US co-ops welcome Biden’s infrastructure plan

Electric co-operatives were included in the plan

US President Joe Biden unveiled a US$2tn infrastructure plan on 31 March, which features a series of electric co-operative policy priorities.

Known as the American Jobs Plan, the package includes a US$100bn investment in broadband, with a focus on rural areas and tribal lands. It also promises to prioritise support for broadband networks owned, operated by, or affiliated with local governments, non-profits, and co-operatives, which it describes as “providers with less pressure to turn profits and with a commitment to serving entire communities”.

Other commitments include promoting transparency and competition and lifting barriers that prevent municipally owned or affiliated providers and rural electric co-ops from competing on an even playing field with private providers, and requiring internet providers to clearly disclose their prices.

“This is not a plan that tinkers around the edges,” said Mr Biden. “It is a once-in-a-generation investment in America unlike anything we’ve done since we built the interstate highway system and the space race decades ago.”

Spread over eight years, the project would be funded from a rise in the corporate tax rate to 28% from 21%. Additional measures would also be taken to make multinational corporations pay more taxes in the US on profits earned abroad.

Related: Infrastucture among the issues facing America’s electric co-ops after the ice storm

The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) welcomed the insertion of co-op priorities in the plan, and highlighted the provisions that would benefit the sector. These include $100bn to update the nation’s energy grid and expand existing transmission infrastructure, allowing electric co-ops to access direct-pay tax credits for energy innovation, generation, and storage programes, $15bn for energy demonstration projects, including utility-scale battery storage, carbon capture and storage, and advanced nuclear energy and programmes to make electricity infrastructure more resilient.

NRECA CEO Jim Matheson said in a statement: “We’re encouraged to see electric co-op priorities reflected in President Biden’s infrastructure proposal.”

“As we plan for a future that depends on electricity as the primary energy source for a majority of the economy, strategic investments in grid modernisation and energy innovation are critical. Equally important is support for expanded rural broadband and other efforts to help rural families and businesses.

“As Congress reflects on this proposal and begins drafting legislation, we look forward to staying engaged to ensure that the priorities of rural America and electric co-ops remain front of mind.”

The National Cooperative Business Association CLUSA International (NCBA CLUSA) also welcomed the plan.

President and CEO Doug O’Brien said: “NCBA CLUSA is pleased to see the call from President Biden to make much-needed investments in our nation’s infrastructure and addressing issues of climate change, racial equity, and home care. Today’s announcement centres co-operatives in helping rural Americans capture educational and economic potential through broadband.

“It’s clear from the White House’s plan that co-operatives can also play an integral role in energy efficiency, housing, the food system, workforce development, and especially in the care economy that will help more people own, control, and benefit from the businesses and services they use. NCBA CLUSA is eager to continue our work with the White House and with Congress to include co-operatives as a strategy for inclusive, equitable and sustainable growth for years to come.”