Kansas Department of Transportation Secretary Julie Lorenz, at a recent meeting of Kansas electric cooperatives, shed light on the commonality between the electric co-ops and KDOT. Sec. Lorenz was a guest speaker at Kansas Electric Cooperatives, Inc.’s (KEC) Annual Meeting where she updated the conferees on the Eisenhower Legacy Transportation Program (IKE), a 10-year program that addresses highways, bridges, public transit, aviation, short-line rail and bike/pedestrian needs across Kansas. Her comparison of the department to the electric co-ops was thought-provoking:
- Electric co-ops average seven meters per mile of line while Kansas roads average 10 Kansans per mile.
- Contrast that with an average of 48 people per mile of distribution line in the U.S. and 38 people per road mile in this country.
Most interesting, from my perspective, was her comment on how both entities rely on partnerships as the key to their success. “The Rural Electrification Act is a great example of holistic approach to problem-solving,” she said.
The Rural Electrification Act passed in 1936, one of the most important pieces of legislation passed as part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal, brought electricity to rural America because of a holistic approach to solving a major problem — the lack of electricity in areas not served by investor-owned utilities.
The law allowed the federal government to make low-cost loans to farmers who had banded together to create non-profit electric cooperatives. Rural Americans — rural Kansans — understood the bigger picture and not only thought outside of the box but removed the box completely. And did so by working together as a unified entity.
Legislation to fund Kansas’ IKE program was passed by the Kansas Legislature in 2020 with strong bi-partisan support with 94% voting affirmative. As Sec. Lorenz commented, the power of “and” is the overriding theme to the success of IKE. There is no rural vs. urban. No Republicans vs. Democrats. No public sector vs. private sector.
Similarly, collaboration is key to the success of electric cooperatives and, ultimately, the success of rural America and rural Kansas. Co-ops collaborate with their consumer-members, communities, policymakers and the public to develop solutions together that benefit all. There is not “you vs. me” — but only “we,” as in we are all in this together and only together can we move forward.
In additional parallels to the electric co-ops, Sec. Lorenz noted that true problem-solving rejects the “either or” thinking of the past, and that the best solutions are:
- Shaped by local communities (consumer-member owned co-ops).
- Guided and supported by the public sector (create a model for others to replicate; provided loans).
- Encourage private investment (private utilities began adding line in the country).
- Incentivize long-term progress (Rural America electrified – more people able to purchase electric goods.).
Sec. Lorenz’s assessment that working together creates a better path forward and that when doing so, we are all stronger, bares out in the success of the electric cooperative business model. As emphasized throughout Sec. Lorenz’s infrastructure update, it takes all of us. Ad Astra Simul – to the stars together.
For specific information on KDOT’s IKE projects, visit https://www.ksdotike.org/projects/pipelines.