By Kent Singer, CREA Executive Director
Colorado’s electric co-ops are mission-driven organizations. By that, I mean that co-ops provide more than just reliable and affordable electricity to rural Colorado. Co-ops understand that they are part of the fabric of the rural communities they serve, and they are committed to improving the lives of the folks who live in those communities.
Co-ops are also aware that in many parts of the world, the miracle of electricity has not yet arrived. Incredibly, over 1 billion people on this planet do not have access to electricity and the comfort, health and safety that come with abundant light and power. Our national trade association, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, has been doing its part to address this situation by funding electrification projects in dozens of countries for decades through its international foundation. This work has improved the lives of millions of people around the world.
Last fall, the board of directors of the Colorado Rural Electric Association decided that Colorado’s electric co-ops should be more directly involved in supporting the NRECA International program. The board authorized its own project in 2018. CREA will work with Oklahoma electric co-ops to provide electricity to two villages in Guatemala this fall.
In April, CREA Director of Safety and Loss Control Dale Kishbaugh and Director of Member Services and Education Liz Fiddes traveled to Guatemala for the initial project planning. CREA folks joined their counterparts from Oklahoma to meet with local officials in Guatemala and develop the logistics for a three-week project that will be completed in September. The project will extend power lines into the villages of Pie del Cerro and Tierra Blanca Salinas, providing power to 200 families, as well as five churches, two schools and two health centers.
In July, our group of Colorado electric co-op linemen traveled to Oklahoma City to meet with their fellow Oklahoma linemen and prepare for the Guatemala trip. The linemen met and got to know each other as the beginnings of a true team were established. The crews reviewed techniques that will be used in these remote villages where there is no access to bucket trucks and other tools typically used by co-op linemen. Instead, the crews will build electric distribution facilities the old-fashioned way, using picks, shovels, ropes and pulleys; it will be backbreaking work in the heat and humidity of Central America.
During the team-building trip, the guys also got a chance to eat together and talk shop. While co-op linemen have similar skills and training, it takes time for line crews to develop the type of camaraderie that makes for a successful working relationship. The participation of the Colorado linemen is possible not only due to the support of CREA, but also due to the willingness of local electric co-ops to send their employees to Central America for three weeks. The linemen themselves are making a sacrifice, since they will be away from their families and give up luxuries like hot water and internet service. They are committed to the cause, and all of them are participating out of a desire to help those in need.
You might ask why should CREA spend funds to support programs outside of Colorado, indeed, outside the United States? One of the core values of electric co-ops is “concern for community.” There’s no doubt that this principle normally refers to the coop service territory, but CREA also believes that those living without electricity around the world are part of the community that co-ops understand all too well. Co-ops believe that access to electricity is a basic human necessity, and that when we have the resources to reach beyond our borders to help others, we should act.
I’ve been involved with CREA for 22 years in one capacity or another, and in my view this is the best project the statewide association has ever sponsored. We believe it will not only change the lives of those villagers who are currently without power, but it will also forever change the lives of those co-op linemen who participate. Our tremendous co-op employees will once again be fulfilling the co-op mission this fall in Guatemala.