A resilient, reliable grid that provides affordable power is crucial for rural communities as America transitions to cleaner energy was the message delivered by Jo-Carroll Energy President and CEO Mike Casper when he testified before a Senate committee on Tuesday, Nov. 15.
“As cooperatives work toward a lower carbon future our ability to maintain reliable baseload power is critical,” Casper told the U.S. Senate Agricultural Committee during a hearing on the 2023 Farm Bill. “Intermittent resources such as wind and solar must continue to be complimented and supported by always available baseload resources.
“This is not about prioritizing one energy source over another, rather to ensure we keep the lights on for rural American families and businesses,” he said. “System reliability requires a base of firm, flexible and dispatchable electric capacity.”
Casper continued that Farm Bill programs like the Rural Energy for American Program (REAP) are useful tools for electric cooperatives as they respond to consumer-member feedback calling for an evolving generation mix and more efficient energy practices.
Jo-Carroll’s first community solar project, South View Solar Farm located at the co-op headquarters in Elizabeth, was made possible through a REAP grant. The co-op’s Energy Detective program that offers cost-free energy assessments and low-priced energy audits was originally made possible by REAP grants.
As the committee works on the Farm Bill, Casper asked the members to consider three critical issues for America’s electric cooperatives: responding to consumer-members’ desire for a diverse energy mix, maintaining reliable baseload power as part of a lower-carbon future and providing services beyond electrification, including rural broadband.
A new $9.7 billion USDA program created by Congress this year as part of the sweeping Inflation Reduction Act will also help interested co-ops build new clean energy systems by providing grants and loans for projects that include renewable energy, energy storage, carbon capture, nuclear power, and generation and transmission efficiency, Casper said.
Cooperatives like Jo-Carroll Energy are still the primary providers of electricity in rural Illinois, he noted. “As not-for-profit, consumer driven entities, electric co-ops are owned by the communities we serve,” Casper said. “Keeping rates down for rural families at the end of the line is especially important.”
“JCE is dedicated to providing our members with safe, reliable electric service and, in more recent years, fiber internet service, at the lowest practical price,” he added.
Electric co-ops rely on funding from USDA’s Rural Utilities Service Electric Program to help pay for essential electrical infrastructure projects, Casper noted, but too often RUS loan approvals are needlessly lengthened by environmental reviews and decision delays.
To meet the nation’s growing electricity needs, electric cooperatives would benefit greatly from reforms to the federal permitting process that maintain robust environmental protections while ensuring determinations are made in a timely manner, Casper said.
“Our mission goes beyond electrification and with USDA as a key partner, Jo-Carroll Energy is committed to ensuring access to high-speed internet for our families and businesses to give them a level playing field with their urban counterparts.” Casper said. “USDA tools like ReConnect and Community Connect have allowed Jo-Carroll to accelerate the expansion of our fiber footprint to improve quality of life in our corner of rural America. Jo-Carroll Energy is dedicated to delivering affordable, reliable electric, high-speed internet and other value-added services to Illinois households, businesses farms and communities.”
“Nearly 900 electric cooperatives across the country have similar community focused missions for the areas that they serve,” Casper said. “As the committee works on the next Farm Bill, we look forward to continuing to work with you toward our shared goal of improving life in rural America.”