What is the purpose of the Washington Rural Electric Cooperative Association?

WRECA’s chief mission is representing the interests of its 14 member systems before the state legislature and state regulatory agencies that have become so influential in melding the state’s aggressive carbon reduction energy policies.

WRECA’s members are Benton REA, based in Prosser; Big Bend Electric Cooperative, based in Ritzville; Columbia REA, based in Walla Walla; Elmhurst Mutual Power and Light, based in Tacoma; Inland Power and Light, based in Spokane; Lakeview Light and Power, based in Lakewood; Modern Electric Water Co., based in Spokane Valley; Nespelem Valley Electric Cooperative, based in Nespelem; Ohop Mutual Light Co., based in Eatonville; Okanogan County Electric Cooperative, based in Winthrop; Orcas Power and Light Cooperative, based in Eastsound; Parkland Light and Water Co., based in Tacoma; Peninsula Light Co., based in Gig Harbor; and Tanner Electric Cooperative, based in North Bend.

How do you represent these interests?

It’s about getting to know legislators and policymakers in Olympia and establishing a personal connection with them.

I try to employ anecdotes in expressing the core mission of WRECA members, which is to provide cost-based power to some of the more rural communities in the state.

Even WRECA members in more urban areas, such as Pierce County outside of Tacoma—Lakeview, Ohop, Elmhurst and Parkland—were formed between 1914 and the early 1920s because investor-owned utilities refused to serve what were, at the time, rural areas.   

What makes Washington co-ops unique?

As full requirements members who get all their power from the Bonneville Power Administration, WRECA’s members are 95% to 97% renewable.

How does the work of WRECA impact not only Washington but the region?

In the upcoming Congress, Washington will have several senior federal legislators wielding the gavels of influential congressional committees.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) will chair the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) will chair the Senate Commerce Committee. Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) will chair the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Having good relationships with these members of the Washington delegation will be important for the overall NRECA membership on such issues as overall energy policy, pole attachment legislation and Rural Utilities Service funding.

How do you collaborate with other statewide co-op organizations?

Washington recently collaborated with Oregon, Montana and Idaho on a grassroots effort to push back on a regional effort to breach the lower Snake River dams.

The dams are a critical source of affordable and reliable hydropower in the region at a time when other fossil baseload power stations are being taken offline.   

What are some of the biggest issues facing rural electric cooperatives in Washington and the region?

We need to ensure there is enough power available to meet strict carbon reduction mandates passed in recent years.

WRECA members are willing and ready to take on more electric load to meet the exponential increases in electric vehicle deployment, or continued electrification of heating and cooking in residential and commercial buildings, but we must have reliable distribution and transmission infrastructure—and adequate carbon-free resources—to meet this increased demand.

It’s a message that is hard to get through to lawmakers and regulators at times because co-ops are so good at delivering affordable and reliable power to our member-owners. But there is a tipping point on the reliability side.

I’m afraid reliability issues facing California will breach the borders of the Pacific Northwest no matter how loud we shout that we have a critical electric reliability issue facing us in the near future.   

How do you view the reliability challenges that face Washington co-ops now and into the future?

It’s pretty dire. I keep chiding my members to stop using the term “resource adequacy” in referring to our future power needs and simply tell state legislators in Olympia that we don’t have enough power to meet their electrification mandates.

It’s hard to explain to legislators that WRECA members welcome the new electric load but want to do it in a reliable fashion.

Why is it important to make rural electric cooperative voices heard at state, regional and federal levels?

I’ve run into several instances, particularly at the state regulatory level, where legislation or regulations governing legislation were crafted for investor-owned utilities and applied to co-ops simply because “we thought they should be applied to you, too.”

Legislators and regulators don’t understand we are member-owned and self-regulated. Quite frankly, we don’t have the staff to deal with some of these more cumbersome carbon reporting regulations.

A Bit of Background

I cut my teeth in electric cooperative issues as a senior legislative assistant for former Rep. Greg Walden, a Republican from Oregon.

I was working for a congressman from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, who I saw once in the first four months I worked in the office. In 1999, through a former colleague, I heard about this new member of Congress from Eastern Oregon who was energetic and wanted to get things done. I made a lateral move to Walden’s office, and it turned out to be the best career move I ever made. It set me up for the rest of my career. 

Walden represented 72,000 square miles of Eastern Oregon—from Medford in southwestern Oregon to the Blue Mountains and the Idaho border. In my role as the energy and natural resources policy aide for the congressman, I interacted a lot with Ted Case at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. He is now my counterpart in Oregon.

Walden had important committee assignments on the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee and the Energy and Commerce Committee. The former committee had jurisdiction over the Bonneville Power Administration and the other power marketing administrations. The latter committee had jurisdiction over nearly every other aspect of energy policy. I was in constant contact with Ted and his predecessor at the Oregon Rural Electric Cooperative Association, Sandy Flicker, on a wide array of Northwest energy matters. I really got to understand the co-op business model well through these interactions.

When the offer to work at NRECA came along in 2005, I jumped at the opportunity. Then I jumped at the opportunity to work at Tri-State G&T in Colorado and then became head of the statewide here in Washington.

I’m a naturalized American citizen, having been born in the United Kingdom and immigrating here when I was 6. My family emigrated from the U.K. to Columbus, Ohio, and then Providence, Rhode Island, because my dad worked as chief financial officer for a U.K. subsidiary of an American company.

I enjoy skiing, hiking, and playing my bass and acoustic guitars.