity. Electric cooperatives working with the federal government undertook one of the greatest public-private efforts in our nation’s history.

There are striking similarities between electricity and broadband deployment, particularly for rural Americans. In the 1930s, rural Americans were tired of the promises from giant power companies.

“Just be patient,” the big companies told them. “Electricity is coming.”

Rural leaders grew tired of waiting and started their own electric co-ops to do the job themselves. Electric co-ops involved in broadband entered with this same mindset: We must do this job because no one else will do it.

Today, there are other providers involved in broadband, and that brings us back to 1950. It was an inflection point for rural electrification, just as it is today with broadband. Massive progress was made, but we were not finished. We had to get to the last mile—no family was going to be left behind.

A broadband expert in Oregon believes our state will see close to $1 billion in broadband funding. As I told the OCC, if the state of Oregon and broadband providers do not finish this job with $1 billion, we will have squandered an opportunity of a lifetime. No one will equate us with those who transformed our nation 80 years ago.

But I know Oregon’s electric cooperatives will do their part to make this new history. Because they have done it before.

Executive Director Ted Case

Case in Point

Case in Point – October 2022

Photo of Ted CaseWhile it’s hard to dispute our political process has its challenges, sometimes a bit of common sense emerges and gives us hope.

In late 2021, Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee and U.S. Sen. Patty Murray announced a process to examine if there are reasonable means for replacing the benefits provided by the lower Snake River dams.

Because these dams are a critical source of energy for Oregon electric co-ops, we actively participated in this process.

Several studies were commissioned from outside experts to assist Inslee and Murray in their decision-making. These experts confirmed what electric co-ops have been saying for years: If the low-cost, carbon-free lower Snake River dams were breached, customers would experience severe rate shock, regional climate goals would be obliterated and there would be a high likelihood of blackouts because rapid replacement of these resources is technically infeasible.

After extensive review, Inslee and Murray recently released what we consider to be commonsense recommendations. They concluded that while it is technically possible to breach the dams, it is “not a feasible option in the near term.” Furthermore, they were adamant that even before pursuing any breaching option, “the replacement and mitigation of the benefits must be pursued.”

In other words, the U.S. Congress would need to authorize and expend approximately $31 billion to conduct a herculean infrastructure program to replace the benefits of the lower Snake River dams. This staggering expenditure of scarce taxpayer dollars would go a long way toward other pressing needs: repairing roads and bridges, ensuring Americans have access to broadband and delivering clean water to American families.

The debate about the lower Snake River dams is certainly not over. Oregon’s electric cooperatives will continue to engage in any process that affects our members and the reliability of the electric grid. But whether the dams could be replaced is not the right question anymore. Perhaps the better question is, “Knowing what we know, why would we?”

Together, as co-op members, we need to ensure our voices are heard on energy policies that affect not only our ability to deliver affordable, reliable power, but also the communities we call home. Join ORECA-Action’s Voices for Cooperative Power and become part of a growing team of electric cooperative member-advocates in Oregon and across the country who are working together. Sign up today by visiting Voices for Cooperative Power website.

Executive Director Ted Case

Case in Point

Case in Point – September 2022

Photo of Ted CaseThe sun bears down on us as we stand on a ridgeline at Mary’s Peak—the highest mountain on Oregon’s coast range—looking down at one of the rights-of-way belonging to Consumers Power Inc.

Oregon is sweltering in a heat wave. The temperature will soon hit 90 degrees in a dense, heavily forested area that is like so many services areas of western electric co-ops: remote, rugged and difficult to traverse.

I am here with representatives of CPI, the Oregon Public Utilities Commission and a company called Brains4Drones that is featured in this month’s magazine. Using drones to patrol utility rights-of-way is not revolutionary, but we are testing a new technology that allows inspections using off-the-shelf drones.

Our drone crosses a steep ravine, soaring above towering fir trees to detect issues such as cracked transformers and encroaching vegetation. Soon, it is out of sight. Scanning the landscape, there is no doubt it would take a utility crew several hours to cover the same ground through extreme heat and on a rocky, perilous trail.

The growing threat of wildfires is causing electric co-ops to use different tools to protect the communities they serve. I am proud of the detailed wildfire plans each Oregon co-op filed with the state PUC in accordance with a law passed by the Oregon Legislature. There are plans to underground power lines, harden systems using fire-resistant poles and enhance vegetation management to address hazardous trees.

Technology also plays a role. The drone technology we’re analyzing is part of a U.S. Department of Energy research grant. CPI and Central Electric Cooperative are the only two utilities in the country selected to participate.

I hear the drone returning before I spot it on the horizon. The trip took only a few minutes. The data can be analyzed in the line truck, allowing the co-op to address potential issues quickly and efficiently.

Of course, technology does not entirely supplant the importance of on-the-ground inspections. Utility crews still need to occasionally trudge through rights-of-ways to make visual inspections and conduct repairs. Yet it is clear we’re entering a new phase of wildfire mitigation that will be safer and more efficient.

Based on this experience, it is also clear Oregon’s electric co-ops will lead the way in using every possible tool to mitigate catastrophic fires that are, unfortunately, becoming a way of life in the West.

Executive Director Ted Case

Case in Point

Case in Point – August 2022

Photo of Ted CaseThere seems to be no end to studies about the future of the lower Snake River dams—a critical component of the Federal  Columbia River Power System. They produce 1,000 megawatts of firm, reliable, non-carbon-emitting, affordable energy. While it is undisputed the lower Snake River dams played an essential role in keeping the lights on during extreme weather events such as last year’s ice storms and heat wave, there are those who are pushing to breach the dams.

Among them, it seems, are Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Washington Sen. Patty Murray, who released a hastily commissioned study, “The Lower Snake River Dams: Benefit Replacement Draft Report.” The report’s genesis results from their dissatisfaction with a comprehensive federal agency study that recommended against breaching the dams. The federal study—conducted by some of the nation’s premier electric utility experts and fisheries scientists—took several years to finish.

The Murray-Inslee report was rushed out in a matter of weeks.

Accordingly, Oregon’s electric cooperatives believe it has serious shortcomings. Most notably, the report fails to consider the significant adverse ramifications of breaching the lower Snake River dams: a loss of clean, reliable and affordable power that raises the risk of blackouts and imposes unnecessary financial costs on vulnerable populations.

While the report rightly recognizes Washington and Oregon’s leadership in setting aggressive decarbonization goals for the electricity sector, it ironically fails to acknowledge the region cannot meet them without the carbon-free generation benefits of the lower Snake River dams. Replacing the 1,000 MW will require carbon-intensive energy market purchases to provide firm energy, including a staggering 10% increase in power-related emissions across the Northwest.

The report fails to acknowledge the loss of this generation creates a higher risk of blackouts in the Northwest and increases wholesale electricity rates by approximately 25%, forcing our members to pay several hundred dollars more annually. Oregonians should not have to choose between medicine and food or paying their electric bills.

Finally, the report ignores how the lower Snake River dams have shown that healthy salmon and dams can coexist. Working with regional salmon experts, federal agencies have developed the world’s most advanced fish-passage systems. These measures, financed by the region’s ratepayers, have helped meet specific fish survival targets.

Governor Inslee and Senator Murray have asked for feedback about their report, and Oregon’s electric co-ops have responded. But the bottom line is this: It does not take a scientist to conclude that spending billions of dollars to breach carbon-free resources that provide affordable, reliable power is not in the best interest of our members or the state. It is just plain common sense.

Executive Director Ted Case

Case in Point

Case in Point – July 2022

Photo of Ted CaseThis month, I was honored to finish my term as the president of the Rural Electric Statewide Managers Association (RESMA). This group of 38 executives leading organizations across the country is dedicated to the advancement of electric cooperative members.

The statewide managers are an incredibly talented group of people with backgrounds as diverse as their states. We have different challenges, different political dynamics, and different energy portfolios. But we share a common goal of working together for the betterment of the 900 electric cooperatives in the United States.

In addition to the amazing opportunity to represent Oregon’s electric co-ops, one of the main attractions of becoming executive director of the Oregon Rural Electric Cooperative Association 13 years ago was working with statewide managers. It has become one of the most fulfilling professional partnerships I have experienced.

While I still consider myself the new guy in the RESMA group with much to learn, I will be the fourth-most senior statewide manager in the country at the end of this year. Where did that time go?

I want to thank my RESMA brothers and sisters for the privilege of holding the gavel for a year. Now that I am just another statewide manager at the end of the row, I plan to do a lot more listening than speaking. I may have been around the electric co-op program for a while—with more yesterdays than tomorrows—but I still have a lot to learn.

Executive Director Ted Case

Case in Point

Case in Point – June 2022

Photo of Ted CaseThe fencing, it appeared, had been taken down, making Capitol Hill look less like a fortress.

It had been three years since I was near the U.S. Capitol—a pandemic and one insurrection keeping me 2,818 miles away. Yet, with much anticipation, I returned in May for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s Legislative Conference with a small group of Oregon co-op leaders.

While Capitol Hill no longer looked like a heavily fortified Green Zone, it was a far different place than I had worked in and around for nearly two decades.

Navigating the House and Senate office buildings was tricky. Entrances I once passed through with ease were sealed off. We were escorted by congressional aides, with the coronavirus and the events of January 6, 2021, leaving everyone a bit shellshocked. We walked curiously by the offices of the committee investigating the attack, the windows taped up to ensure secrecy.

“If those walls could talk,” an aide said.

The U.S. House of Representatives was in recess, so we met with young, whip-smart aides in congressional office buildings that felt hollow, like a giant university on spring break. I was told many congressional offices were still working remotely, which may never change.

Our final appointment of the day was with U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley in the U.S. Capitol building. As we approached, our group looked in awe at the giant dome.

I worked in the building long ago, a 25-year-old legislative assistant hanging out in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives as if it were a common workplace. I had little perspective back then, but even if the politics were rough, I never recall thinking the other party was the enemy.

It has taken me to the twilight of my career to fully appreciate that opportunity to be part of the democratic process. But last month, it was not the Capitol I remembered.

There were several new levels of security and a new level of tension. Though I’d never mastered the intricate passageways, I knew we were near the same spot where Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman led the rioters away from the Senate chamber to protect the lives of our elected officials. While there were no indications the building had been sacked and five people died, I could feel something had changed. The corridor was hushed. No one in our group said a word.

Our meeting was in the old Senate office of Lyndon Johnson, a politician from a bygone era of bipartisan dealmaking before the nation was painted red and blue. Sen. Merkley graciously showed us the view of the Supreme Court out the window.

For a capital—and a country—attempting to move beyond the January 6 siege, there were clear signs the issues dividing us are not easily bridged.

A draft Supreme Court decision on abortion leaked the night before, and protestors descended upon Capitol Hill. We saw an unscalable fence being built around the Supreme Court, a fragile and shaken symbol of democracy again hidden behind walls. Like a fortress.

Executive Director Ted Case

Case in Point

Case in Point – May 2022

Photo of Ted CaseYou may have noticed this month’s Ruralite feature story has a different look and tone. We are not writing about the future of the Lower Snake River dams or industry updates, but rather the unlikely friendship between two women in the energy field: Britni Davidson, who works with me at Oregon Rural Electric Cooperative Association; and Alessia Shapovalova, a climate change expert in war-torn Ukraine.

Historically, stories of friendship and personal connections have not taken up a lot of column inches in this publication. We have focused more on energy policy or the latest technology than people.

Perhaps that should change. Sometimes, we need a reminder that the heart of the electric cooperative movement is not the latest drone technology to patrol our lines. It is the amazing people we meet and befriend along the way.

That is what makes the story of Alessia so compelling. She came to Salem Electric a few years ago and, with Britni as her mentor, immersed herself in the cooperative way. After making some lifelong friends, she enthusiastically returned to Ukraine to implement what she learned about renewable energy.

With Russia’s invasion of her country, all her dreams and those of her fellow Ukrainians are at risk. It makes me want to count my blessings.

Yes, we have problems in this country, but no invading army is lobbing missiles at helpless children and forcing millions to leave their homes. Ironically, the travesty of Russia’s invasion seems to be one thing most Americans can agree on—no easy feat in a nation where we seem at war with ourselves in the political arena.

Alessia’s story not only puts a human face on a conflict more than 5,000 miles from home, it inspires us to focus this publication less on dams and drones, and more on the incredible people we have met along the way.

Ted Case
Executive Director

Case in Point

Case in Point – April 2022

Photo of Ted CaseThe question isn’t who is running for governor of Oregon. The question is, “Who isn’t?”

And why not? It’s the first time in 12 years Oregon has an open gubernatorial seat, and more than 40 candidates are taking advantage of this rare opportunity.

Oregon’s electric cooperative leaders are taking advantage of this opportunity, too. None of them is running—last time I checked—but we decided this year the issues are far too serious to watch this election from the bench.

For the past few months, the Oregon Rural Electric Cooperative Association has embarked on an ambitious virtual gubernatorial candidate series with the top contenders for governor—Republicans, Democrats, and Independents. The amazing turnout from Oregon’s electric cooperative leaders has been noted by each candidate.

We’ve had excellent conversations about the candidates’ top priorities as well as ours: protecting the federal hydropower system, electric vehicles, and bridging the rural-urban divide. We have learned something from each of the candidates and hope they have learned something from us.

We don’t want the conversation to end there. We have invited candidates to visit us in rural and frontier Oregon to learn more. Talking on Zoom is one thing, but there is nothing like visiting the wide expanse of Harney County, timber towns in Douglas County, and the rugged landscape of the South Coast to learn about the “other Oregon.”

These are places far from the center of power in this state and are often overlooked. But they are places where Oregonians still matter. Actually showing up there matters a whole lot.

Ted Case
Executive Director

Case in Point

Case in Point — March 2022

Photo of Ted CaseThe Oregon Legislature will soon close its 35-day short session after tackling a few big-ticket items before the political season begins.

Just like the 2021 long session at the height of the pandemic, the legislature’s committee hearings are held virtually to give Oregonians a safe, accessible way to participate. However, this session there is also a distinct difference from the last: The State Capitol building is now open for the first time in two years.

During the second week of the session, my colleague Britni Davidson and I decided to make the journey to a building where I’ve spent considerable time as an advocate for Oregon’s electric co-ops. As it turns out, things have changed.

The Capitol is undergoing an extensive renovation. Much of it is fenced off, giving it the appearance of a stone fortress. The front revolving door, which welcomed visitors without a passing glance, is gone. As a sign of the times, gleaming new metal detectors greet everyone who enters the building.

Yet the most jarring changes are once you’re inside the building. A “normal” legislative session in Salem has frenzied legislators darting down corridors, pursued by eager lobbyists intent on winning their vote. There are school groups and visitors taking the Capitol tour, their voices echoing off the rotunda. It’s a vibrant place of big personalities and even bigger voices.

But the day of our visit, it was eerily quiet. There was hardly anyone there. I spotted a few lobbyists milling about. It was otherwise empty, save for legislators solemnly debating bills in the House chamber.

While the scene was a little jarring, it also gave me a glimmer of hope. Things are not back to normal, but there is a path to normal. The entry to a post-pandemic legislature—metal detectors and all—has been cracked open, ever so slightly. I can envision a day when the fencing comes down and the public climbs the steps. Lobbyists will again patrol the halls, yelling after legislators. High-pitched school kids will pack the Senate gallery.

We may not be there yet, but we are ever so close to hearing the dull roar that is our Oregon State Capitol. It’s the sweet sound of democracy in action.

Ted Case
Executive Director

Case in Point

Case in Point — February 2022

Photo of Ted Case

It was a rough way to start the year in the Pacific Northwest. As this month’s feature story details, electric co-ops took a hard punch from Mother Nature as the calendar turned to 2022, leaving many without power.

Sometimes a combination of trees, ice and wind is too much for the system to handle. Co-ops need to send out their crews, and in some cases make an urgent appeal for other co-ops and PUDs to help repair equipment and restore power.

Those calls are always answered, which is one of the hallmarks of our business: Cooperation Among Cooperatives. While electric co-ops have terrific staffs at all levels, it is undeniable that co-op lineworkers are unique.

I am keenly aware that my job keeps me in an office where I am warm, safe and dry. I never have to climb a pole or repair a line in an ice storm in the middle of the night. Braving the elements is not the career I have chosen, but I have incredible admiration for those who have. Lineworkers answer the call to help those they have pledged to serve, even if it means missing a family dinner or their children’s extracurricular events.

A lineworker’s job is fraught with peril, and that is why it consistently ranks among the top 10 most dangerous jobs in America along with loggers, steelworkers and truck drivers. Yet we probably all take them for granted, impatiently asking, as I have, “When is the power coming back on?”

Certainly, it is an inconvenience to be without power, and it can be far more than that, as we have witnessed in places such as Texas. But I know utility lineworkers are working around the clock, often in unimaginable conditions to restore power.

This year, I didn’t make many resolutions. But one I did make was to spend more time thanking those who put their lives on the line—literally—each and every day.

Ted Case
Executive Director

Case in Point

Case in Point — January 2022

Photo of Ted Case

A new year always brings change, but 2022 is promising upheaval across Oregon’s political landscape.

U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio has announced his retirement from Oregon’s 4th Congressional District after 36 years of distinguished service to the state.

There already is considerable attention on our governor’s race. It’s the first time in more than a decade we will have an open governor’s seat.

Last fall, I had the opportunity to moderate a discussion with Amy Walter, the publisher of Cook Political Report and one of the top election prognosticators in America. Usually, I let experts like Amy make the bold predictions, but during our time together I made one of our own, opining that Oregon would have one of the most interesting gubernatorial races in the country.

Indeed, there are talented candidates from across the political spectrum: Democrat, Republican, and Independent.

The Democratic field includes House Speaker Tina Kotek, State Treasurer Tobias Read, and former New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof.

The crowded Republican field includes, among others, former House Minority Leader Christine Drazan.

Former Democratic State Sen. Betsy Johnson is running hard as an independent, leaving pollsters scrambling to make sense of the race.

We encourage all candidates to visit rural Oregon to hear about our priorities. Rural Oregonians should not view this as a college bowl game to watch from the couch. This is a great opportunity to inform and shape candidates’ views on issues such as the future of the lower Snake River dams.

The new year also brings an outstanding new member to the Oregon Rural Electric Cooperative Association team as Britni Davidson-Cruickshank joins us as deputy executive director. Britni comes to us from Salem Electric, where she was member services manager. She will be involved in all phases of ORECA’s work, from legislative to communications and training. I’m delighted to have Britni be part of the team that will guide Oregon’s electric cooperatives through this exciting time in the state’s politics.

Happy New Year.

Ted Case
Executive Director

Case in Point

Case in Point — December 2021

Photo of Ted Case

How do you find a silver lining in a pandemic? It’s a hard task. But Wasco Electric Director Bob Durham certainly found one during his two-year tenure as president of Oregon Rural Electric Cooperative Association (ORECA), where he had the opportunity to chair two in-person meetings. Yes, only two. However, that did not stop Bob from leaving an indelible mark on the association.

After taking over as president in November 2019, Bob presided over our January 2020 board meeting in Salem when the term coronavirus was only known to infectious disease specialists. Then the pandemic forced a nearly worldwide shutdown in March, and Bob had to wait 22 months for the board to come together again.

Bob made it clear we would stay connected as an association during that hiatus, no matter what. Despite having limited internet on his farm in Dufur, Bob pressed us to meet regularly on Zoom and via conference calls, not only because the press of business demanded it but because Bob sensed there was an opportunity to use this shared experience to link us together like never before.

It worked. Bob left his presidency with ORECA as cohesive as possible, with numerous successes during the pandemic. And I don’t think we’ll ever return to the days of a few board meetings sprinkled with a few conference calls.

I was pleased Bob finished his term with an in-person meeting at the Salem Convention Center this November, where he received the prestigious ORECA President’s Award for a highly successful—albeit unconventional—tenure as the association’s board chair. He now turns the gavel over to Harney Electric Manager Fred Flippence.

I know I speak for many when I thank Bob for his leadership and how he managed to connect us when we all felt so disconnected.

Ted Case
Executive Director

Case in Point

Case in Point — November 2021

Photo of Ted CaseIt was, as they say in Hollywood, a production nearly two years in the making.

While that was the promotion for Cecil DeMille’s epic 1956 film, “The Ten Commandments”—featuring the incredible special effect of the parting of the Red Sea—I am writing about something different: ORECA’s 79th annual meeting in Salem.

While we did not have a cast of thousands, more than 100 co-op leaders met at the Salem Conference Center in October to hear from industry experts on a variety of pressing issues. It was the first time we had been together as a group since late 2019, when no one had heard of the coronavirus.

The journey to get back together seemed epic enough for ORECA. While our information did not come down from the mount on stone tablets, we heard outstanding speakers on topics from cybersecurity to electric vehicles to hydropower.

I am proud of our agenda, but I was perhaps more excited to see members of my board and other co-op leaders, most of whom I had only seen virtually since the advent of the pandemic. It was great to honor some outstanding co-op leaders, such as Midstate’s Dave Schneider and Wasco’s Jeff Davis, who retired earlier this year and did not have the farewells they deserved.

There was a time we took these meetings for granted, and perhaps we will again. But getting together in person these days is not something we take lightly. I want to thank the Oregon co-op leaders and our associates who made the pilgrimage to Salem. It was great to see everyone. But I also want to recognize those ORECA members who could not make it or were not yet comfortable with this sort of gathering. We will get everyone the material from the conference.

Hopefully, we will meet again soon. ORECA will try to put on a great show, just like the legendary Cecil B. DeMille. Just don’t ask us to part the Red Sea.

Ted Case
Executive Director

Case in Point

Case in Point — October 2021

Photo of Ted CaseA few months ago, I wrote about being free from the grips of the pandemic and how life was going to resume to normal after a year-and-a-half pause.

That, it turns out, was premature as the country finds itself in the grips of a variant that has changed our way of life once again.

It’s easy to complain, I suppose. But I look on the bright side—at least I have electricity.

One of my greatest disappointments through this whole ordeal is how the pandemic delayed Oregon Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s (ORECA’s) plan to electrify the village of Aldea Nueva in central Guatemala. We were on the verge of sending our line crews there when COVID-19 forced a worldwide shut down in March 2020.

It’s not a large project. We planned to electrify 45 homes, along with a school and a health post. But you can imagine the logistics that go into something even at that scale.

My disappointment pales compared to the Guatemalans who were tantalizingly close to coming out of a life that resembles living in the Middle Ages. The project is now on hold until at least 2023.

While the wait seems interminable, we will continue to plan and think about the 1 billion people who, unlike us, do not have the benefits of electricity. ORECA’s Guatemala project will hardly make a dent in that astounding number, but if it means a small village can have a brightly lit schoolhouse, refrigeration, and clean water, then it is worth the effort and the wait.

I have never been to Aldea Nueva. I do not know the people, nor do I speak the language well. But if I could say one thing to them, it would be, “Todavía vamos.”

We’re still coming.

Ted Case
Executive Director

Case in Point

Case in Point — September 2021

Photo of Ted CaseMy wife is Hawaiian, and that has its benefits. We vacationed on the islands this summer, taking advantage of a few hideaway beaches favored by the locals.

These beaches with big, roiling waves coveted by the island’s surfers have one rule: Never turn your back on the ocean, lest you get churned around in the surf like a sock in a dryer. It’s good advice and a sign of the times, because there seems to be no calm waters—for any of us.

This year, we’ve been pummeled by extreme ice storms, extreme heat, extreme wildfires, and a pandemic that despite a brief lull, has surged back. There appears to be no end in sight to this barrage. Every day, it seems, is high tide.

What is to come now that summer transitions into fall? Hopefully, it is kids back in school, football played in the crisp fall air, and a sense of normalcy. While nothing is certain these days, Oregon’s electric cooperatives have been one constant in this tumult. They have been rock-solid in these extreme weather events, powered by the flexible and emission-free federal hydro system that, inexplicably, the state of Oregon wants to dismantle.

It’s important to note that one year after the devastating wildfires, Oregon electric co-ops are still undisputed leaders in wildfire mitigation, using the latest technologies to minimize the risks. And while the pandemic has affected us all, our commitment to customer and employee safety has allowed us to continue providing the highest level of service without interruption.

It’s a challenging time for all of us, but particularly for the electric utility industry. None of us knows what is ahead, but here is our commitment in these treacherous waters: Electric cooperatives will never turn our back on that dangerous, cresting wave. We will always keep our gaze fixed on what’s rolling in. Aloha.

Ted Case
Executive Director

Case in Point

Case in Point — August 2021

Photo of Ted CaseWho do you trust when things are on the line? If you are a Portland Trail Blazer fan, the answer is obvious: Damian Lillard.

Few NBA basketball players have ever made as many big shots in the final seconds of a game as Portland’s transcendent All-Star point guard. In fact, they even have a name for it: Dame Time. Inexplicably, Lillard is rumored to be traded to another NBA team, which raises a head-scratching question for any Trail Blazer fan: Why the heck would you want to do that?

This is not the only head-scratcher going on in the Pacific Northwest. As this month’s feature story points out, the four lower Snake River dams also came up big in crunch time this year and in something far more important than a sporting event.

According to a federal assessment, the dams were an integral part of keeping the lights on during the unprecedented ice storm that staggered the western United States in February. Yet the move to breach the Snake River dams rolls on, despite exhaustive federal studies that show removing these dams would be detrimental to consumer rates and the Northwest’s quest to decarbonize. The study indicated breaching these dams would add 3.3 million metric tons of carbon a year to our atmosphere.

Moreover, the importance of these dams to reliability cannot be overstated. While Texas plunged into a deep freeze that killed scores of people, the Snake River dams helped keep the Northwest electric grid humming when other power sources failed.

There is also growing evidence these workhouse dams played a critical role in managing the extreme heat in June.

If power plants were traded like NBA players, I’m fairly certain the state of Texas would send us a few thousand windmills for the Snake River dams—and a gas plant to be named later.

Unlike the future of Damian Lillard in Portland, our elected officials have a choice to keep the Snake River dams. Let’s urge them to vote no on proposals to breach the dams. The consequences of losing these resources could be heartbreak far beyond the Blazers losing a player who could bring them an NBA championship.

Ted Case
Executive Director

Case in Point

Case in Point — July 2021

Photo of Ted Case

How will we be remembered?

That question is a central theme that runs through the books of presidential historian and best-selling author Doris Kearns Goodwin, who has studied some of the most prominent leaders in American history, including Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Teddy Roosevelt.

My first introduction to Kearns Goodwin was in high school when I read her book, “Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream,” the captivating story of her years as a young aide to LBJ. It piqued my interest in history, the presidency, and certainly the force of nature that was Lyndon Johnson, whom I featured prominently in my book “Poles, Wires, and Wire.”

Kearns Goodwin is a walking encyclopedia of presidential stories. Last month, I was honored to moderate a discussion with her at the National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corporation Summer Summit in Texas.

Like the presidents she has studied, Kearns Goodwin is a person of action. However, her appearance before electric co-ops was her second foray on the road in over a year. It followed a private meeting with President Joe Biden and other preeminent historians, who provided their expertise to help him navigate these turbulent times.

During the CFC meeting, Kearns Goodwin captivated the audience with stories of LBJ lobbying FDR for Rural Electrification Administration funding. She also channeled the presidents she studied “her guys,” she calls them—noting their leadership “fit the historical moment as a key fits a lock.”

She explained that each of them demonstrated incredible resilience through adversity to help those who could not help themselves. They each shared the mindset that they needed to do something great before they died.

Kearns Goodwin noted any cooperative leader can learn from studying how these men performed best when things were at their worst: Lincoln assembling the most unique cabinet in history to help get America through the Civil War—his “Team of Rivals;” Teddy Roosevelt’s tirelessness during the upheaval of the Industrial Revolution; FDR’s ability to restore confidence to the American people during the Great Depression; and LBJ’s unwavering determination in 1964 to pass a Civil Rights bill when others said it was impossible.

But perhaps Kearns Goodwin’s best advice came at the end of our fascinating session when she urged co-op leaders to preserve the stories of people in their own lives so their legacies can live on. Electric cooperatives may have a small space in presidential history, but we perform at a high level each day to help our members. Our legacies may not be enshrined on Mount Rushmore, but they will be told through our children, our families, and our colleagues. That is a monument unto itself.

Ted Case
Executive Director

Case in Point

Case in Point — June 2021

Photo of Ted Case

Now we know how the cicadas feel. No, we have not been buried underground for 17 years in subterranean lairs like the Brood X cicadas—the buzzing, red-eyed insect that makes its home in the eastern United States. But for at least 15 months— which seems more like an eternity—many of us have felt that sense of isolation.

Because of preexisting conditions, the pandemic kept my family from venturing very far from home. I have seen few Oregon electric co-op leaders in person, relying instead on myriad Zoom calls to stay connected.

One of the most ironic takeaways from a horrible worldwide pandemic is that our statewide association is as cohesive as it has ever been. We, like many others, discovered early in the crisis we were much stronger together, even if virtually. When events such as deadly wildfires and historic ice storms piled on top of a pandemic, the amazing leaders in the cooperative network became even more indispensable.

As we turn the corner on the pandemic, I hope we can maintain this sense of cohesion. Even if COVID-19 is subsiding, the challenges in the electric utility industry are not.

It feels like it’s time to come above ground, even if it appears I am only poking my head around. There was a trip to a bookstore and a Mother’s Day meal at an actual restaurant—the first time we experienced a family meal out since before the pandemic.

There are national electric co-op meetings to attend and the in-person Oregon Rural Electric Cooperative Association annual meeting this October. There is a sense of excitement and anticipation, even if I do not know all the protocols. Do we fist bump or shake hands? And does anyone remember how to make small talk? It is slightly disorienting, just like, I imagine, the cicadas that hatched in 2004 and have been slowly maturing and beginning to come above ground.

I lived in the Washington, D.C., area 17 years ago when they last invaded, emitting what I imagine as the sound of an alien spaceship hovering over town. I recall thinking they lived a bizarre existence, burrowed away for years, only to emerge with no fear or hesitation, taking full advantage of the small amount of time they had been granted. Turns out it is not bizarre at all, but rather an unlikely blueprint for the rest of us just now emerging into the sunlight.

Ted Case
Executive Director

Case in Point

Case in Point — May 2021

Photo of Ted Case

As I write this column, the Oregon House of Representatives is preparing to consider Oregon Rural Electric Cooperative Association (ORECA)-supported legislation (HB 2654) to help bring broadband to rural and frontier Oregon. Normally, I would be in the House gallery, anxiously waiting for the vote, but these are still not normal times. For safety reasons, the Capitol is open only to essential personnel, so I am watching the debate via high-speed internet.

Many rural Oregonians do not have this luxury. Many of Oregon’s electric cooperatives offer broadband. Others are considering new broadband ventures to meet the needs of their members. Yet deploying fiber is difficult because it requires using easements that often were not intended for telecommunications use.

To get legal clarity for the use of these easements, ORECA worked closely with two outstanding legislators known for their passion for bringing broadband to every Oregonian no matter where they live: Representative Pam Marsh (D-Ashland) and Representative David Brock Smith (R-Port Orford.) They introduced HB 2654 and helped convene a wide range of stakeholders, including cable companies, property rights groups, farm organizations, and timber companies. The conversations were long and often difficult, but the bill made it out of the House Economic Recovery and Prosperity Committee under the steady leadership of Chair John Lively (D-Springfield).

I took a break from this column to watch the House debate on HB 2654. Representatives Marsh and Brock Smith both spoke eloquently about the importance of this bill, with Representaive Marsh noting, “We know the consequences of the digital divide.”

Other legislators also joined in on the merits of the bill. In the end, HB 2654 passed by a vote of 54 to 0, which is a rarity in a polarized political environment.

This unanimous vote is not as much of a testament to inspired floor speeches—which they were—but of the behind-the-scenes work by Representaives Marsh and Brock Smith to find a compromise that could unite a wide range of interests. The legislation is only halfway home, but it is enough to give a cynical politico like me some hope that, even though I can only watch it virtually, bipartisan legislating is still alive and well in the Oregon State Capitol.

Ted Case
Executive Director

Case in Point

Case in Point — April 2021

Photo of Ted Case

If you pay attention to news about the electric utility industry, you will hear and read a lot about a future with “100% clean energy.” It is a worthwhile goal, but it also is easier said than done.

Oregon’s electric cooperatives are some of the cleanest utilities—not only in the United States but in the world. Depending on the year, Oregon electric co-ops are more than 90% emission-free because of our reliance on the incredible federal hydropower system marketed by the Bonneville Power Administration, which also includes output from the emission-free Columbia Generating Station.

There is legislation in the Oregon Legislature calling for electric utilities to have 100% clean portfolios by 2040, with caveats for system reliability and other factors. There is a strong rationale for electric cooperatives to not be included in this legislation.

For one, BPA sells a product for an entire region, not just for Oregon, and is governed by a variety of federal statutes. Moreover, we are at the mercy of a variable hydro system. Some years are better for water than others, and no legislation can change that.

But one of the most compelling reasons is the lack of consistency in our state’s policies. Our clean, renewable energy supply is at risk from the state of Oregon, which has placed a high priority on removing the lower Snake River dams, a critical source of clean energy for the Northwest. At its face, it makes no sense to mandate a 100% clean energy future while removing clean energy resources that BPA Administrator John Hairston lauded for maintaining reliability during the brutal February storms.

Oregon’s electric cooperatives will continue to work with policymakers on a clean energy future for our state. We have always led the way and will continue to do so for years to come. And that is something I am 100% sure about.

Ted Case
Executive Director

Case in Point

Case in Point — March 2021

Photo of Ted Case

I live next to a forest, and on the evening of Friday, February 12, I thought Paul Bunyan was outside my window. As a historic snow and ice storm hammered the upper Willamette Valley, countless trees groaned and snapped under the immense pressure—including two in my backyard.

I was one of the lucky Oregonians who maintained electricity, unlike hundreds of thousands of people who celebrated Valentine’s Day huddled together in the cold with blankets and candles, wondering when power would be restored.

Oregon Rural Electric Cooperative Association (ORECA) members Consumers Power, Salem Electric, and West Oregon Electric felt the full impact of the storm, with broken poles, damaged equipment, and limbs hanging from overhead lines. With so many trees blocking roads, often it was even hard to access areas to restore power.

As always, Oregon electric co-ops rallied to those who needed help, with crews traveling almost on a moment’s notice, often from great distances over treacherous mountain passes. They made great progress, but as I write this, not everyone’s power is restored. With this level of devastation, it can often take days of nonstop work to get to the last customer.

A few lessons have already emerged from this event. The Oregon Legislature is debating legislation to mandate electric utilities in Oregon are 100% renewable within a few years. Of course, we all want clean energy. Few utilities have as close to an emissions-free profile as Oregon co-ops, powered by our amazing hydro system. But as we push toward 100% clean, we should ensure we maintain the reliability of the electric grid by embracing our cleanest, most reliable baseload generation. Hydropower in the Northwest is something we don’t fully appreciate until we’re shivering in the dark.

Another lesson concerns the utility linemen that ORECA has been pushing—to no avail—for priority status for the scarce COVID-19 vaccine. The best way to thank these workers who worked nonstop in miserable conditions to restore electricity to our homes is to keep them safe for whatever comes next.

In the past few months, we have experienced devastating fire and weather events, and this group of essential workers has always answered the call. We do not know what will be the next thing to happen outside our window, but I think we have seen enough to move this group of heroes to the front of a very long line.

Ted Case
Executive Director

Case in Point

Case in Point — February 2021

Photo of Ted Case“I need you to disappear.”

I heard this request as a young Capitol Hill staffer when a Republican congressman asked a Democratic colleague to help him out on a procedural motion in a committee vote. The two congressmen were friends, in an era where there was more socializing between the two political parties. Even still, the Republican knew the Democrat could not cross over and vote with him. Being scarce when the vote took place, however, was the next best thing.

“You can count on me,” the Democrat said, before vanishing into the hallway.

The Democrat held true to his word and stayed away. It was a small gesture on a long-forgotten procedural motion some 30 years ago, but the moment has stayed with me.

Don’t get me wrong: Politics back then were tough, partisan, and often bitter. But it is undeniable we have reached some new level of acrimony and division. Every new state legislature or Congress, there are calls for reaching a hand across the aisle.

This year, there are real opportunities. The issue for which Oregon electric co-ops will focus a lot of attention this session— broadband access—is tailor-made to bridge not only the digital divide but the partisan divide.

We remain hopeful, and perhaps this session will give me a new story of political courage. If not, I fear bipartisanship will go the way of that Democratic congressman 30 years ago when asked for a favor by a Republican friend.

Gone, without a trace.

Ted Case
Executive Director

Case in Point

Case in Point — January 2021

Photo of Ted Case“What do you want to do when the pandemic is over?”

I asked my children this question over the holidays and received answers that reflect their distinct personalities. My 12-year-old son wants to go musky fishing in Minnesota. My teenage daughter dreams of a trip to Disneyland.

Perhaps this wish list will change before the pandemic is over—but then, no one knows when it will be over. But it is coming, and as we ring in the new year—socially distanced and with masks—there is hope amidst all the suffering.

My kids have done their part during the pandemic, and they may be rewarded for their resolve during a challenging school year. But it is easier when you have easy access to broadband. Frankly, it is hard to imagine this year without high-speed internet. Nevertheless, many Oregonians are on the wrong side of the digital divide, which makes an almost intolerable year even more difficult.

Many of Oregon’s electric cooperatives offer broadband. Others are starting new ventures, such as the feature story on Coos-Curry Electric Co-op and Beacon Broadband. Yet as we string fiber to meet the needs of our members, some impediments remain, including obtaining easements that will allow us to get to the most remote members.

Oregon Rural Electric Cooperative Association will support legislation this session to streamline the easement process and still protect the landowners’ rights. This is one of the most impactful things the Oregon Legislature can take on to deploy broadband that does not involve spending millions of dollars. In fact, this bill does not cost a cent.

We look forward to working with legislators to pass this bill. Someday, this pandemic will be over, but the remnants of our new online life will make broadband even more essential. We simply cannot live without it. Unless, of course, you are on a Minnesota lake fishing for the elusive ling down Space
Mountain at Disneyland.

Ted Case
Executive Director

Case in Point

Case in Point — December 2020

Photo of Ted CaseI guess it is the new normal that conducting your association’s annual meeting in the shadow of an exercise bike is no big deal. But like so many things in 2020, the traditional Oregon Rural Electric Cooperative Association annual meeting at the Salem Convention Center took place in the unlikeliest of places—a cramped upstairs office in my home that also doubles as an exercise room.

In a regular year, our annual meeting is a two-day event of industry experts, inspirational speakers, and an awards ceremony. This year, we did all the same things in a three-hour virtual experience that is a testament to our members’ commitment to ORECA.

I think everyone is tired of the next Zoom call, or whatever platform people use to conduct their business. The urge to be together as a cooperative network is strong, particularly in rural and frontier parts of our state.

But the ORECA board, under the skillful direction of President Bob Durham, made clear this summer that safety was paramount and decided to move our meetings online. It was the right call, as the annual meeting was on a November day that had the highest single number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Oregon during the entire pandemic.

We had a tremendous virtual turnout. We listened to a variety of outstanding speakers, including Bonneville Power Administration Acting Administrator John Hairston, renowned futurist Glen Hiemstra, and NBA legend Bill Walton, who discussed his meteoric rise to the basketball mountaintop, only to fall off because of debilitating injuries.

We also honored outstanding achievements, bestowing our Distinguished Service Award to Midstate Electric Cooperative CEO Dave Schneider and former Salem Electric Cooperative Director Alicia Bonesteele. ORECA also gave a posthumous award to Midstate Director Leland Smith, who died earlier this year.

Yes, it was a different experience than being in person, but, like everyone, we did the best we could under the circumstances. I thank busy co-op leaders for their time and serious attention. Next year, I have no doubt our annual meeting will again be held at the comfortable confines of the Salem Conference Center. It will be great to see the gang in person once again. But I will never forget the memorable day in 2020 we conducted the association’s business in the most unlikely of places. A place where I can stay connected with my membership and also stay in shape.

Ted Case
Executive Director

Case in Point

Case in Point — November 2020

Photo of Ted CaseI wondered what the woman in the flowered dress was searching for in the rubble.

Surprisingly, there was not a trace of smoke in the air as I awaited the arrival of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and our Oregon congressional delegation to tour the extensive damage to Consumers Power Inc. from the deadly Beachie Creek Fire.

Walking along the side of the road in the Santiam Canyon, I’d witnessed an elderly woman with a shovel carefully digging around a carpet of ash. Nothing was left of her home except for her chimney, the bricks scarred by fire but still perfectly aligned.

The wildfire swept through the canyon with such speed and ferocity that many residents had no time to load up their valuables. They fled the area with fire on both sides of the highway, dodging falling trees and debris as if they were part of some antiquated video game. Those who were lucky enough to make it out alive—like this woman—often returned to find nothing left.

I stopped and watched her for a moment. Thankfully, she did not turn and see me gawking. She was too intent on unearthing a family heirloom or anything that may have survived the fire. I will never know what she was looking for, and it was none of my business anyway. But it was a heartbreaking image that will stay with me, especially because the home right next door appeared unscathed—a testament to the indiscriminate brutality of wildfires.

That afternoon, we briefed the FEMA administrator and our congressional delegation in the Oregon Department of Forestry parking lot—its headquarters also burned to the ground. We had a constructive discussion about CPI’s incredible efforts to restore service to the canyon and the necessity of burying power lines because of the threat of dead trees falling into energized wires.

Our business was important, and we were honored to have the attention of some of the most powerful officials in Washington, D.C., with respect to disaster recovery. But it also occurred to me that because we are cooperatives owned by our members, perhaps the real story was not us, but a few hundred years away, on a barren property save for an intact chimney.

As our federal leaders inquired about the future of the canyon after a catastrophic wildfire, they could find their answer from a woman bent over her shovel, her resiliency and quiet desperation telling them everything they needed to know.

Ted Case
Executive Director

Case in Point

Case in Point — October 2020

Photo of Ted CaseWe had to decide what to take. But the real question was, “What do we really need?”

Evacuating our home was not something I had ever contemplated. Fires burned throughout Western Oregon, and several small towns served by Oregon’s electric cooperatives were incinerated, fanned by easterly winds during Labor Day weekend.

But we do not live in a rural logging community nestled in the Cascade Mountains. Our home is in a Portland suburb— a 20-minute drive from the contentious nightly protests that have divided the electorate.

Such is the Western fire season in 2020, where no place is truly safe. But at least we had advance notice, unlike many Oregonians in places near the McKenzie River or Santiam Canyon, who evacuated with only what they could carry—or in some cases, awoke to their homes on fire.

Throughout the course of that week, I marveled at—and assisted in any small way— Oregon electric cooperatives that were under siege from wildfires, giant swaths of their poles and wires destroyed by the blaze. The co-ops worked around the clock in brutal conditions, even though in some instances their directors and employees had also evacuated, often unsure if their own homes were standing.

But another stark reality in 2020 is that electric co-ops, which are best known for keeping the power on for their members, had to make the agonizing decision to shut it off to ensure additional fires did not start from trees falling into energized lines.

Even as the stories of heroism and tragedy emerged from the rubble, the threat to my family seemed distant. It was not until our home started to smell like a campfire—the air quality in the Portland area carrying the dubious distinction of being the worst in the world—did I grasp what my wife was telling me all week. A wildfire was precariously close.

We surveyed the house.

“Take our photo albums,” my wife said.

But I had no idea where they were. We loaded up our two kids and took what we could, but what did we really need? Each other, we decided, as we drove away to a destination unknown. The only thing murkier than the view from my windshield was the future of a state ravaged by wildfires and cleaved by protests, in a year like no other.

Ted Case
Executive Director

Case in Point

Case in Point — September 2020

Photo of Ted CaseI thought for sure Gov. Kate Brown’s staff would cancel our meeting. She is, after all, an exceptionally busy leader dealing with multiple crises: COVID-19, budget shortfalls, and tense confrontations in downtown Portland that captured the attention of the nation.

On this day in late July, she was also in a bitter and very public dispute with President Donald Trump over use of federal police in Oregon’s largest city.

With all that was going on, it seemed realistic she would show up on CNN or some other cable show. Surely our meeting with her and Oregon consumer-owned utility leaders to talk about the importance of the Lower Snake River dams would be postponed for something more pressing.

But the call to postpone never came, and she was there at her desk via Zoom at the appointed hour, ready to listen to eight articulate Oregon consumer-owned utility leaders discuss why keeping the four Snake River dams aligns with her priorities for our state: a low-carbon future, a thriving economy, and protection for vulnerable populations and communities of color.

Gov. Brown appeared interested and asked good questions on a day when it was easy to be distracted. I certainly learned a lot participating in the call, and I am certain she did, too.

While a more comprehensive synopsis of this meeting can be found on pages 4-5, I am hopeful this is the beginning of a collaborative relationship with the Brown administration over the future of the Federal Columbia River Power System.

We have not always agreed with the state’s position on our incredible hydro system. Breaching the Snake River dams, in our view, is costly and harms the environment. But common ground often can come in small ways we often overlook— such as an important state leader graciously taking a meeting on a hectic day when the easiest thing to do was not have the meeting at all.

Ted Case
Executive Director

Case in Point

Case in Point — August 2020

Photo of Ted CaseThere are countless differing perspectives about the coronavirus epidemic, but hopefully we all agree the loss of life is tragic, wherever it occurs.

We are learning the extended electric co-op family is not immune to the pandemic. Last month, a sibling of an Oregon electric co-op director died of COVID-19—one of, at this writing, 140,157 Americans who have lost their life to this infection.

Sometimes we get so caught up in the grim statistics—the number of tests, infections, and deaths—that we lose sight of the true human toll from this pandemic.

The number of COVID-19 cases is increasing, and there is a sense the infection is spiraling out of control. Many of us are wondering what school will look like in the fall, including the scores of co-op employees in the state who have school-aged children. The question remains: How do we protect ourselves and those around us? There seem to be few answers.

Electric co-ops are trying to do their part. Almost every conversation I have with co-op leaders involves their commitment to the safety of their employees and their consumers. I hear as much about plexiglass for their offices as I do about power supply. Every possible measure is being considered. No matter what we thought at the beginning, there is no rural-urban divide when it comes to COVID-19.

A virus once ravaging a distant New York metropolis has now shifted to small, quiet places much closer to home. It’s a lesson rural Oregonians—and our electric co-op family— have learned in the most heartbreaking way.

Ted Case
Executive Director

Case in Point

Case in Point — July 2020

Photo of Ted CaseI took a call from National Public Radio the other day, which I concede is not a regular occurrence.

The reporter, who was familiar with electric co-ops, was interested in what Congress and the president could do to meet the moment on energy issues, much as they had done in 1936 when Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Congress worked together to pass the Rural Electrification Administration.

Because my book “Power Plays” covers the story of the genesis of REA, the reporter asked if our political leaders could come together during the middle of a global pandemic and economic catastrophe and do something as similarly ambitious as electrifying the nation—such as tackling climate change.

It is an interesting parallel, but I told him Congress may be reluctant to take on climate change in the middle of a recession. Instead, I suggested broadband as a golden opportunity for our nation’s leaders to demonstrate they could still do big, bold things.

If the global pandemic has shown us anything, it is being connected no matter where you are is the key to progress. Just ask any 11- or 15-year old. Not coincidentally, those are the ages of my kids. They have spent the past three months on Zoom and other technologies I had never heard of before the advent of COVID-19.

The Case family is lucky. We have access to broadband. But according to federal data, about 14% of households with school-age children do not have internet access. Most of those are in households that make less than $50,000 a year and live in rural areas. That is why many Oregon electric cooperatives have invested in broadband or are seriously considering getting involved in the business—if it makes sense.

Recently, my smartphone-obsessed daughter was in my office looking at a map on the wall of America’s electric cooperatives.

“You have so much of the land,” she said.

I told her our history. No one wanted to provide electricity to all that land, and that is why electric cooperatives exist. We are here to fill a need no one else wants to fill.

As I told the NPR reporter, that moment has come again—and it is not just Washington, D.C.’s job to make it happen. In the 1930s, REA may have been the catalyst, but it was the sweat of rural leaders that brought the countryside out of darkness. Deploying broadband to the last mile will take that same of relentless commitment. All things considered, it will help us make history again.

Ted Case
Executive Director

Case in Point

Case in Point — June 2020

Photo of Ted CaseOK, I was wrong. A few months ago, we published my column expressing hope that I would soon be writing about some topic other than the coronavirus. I wish I could write about “The Last Dance”—the stellar 10-part documentary about Michael Jordan, the greatest basketball player who ever lived. But that would be ignoring what is going on around me.

According to the experts, this pandemic is going to last a long, long time—perhaps years. Already, the death toll is hard to fathom, and the economic dislocation is staggering. Electric co-op leaders have pledged to do their part to help turn the corner, even if the corner seems far away. So, our feature stories and my columns going forward—like this month’s—will focus on electric co-ops that are, like Jordan, exceptional at their craft.

These co-ops are creating new energy-assistance programs for consumers struggling to pay their bills, hooking up free internet for low-income families whose children are in danger of falling behind at school, and helping businesses access loans and grants to stay afloat. Perhaps the least I can do in a time of tragedy and hardship is highlight co-ops that are trying to make a difference.

We did not envision this pandemic, but the electric co-op business model is ideal for the time. We have no profit motive. The well-being of the members who own their cooperatives is our focus. And we are meeting the moment because the moment demands it.

As noted, I have been wrong before, but I strongly believe that out of this painful ordeal will come stories as inspiring and iconic as when our forefathers turned on the lights in rural America. In fact, it’s a slam-dunk.

Ted Case
Executive Director

Case in Point

Case in Point — May 2020

Photo of Ted CaseI run the Oregon Rural Electric Cooperative Association under the watchful eye of Charlton Heston. He’s glaring down in my new home office from the poster of 1973’s The Omega Man— one of my all-time favorite movies. Heston plays a scientist who believes he is the last man on Earth after a virus wipes out the globe and turns others into dangerous mutants intent on killing him. Any trip outside his heavily fortified home is fraught with peril.

It’s an unsettling story we can all relate to. We’ve been uprooted from our offices and forced inside the safety of our four walls. Countless people have lost their jobs and too many have lost their lives. Trips to the supermarket are dangerous excursions.

In the meantime, we make the best of it, collecting memories of a time we would otherwise never have had together. My teenage daughter, who normally would be with her friends, enthusiastically watches Jeopardy each night with me. My son’s Little League season is postponed, so he’s become the MVP of our backyard.

I sit in my small office and work with electric co-ops that are keeping the lights on in the darkest of times. But they are doing much more than selling electricity. Many Oregon co-ops have invested in broadband, keeping people connected in the most unconnected of times. They are helping their members who struggle to pay their bills, enhancing energy assistance programs and, in some cases, setting up new programs. Co-op employees are donating money to help their neighbors and friends in need—because that is the cooperative way.

We will do our part knowing that so many have sacrificed so much during this global pandemic. No one knows when this will end and what life will be like afterward—other than people will be obsessively washing their hands. However, I have faith that, in a time of extreme loss, we will have gained a new level of humanity. Perhaps the Great Pause of 2020 gave us a chance to slow down and reflect on what truly was important. Only time will tell.

While we wait out this pandemic, I will continue to do my job and occasionally glance up to see Charlton Heston on my wall. He gives me hope, too. It turns out his character wasn’t the last man on Earth, but in a bittersweet ending, he dies in the movie’s final scene.

But not before he’s found a cure to the virus.

Ted Case
Executive Director

Case in Point

Case in Point — April 2020

Photo of Ted CaseThis is the last column I ever wanted to write. I’d rather use this space to write about anything else related to electric co-ops: what we are doing for our communities, such as providing affordable, reliable, emission-free power or money-saving energy-efficiency programs. Or broadband, economic development and scholarships. I’d rather write about anything other than a global pandemic that has changed life as we know it.

As a movie buff, I’ve watched a fair number of movies about super-viruses that sweep the globe. The movies follow a familiar formula: Guardrails come off society and there is always a scene of looting in a supermarket as panicked citizens resort to violence to secure common household items.

Hopefully nothing like this occurs, but we have already witnessed some unscrupulous people profiting off this crisis. Things could get worse. Unlike predictable Hollywood screenplays, we have no idea how this story will end. The shutdown of schools and businesses could go on for a long time and change every aspect of our lives.
One thing I know for sure: Your local electric cooperative is on the job. They’ll not pat themselves on the back with self- congratulatory press releases, but I have read their elaborate response plans, and they are ready for the long haul. If you provide a vital service like we do, a national emergency will bring challenges that will break our hearts locally. Our member-owners will get sick, others will lose their jobs. Planning is important, but what may be more important in this crisis is our local connection. We know these people—someone at the co-op invariably went to school with them or they attend the same church or club. They are not an account number on a power bill. They are owners of the co-op.

An Oregon electric co-op CEO reminded me the other day of the mindset that dominates his co-op’s every decision. “Profit is never our motive,” he told me. “Every day is spent in service to our members, and their well-being is always our primary concern.”

We are at our best when things are at their worst, because that is what keeps the guardrails on. Hopefully soon I’m writing about something else.

In the meantime, be safe and take care.

Ted Case
Executive Director

Case in Point

Case in Point — March 2020

Photo of Ted CaseOregon’s electric cooperative leaders are some of the friendliest people I have encountered. They are reasonable, courteous to a fault and slow to anger. It takes a lot to rile them up— things such as, well, taking away their clean, affordable power supply. Amazingly, that’s been proposed. We are extremely disappointed with Gov. Kate Brown’s decision to support breaching the four lower Snake River dams. The Snake River dams are an amazing resource for us, producing more than 1,000 average megawatts of reliable, carbon-free energy— enough energy for more than 800,000 Northwest homes.

Gov. Brown’s decision, made without consulting those of us who have paid for these dams, will have severe consequences for our mission of providing affordable, reliable electricity for more than a half-million Oregonians.

It is mind-boggling that during a serious legislative debate on carbon reduction, Gov. Brown supports a course of action that is estimated to increase CO2 emissions by more than 2 million metric tons every year. This output is approximately the emissions at the Boardman coal plant and the equivalent of adding 421,000 passenger cars to the region’s roads each year.

The state of Oregon claims it is serious about addressing climate change. If that is true, it is moving in the wrong direction.

Furthermore, the Northwest Power and Conservation Council—to which Gov. Brown appointed two Oregon members—has concluded the Northwest power supply becomes inadequate as early as next year. Taking out the lower Snake River dams, which help keep our region’s power and transmission systems in balance, could lead to blackouts for Oregonians.

Through our rates, we have invested billions of dollars in fish programs. These programs are working, with 96% survival rates through the dams. We should be building on this success story, not tearing down dams.
Electric co-op leaders may disagree with Gov. Brown on this issue, yet throughout this disagreement they will be reasonable and courteous. But I tell you another thing for certain: They will also be heard.

Ted Case
Executive Director

Case in Point

Case in Point — February 2020

Photo of Ted CaseDon’t blink. The Oregon Legislature convenes this month, and there are some large questions to be answered. Unlike the odd-year slog of a session that feels like a marathon on a hilly course in the rain, the 35-day short session is more akin to watching Usain Bolt run 100 meters. It’s a blur of motion.

The looming question of which bills will pass the legislature—and which are doomed—will not take long to answer because the deadlines to pass out of committee occur almost right out of the gate. Of course, the elephant in the Capitol cloakroom is how the Oregon Senate Republican caucus will engage the cap-and-trade bill that garnered national attention last year. Will they fight it on the Senate floor, or will they use a similar tactic to the 2019 session and deny the Democratic super-majority a quorum by leaving the state? No one seems to know the answer, adding to the drama of a session that is already full of drama.

ORECA will be in the Capitol this month, and will be following the cap-and-trade bill along with a host of other measures, such as wildfire and electric vehicle legislation. We will work to get these right because in the unscripted drama of the Oregon Legislature, only one thing is certain: It may be over in a flash, but the consequences of the legislature’s actions will be felt far longer than the 35-day session that produced them.

Ted Case
Executive Director

Case in Point

Case in Point — January 2020

Photo of Ted CaseIt was a good way to end the year.

In 2019, I used this page several times to advocate for passage of the Revitalizing Underdeveloped Rural Areas and Lands Act (S. 1032/H.R. 2147), which ensures co-ops do not jeopardize their tax-exempt status when they accept government grants. As of this writing, the RURAL Act was included in the 11th-hour tax package negotiated by Congress before it left for the year. Passage of this bipartisan legislation will mean Oregon’s electric co-ops do not have to choose among their tax status, rebuilding their infrastructure or deploying broadband.

Our Oregon congressional delegation rallied behind the RURAL Act—Congressman Greg Walden was particularly outspoken—but we believed the bill’s ultimate fate rested with U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden. His leadership post on the Senate Finance Committee gave him a unique opportunity to be in the room during the year-end tax negotiations when the deal would be done. And it turned out he was in the room, fighting—and delivering—for rural Oregon.

We certainly appreciate Sen. Wyden’s leadership and that of the entire Oregon House delegation. It was a nice Christmas present from the U.S. Congress and, in the darkest of political times, a shining example of bipartisan cooperation that used to be commonplace, but has recently faded away, like memories of a distant year. May we see more of this in 2020.

Happy New Year.

Ted Case
Executive Director

Case in Point

Case in Point — December 2019

Photo of Ted CaseWe packed a lot into the Oregon Rural Electric Cooperative Association annual meeting last month. We had excellent presentations from energy experts, legislators, pollsters and even Oregon Secretary of State Bev Clarno.

Perhaps the most important item on our agenda was honoring three co-op leaders for careers of outstanding achievement: West Oregon Electric Cooperative former Director Robert VanNatta, Columbia Basin Electric Cooperative Manager Tommy Wolff and Umatilla Electric Cooperative Director Bryan Wolfe.

Nothing can tarnish these men’s legacies. It saddens me, however, that unless Congress passes the Revitalizing Underdeveloped Rural Areas and Lands Act this year, much of what they have toiled for will be at risk.

VanNatta helped build a co-op that serves one of the hardest places in the country to keep the lights on. Flooding and high winds are commonplace in Vernonia, and sometimes WOEC needs assistance. Unless Congress passes the RURAL Act, a co-op accepting Federal Emergency Management Agency funds may lose its tax-exempt status.

Wolff has spent the past few years spearheading an ambitious broadband project in the Columbia Basin to help bridge the gaping digital divide for his members. But unless Congress passes the RURAL Act, accepting broadband grants could also cost his co-op its tax-exempt status.

The U.S. Congress must act. As noted by our cover this month, U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden will be in the room in the waning days of this session when a small group of legislators decides which tax measures will live or die. The entire Oregon U.S. House delegation has co-sponsored the RURAL Act, and we greatly appreciate their support.

We hope Sen. Wyden continues to support rural Oregon and the outstanding co-op leaders who have devoted their careers to this program. Let’s honor them by passing the RURAL Act now.

Ted Case
Executive Director

Case in Point

Case in Point — November 2019

Photo of Ted CaseOne of the most challenging things about planning an Oregon Rural Electric Cooperative Association annual meeting is not what content to include in our brief time together. It’s deciding what I have to leave out because of time constraints. The issues have proliferated since I got in this business nearly 25 years ago. We could meet all week and just scratch the surface of cybersecurity and a variety of other topics.

This year’s meeting is Tuesday, November 5, and Wednesday, November 6. During our two days together, we will cover a range of topics: from cap and trade to power supply to utility preparedness for wildfires. We will honor outstanding achievement in our industry and get an update on our efforts to electrify villages in Guatemala. We’re sending an engineering team to Central America this month in advance of construction in April.

We are also going to hear about the D-Day invasion. If that topic seems out of place, remember it is the 75th anniversary of D-Day. That is why I asked author Alex Kershaw to discuss his book, “The First Wave,” a definitive account of the American and Allied soldiers who fought to liberate Europe from Nazi occupation.

If things work out, we may get a chance to honor Oregon veterans who stormed the beaches at Normandy. Twenty years ago, I had the opportunity to tour Normandy during a trip to Europe. It was a powerful experience.
The right for 200 Oregon co-op leaders to congregate freely this month in Salem for classes, presentations and fellowship may not have been possible without these heroic efforts. But the sad reality is we are losing World War II veterans at a rapid rate.

A discussion about cybersecurity may just have to wait until next year.

Ted Case
Executive Director

Case in Point

Case in Point — October 2019

Photo of Ted CaseThe other day, I looked up from my computer at work and observed a group of deer right outside my window looking at me. It was surprising because the Oregon Rural Electric Cooperative Association office isn’t exactly in the woods. In fact, we are a block away from a Maserati dealership, which
means our 35-mph speed zone often resembles Le Mans. But my experience was a gentle reminder to take the time to look up from my computer and observe things around me.

In the spirit of simple observation, here are a few things we’re witnessing from ORECA’s perspective:

  • ORECA has learned the location of the village in Guatemala that we will electrify next year. Oregon electric cooperative linemen will travel to Aldea Nueva in April 2020 to connect 45 homes. They will build 5 kilometers of primary line and install four transformers. Our project manager will travel there in November to scout out the area. More to come on this exciting project!
  • ORECA’s annual meeting in Salem is a month earlier this year—November 5-6—and we will have experts speak on a range of issues, from the global energy picture to cap-and-trade legislation in Oregon. We also will have a little inspiration. Since it is the 75th anniversary of D-Day, we will hear from Alex Kershaw, author of “The First Wave,” an account of the men who led the way to victory in World War II. We look forward to seeing you there.
  • The electric cooperative network is making progress on the RURAL Act legislation (H.R. 2147, S. 1032) to protect the tax-exempt status of electric co-ops. The Oregon congressional delegation is playing a leadership role, with U.S. Reps Earl Blumenauer, Peter DeFazio, Kurt Schrader and Greg Walden signing on as cosponsors. We thank them for their strong support. U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden—the ranking member of the Finance Committee—will be key to passing this vitally important legislation. Please encourage Sen. Wyden to join his colleagues in supporting this important legislation.

Thanks for your interest in ORECA. Be sure to occasionally look out your window. You may be surprised by what you see.

Ted Case
Executive Director

Case in Point

Case in Point — September 2019

Photo of Ted CaseI am not what you would call a daredevil. Sure, I like adventure as much as the next guy, but it’s more along the lines of a rigorous hike than free-soloing rock walls in a national park. So this summer, when my 14-year-old daughter suggested we go zip lining during our vacation in Moab, Utah, I was reluctant. Yet soon I was flying off a cliff, trusting my equipment and trying not to think about how certain death was below.

It was a thrilling experience, but I am officially retired from zip lining. I see the benefit, however, of occasionally stepping outside my comfort zone, pushing the limits of my imagination and stepping into the breach.

This is something I think about quite often in a rapidly evolving electric utility industry. Many believe the breach is upon us. Distributed generation, battery technology, new market entrants and evolving consumer attitudes are only some of the ways our industry is fundamentally changing.

Electric cooperatives need to be prepared for the disruption that hits every industry at one time or another. Meeting consumer needs—such as the solar incentive at Salem Electric highlighted in our feature story this month—is one example of how we listen to our members.

Oregon’s electric cooperatives are already at the vanguard of our clean energy economy, and many have taken leadership roles in deploying broadband to keep rural and frontier communities in our state from vanishing from the map. These new programs are often leaps of faith for normally risk-averse boards of directors, but they too recognize this is not their grandparents’ electric utility industry. I am reminded almost daily of what disruption looks like.

Near my office is the shuttered former national headquarters of Hollywood Video. When the video market was upended by new entrants, the company was not prepared and ultimately fell into the abyss. I believe electric cooperatives are poised to soar in this new daunting energy landscape if we’re prepared to take the leap. It’s going to be a heck of a ride. Just don’t look down.

Ted Case
Executive Director

Case in Point

Case in Point — August 2019

Photo of Ted CaseThe story is familiar: Forests are burning and oceans are rising because of climate change. Something needed to be done.

The solution? Cap-and-trade legislation that could be passed with large Democratic majorities.

The bill was the subject of countless hearings, dragging on for months and stuffed full of complex provisions for various specials interests—including ours. Claims of a new wave of clean-energy jobs that would revolutionize the rural economy were countered by charges that the bill would do
nothing for climate change and would devastate rural jobs and industry.

A motivated Republican opposition employed dilatory tactics to slow the bill, aided by nervous moderate Democrats leery of voting for a bill so controversial. The legislation went nowhere.

Sounds a lot like HB 2020 in the 2019 Oregon Legislative session, doesn’t it? Except this narrative happened a decade earlier in the U.S. Congress with a federal cap-andtrade bill that was a precursor to Oregon’s effort to impose a carbon-reduction regime.

The parallels between the two cap-and-trade bills are eerily similar. The 2009 bill pushed by congressional Democrats passed by a narrow margin, aided by Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s deal-making that had the bill being rewritten in pencil on the House floor to secure the necessary votes.

The 2009 version was both a low and high point for American’s electric cooperatives. Initially ignored by the majority when the bill was drafted, electric cooperatives flexed their political muscle and secured provisions that would have protected rural consumers from serious rate increases.

Oregon electric cooperatives were certainly not ignored in the 2019 version of cap and trade, yet rural Oregon never felt invested in the effort.

History will say the reason HB 2020 failed in Oregon was the result of Senate Republicans fleeing the state—or because three Senate Democrats had serious reservations for voting for the bill on the floor. But I think the larger truth lies in a lesson from a decade before, when the federal cap-and-trade bill met a similar fate.

That bill, like HB 2020, was dense, complicated and not easily explained. Like the forest fires they were supposed to prevent, these bills generated more heat than light and, like a heavy object in the rising oceans, ultimately sank under their own weight.

Ted Case
Executive Director

Case in Point

Case in Point — July 2019

Photo of Ted CaseWhat is that on the cover of our magazine? A graphic of a U.S. Senate bill?

We have a tradition of putting extraordinary people on our cover, such as electric co-op leaders and legislators, but S. 1032—the RURAL Act—is no run-of-the-mill piece of legislation. The RURAL Act allows co-ops to receive grants for a host of programs—including disaster aid, broadband and economic development—without losing their tax exempt status.

It’s a complicated tax issue, and I will not bore you with the details. What you need to know is that this bill needs to pass. And soon. The Oregon delegation with its incredible seniority and clout is well-positioned to make it happen. Our senior senator, Ron Wyden, is the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee.

I know passing legislation is difficult, and the U.S. Congress is largely viewed as a broken institution. But I also know Congress has a profound capacity to do the right thing, and when it wants to act fast, it can act fast. I am hopeful that if we can make the case for this bill’s passage, the U.S. Congress will respond with alacrity.

Members of Congress often talk about how they are interested in the well-being of rural America. Now they have a chance to back up their words by supporting the RURAL Act.

Ted Case
Executive Director

Case in Point

Case in Point — June 2019

Photo of Ted CaseRecently, I drove 3½ hours to attend an annual meeting of one of my electric cooperative members. It was a long day for me, but that distance is no big deal for rural Oregonians—usually just another trip to the regional hospital or even an outing to shop for common household goods.

Life is hard for many rural Oregonians. They have few of the amenities their urban counterparts enjoy and make far less money. But the sense of community at a co-op annual meeting is something to behold, which is one of the reasons I attend. I also inevitably learn something about the co-ops I represent.

At this particular meeting, I relearned a valuable lesson in, of all places, the buffet line, where I struck up a conversation with a co-op member. He was an older gentleman with leathery skin and a broad, inviting smile. I asked him if he was a regular at the co-op annual meeting.

“I never miss it,” he said. “I like everything about it.”

By that I think he meant the chance to see some old friends and, of course, to enjoy an excellent meal. Then he tugged on my sleeve to make another point.

“I’ve won twice,” he said with pride, looking around sheepishly as though he was boasting too much.

I knew what he meant. Through the years, he had won prizes at the co-op annual meeting raffle. He didn’t tell me what he’d taken home, but I know what is usually at stake. A power drill, a credit on their power bill or perhaps a $50 gift card to The Home Depot. It’s not as if he had won the lottery, but when you’re like most rural Oregonians and working relentlessly just to get by, seeing your number come up on a red ticket in the raffle is a big deal.

It’s an important lesson for any policymaker who wants to impose new costs and regulations on those who can least afford it.

I encourage our elected leaders to come visit a co-op annual meeting. You’ll see what it means to be a part of a rural community: the camaraderie and the chance for some of the hardest-working people you will ever meet to get a well-deserved break. You’ll also see the joy of watching those who have had the odds stacked against them their whole lives have their number pulled out of a hat.

Sometimes twice.

Ted Case
Executive Director

Case in Point

Case in Point—May 2019

Photo of Ted CaseMy middle-school-age daughter is studying government, and it’s been a bit humbling. She is a smart girl, and I’ve looked at her homework. It is apparent she knows more about the Founding Fathers and our Constitution than I do—which is hard to admit, as I lived in Washington, D.C., for two

There is one thing I can teach her that would even make the Founding Fathers proud: The right of citizens to petition their government is alive and well, and I get to see it firsthand.

The time I get to spend with my members in the halls of Congress and the Oregon State Capitol is one of the great perks of the job. This month, I am in Washington, D.C., with 25 Oregon co-op leaders. This trip comes on the heels of the extremely successful Oregon Rural Electric Cooperative Association Legislative Day in Salem in mid-March.

Through these meetings, one thing has been abundantly clear: These folks really know how to lobby. They have excellent relationships with their legislators—or are building these relationships—and they know the importance of being politically active. Moreover, they are enthusiastic about electric co-ops and the communities they serve, and this comes through in their meetings with legislators.

I think this type of dialogue between ordinary citizens and their elected officials is exactly what our Founding Fathers envisioned when they set up this government more than 230 years ago. But if you want to know where this is addressed in our Constitution, you’ll have to ask my daughter.

Ted Case
Executive Director

Case in Point

Case in Point—April 2019

Photo of Ted CaseAs evidenced by our feature story this month, this winter tested the strength of the Oregon rural electric program like I have not seen before, at least for two western Oregon cooperatives: Douglas Electric and Lane Electric.

Our brethren in the Southeast batten down the hatches every hurricane season, but we rarely see Mother Nature unleash the type of fury she brought in the form of a snowstorm that crushed ancient fir trees as if they were saplings.

There is no way to prepare for countless giant trees crashing into power lines, rendering roads and highways impassable and impeding the ability to even assess the damage.

When the power went out in places such as Oakridge and Elkton, it became abundantly clear there would be no quick fix, and co-op members needed to settle in for the long haul.

How these systems were rebuilt requires more space than I have in this column, but it was a total team effort involving linemen from throughout the state, as well as tree trimmers, excavators, flaggers and every staff person from these co-ops working at peak effort.

I closely followed the updates from both co-ops and thought they were the model for how to communicate during a crisis. Co-op members want and deserve the straight scoop. They may not like hearing that the outage could go on for three weeks, but at least they know where they stand.

As a result, the support from co-op members was overwhelmingly positive, despite the hardship. In a day and age when most of us get annoyed when our Wi-Fi is down for a few minutes, the storm of 2019 gives us hope that patience, resilience and a sense of community are alive and well in rural Oregon.

Ted Case
Executive Director

Case in Point

Case in Point — March 2019

Photo of Ted CaseThere will be plenty to talk about. That is my message to the scores of electric cooperative leaders who will descend upon Salem this month for ORECA’s Legislative Day.

Electric co-op managers, directors and employees will travel from the Oregon Coast, high desert, Columbia Gorge and everything in between to meet with their representatives and senators on key legislative proposals.

Most notable is HB 2020—a bill designed to create a cap-and-trade program to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions. The bill has been the talk of the session. Two of the key players around HB 2020—Reps. Karin Power and David Brock Smith—are the subject of our feature story this month. But there are other issues to discuss as well, including legislation that addresses manufactured housing and broadband.

It’s the most important day of the session and will help hone our lobbying skills for our next big adventure: the spring National Rural Electric Cooperative Association Legislative Conference in that other capital, Washington, D.C.

In the meantime, we will see you in the Oregon Capitol on Wednesday, March 20. We will try not to overstay our welcome, but there is, after all, plenty to talk about.

Remembering a Legendary Leader

I was sad to hear of the death of Wally Rustad, a legendary electric cooperative leader and longtime manager of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association Government Relations team.

I vividly recall the day Wally called me and offered me a job as a lobbyist for NRECA. At the time, I was agonizing whether to leave my job on Capitol Hill to work for electric cooperatives. It turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made, and I am eternally grateful to Wally for his faith in me. He was always the first person in the office and supported his lobbying team to the hilt. I was honored to know him.

Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.

Ted Case
Executive Director

Case in Point

Case in Point — February 2019

Photo of Ted CaseAny organization is smart to look ahead, but occasionally you also need to return to your roots.

In January, the Oregon Rural Electric Cooperative Association Board of Directors undertook a strategic planning session to look at the association’s future. ORECA is involved in a wide range of activities: legislative and regulatory advocacy, education and training, and safety programs for our cooperatives. We discussed these programs at length and evaluated some important recommendations going forward. We also decided to add a program to our plate that is a throwback to an earlier time.

At our meeting, the ORECA board approved an initiative to begin raising funds and securing crews for an ambitious rural electrification project in Guatemala in 2019–2020. As stated by ORECA President Dave Schneider in our feature story this month, this project is an attempt to return to our roots: bringing electricity to those who wouldn’t otherwise have it, just like it was for Oregon’s electric co-ops 80 years ago.

I have no illusions that our Guatemala project will be easy or without complications, but I suspect that when the lights are turned on in these villages, it will be one of the most worthwhile endeavors we’ve ever been a part of.

Saying Goodbye to a Friend

A few weeks ago, the Oregon electric cooperative family lost one of its great thinkers—and gentlemen—when former Coos-Curry Electric Cooperative Director Ed Dowdy died.

Dowdy was a nuclear engineer and former U.S. Department of State and U.S. Department of Energy science adviser, including during negotiations of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. He was also associated with the Los Alamos National Laboratory. In addition to being whip smart, Ed was a great friend of ORECA.

Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.

Ted Case
Executive Director

Case in Point

Case in Point — January 2019

Photo of Ted CaseWell, that went fast. It was 10 years ago last month that the Cases rolled into Oregon from Washington, D.C., during one of the most historic blizzards to ever hit Portland—a welcome mat with 3 feet of snow on it.

At the time, our kids were small and wildly talkative. They are no longer small and sometimes barely utter anything to us at all. Teenagers do that.

Things change, but one thing has never changed during my decade at the Oregon Rural Electric Cooperative Association: the commitment of our members to doing the right thing by providing affordable, reliable and safe electricity to Oregonians every single day. But it’s not the same people. Since I arrived in that storm, most of the original CEOs of our 18 co-ops have retired. A group of experienced, service-minded leaders has been replaced by the next generation of leaders who are becoming legends in their own right. Much credit needs to go to the co-op boards of directors who take their hiring responsibilities seriously.

During our annual meeting, I always say the most important business of the day is not the high-powered panels or expert speakers. It is our awards ceremony, during which we recognize our best and brightest. After all, it is not the co-op legacy or our hydropower that makes this program great. It is our people.

In 2019, I resolve to more fully appreciate and recognize those co-op leaders who go the extra mile for our members and ORECA. It is a long list. I can’t wait to see what this year—and the next 10 years—will bring. But I’d prefer to leave the snow shovel in the garage.

Ted Case
Executive Director

Case in Point

Case in Point — December 2018

Photo of Ted CaseLast month, I had the opportunity to interview former House Speaker Newt Gingrich at a post-election forum sponsored by the National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corporation.

As fate had it, Speaker Gingrich had been with President Donald Trump at a White House election-night watch party. He reported the president was ebullient as the results came in from Senate races in so-called red states. If President Trump thought it was a good night for his party, he wasn’t paying much attention to Oregon.

As I wrote this month in my election analysis on page 4, the Democrats solidified their hold on urban and suburban Oregon in western Oregon while the Republicans continue to hold every legislative district east of the Cascade Mountains. Democratic Gov. Kate Brown also won a decisive victory despite a spirted campaign from State Representative Knute Buehler. The Democrats had a good night, and now have strong majorities to try and pass their legislative priorities. We congratulate all candidates who had the courage to step into the political arena.

Electric cooperative leaders will continue to work with both parties in the upcoming Oregon legislative session to make sure they are aware of our priorities: protecting the amazing federal hydro system that helped build the Northwest economy and enables us to be one of the lowest carbon-emitting states in the country; maintaining local control of electric cooperative governance; and understanding the unique challenge of serving rural farmers and ranchers who help feed urban Oregon but in doing so, often live at the far end of a dusty road. We hope these are ideas that both red and blue Oregonians can rally behind.

Ted Case
Executive Director

Case in Point

Case in Point – November 2018

Photo of Ted Case“Who do you have coming this year?”

It’s a question I get quite often from my members around annual meeting time. It’s the 10th year I have planned ORECA’s annual meeting. I can say it’s one of the great joys of this job to put together what is hopefully an informative, educational and inspirational program for the more than 200 Oregon co-op leaders who congregate in Salem for classes, industry speakers and fellowship.

I am acutely aware that some of my members will drive seven hours across snow-filled mountain passes to attend the meeting. (No pressure there.)

But to answer the question about who’s coming? This year we have a diverse program that will cover the hemisphere.

We will hear more from the experts at NRECA International about a potential program for Oregon co-op leaders to bring rural electrification to Central America. We will get a legislative update from some leading lawmakers in Salem, including influential State Sen. Cliff Bentz. I am also excited to hear my good friend Nelle Hotchkiss, senior vice president of corporate relations at the North Carolina Association of Electric Cooperatives on the lessons learned from the deadly hurricanes that devastated the southern United States this year. And we will cap it off with a little inspiration as we hear from Jim Craig, the goalie on the U.S. Olympic hockey team that shocked the Russians and the world in 1980. There are a couple other surprises in store that my members will just have to wait for.

So I say to Oregon electric co-op leaders: I will see you in Salem—and watch those curvy mountain roads. Thanks for making the trip and for an amazing 10 years.

Ted Case
Executive Director

Case in Point

Case in Point – October 2018

Photo of Ted CaseMy family and I are big fans of the Mission Impossible movies and Impossible Missions Force agent Ethan Hunt, played by Tom Cruise. The action is over the top, and the characters larger than life. Hunt was described in one movie as “uniquely trained and highly motivated. A specialist without equal.”

Let’s be truthful. Even if you’re not a secret agent, who wouldn’t want to be described that way?

The employees at the electric cooperatives I am privileged to represent don’t spend a lot of time saving the world from nuclear destruction like Agent Hunt, but they are some of the most talented people I’ve ever met.

They may be linemen who help turn the lights back on in an ice storm. They may be specialists in low-income assistance or energy-efficiency and weatherization programs that co-ops offer their members. Or they may manage these organizations, providing dynamic leadership in a rapidly changing industry. I constantly call upon these professionals to help me do my job. Their expertise and dedication to their profession always impresses me.

There is no doubt we need to do something about the exodus of our future generations to the cities. That is why I was so heartened to hear a Youth Tour student at a recent electric co-op annual meeting tell the crowd about her trip to Washington, D.C., and how she wants to work at the co-op when she grows up. Her mission—if she chooses to accept it—is to explore all the challenging career opportunities that working for an electric co-op can provide. She would be joining an elite group of co-op professionals who, in my estimation, are without equal.

Working for an electric co-op is a profession to be proud of. It is also safer than battling evildoers while hanging out of a helicopter.

Ted Case
Executive Director

Case in Point

Case in Point – September 2018

Photo of Ted CaseSummer is winding down, and school is in session for my kids. Thank goodness. No longer will I have to wither under 90-degree heat or hear the phrases, “I’m bored” and “I don’t have anything to do.”

Without a doubt, I am much more excited about the prospect of math and science homework than my children. I also wish they shared the enthusiasm of Oregon electric cooperative leaders who believe strongly in the Fifth Cooperative Principle: “Education, Training and Information.”

Oregon electric cooperative directors, CEOs and employees constantly receive in-depth training on a variety of industry-related topics. Much of this is accredited training through our outstanding trade association—the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association—but our own statewide association is proud to have an education function as well. This month, we host our fourth annual Director Education Conference that will focus on, among other topics, technology, power supply and governance issues.

I am always impressed with the dedication of my members at these conferences. It doesn’t matter how many years they have been at their co-op or have served on their local co-op board, there is always more to learn in a rapidly changing industry.

Perhaps my children will someday appreciate the gift that is a quality education. But even now, they are yearning for next summer—a mere 173 school days away from being bored with nothing to do.

I hope you all had a wonderful summer, full of memories for a lifetime.

Ted Case
Executive Director

Case in Point

Case in Point – August 2018

Photo of Ted CaseThe other day, I met Amelia Earhart. OK, not the Amelia Earhart, the legendary aviator who disappeared over the Pacific Ocean in 1937. But I did meet Amelia Rose Earhart who, while not related to her namesake, shares her fascination with flying and proved it in 2014 by piloting a single-engine airplane around the globe.

Earhart’s compelling talk at the Oregon Rural Electric Cooperative Association summer meeting in Hood River— “Learning to Love the Turbulence”—is certainly appropriate for the nation’s choppy political times.

Like most electric cooperative associations, ORECA was born in politics. We have thrived for nearly 80 years by representing our members no matter who is in power in Washington, D.C., or Salem, Oregon. While political discourse in this country has never exactly been smooth air, this trip somehow feels different, as though we are flying through an area never before charted.

The political atmosphere is less partisan than it is tribal, with the percentage of people who are friends with someone in the other political party at an all-time low.

The partisanship isn’t exactly attracting new voters to the traditional parties. Consider these statistics in Oregon: Since May 2016, Republicans have gained 15,961 new voter registrations, and Democrats 5,450. However, nonaffiliated registrations have exploded, with 487,983 new voters not aligned with either party.

How does one survive the turbulence that is politics in 2018? It’s a tough course to navigate, but thankfully, electric cooperatives have friends on both sides of the political aisles— something for which we should be proud.

We can also look to the original Amelia Earhart for inspiration on how to repair our politics. She plotted her course by looking to the stars. While she meticulously planned her voyage, she also wasn’t afraid to take a risk and step outside her comfort zone.

There are no easy answers. With midterm elections only months away, we may yet again turn to both Amelia Earharts for another lesson on how to survive the turbulence ahead.

Don’t forget to buckle up.

Ted Case
Executive Director

Case in Point

Case in Point – July 2018

Photo of ted-caseOne of the highlights of my summer is ORECA’s mid-year meeting in July. As part of the meeting, my board of directors and I will convene to discuss important legislative and regulatory issues before the association.

This year, we’re going to discuss another initiative that has the potential to be transcendent in more ways than one: partnering with the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s international program to bring electricity to villages in Bolivia or Guatemala.

It’s hard to fathom that more than a billion people in the world still do not have access to safe and reliable electricity. NRECA has created opportunities for state organizations such as ORECA to sponsor projects in places that still do not have electricity. Other statewide organizations have already taken on this responsibility. Their leaders tell me the experience is as impactful on their co-ops as those who are given the gift of electricity. Exciting, perhaps, but these projects are daunting.

At our meeting, we will hear from those who have done the heavy lifting and learn what it takes to raise money, secure equipment and send linemen to string wires in remote villages. We have much to learn and discuss.

ORECA cannot possibly electrify every village, but perhaps we can adopt a small piece of the planet. The question of whether it’s worth the effort will be answered by look on a child’s face as they see their village illuminated for the very first time.

Ted Case
Executive Director

Case in Point

Case in Point – June 2018

It’s not easy to pass a new law. I have watched countless bills be introduced and then fail to get a congressional hearing, much less a vote, on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives.

That is why House passage in April of H.R. 3144—a bill to take a timeout from the ill-fated plan to spill more water in the Columbia River Basin—is incredibly significant. As noted in our feature story this month on Congressman Kurt Schrader, H.R. 3144 is a common-sense remedy to a situation that threatens one of the Northwest’s most precious resources: our emission-free, renewable federal hydroelectric system.

I want to thank the members of the Oregon congressional delegation who voted for the bill: Congressman Schrader and Congressman Greg Walden.

Now the action turns to the U.S. Senate. Our Oregon senators—Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley—have told us they will carefully review the legislation. We appreciate their consideration of legislation that will protect co-op members from higher electric rates and keep more carbon emissions from going into the atmosphere.

Honoring One of Our Own

Democracy is an amazing thing, but sometimes it can sting. Recently, one of ORECA’s board members—Umatilla’s Bob MacPherson—was defeated in his re-election bid.

For many years, Bob served as our secretary-treasurer. While he was an exemplary board officer, I always considered him the “wise man” of the organization for his behind-the-scenes work. He cares deeply about ORECA and electric cooperatives, which I know will never change.

We look forward to honoring Bob for his service to ORECA at our meeting in Hood River this July.

Ted Case
Executive Director

Case in Point

Case in Point – May 2018

I had to admit to a little nostalgia, even though the ornate U.S. House of Representatives committee room largely represented a history of professional defeat. As the chandeliers sparkled and the portraits of past committee chairmen appeared to stare down at me, it occurred to me that I had been on the losing end of countless votes in this room as a congressional aide a quarter-century before.

Back then, I was an idealistic young staffer for U.S. Congressman Bob Smith—a staunch supporter of Western communities that depended on timber and grazing for their livelihood. This was in the era of the spotted owl, and we all know how that turned out.

But now I was back as a lobbyist, awaiting a House Resources Committee vote on H.R. 3144—a common-sense bill to take the Federal Columbia River Power System out of the courtrooms and return it to the professionals who know how to operate the river.

From the gallery, I watched a new generation of bright-eyed staffers confer with their bosses. I knew it was heady times for these young men and women. Like them, I wrote talking points and speeches. I would beam as Congressman Smith read my statement during a congressional hearing. Other times, I would be brought back to earth when my carefully crafted speech served only as a coaster for his Styrofoam cup.

But this is where I—a kid from a small town who never believed he’d have a career in Washington, D.C.—learned politics.

The members of the committee have nearly all changed, but what hadn’t changed was the hyperbole, as opponents of the legislation charged that passage of H.R. 3144 would lead to the extinction of Columbia River salmon species. There were speeches and amendments, but on this day, we had the votes. The bill passed with bipartisan support.

When the gavel came down, I departed the committee room, well aware of the long path ahead for a proposal that could bring a timeout to the fish wars that divide the Northwest. However, a room that had given me many memories of defeat had finally yielded something else: a victory for small communities in the West.

Ted Case
Executive Director

Case in Point

Case in Point – April 2018

It was right under my nose—or rather, in my mailbox—the whole time.

When we moved from the Washington, D.C., area to Wilsonville, our children were signed up by the local Kiwanis club to receive a free book a month through the Dolly Parton Imagination Library. The legendary country singer is a believer in childhood literacy and has devoted millions of dollars to help make books available to children from birth to 5 years old.

Our family couldn’t wait for the age-appropriate books
to show up in our mailbox each month. I must admit to a certain sadness when our kids were too old to get the books.

Then, a series of fortunate events occurred that brought us back into the program. Two of the Wilsonville Kiwanis members, Jan Rippey and Pat Duke, went on the road show through Eastern Oregon to encourage other organizations to invest in the Imagination Library. Leaders at Oregon Trail Electric Co-op attended the presentation and immediately saw the value. See the story on page 4-5 of this edition of Ruralite.

The partnership was far too obvious. Oregon’s electric cooperatives are committed to the future of the local communities we serve. Few things are more important than early childhood literacy.

Seizing on a connection I should have recognized years ago, Oregon electric co-ops then heard a similar presentation on the Imagination Library at the Oregon Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s annual meeting last November. The support was overwhelming.

Several Oregon electric cooperatives are now following OTEC’s lead and, as a result, young children in communities across the state are receiving—or soon will—a book each month courtesy of their local electric cooperative.

I couldn’t be more pleased with this special partnership. A special thanks to Jan and Pat for spreading the word about this amazing program, and for the Oregon co-ops that recognized much quicker than I, the power of a single book arriving at your door each month.

Ted Case
Executive Director

Case in Point

Case in Point – March 2018

How’s it going to end? As a former fiction writer, that’s the question I wanted my readers to be asking, breathlessly turning pages to reach the conclusion.

There is nothing like a good thriller to keep you up late into the night, and thrillers come in all forms. The Oregon Legislature has created some suspense of its own during the 35-day session, particularly with respect to cap-and-trade legislation that is the subject of the feature on pages 4-5 this month.

To be sure, putting a price on carbon in Oregon is a heavy lift in the short session. There is little time to conduct the type of analysis needed to thoroughly examine the legislation’s impact on Oregonians. However, I have seen major environmental legislation passed in Oregon’s short session. It can be done.

Oregon’s electric cooperatives have expressed serious concerns about the state of Oregon’s carbon policies. On one hand, they want to cap emissions on utilities and industry. On the other hand, state agencies have no problem devaluing Oregon’s greatest asset against climate change : our federal hydroelectric system.

It’s this misalignment, along with other issues, that led us to urge the legislature not to pass the cap-and-trade legislation in the short session. But, as of this writing, the bill is alive in the Rules Committee in the House and Senate. Does the bill have the votes to pass? Will the bill’s sponsors make concessions to make the bill more palatable? No one knows, and the tension is enough to keep an army of lobbyists up all night wondering how this is going to end.

Saying Goodbye

Oregon lost a great leader and a real gentleman last month when Ray Baum died due to complications from prostate cancer.

Ray had a sterling resume: lawyer, legislator, utility commissioner and, as his last role, the staff director of Chairman Greg Walden’s Energy and Commerce Committee–the most powerful committee in the U.S. House of Representatives. But for all his success in Salem and Washington, D.C., Ray never lost his Eastern Oregon sensibility or his infectious sense of humor. Ray’s brother Dave —a true statesman in his own right—is on the board of Oregon Trail Electric Cooperative.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the whole family.

Ted Case
Executive Director

Case in Point

Case in Point – February 2018

For the past few months, the Oregon Rural Electric Cooperative Association has worked collaboratively with the Oregon Legislature’s Clean Energy Jobs Utilities and Transportation Work Group to address our initial concerns with its cap-and-trade legislation, particularly with respect to the ability of electric cooperatives to comply as regulated entities under a state cap-and-trade program.

We greatly appreciate the efforts of Sen. Michael Dembrow and Rep. Ken Helm to work constructively with us to improve the legislation. However, we cannot support their carbon legislation in the February session until the state of Oregon recognizes their environmental policies are not only inconsistent, they are punitive for rural Oregonians.

The state of Oregon continues to aggressively pursue policies and operations that significantly reduce hydropower generation at federal dams in the Columbia River Basin. ORECA members are reliant on the Bonneville Power Administration, which markets the power produced at federal dams. Spilling water at these dams has far-reaching ramifications for electric cooperatives and the environment that the state of Oregon refuses to acknowledge.

For example, increased spring spill is estimated to cost $40 million to consumers, will increase carbon emissions by approximately 840,000 metric tons a year and provide little benefit for fish. Despite our best efforts, the state of Oregon has shown no interest in finding common ground with respect to the operation of the federal dams.

While we also appreciate the sponsor’s sincere interest in developing a carbon proposal that seeks to invest in rural Oregon, we have many unanswered questions about how this will affect electric utility rates, transportation costs and jobs in rural Oregon, and “frontier” Oregon areas such as Harney County. These questions require significant examination that the short session cannot provide.

Accordingly, ORECA looks forward to working with the Oregon Legislature and Gov. Kate Brown on a carbon policy that is fair, effective and consistent.

Ted Case
Executive Director

Case in Point

Case in Point – January 2018

Ted Case, Executive Director of ORECAThe Oregon Rural Electric Cooperative Association wrapped up the year by celebrating its 75th anniversary at the annual meeting in Salem in November. The theme was “Our Past, Our Future, Our People.” We managed to hit all those topics with a variety of excellent speakers highlighting not only the legacy of the Columbia River hydro program, but what the electrical grid of the future may look like.

There were a couple of other takeaways for me that I will attempt to incorporate this new year.

The first was an inspiring talk from Dave Carey, a former Vietnam POW who lived in the “Hanoi Hilton” for nearly six years, occasionally in a cell with another naval aviator named John McCain.

Carey says the question that always arises is, “How can someone endure such a hellish existence for so long?”

His answer seems simple in practice.

“We did what we needed to do,” he says. “And we did it, day after day after day.”

While we will not likely experience the horrors of a North Vietnamese prison camp, may we all take Carey’s optimism and clarity of purpose into our lives in 2018—day after day after day.

Dan Chase—another speaker at our director forum— discussed Abraham Lincoln’s leadership style. Lincoln’s accomplishments are well-known, but less known are the traits that helped make him so iconic. Chase’s thesis is that Lincoln cared so deeply about institutions—such as preservation of the Union—that he was able to subsume his own ego and ambition to get the desired result.

While most of us will not preside over a civil war, we all are part of cherished institutions in some form. May we all adopt a little more of Lincoln as we approach work and family in 2018—and may we do it day after day after day.

Ted Case
Executive Director

Case in Point

Case in Point – December 2017

Ted Case, Executive Director of ORECAIn November, legislative work groups in Salem concluded their efforts to write a cap-and-trade bill for the 2018 short session. Conceived by state Sen. Mike Dembrow—chairman of the Senate Energy Committee—and his counterpart in the House, state Rep. Ken Helm, the ambitious Clean Energy Jobs work group process explored the wide range of issues around carbon regulation in Oregon. This exploration included the regulation’s impact on agriculture, forests, fisheries, rural communities and tribes—which, by the way, was the name of one of the work groups.

I was pleased to serve on the Work Group on Utilities and Transportation, which was chaired by Sen. Lee Beyer, a leading authority on energy issues in the legislature. Like Dembrow and Helm, Beyer believes deeply that climate change must be addressed.

While at this writing I cannot predict what the legislation will look like—or its ultimate fate in the Capitol—I was duly impressed with the transparent process and sincere attempts by these legislative leaders to get everyone’s viewpoint. Not only did we have homework assignments after each meeting—now I know how my kids feel—I know with certainty that the respective chairmen read our homework and sought to find solutions to the issues we raised. It was about as far from a smoke-filled room as one can get in the legislative arena. These leaders deserve credit for getting these issues on the table for all to see.

On behalf of Oregon Rural Electric Cooperative Association, I greatly appreciated being invited to participate to sit at the table. We hope to be invited back to future discussions and pledge to remain constructive. But about that homework…

Ted Case
Executive Director

Case in Point

Case in Point – November 2017

Ted Case, Executive Director of ORECAORECA turned 75 years old this year—a landmark we will celebrate this month at our annual meeting. In preparation for the celebration, I came across photos of our founders— stoic, ramrod straight and full of resolve. I do not know their stories, but from their photos I can tell for certain they are men of grit and substance.

These men built their electric cooperatives out of nothing because no one else wanted to serve them. Who would want to bring electricity to a bunch of sagebrush or rugged coastline?

Then, in 1942, these men decided they needed a statewide organization to represent them in Salem and Washington, D.C. In 2009, I inherited what they built.

While I have only been around for nine years as executive director—a veritable newbie by electric cooperative standards—I have been associated with them for more than 30 years from my time as an aide to Congressman Robert F. (Bob) Smith and legislative representative for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

The issues have barely changed: protecting the priceless federal hydroelectric system and the autonomy of our locally elected boards of directors.

While it is gratifying to prevail on legislative issues in Salem and Washington, D.C., it is not half as satisfying as the friendships I have made with Oregon electric co-op leaders throughout the years. The rural electric program remains full of committed community leaders who are driven to do the right thing every single day. In an age of cynicism and polarization, they remain remarkably upbeat and optimistic about the future.

It would be easy to be otherwise. For as long as I can remember, rural Oregon has been an afterthought for political leaders from Portland. Our co-ops fight hard for economic growth in their territories, but it is a Sisyphean struggle. The infrastructure is lacking or the requisite jobs skills cannot be found. But they continue to do the best they can to provide affordable, reliable electricity to their members—despite the best efforts of some to make the hydroelectric system less affordable and less reliable.

Perhaps in 75 years, another ORECA executive director will find photos stashed away of co-op leaders from the turn of the century—the men and women with whom I have been honored to be associated. They will not know their names or their stories. But one look will tell the whole story. These people, they will say, have grit and substance.

Ted Case
Executive Director

Case in Point

Case in Point – October 2017

“It seems like the apocalypse is upon us.”

A friend of mine made that observation in early September as what seemed like every conceivable natural— and manmade—disaster ravaged the United States.

While Oregonians watched in horror as Hurricane Harvey devastated parts of Houston, and Hurricane Irma waited in the wings to flatten the southeastern United States, the state of Oregon looked more like Beijing as smoke from wildfires polluted our legendary clean air and put entire communities at risk.

It was so bad that an electric co-op CEO suggested I wear a mask as I drove through a national forest area to speak to his employees. I didn’t heed his advice and I wheezed through a mountain pass. But I was lucky. At least my house wasn’t underwater or in danger of burning to the ground.

The images and carnage from the hurricanes are heartbreaking, but so are the stories of people helping their neighbors during these desperate times. The response from electric cooperative line crews racing to the southeast to help turn the lights back on for states plunged into darkness is just one example of how we are doing our part as humans to help those in need.

There are also stories you don’t hear, such as the one about Oregon co-op employees who helped a former employee remove prized possessions from a home that appeared destined to burn in a wildfire.

There were two lessons to be learned from the events of this fall. The first is that Mother Nature is an unstoppable force that can humble us all. But from these tragedies we learn the second lesson: We are at our best when things are at their worst.

Ted Case
Executive Director

Case in Point

Case in Point – September 2017

How do you tell the secretary of energy that his policy on the sale of the power marketing administrations is misguided and punitive?

I was faced with that question recently after I was asked to participate in a roundtable with Secretary of Energy Rick Perry and a small group of stakeholders at McNary Dam in Hermiston. Perry had accepted Congressman Greg Walden’s invitation to tour one of the great dams on the Columbia River—one with enough capacity to supply power for 686,000 homes.

After concluding his tour led by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Perry sat down with a group of elected officials and other industry professionals to discuss key issues in the Pacific Northwest. I did not know Perry beyond his two runs for the presidency and a deeply personal speech he gave before the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association legislative conference shortly after he was named energy secretary.

Clearly impressed with the tour, Perry was expansive and gracious. But the fact of the matter is, his administration had—like other administrations before it—proposed to sell off assets of the Bonneville Power Administration. If enacted, the proposal to sell off BPA’s transmission lines and substations could have tremendous ramifications for electric cooperative consumers.

It was not a subject we could avoid. During the roundtable, I outlined how some of Oregon’s small co-ops—some with barely one consumer per mile of line—could be left behind by a plan to auction off BPA’s transmission to the highest bidder.

Perry, who knows something about desolate rural areas in Texas, claimed his father used to call such areas “The Big Empty.” To his credit, Perry thoughtfully engaged in the issue and said it was important for BPA stakeholders, from time to time, to make an impassioned case for continued federal ownership of the facilities.

He is right, of course. We cannot rest on our laurels simply because it has always been this way. BPA will, like all of us, need to become more innovative and efficient. And while it appears the power marketing administration proposal will be blocked this year, perhaps we made some headway convincing the administration to shelve the PMA transmission auction in future years. I applaud Perry for his visit, and Walden for his invitation to bring him out here. Oregon will benefit greatly.

Ted Case
Executive Director

Case in Point

Case in Point – August 2017

What happened in the U.S. House of Representatives on June 21, 2017, reminds me of Shirley Povich’s classic lead paragraph in the Washington Post after game five of the 1956 World Series: “The million-to-one shot came in. Hell froze over. A month of Sundays hit the calendar.”

Povich was, of course, writing about one of the most improbable events in baseball history: Don Larsen’s perfect game for the New York Yankees against the fearsome Los Angeles Dodgers.

What happened on the House floor with H.R. 1873 didn’t receive nearly as much fanfare, but perhaps it should have. The Electric Reliability and Forest Protection Act, which is sponsored by Oregon Congressman Kurt Schrader, received 300 votes—including those of 69 Democrats. In a hyper-partisan atmosphere where hardly anything passes except along acrimonious party line votes, H.R. 1873 is indeed a rare event— a throwback to the halcyon days of bipartisanship. It takes a lot of courage these days to reach your hand across the aisle. Rep. Schrader deserves a lot of credit for forging alliances that led to this strong vote.

H.R. 1873 is a commonsense bill to streamline the permitting process for utilities whose power lines cross federal land—a major issue for Oregon’s electric cooperatives. The legislation also will help prevent forest fires and improve the reliability of the electric grid. However, opponents claimed the bill was nothing more than an attempt to clear-cut our federal forest lands.

I am heartened that Democratic Reps. Suzanne Bonamici and Peter DeFazio rejected this absurd argument and joined Schrader in supporting H.R. 1873. Oregon’s lone Republican congressman, Greg Walden, is a co-sponsor of the legislation and another champion for electric cooperative consumers. Oregon co-op leaders such as Central Electric CEO Dave Markham deserve credit for focusing Congress’ attention on the issue.

There will be more bitter debates and extreme partisanship on the House floor. The U.S. Congress will never be as perfect as Don Larsen’s brilliant gem on a crisp fall afternoon in 1956. But for one shining afternoon in the summer of 2017, it at least took the mound.

Ted Case
Executive Director

Case in Point

Case in Point – July 2017

I have a few random thoughts as we pass the halfway point of the year, the Oregon Legislature wraps up and the U.S. Congress heats up.

  • The Oregon Rural Electric Cooperative Association greatly appreciates the support of the Oregon Legislature this session, particularly those lawmakers who supported our efforts to convince Gov. Kate Brown to come to the negotiating table regarding her plan to spill more water over the dams for fish. The state of Oregon’s proposal could substantially raise rates for rural consumers, and we believe their voices should be heard. Gov. Brown has been outspoken about the importance of vibrant rural economies. We will know soon if her administration can back up those words. More than a half million rural Oregonians are counting on it.
  • The U.S. Congress is debating landmark legislation (H.R. 1873) to establish better coordination with land management agencies and utilities when it comes to managing rights-of-way. The Electric Reliability and Forest Protection Act would give electric cooperatives more consistent procedures and a streamlined process to better manage rights-of-way across heavily forested areas. Oregon Rep. Kurt Schrader has helped lead this effort in the U.S. House. This proposal has been an ORECA priority for the year. We appreciate the efforts to pass this commonsense legislation.
  • ORECA has several high-profile meetings coming up in the second half of 2017: our midyear meeting, director education conference and annual meeting. The agendas will focus on upcoming political challenges and the challenges facing the amazing federal hydro system. ORECA also celebrates its 75th anniversary this year. We are going to spend some time honoring cooperative leaders who helped build our statewide organization.
  • Speaking of history, thanks to the National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corporation for the opportunity in June to debut my new book, “Poles, Wires and War: The Remarkable Untold Story of Rural Electrification and the Vietnam War.” CFC is a forward-looking organization, but also has a profound respect for the heritage of this amazing cooperative program. At CFC’s 2017 forum, I was honored to talk with several electric cooperative leaders who served in Vietnam during the war. Their stories deserve books of their own.

Ted Case
Executive Director

Case in Point

Case in Point – June 2017

The word seems to be getting out. Recently, a bipartisan group of Oregon legislators wrote Gov. Kate Brown urging her to “constructively participate with regional partners on the operation of the federal Columbia River system.”

It is a long-overdue request.

For years, the state of Oregon has been an outlier when it comes to the federal Columbia River system, insisting that it alone—through a risky plan to spill more water over the dams to push fish downstream—has the silver-bullet solution to improve salmon runs at federal projects. It is a baffling position, particularly for fisheries scientists who study these issues, and certainly one contrary to the “Oregon way”—the state’s rich history of collaboration and cooperation.

What Oregon does have, according to lawmakers, is an expensive proposal.

“The state of Oregon’s spill request has been estimated to cost customers of the Bonneville Power Administration $40 million per year, the impact of which will be felt greatest in the rural areas of the state,” wrote the Oregon legislators.

Oregon’s electric cooperatives certainly appreciate Rep. Sherrie Sprenger leading this important effort, which follows up a similar letter from U.S. Reps. Peter DeFazio and Kurt Schrader about Oregon’s spill program. The two Democratic congressmen—and strong advocates for electric cooperative consumers—also have raised significant issues about Oregon’s spill program, posing a series of questions to federal officials about its cost and effectiveness.

A federal judge has ruled more water will be spilled at certain federal dams in 2018. What is undecided: Will Gov. Brown work with federal officials, other Northwest states and Native Americans on a collaborative approach? Or will Oregon insist on its plan, even though it could force consumers at Harney Electric Cooperative, as one example, to pay an additional $100 a year for their electricity?

For the sake of the more than 500,000 consumers served by electric cooperatives, we certainly hope the new “Oregon way” isn’t simply about getting your way without considering other points of view.

Ted Case
Executive Director

Case in Point

Case in Point – May 2017

There are not a lot of new ideas coming out of Washington, D.C., but there are a lot of dumb old ones.

I have been in this business long enough to recall the arguments of the Heritage Foundation to sell off the federal hydropower system to help reduce the deficit. This idea goes all the way back to the 1980s and the Reagan administration, which tells me two things: The proposal has dust on it, and I have been in this business far too long.

It seems that plans to sell off the Bonneville Power Administration or the other power marketing administrations are rekindled every time a Republican takes over the White House. What follows are grandiose—albeit inflated— numbers of the windfall to the U.S. Treasury.

Usually the Heritage Foundation’s plans go nowhere until Congress or the White House puts them in motion. This happened in 1994 when President Bill Clinton—a Democrat— ripped a page out of the Heritage playbook and proposed the sale of the PMAs to the current customers such as electric cooperatives. Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich then doubled-down on the idea by attempting to sell off the dams and the lakes to the highest bidder. It was a disaster for both Clinton and Gingrich.

The federal hydro projects serve multiple purposes, not just electricity for consumer-owned utilities. They often provide flood control, recreation and navigation. Unwinding the statutes governing these projects has proven to be daunting and not in the best interest of the American taxpayer. Clinton and Gingrich learned this the hard way.

Many of the people dusting off these ideas weren’t even born when they were first proposed. But that doesn’t mean that those of us who rely on the federal hydro system shouldn’t take the Heritage ideas seriously. We need to make the case to lawmakers about the merits of federal hydropower and give them a little history lesson along the way.

Ted Case
Executive Director

Case in Point

Case in Point – April 2017

No one can say electric cooperative leaders don’t have heart.

We are only a few weeks removed from ORECA’s Legislative Day in Salem, and I want to take this opportunity to thank co-op leaders and legislators for a memorable two days. I am always impressed with the dedication of the Oregon co-op leaders who participate in this important event.

It is not just about traveling hundreds of miles to meet with their legislators. One Oregon co-op leader traveled to Salem even though, only days before, he was told he has a serious heart condition that required two stents to be placed near his heart. Now that’s dedication.

I also want to thank members of the Oregon Legislature for being so generous with their time. Rep. Caddy McKeown, who graces our cover this month, helped kick off our Legislative Day activities with a fascinating overview of a potential transportation package.

Several lawmakers—including Reps. Greg Smith, Mark Johnson, Debbie Boone and David Brock Smith—made gracious comments from the House floor about their local electric cooperatives.

My main thank you, however, goes to all of the legislators who pledged to help us convince the state of Oregon to get out of the courtroom and start collaborating with other federal agencies, states and tribes who have pledged to work together on operation of the Columbia River system.

Legislators heard stories about how Oregon’s troubling and flawed proposal to spill more water over the dams will hurt Oregon’s fragile economy and harm our effort to counter global warming.

We hope this is the beginning of a new relationship with Gov. Kate Brown and the state of Oregon. This collaboration would not only benefit fish, it would show something that has been missing during years and years of litigation. It would show some heart for the people of rural Oregon.

Case in Point

Case in Point – March 2017

Ted CaseOregon electric cooperative leaders will descend upon the state Capitol this month to promote common-sense policies that allow us to provide our members with reliable, affordable and safe electricity. It is the most important day of the entire session for Oregon Rural Electric Cooperative Association members.

Bashing politicians is a cottage industry, but most who engage in that activity don’t notice how hard most legislators work or how many directions they are pulled each day. We never take our time in the Capitol for granted.

While we will discuss specific legislative proposals, you also can be certain we will talk generally about our clean, renewable hydroelectricity system.

Jeff Merkley, one of Oregon’s U.S. senators, is working on legislation to have 100 percent of the U.S. electricity portfolio be renewable energy by 2050. It is an ambitious goal for most of the country, but I am pleased to report that with a 95 percent emission-free portfolio, we are already close to that target—33 years early.

That is why we are so concerned with the state of Oregon’s troubling and flawed proposal to spill more water over eight dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers for fish. We believe Oregon’s spill plan will hurt Oregon’s rural economy by raising rates on fixed-income seniors who live in places most Oregonians have never heard of. And the top fish scientists in the country don’t think Oregon’s plan will help fish.

Moreover, to keep the lights on, the lost electrical generation from the dams must be replaced by natural gas—which is counter to the effort to wean Oregon off fossil fuels.

We look forward to collaborating with legislators and our governor to protect both Oregon’s natural resources and fragile rural economy. That’s the Oregon way. It is a goal we should strive for every year.

Ted Case
Executive Director

Case in Point

Case in Point – February 2017

Ted CaseOpening the box isn’t exactly like opening a Christmas present, but there is still a sense of anticipation.

The scene is the opening day of the Oregon Legislative Assembly—a day of ceremonies, speeches and pledges of bipartisanship. For lobbyists, it is a day to go into the bowels of the Capitol with a pair of scissors and break open the box of 1,500 pre-filed bills and see what kind of hand we have been dealt.

While some of the bills are expected, there are always surprises. Historically, some of this surprise legislation can have enormous consequences on Oregon’s electric cooperatives. I must admit I have found some things in the stack that made me raise an eyebrow.

While we analyze the implications of legislation, Oregon’s electric cooperatives enter the Capitol and the six-month marathon session with an enviable record.

We are 95 percent emission free because of our reliance on the incredible Columbia River hydro system. Moreover, our energy-efficiency programs continue to pay dividends. The Northwest Power and Conservation Council indicated in December that the region—yet again—surpassed its conservation target.

Statistics aside, there is nothing like being tested that shows one’s measure. This winter has been especially brutal in rural Oregon, where ice-coated trees have laid waste to electric power lines as if we are in a war zone. In some cases, we have rebuilt the lines only for another storm to hit. But through the amazing fortitude of the co-op linemen, unsung employees and neighboring crews, we are back up and running. I have never been more proud of my members.

So let’s bring on the legislative session and all the boxes to come. We are prepared for any surprise.

But let’s go easy on the ice storms.

Ted Case
Executive Director

Case in Point

Case in Point – January 2017

Ted CaseOne of my favorite holiday events each year is our annual co-op lunch in Salem with our state legislators. It’s a bit of a hybrid event, a celebration of Oregon’s co-ops— electric, telecommunications, credit unions and agriculture— and a thank you for legislators who work hard for their constituents.

There is much to like about the lunch, with its festive atmosphere and incredible food, courtesy of our terrific Oregon agriculture coops. And what better end to a prime rib lunch than Tillamook ice cream—everyone’s favorite co-op.

But what I like most about the event is how conservative Republican senators and liberal Democrat representatives sit at the same table with something in common: their support of Oregon’s coops. They may agree on little else, but on this day they have united for a common purpose.

One of our great strengths as co-ops— electric or otherwise— is that we receive support from a broad ideological spectrum.

Partisanship is a fact of life. If 2017 is anything like 2016, the advent of a new Congress and a new Oregon Legislative Assembly is going to test the fabric of our republic and state like never before. In our political arenas, there will be differences, sharp debates, and winners and losers.

No matter where you sit politically, Oregon’s coops can occasionally provide a safe refuge from partisan wrangling. We’re not-for-profit, exist to serve the members that own us, and perform our objectives exceptionally well. For legislators or anyone else, there is nothing more unifying than that.

Except for perhaps Tillamook ice cream.

Happy New Year!

Ted Case
Executive Director

Case in Point

Case in Point – December 2016

Ted CaseIt has been a long time since I’ve seen so many stories on rural America—about four years. It seems that during every presidential election, there is a flurry of coverage about the all-important rural vote.

This year it was particularly true with headlines such as, “Revenge of the Rural Voter” spawning deep analysis of what is really happening in “fly-over country,” the places rarely visited by the political elite—but where they think they understand by simply hanging out at a local diner.

I watched “Meet the Press” and “learned” what the polls tell us about these rural voters: They are bitter, uneducated and yearning for yesteryear. The jobs are all gone. They don’t go to Starbucks, they don’t take their kids on college tours, and on and on.

I don’t put a lot of stock in most of these commentators because they either live just off Central Park in Manhattan or sit in traffic on the Capital Beltway.

I don’t pretend to be the voice of small-town America either, even though I work for an organization that has “rural” in its name.

But here is what I do know: The rural leaders I’ve come across are some of the most civic-minded, forward-looking and innovative people you will ever meet. They may not go to Starbucks because it’s a 100-mile drive, though they make 100-mile drives with the same ease most of us go to the local strip mall. And while—at least in my state—there are more Oregon State Beavers than Yale Bulldogs, they understand the value of education and want to create a vibrant rural economy so their children don’t all flee to Portland.

Finally, they are not angry, bitter people. Despite the headlines, the “revenge” I hear about most is when the local eight-man football team gets beat by the rival across the county.

Perhaps it’s a good thing to have this much attention on rural America right now. We will take the spotlight while it’s on us. We’ll see if it continues as the election fades and the pundits retreat to their multitude of Starbucks, a Metro stop away from the White House.

Ted Case
Executive Director

Case in Point

Case in Point – November 2016

Ted CaseNot one of the several hundred attendees of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association Region 7 and 9 ACRE breakfast in October believed anything extraordinary was going to happen.

For those who are veterans of such meetings, the hour was expected to consist of bacon, eggs and a litany of state reports on progress with our political action committee. It’s an important breakfast, but honestly the only anticipated drama is how runny the eggs are.

The meeting certainly had a pall hanging over it. Only days before, we had received an update that our good friend Mike Peterson, the manager of the Utah Rural Electric Association, suffered a relapse of brain cancer. The prognosis was not promising.

Mike is a beloved figure in our program—a wonderful family man who worked his way up from lineman to being one of the effective political advocates in the country. He has been a mentor to many statewide managers, including me. The news of his relapse was sudden and devastating, with many of us at a loss of how to react.

Then something happened on the way to the microphone that morning. Someone decided not to give a state report, but rather to express what Mike has meant to them. It was an absolute inspiration, and the reason why the electric cooperative program is like none other.

What followed—from speaker after speaker—was a heartfelt, spontaneous celebration of Mike’s extraordinary life. I was honored to be a part of it, though I wish I was half as eloquent as my colleagues. Those of us who know Mike well—and even those who don’t—realized they were part of a special moment. I noticed an NRECA staff member using her cellphone to take video of the speakers.

“Tell me you got all of this,” I said to her.

She had. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, these stories are preserved and have been relayed to Mike’s wife, Sheri, so he can view them.

Who knew that in an election year of such acrimony that a routine political breakfast would turn into something so profound. It is a testament to why the strength of the electric program is not our poles, wires and substations. It is people like Mike Peterson, who has touched more lives than he will ever know. And I am thankful that, in the most unlikely of venues, we got a chance to tell him that.

Ted Case
Executive Director