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For electric cooperatives, the COVID-19 crisis is unique from other emergencies: NRECA chief

Highlights

Commercial members face shutdowns

Some member deposits are being returned

Houston — Electric co-ops, guided by their coronavirus pandemic plans, are preparing to operate with a smaller workforce, potential disruptions in the supply chain, and limited support services for an extended period of time, the head of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association said Tuesday.

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Jim Matheson, the CEO of the NRECA, said on a webcast that cooperatives are sequestering key employees who operate electricity systems, as well as suspending utility disconnects for members who cannot pay their bills.

He said the current situation is different from what cooperatives face during storms causing outages. "This situation could last a long time," Matheson said.

He noted that cooperatives are consumer-owned, with the consumers being members of the cooperative.

While members are being told that no one will have their service disconnected if they cannot pay their bills, Matheson encouraged members who can pay their bills to do so for the sake of a cooperative's financial health.

Tony Anderson, the CEO at Cherryland Electric Cooperative that serves 35,000 members in six northwest rural counties in Michigan, said that of his cooperative's top 10 commercial customers, eight are "shutdown" due to the coronavirus pandemic.

"That represents a half million dollars per month in revenue," he said.

Dwayne Cartwright, the CEO of the Berkeley Electric Cooperative that serves 103,000 member in three counties that surround the City of Charleston, South Carolina, said his cooperative returned $4.5 million in deposits to its members last week.

He said that 100% of his cooperative's employees are out in the field practicing social distancing.

"But we can't stop thinking about what's coming. Hurricane season is not far off," he said.