Chris Stephens, CEO of Coweta-Fayette EMC testified before the United States Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry September 28 on the importance of fully funding the 2018 Farm Bill.

The Farm Bill is passed every five years and includes funding for rural development, farm credit, conservation, ag research, food and nutrition programs such as food stamps, and biofuels. The bill also funds the Rural Utilities Service which offers loans for EMC’s who need to build, expand and improve the infrastructure of their electric systems and offers funding options to expand the integration of smart grid technologies. The program also includes provisions for rural development loans and grants, economic development and broadband expansion.  

While our priority is delivering safe, reliable, clean, affordable electricity to our members, we have a calling to be more than just poles, wires, and electrons companies,” Stephens, told the Senate Agriculture Committee.  “Our broader purpose is to provide the services and support that empower our communities to thrive.”

Stephens, testifying on behalf of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, outlined the biggest challenges for electric co-ops going forward—adapting to changes in consumer demand, accommodating an evolving generation mix, and protecting against cyber threats—and how the Farm Bill “contains essential tools co-ops use to modernize and meet those needs.”

“It was an honor to represent not only the EMC’s of Georgia, but the entire network of rural electric cooperatives,” Stephens said. “Georgia is the birthplace of rural electrification. President Franklin Roosevelt saw firsthand the access and costs challenges faced by rural Georgians and recognized the importance of establishing a federal program that would electrify our nation. What was then called the Rural Electrification Administration is now the Rural Utilities Service and it’s as relevant today as it was back then.

“REA and RUS loans have helped build, expand, and improve the infrastructure across rural America necessary to deliver power, clean water, and other necessities.  It has been the most successful public-private infrastructure investment program in the history of the country. RUS loans help electric co-ops reduce costs and improve reliability for our members by financing basic maintenance like replacing poles and wires. But it also helps us fund projects to make our systems more modern, efficient, and secure.”