Boosting rural infrastructure

Posted: August 23, 2021 at 1:45 pm

Rural electric cooperatives maintain an active dialogue with legislators through a non-partisan approach. It is important for cooperatives to advocate for our mission of providing safe, affordable, reliable power to those we serve. 

At the time of writing this column, the Senate approved a bipartisan infrastructure bill that will greatly impact electric cooperatives, and ultimately, you as a consumer-member.  In total, the deal includes $550 billion in new federal investments in America’s infrastructure over five years. 

Among many grant opportunities, if passed, the bill could make a historic $65 billion investment in expanding broadband. The bill prioritizes support for broadband networks owned or operated by or affiliated with local nonprofits and co-ops as providers driven by “a commitment to serving entire communities” rather than profit.

Nine Oklahoma distribution electric cooperatives have formed fiber subsidiaries that are actively bringing rural broadband access to parts of Oklahoma that were previously underserved. The funds from the infrastructure bill could be allotted for deployment and mapping projects to show which communities need service most.

Beyond increasing high-speed internet access, the bill would also add funds for strengthening grid resiliency and authorize billions to explore clean energy technologies to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. 

The bill boosts renewable energy by providing $400 million for research and development into wind energy and $320 million for solar energy. The current plan provides $355 million for pilot projects that explore the potential of energy storage. An additional $150 million would go toward an initiative that focuses on long-duration storage.

Another exciting aspect for electric cooperatives is the investment in the electric vehicle market, including opportunities for EV charging network expansion and zero-emission yellow school buses. Support for rural communities through tax credits, grants and other assistance are also included to help meet critical needs.

The bill will now head to the House for approval before making its way to the president’s desk to be signed. In Oklahoma, we look forward to staying engaged with legislators to ensure that the priorities of rural Oklahomans and electric co-op members remain at the forefront of these discussions.

By Chris Meyers

General Manager | Oklahoma Association of Electric Cooperatives