Lane Electric Board Members Represent Rural Oregon Nationally
2 of Lane Electric’s Central District directors and officers, Chris Seubert and Ingrid Kessler, represent Oregon with the National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative and National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. Chris and Ingrid share how this representation intersects with their work on the Lane Electric Cooperative board.
Question: You’ve both held several roles on the Lane Electric board and at the national level, representing Oregon and issues of concern for rural electric cooperatives. How long have you held your positions?
Ingrid: I joined the Lane Electric board 9 years ago and have been on the NRECA board for 3 years. My 1st step for both organizations was participating in committees.
Chris: I joined the Lane Electric board 18 years ago and have been on the NRTC board for 6 years.
Question: Why did you want to join national boards related to your localized engagement at Lane Electric? How do your national roles impact Lane Electric?
Chris: NRTC provides technology solutions to help more than 1,500 electric and telecom members bring evolving technology to rural America. For me, being on the board provides a look at how co-ops deploy technologies, such as advanced metering infrastructure, broadband and operating call centers for afterhours needs. It’s a front-row view of what elements lead to the successful implementation of new technologies. Those best practices are tangible learnings I bring back to Lane Electric. The connections I’ve built through NRTC also provide a support system. I’ve got people to call for advice or questions, which has given me a greater understanding of all levels of the cooperative.
Ingrid: NRECA is a multifaceted organization representing nearly 900 local electric cooperatives, including Lane Electric. There are 4 main areas it provides oversight on that directly impacts the co-op, which include:
- Hosting employee retirement plans. NRECA provides a rich benefits package and health plan that helps make Lane Electric a great employer.
- Offering support for the Lane Electric board and employees. Through training and educational opportunities, NRECA ensures directors and staff stay current on industry information and are educated and prepared for their roles.
- Pursuing research and development. Through its business and tech arm, NRECA partners with government and other agencies to provide resource adequacy consistent with sustainability and Lane Electric member needs.
- Supporting government relations. Our industry is heavily impacted by regulation. National efforts help guide federal legislation that impacts us locally and at a state level.
As Chris noted, being part of a national organization provides access to all kinds of experts—both board and staff. Through their network, we can call colleagues from around the country.
Question: Do you feel the issues cooperatives face are consistent, or is it driven at a regional or local level?
Ingrid: We are seeing both at NRECA. At Lane Electric, we have a lot in common with all 900 sister cooperatives, and we’re also, of course, unique. Right now, resource adequacy is a concern, and electric vehicles are being embraced by auto manufacturers and government regulators, significantly impacting electricity demand. Data centers and artificial intelligence facilities are also popping up in rural areas, requiring additional operating resources.
The Pacific Northwest is hydropower, but other parts of the country are seeing generation facilities closing. Areas with coal or gas-fired generation face calls to generate cleaner energy. Whether it’s the impact of dams or the push to move away from coal, we have great cooperation among co-ops as we address these issues. Rural populations like those served by Lane Electric have their own issues, but safety, affordability, sustainability and environmental stewardship are a concern for all.
Chris: From a technology standpoint, we see similar issues across rural communities. Every co-op must determine the next step in their technological future. For most rural providers, having a metering system that provides accurate reads is an important way to keep costs down. Beyond meters, the next thing they typically look at is broadband. Managing the process of troubleshooting and implementing upgrades is critical. We don’t have the deep pockets of a shareholder utility, so we must think smarter.
Question: Do you have any advice for people who want to get involved in a board in their community?
Ingrid: There are many opportunities to volunteer, but I believe it’s essential to find the right organizational fit to make a greater impact. Join a committee for an organization or cause you’re passionate about. It’s a great way to get to know the organization better and get your feet wet. Then, if you like it, ask to join the board. Above all, remember it takes courage to step forward and participate. You’re making a commitment to be involved and improve the community. Sometimes, you’ll encounter bumps, but there are bumps for almost everything worth doing.
Chris: At NRTC, I’m the only director on the board. The rest of the participants are CEOs and executive directors. I’m humbled to be part of it. It does mean I must do my homework, be more prepared and be unafraid to speak up. That’s something that applies to stepping onto any board or community role. It’s not a passive activity. You get out of it what you put into it, so come prepared to participate and take it seriously