The West Oregon Electric Co-op offices in Vernonia. Photo: Chas Hundley
For the past 75 years Oregon’s electric cooperatives like West Oregon Electric Cooperative have provided our members affordable, reliable electricity. Sometimes that’s not easy.
WOEC experienced four FEMA events in the last 6 years, leaving consumers without power, causing millions of dollars in damages. FEMA funds bring the lights back on after these major events. However, due to an unintended consequence of federal tax law changes in 2017, electric co-ops that receive FEMA grants are now at risk of losing their tax-exempt status, forcing them to raise rates on members to pay taxes.
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Electric cooperatives remain tax-exempt as long as they receive 85% of their income from their member-owners. With tax law changes, government grants now count as non-member income, threatening this 85% threshold.
Here’s what’s already happening: https://kval.com/news/local/fine-print-in-2017-gop-tax-law-could-result-in-increase-in-electric-co-op-rates-in-oregon
Thankfully, common-sense legislation in Congress - the RURAL Act - ensures that co-ops do not jeopardize their tax-exempt status when they accept government grants. Passage of this bipartisan legislation means that Oregon’s electric co-ops do not have to choose between their tax status or rebuilding infrastructure. But time is running out.
The bill’s ultimate fate may rest with U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, who has a unique opportunity to help keep rural Oregon in the light in more ways than one. By passing the RURAL Act, Senator Wyden can continue as a shining example of bipartisan cooperation that Oregonians expect from their elected leaders. Please write to Senator Wyden asking him to support the Rural Act: www.wyden.senate.gov/contact/email-ron. Thank you.
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