By Kent Singer, CREA Executive Director
For decades, Colorado’s electric co-ops have stepped up to serve their communities in times of crisis. Whether it’s a snowstorm, flood, rockslide, tornado or wildland fire, the first boots to hit the ground to provide a helping hand often belong to an electric co-op lineworker.
While the danger this time around is not from a storm or flood, the COVID-19 virus has nevertheless wreaked havoc on many rural communities. In addition to the public health crisis, the impacts on rural economies resulting from fighting the virus have been profound.
As soon as the pandemic began to gain a foothold in parts of Colorado, it was clear that many families and communities would be impacted either through illness or economic displacement. Over the last few months, thousands of Coloradans have lost their jobs or had their hours reduced. In some cases, this has caused electric co-op consumer-members to have difficulty paying their power bills.
From the beginning of the pandemic, Colorado’s electric co-ops were quick to recognize that their consumer-members would be facing unprecedented challenges and they rallied to support their communities. Like they do for every other natural disaster, the first question Colorado’s electric co-ops asked was: how can we help?
One of the first steps co-ops took was to close their public spaces so that co-op consumer-members could not enter co-op facilities and risk either being infected or passing the virus to co-op employees. This was a hard decision; co-ops are extremely proud of being your hometown energy provider and they thrive on being transparent and having an open-door policy. But when it comes to public health and safety, co-ops will always take a conservative approach. Co-ops are reopening to the public as they determine that it’s safe to do so.
The next step co-ops took was to evaluate how to keep their systems operating at a high level of reliability while at the same time recognizing the need for line crews to follow social distancing guidelines. In many cases this meant delaying construction projects that are needed for long-term reliability and focusing on only doing what is necessary in the short-term. It also meant developing new operating procedures to minimize the contact between co-op personnel and the general public to promote public health. Co-op line crews have done an incredible job of keeping the lights on while at the same time looking out for the health and safety of their communities.
Many co-ops have also made financial commitments to assist their consumer-members in times of economic stress. Some have used money from unclaimed capital credit accounts and others have used general fund dollars to provide direct assistance to those in need. All of the co-ops work with their consumer-members to set up payment schedules to allow payments over time in cases where there is economic hardship. Electric co-ops have always bent over backward to help their consumer-members in times of need and they have once again risen to the occasion during the pandemic.
As the trade association for Colorado’s electric co-ops, we’re justifiably proud of our members’ long tradition of service to this state. For over 80 years, the electric co-ops have weathered storms — both literal and figurative — to power their communities. In good times and bad, Colorado’s electric co-ops have persevered and stayed true to their mission: to provide reliable, affordable and responsible energy.
We look forward to the day when we celebrate our deliverance from these turbulent times, but in the meantime we ask: How can we help?
Kent Singer is the executive director of the Colorado Rural Electric Association and offers a statewide perspective on issues affecting electric cooperatives. CREA is the trade association for your electric co-op, the 21 other electric co-ops in Colorado and its power supply co-op.