By Martin Hillert
There is an organization celebrating ten years of operation in Wisconsin and across the country, that offers a form of financing pioneered right here in our home state. That organization is called the Public Finance Authority (PFA). As the PFA marks ten years since its inception, it is important to highlight one of PFA’s first successes right here in the state of Wisconsin that provided financing that we needed at Adams-Columbia Electric Cooperative in 2011.
As the largest rural electric cooperative in the state of Wisconsin, Adams-Columbia Electric Cooperative serves 36,000 members/owners in 12 counties or 31,560 homes, businesses, farms, and schools, and employs more than 100 full-time employees and more than 10 part-time employees.
If you lived in our area in 2010, you might remember the horrible flooding that impacted our local communities, which also occurred on the heels of the Great Recession. At the Cooperative, this meant we needed to secure financing in order to repair our infrastructure. We were not eligible for FEMA financing, we were able to access tax-exempt Recovery Zone Facility Bonds and Midwest Disaster Area Bonds that were established under the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act of 2009 and Heartland Disaster Tax Relief Act.
The Cooperative heard about the PFA and understood that this organization was created by local governments, for local governments to provide financing that presents no risk to the taxpayer or any state or local government. As a result, in 2011, our Cooperative successfully worked with the PFA to secure financing that was needed for improvements to our electrical distribution system. With the help of the PFA we
- Replaced and installed overhead and underground wires, control devices and other devices located in our service area
- Built a new substation in the Town of Monroe
- Accessed tax-exempt bonds as a cost-effective means to finance our projects
The local approval of this project was a rigorous process and without the PFA, this project would not have happened. In total, nine counties held hearings and approved the issuance of the bonds. In addition, 53 town and city governments held hearings and approved the issuance of the bonds. These local approvals are critical because the PFA is committed to local approval and “[a]ny project not approved by the local jurisdiction will not be financed through PFA,” as noted on their website.
At our cooperative, we work for our members and our top priority is providing reliable power at the lowest possible cost for quality service in a manner that is as economical as possible for all our members. With this project, PFA was the most desirable and viable financing option we had at the time.
The PFA continues to issue bonds which benefit communities across the country. These bonds, including the one for our cooperative, benefit communities with projects that may have limited options for financing. The cooperative was very pleased to work with the PFA to the benefit of our electric cooperative members in Wisconsin.
Martin Hillert is the former CEO of Adams Columbia Electric Cooperative.