From the Cooperative to the Capital

Co-ops advocate for consumers at Arizona’s statehouse

By Magen Howard and J.D. Wallace

Senator David Gowan, LD 19, left, stands next to Duncan Valley Electric Cooperative Director Judy McKinley and shakes hands with Grand Canyon State Electric Cooperative Association CEO Dave Lock.

Electric cooperative leaders from across the Grand Canyon
State converged on the statehouse in late January with one mission: Educate legislators, veterans and rookies alike about electric co-ops’ unique and critical role in our communities. With more than 40 new members, nearly half of the 56th Arizona Legislature’s roster comes to Phoenix without prior state legislative experience. That means co-op leaders had plenty of opportunities to explain what makes them different from other utilities and develop relationships that can last far into the future.

“When legislators hear that we are democratic, not-for profit organizations that do not have shareholders or investors to back us up financially, they quickly understand that when we invest in new technology, we have a responsibility to our member-owners to get it right,” says Patrick Ledger, CEO of Arizona Generation and Transmission Cooperatives, which provides power and other energy services to co-ops and public power utilities in Arizona, California, Nevada and New Mexico. “We are not focused on getting a return on
investment; we are focused on making sound investments that keep costs as low as possible while also ensuring reliable and responsible power delivery.

Rep. Gail Griffin, LD 19, left, poses with Sulphur Springs Valley Electric Cooperative CEO Jason Bowling and Rep. Lupe Diaz, LD 19.

The co-op leaders came together as part of the Grand Canyon State Electric Cooperative Association’s annual legislative rally. The trade group supporting Arizona’s electric co-ops organizes the visits to ensure co-op consumer-members’ voices are heard at the state and federal levels. “Electric co-ops are governed by boards composed of consumer-members who are elected by consumer-members, so when our directors and co-op managers go to the statehouse, they’re speaking directly for their consumers—their rate-payers,” says Casey Ratlief, GCSECA’s director of government relations and grassroots advocacy.

Co-op representatives don’t exclude visits with legislators from the Phoenix and Tucson metro areas, even though most co-ops serve rural parts of the state.

“We want to make sure that as many new legislators as possible hear the cooperative story and can understand how, as democratic, not-for-profit utilities, our needs and issues can be different for the predominantly rural areas that we serve,” Ratlief says.

Co-op leaders also visited with Arizona Corporation Commissioners. The ACC’s role is primarily to approve rate adjustments and infrastructure construction for most utilities in the state, including electric co-ops.

“It’s critical that our commissioners know how co-ops are different from investor-owned utilities—that we’re democratically governed and we speak directly for consumer-owners, not shareholders,” says Ben Engelby, general counsel for Arizona G&T Cooperatives. “Our rural service territories and cooperative business model set us apart, and we want to make sure our commissioners understand us because they govern many aspects of our operations.”

Dave Lock moderates a roundtable with
newly elected Arizona Corporation Commissioners Nick Myers, middle, and Kevin Thompson. Photos courtesy of Arizona G&T Cooperatives

But the co-ops don’t go to Phoenix just to advocate for their consumer-members or to educate newcomers.

“This is an opportunity for many of our members to hear
from their legislators and to thank them for the leadership they’ve provided in the legislature in the past,” GCSECA CEO Dave Lock says. “The appreciation goes both ways—our legislators want to hear from us, and we appreciate their time.”

The cooperatives have always emphasized they are nonpartisan. Co-ops support any candidate who supports the cooperatives’ mission, regardless of political party. Right now, the balance of power between the two parties in the legislature is so close that one vote can determine if a bill passes or fails. How the cooperatives navigate this landscape could contribute to the success of meeting their goals during this session and those to come.