Panelists discussed their partnerships with electric cooperatives during a session that touched on legislation, education and governmental actions during the Virginia, Maryland & Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives 77th Annual Meeting on July 26.

The panel at the Marriott Virginia Beach Oceanfront Hotel included attorney Will Cleveland of the Southern Environmental Law Center, who primarily works with the State Corporation Commission as a litigator, Keith Harkins of Southside Virginia Community College and Courtney Dozier, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s policy director.

Cleveland told participants that he has worked with VMDAEC staff members Andrew Vehorn, Sam Brumberg and Sadie Gary on crafting legislation that benefits both co-ops and clean energy advocates.

“I have no background in legislation, but I can call Sam, Andrew or Sadie and trust them,” Cleveland said. “It’s been a very productive four years.”

Harkins, vice president of academic and workforce programs at SVCC, said the Power Line Worker Training School has been a grand success as a result of its collaboration with VMDAEC and its member co-ops.

“In March 2016, I took the day off from my old job and attended a presentation about the need for lineworkers in Virginia,” Harkins said. “$500,000 in funding for this idea eventually turned into a school that now has $3 million invested and that has graduated 344 students, 155 of whom have paid no tuition. It couldn’t have happened without your participation.”

Dozier lauded the merits of broadband and the participation of co-ops in building it to unserved rural communities.

“If you don’t have broadband, you can’t properly educate your children,” she said. “When I started in this administration, we had $4 million a year to invest in broadband. Three years later, I’m proud to say we are in a position to say that $700 million is ready to go out the door in four years toward it, and that co-ops are a big part of that equation.

“Co-ops are uniquely situated to be spark plugs in their communities. Local leadership is important, and co-ops are in a position to be powerful partners,” Dozier said.

Above photo: From left, Keith Harkins of Southside Virginia Community College and Will Cleveland of the Southern Environmental Law Centerdiscuss the importance of partnerships with electric cooperatives. (Photo By: Jim Robertson)