VALPARAISO │ Kankakee Valley Rural Electric Membership Corp. CEO Dennis Weiss said electric cooperatives are entering a new era as more people migrate from rural areas back to the cities.
Speaking at Kankakee Valley REMC's 73nd annual meeting of the membership Tuesday at Porter County Expo Center, Weiss said reports show a 1.6 percent decline in the last 10 years in the population of Pulaski County and almost 1 percent in Starke County.
“There’s no work for our children and grandchildren, and we’re seeing many rural communities even struggle for existence,” he said. “It’s difficult for Kankakee Valley REMC to be a world-class energy provider if the communities we serve are not healthy and prosperous.”
Weiss said the REMC is determining what its role will be in helping its communities once again become healthy and prosperous and how the cooperative can assist in job creation, attracting new businesses and developing infrastructure enhancements to attract companies to move into its communities.
“This will be the next challenge for rural electrics across the nation and a challenge REMC is working on today,” he said.
Weiss said the REMC is financially strong despite weather-related challenges in 2012 including severe storms that struck its system multiple times in the spring along with extreme heat and drought conditions.
“These conditions tested our lines and infrastructure,” he said. “(The system) held up and is in great shape.”
Weiss also told REMC’s membership that more regulations will make it difficult to operate the cooperative.
“But these things we deal with now, and we’ll just continue to do so,” he said.
President Otto Werner said the REMC is working with other cooperatives to form an initiative to start a conversation with legislators to discuss regulations on the industry.
“One voice isn’t enough (to) make positive influence on our elected officials,” he said.
Werner said the cooperatives would like to see legislators “accomplish their goals while still making energy affordable land reliable.”
Weiss also discussed his 2012 participation in “Hoosiers Power the World” – a volunteer team of linemen, staff members and executives from 17 Indiana electric cooperatives donated their time to bring electricity to three remote villages in Guatemala.
“It was one of the greatest experiences of my life,” Weiss said. “It was a privilege to see these lights come on for the first time. It must have felt just like it did in 1939 when the lights came on for the first time in our rural area.”