Delta-Montrose Electric Association stands to reap the benefits of recent federal legislation.
The $369 billion Inflation Reduction Act includes a provision that gives not-for-profit cooperatives like DMEA access to tax-credit programs, while the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act funds an affordable connectivity program to discount broadband for low-income residents.
“The Inflation Reduction Act touches on many different aspects. For us, the items of interest were funding to promote renewable energy resources and, equally, it brings bout tax benefits that historically electrical cooperatives had not qualified for, based on our non-tax-paying status,” said Kent Blackwell, DMEA’s interim CEO and chief technology officer.
Blackwell spoke to the Daily Press Thursday, following U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper’s visit to the cooperative on Wednesday. Hickenlooper, D-Colorado, was touring the Western Slope to promote the Inflation Reduction Act and had a meeting with DMEA leadership, then a tour of its community solar garden.
Blackwell said the co-op was honored to have him recognize the important role cooperatives play in rural communities.
“The Inflation Reduction Act will save families hundreds on their electrical bills and create millions of jobs,” Hickenlooper said in a video shot at the DMEA solar garden.
To pay for its many provisions, the act creates a minimum tax of 15% on the profits of corporations with more than $1 billion in income.
The Inflation Reduction Act’s clean energy and energy efficiency provisions give rural electrical cooperatives more resources for clean energy projects, energy efficiency improvements, zero-emission systems and, for the first time, makes them eligible for direct-pay clean energy tax credits.
Previously, those tax-credit programs were only open to investor-owned cooperatives.
“Most immediately, two days ago, the Delta County commissioners voted unanimously to approve our Garnet Mesa solar project. This legislation allows us to begin creative thought and consider how we will fund that project,” Blackwell said.
DMEA and its power wholesaler Guzman Energy are partnering to build a solar farm on Garnet Mesa. Delta County commissioners previously rejected the application for a special use permit, citing concerns about agricultural uses on the land proposed for the project, but DMEA came back with a new proposal that added sheep-grazing to the mix. The commissioners approved the permit on Tuesday, greenlighting the 80-megawatt solar farm.
“There is just a lot in that bill that is going to directly benefit DMEA and, really, more the capability of DMEA to stay up on the technology,” DMEA board member Bill Patterson said.
“We’ve got a lot going on. Having the fiber optic network will enable DMEA to develop a grid management system that can use the distributed electric generation that’s going to happen in the future.”
Another recent piece of federal legislation will help lower-income residents in DMEA/Elevate’s broadband service territory.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act provides $65 billion for broadband, including $40 billion in block grants to states and $2 billion to tribal governments for the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program.
The bill includes a subsidy by which low-income people can have their broadband monthly bills reduced. Blackwell said the government basically pays $30 of each qualifying bill and there is no administrative bonus for DMEA.
“It’s just kind of a pass-through cost where the government pays part of the bill,” he said.
Patterson on Thursday was part of a discussion with National Rural Electric Cooperative Association CEO Jim Matheson, who also discussed the benefits of the inflation reduction and infrastructure bills.
“The infrastructure bill has in it (a provision) where the federal government is subsidizing low-income people to be able to afford internet service. DMEA is participating in that. We will process the service, if you will,” Patterson said.
Hickenlooper wasn’t the only politician to swing through Montrose on Wednesday and tout DMEA’s role in recent legislation.
During a campaign stop downtown, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet praised the cooperative’s role in advancing renewable energy and broadband. “They’ve set the standard for the whole country,” he said during media interviews.
Bennet also referred to the BRIDGE Act, which he sponsored along with Sen. Angus King, Maine’s independent senator, and Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, in 2021, and which DMEA had a hand in drafting. Provisions of that act were folded into the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act.
“None of it would have happened without DMEA,” Bennet said, in response to a question from KKCO TV.
DMEA had helped develop a lot of the language of the BRIDGE Act, Blackwell said Thursday. “We very much thank him for that acknowledgment,” he said.
Blackwell also thanked Hickenlooper for sitting down with DMEA administration and the board president Kyle Martinez.
“We very much appreciate him taking the time to meet with us and truly getting our opinion and his support for our participation in the Inflation Reduction Act,” Blackwell said.
Katharhynn Heidelberg is the Montrose Daily Press assistant editor and senior writer. Follow her on Twitter, @kathMDP.