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Power Ploy? Colorado Co-Op Splits with NRECA, But May Rejoin

Fortnightly Magazine - November 1 1997

Says association too wishy-washy on retail choice.

CONSUMER CHOICE MAY TURN BELLY UP THIS Congress but it has hit the gut of the nation's rural cooperative association: a member co-op has dropped out over the NRECA's stance on a federal Choice mandate. But before this story goes to press, the two sides (em the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and Intermountain Rural Co-operative of Colorado (em may have shaken hands and shaken heads over the "misunderstanding."

That's because the disagreement could amount to nothing more than a cagey move by Intermountain to draw the attention of the NRECA and others to the co-op's vehement anti-wheeling stance. Could Intermountain's $50,000 annual dues check be in the mail?

Stan R. Lewandowski Jr., the co-op's g.m., ironically recommended to his board that it renew membership for the co-op for 1998. The board then voted 6-1 to drop out. Lewandowski, however, hasn't let that vote color his view of NRECA and its apparent opposition to retail choice.

"It's not really a lot of big issues, but it's just sort of a change to: 'Don't be wishy-washy,'" he says. "They just take a wishy-washy stand. It depends on who they talked to last [within the association]."

The defection isn't likely to incite members to leave over dissatisfaction with NRECA's too-pro or too-con position on wheeling. There are wide opinions among the group's 900 co-op members. Lewandowski's sentiments, rooted in low all-requirements contract costs, are among the loudest.

NRECA CEO Glenn English, meanwhile, admits it's difficult because the association must help co-ops in those states calling for retail choice.

"There's not a clear understanding of exactly what it is that NRECA is being required to do in these cases," he says. "Obviously, it is not practical for us to simply say 'no' and that's it. We have to respond to all of our membership and deal with the fact that many states have already taken some kind of action. And our members are looking for ways they can deal with the reality they're facing.

"I think what Stan has to recognize is that we have a responsibility to assist NRECA members no matter what their opinion and attitude is," he says.

English insists the association has taken a strong stance on the federal mandate.

"Our national position is not changed," he says. "We oppose any kind of federal mandate for action by the states and the resolution that we have lays out the points that should be included in legislation (em state or federal."

NRECA's March 20 resolution calls for protecting consumers, having utilities take responsibility for stranded costs, the exclusivity of distribution areas and the security of all-requirements contracts.

Lewandowski says NRECA would have to meet three conditions for Intermountain to rejoin the fold. "Take a strong stance against the federal mandate," he says. "The other thing would be if they just keep quiet talking about the inevitability of [wheeling].

"There are members of the staff that have stated it [was inevitable]. And in fact, I think, even in a conversation I had with Glenn¼ he readily

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