Representatives of Pella Cooperative Electric and other Iowa electric cooperatives traveled to Washington, D.C. this week to discuss a recent decision by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to deny federal disaster aid, and potentially force Iowa’s electric cooperatives to repay millions in disaster aid previously awarded.
Following a late winter snow, ice and wind storm in April, a federally declared Major Disaster included Lyon, Osceola, Dickinson, Sioux and O’Brien counties. Three of Iowa’s electric cooperatives and two municipal utilities suffered damage.
In response to past disaster-related damage, FEMA has followed a policy where visually observable criteria were used to determine if power lines had been damaged beyond the point of repair. FEMA reversed this long-standing policy and denied disaster aid applications following the April storm.
For the first time in the nation, FEMA has stated that disaster aid could not be issued because the affected electric cooperatives did not conduct comprehensive laboratory testing on every mile of wire on an annual basis. This test is not performed as a matter of industry practice in the utility industry anywhere in America and is not a required by RUS funding from the government nor from other lenders. It is also not required by the Iowa Utilities Board, which regulates Iowa’s electric cooperatives and required them to submit reliability plans and inspection and maintenance plans annually.
Currently, Pella Cooperative Electric just closed a FEMA Mitigation project and just began another one. These changes in policies could affect Pella Cooperative Electric’s current mitigation project and the ability to qualify for future funds should the area endure a storm where FEMA disaster aid would be needed.