By Steven Johnson | ECT Staff Writer Published: March 6th, 2012

SAN DIEGO―NRECA CEO Glenn English issued a direct challenge to co-op leaders, calling on them to invigorate grassroots political activity among their 42 million members and seize opportunities to keep electricity prices at affordable levels.

At the 2012 NRECA Annual Meeting, Glenn English called on co-op leaders to reinvigorate their movement and prepare for political battles ahead. (Photo By: Luis Gomez Photos)

At the 2012 NRECA Annual Meeting, Glenn English called on co-op leaders to reinvigorate their movement and prepare for political battles ahead. (Photo By: Luis Gomez Photos)

In forceful terms, English told managers, directors and staffers at the 2012 NRECA Annual Meeting that they must recommit themselves to build the political muscle that co-ops were known for in the early days of the rural electric program.

That’s the best way for co-ops to achieve their core mission of improving the quality of life for their members, he said.

“There is nothing that you can do as a manager or a director that will have more impact on your members’ electric bills than getting involved in this fight and building your political strength. Anything else is minor in comparison,” he said.

“We must today rebuild our political strength so that it is comparable to what we had 50 years ago.”

The 70th annual meeting attracted about 8,000 participants to the San Diego Convention Center for the co-op business meeting, as well as a variety of forums, exhibits, training and related activities.

In his address to the first general session on March 5, English said the current congressional stalemate provides co-ops a chance to prepare for a time when Congress will start to move ahead with the public’s business.

That could come as early as next year, after voters send a message to Washington by registering their discontent in the upcoming elections with the status quo, he said.

In turn, that could provide an opening to rewrite legislation such as the Clean Air Act, he said. Years of court cases and regulations piled on to the 40-year-old law have created an untenable situation for co-ops, and they need to hit the ground running if they get a chance to revise the act.

“What we need today is for Congress and the president to celebrate what we have accomplished and to set out new goals for the future. Then we must work to rewrite the law, so we can accomplish those objectives without being hindered by old rules, regulations and court decisions.”

English said that should be done with an emphasis on using new technology, so goals can be reached at the lowest cost and with the least disruption to the system.

Groups with other agendas already have shown they can mobilize their supporters—witness the 10,000 Keystone XL pipeline protesters who amassed outside the White House in early November. Co-ops will have to match that with a strong sense of passion and commitment, English added, calling the electric cooperative network of 42 million members “a sleeping giant” waiting to be stirred.

English urged each co-op in the country to send a manager and at least one director to the NRECA Grassroots Summit, April 29-May 2, where they’ll be briefed on ways to rally the grassroots.

“Only you can help bring economic common sense to the United States government,” he said. “We need to make this happen. We need to do this job.”