Looking out for their members best interests, Virginia electric cooperative leaders and directors gathered in Richmond to visit with elected officials about proposed legislation on Jan. 22.

Day 1 started with a Government Affairs Committee discussion about electric cooperatives’ legislative priorities for this year and solidifying positions on bills filed at the General Assembly. Discussions focused on bills filed at the General Assembly that could affect electric cooperatives and their members. Bills of particular concern were HB 800 and SB 713, which could shift make-ready construction costs onto 1.5 million rural ratepayers, potentially hiking utility bills by up to 50%. Cooperative representatives emphasized the importance of opposing this legislation to protect the interests of their members and ensure a fair broadband deployment process.

Later that evening, legislators joined cooperative representatives for a reception in downtown Richmond. With record attendance, it was an excellent opportunity to foster relationships with elected officials and discuss proposed legislation affecting the electric cooperatives of Virginia.

Stressing the importance of utilizing opportunities to engage with policymakers, Southside Electric Cooperative President and CEO Jason Loehr says, “It is imperative for the electric cooperative community to commit to staying engaged in the legislative process as an integral part of our strategic planning process. These opportunities allow us to educate our legislators about our cooperative principles while advocating for electric cooperatives and ultimately what is best for our membership and the communities that we serve.”

The following morning, attendees gathered for a legislative briefing led by Sadie Gary, external affairs manager for the Virginia, Maryland & Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives. Afterward, the group received an informative presentation on the political landscape in the commonwealth by one of Virginia’s leading political analysts, Dr. Bob Hollsworth.

After breakfast, co-op representatives from 12 of 13 Virginia electric co-ops headed to the newly opened General Assembly building for in-person meetings with legislators and staffers. They collaboratively presented a strong front, engaging with more than 40 legislators and effectively communicating the cooperative difference and outlining legislative priorities for the year.

John Lee, president and CEO of Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative and EMPOWER Broadband, noted the unique importance of making a strong showing this year. “Legislative Day continues to be a valuable exercise that, more than anything, shows our collective strength and influence as we converge upon the capital to reinforce already strong relationships with veteran legislators, and educate new legislators on the cooperative business model,” he says. “The latter was especially important this year with the tremendous turnover we have experienced in the House.”

The November 2023 election reshaped Virginia’s political landscape, flipping control of both the Virginia House of Delegates and Senate to the Democrat party and half of the seats being filled with new members. Jason Carter, vice president of external and member relations at Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative, emphasizes the need to educate legislators about the cooperative business model amid these changes.

 “With an influx of new legislators and a shift in the majority party, advocating for our members on the political stage has become increasingly crucial,” he says. “It emphasizes the necessity of educating legislators about the not-for-profit cooperative business model and demonstrating the indispensable role cooperatives play in shaping our state’s future.”

Through a strong showing of unity around our legislative agenda, cooperatives are able to speak with one powerful voice in the halls of government.

–Report by VMDAEC staff.