CMPAS Joins Public Power Colleagues in DC
When electricity is so easily taken for granted, public power leaders and employees regularly need to remind policymakers of the impact municipally-owned electric utilities play in daily life at home and work. The annual sojourn to the American Public Power Association’s Legislative Rally in Washington D.C. serves a twofold purpose: 1) Meeting with elected and appointed officials regarding utility issues; 2) Convening a large group of public power leaders to discuss policy resolutions that provide the basis for unified industry positions.
This year Sleepy Eye Public Utility Commissioners Wayne Novotny and Bob Weiss, Glencoe Light and Power Manager Dave Meyer, Windom City Administrator Steve Nasby, and CMPAS Public Affairs Director Christina Pierson attended the rally as part of the MN Municipal Utilities Association’s contingent.
Despite the last minute reshuffling of meeting locations and schedules due to services surrounding the late Reverend Billy Graham lying in honor at the U.S. Capitol, the CMPAS team participated in meetings with several elected representatives and their staff. Discussions involved concerns over line items in the Trump Administration’s budget related to bond-funded infrastructure investments and the Western Area Hydropower Administration, and possible legislatively-introduced initiatives regarding electric utility pole attachments.
Since security precautions and people congestion make it problematic to move quickly from one office to the next, the Minnesota public power contingent broke into groups to cover all of the necessary meetings with its entire Congressional delegation. Windom City Administrator Steve Nasby carried the same message to MN 5th CD Congressman Keith Ellison that was carried to others on the Hill: “Bond-funded municipal electric system investments are essential to the quality of life and economy throughout Minnesota. Local governments are very appreciative of the Administration and Congress’s attention on infrastructure; however, we miss the former 80/20 federal-local sharing arrangement and hope that the federal government can increase its share from the proposed 13/87 split to help local governments make much needed public works improvements.”
Nasby reminded Congressman Ellison’s staff that the most effective way to encourage investment is through the federal tax exemption on municipal bond interest. While the recently passed and signed tax bill preserved the exemption, cities were caught off-guard, when the same bill prohibited the issuance of new tax-exempt advance refunding bonds and tax credit bonds.
The entire MN delegation was asked to sign a letter in support of a bi-partisan bill introduced by Representatives Hultgren (R-IL) and Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD) to reinstate the municipal refinance bond tool. In 2017, bond refunding issuance accounted for 22.2 percent of the municipal bond market that serves a critical role in building infrastructure.
Western Area Power Administration
Sleepy Eye Commissioners, Bob Weiss and Wayne Novotny, advocated on behalf of their customers and all WAPA utilities by encouraging Congressman Ellison and others in the MN delegation to protect federal ownership of power marketing administrations (PMA), such as the Western Area Power Administration (WAPA). President Trump has joined all of his presidential predecessors over the past 30 years in proposing to sell the transmission assets of the federally-owned hydropower marketing administrations and allowing the power to be sold at market-based, for-profit rates instead of the traditional cost-based, not-for-profit power rates. CMPAS members that would be directly impacted by this proposal include Fairfax, Granite Falls, Mountain Lake, Springfield, and Windom.
Because of the ongoing misinformation campaign, the Sleepy Eye team reinforced the fact that federal taxpayers do not pay anything for the existence of the power marketing administration. Instead, customers pay a cost-based rate that fully recovers the cost, plus interest, for an allocation of power from federal hydropower facilities. The proposed sale of the PMAs attempts to collect a one-time cash pay-out at the expense of losing a valuable asset that benefits customers in sparsely-populated regions. Raising the cost of electricity for PMA ratepayers would hurt rural areas where it is sometimes more difficult to deliver electricity.
Given the current infrastructure debate, the CMPAS delegation also encouraged elected officials and their staff to look for ways to remove expensive regulatory barriers that inhibit the ability to modernize federal hydropower projects.
Broadband Deployment via Electric Pole Attachments
In the meeting with Congressman Tom Emmer, Dave Meyer of Glencoe Light and Power, asked Emmer be on the lookout for a problematic bill proposed by U.S. Senator John Thune (R-South Dakota) that would allow the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to regulate municipal power utility poles for the deployment of broadband. Current law expressly exempts municipal utilities from FCC pole attachment regulations.
Meyer explained that municipal utilities very much want and support the expansion of broadband in their communities. However, he warned Congressman Emmer that some broadband interests might try to circumvent a city’s ability to control its electric poles through legislation.
““We will do what we reasonably can to accommodate broadband organizations that want to deploy,” said Meyer, “At the same time, our electric utilities need to protect public safety and electric reliability when it comes to using electric poles for purposes other than the delivery of electricity. We need telecommunication companies to contact us and work with us in applying the appropriate technical, health, reliability, and safety considerations.”
The CMPAS delegation also participated in discussions on these and other electric power topics with U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar, and Tina Smith. MMUA representatives appreciated the opportunity to share information with Congresswoman Betty McCollum’s and Congressman Erik Paulsen’s staff. A group also met with first-term Congressman Jason Lewis, and several individuals also participated in visits with retiring Congressmen Rick Nolan and Tim Walz asking them for their continued help as they approach the end of their terms.
For more information on APPA’s top issues, please visit: https://www.publicpower.org/system/files/documents/2018_appa_leg_rally_key_messages.pdf