HEA powers the next generation

Posted: Monday, July 02, 2007

I recently visited Homer Electric Association to present a plaque from Alaska Power Association to Christopher Hall, a young man from Nikiski, who is representing Alaska on the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s Youth Leadership Council. Alaska Power Association is the statewide trade association for electric utilities.

On the three-hour drive from Anchorage to the electric cooperative’s Kenai office, I thought about what the electric industry is doing to promote careers to Generation Y, those born in the period from 1982 to 2000.

The electric industry is facing the aging workforce issue as it rapidly loses thousands of highly skilled utility workers annually to retirement.

According to January 2007 data from the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, 38 percent of the electric cooperative workforce is more than 50 years old. The sad fact is that America’s demand for electric power is increasing as the labor force of the electric industry is decreasing.

Many of Alaska’s electric cooperatives are meeting this challenge by offering youth leadership programs in their communities and providing educational scholarships to co-op members.

The scholarship programs are largely a result of a legislative effort spearheaded in the late 1980s by Alaska Power Association, then called the Alaska Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

The association persuaded the legislature to exempt unclaimed capital credits from escheating to the State of Alaska.

After a statute change, electric cooperatives in 1991 established the ARECA Educational Foundation.

The foundation is a non-profit corporation with a professionally administered fund comprised of electric cooperatives’ unclaimed capital credits that are used for scholarships. HEA and other members of the foundation present scholarships to co-op members at annual meetings.

For many years, member-owned electric cooperatives like HEA have sent high school students to a one-week youth leadership program in Idaho called the youth rally.

At the rally, sophomores and juniors hear the history of the rural electrification program and how FDR’s Rural Electrification Administration supplied electric power to families in the poorest, most rural communities in the country. The students learn how public power utilities are governed by citizen volunteers.

Christopher was selected at last year’s youth rally to represent Alaska this year as a delegate on the youth council of the national electric cooperatives’ association.

Earlier this month, he toured Washington, D.C. for a week as part of the council and then he heads back to D.C. next month for a youth leadership summit. At the summit, Christopher and his peers will discuss issues of national importance to electric cooperatives and their member-owners.

An honor student at Kenai Central High School and an accomplished athlete, Christopher has a bright future — a future made even brighter by his local electric cooperative.

Marilyn Leland is executive director of Alaska Power Association, the statewide electric utility trade association.

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