Federal Spending Bill Funds Co-op Priorities - Carolina Country

Federal Spending Bill Funds Co-op Priorities

A $1.3 trillion spending bill includes budget priorities for electric co-ops

Jim Matheson

Jim Matheson, CEO of NRECA

A $1.3 trillion spending bill that includes a number of budget priorities for electric cooperatives passed Congress and was signed into law by President Trump on March 23. The measure keeps the federal government running through September 30, the end of fiscal 2018.

“This bill strengthens programs that are essential to the economic health of rural America while also emphasizing the need to continue pursuing innovative solutions to future energy and economic needs,” said Jim Matheson, CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA).

Provisions benefiting electric co-op operations include $5.5 billion for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s electric loan program. 

The bill also streamlines government red tape that impedes the ability of electric co-ops to manage vegetation near utility rights of way on public lands. Better land management access will allow co-ops to bolster system reliability.

There’s also funding for cybersecurity research and development, a key resource as co-ops work to stay ahead of evolving cyber threats. The Cybersecurity for Energy Delivery Systems, from which NRECA currently receives funding for the Rural Cooperative Cybersecurity Capabilities Program, grew from $62 million to $75 million in the 2018 budget.

LIHEAP, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, will receive $3.64 billion, up from the current $3.39 billion. The spending bill is also notable for what’s not included. Congress opposed a Trump administration proposal to sell off the transmission assets of three federal Power Marketing Administrations. The bill also avoids drastic cuts to the Rural Economic Development Loan & Grant Program (REDLG), which provides rural utilities with grants and zero-interest loans to directly fund local projects that create and retain employment in the communities they serve.

Over the past five years, North Carolina’s electric cooperatives have tapped the funding source to channel more than $50 million to projects across the state.

—Michael W. Kahn, NRECA, contributed to this article.

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