Case in Point

Case in Point – October 2018

My 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