Allamakee Clayton Electric Cooperative receives visits from Congresswoman Ashley Hinson and Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig within a week

Ag Secretary Mike Naig visits ACEC ... Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig (seated in center of photo above) visited Allamakee Clayton Electric Cooperative (ACEC) near Postville Thursday, June 8. Secretary Naig met with ACEC staff, received a brief tour of the facility, and discussed issues and initiatives, including broadband coverage in rural areas and alternative energy sources, among many others. Standard photo by Joe Moses.

Touring the facility ... Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig speaks with Allamakee Clayton Electric Cooperative (ACEC) Economic Development and Community Relations Manager Brenda Hackman and Iowa House District 68 Representative Chad Ingels during his tour of Allamakee Clayton Electric Cooperative Thursday, June 8. Part of the tour included checking out ACEC’s Tesla electric car, which Secretary Naig’s son can be seen doing in the driver’s seat of the vehicle in the photo above. Standard photo by Joe Moses.

by Joe Moses

Allamakee Clayton Electric Cooperative (ACEC) received visits from a pair of dignitaries within less than a week of one another in early June. Congresswoman Ashley Hinson of Iowa’s Second Congressional District made a visit to ACEC Friday, June 2 and Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig also visited ACEC Thursday, June 8. Coverage of both visits follows below.

Congresswoman Ashley Hinson of Iowa’s Second Congressional District visited Allamakee County Friday, June 2 as part of her second 22-County Tour of 2023 along with stops in Fayette and Clayton Counties later that same day.

Hinson visited Allamakee-Clayton Electric Cooperative (ACEC) in Postville to hear about ACEC’s efforts in providing reliable services relating to electricity and fiber optic internet to customers in northeast Iowa. Executive Vice President/General Manager Hollee McCormick welcomed Hinson followed by introductions from State Representative Anne Osmundson of the 64th District and ACEC representatives including Director of Operations and Engineering Jason Troendle, Member Services Manager Ryan Wagner, Information Technology (IT) Manager Jeni Kolsrud, ACEC Board President Jeff Bradley, IT Specialist Matthew Marting, Economic Development and Community Relations Manager Brenda Hackman, Economic Development Manager Jenny Kuderer-Radcliffe of Dairyland Power Cooperative and Government Relations Manager Jennifer Shilling of Dairyland Power Cooperative.
In starting the discussion, McCormick and Hinson both noted the goal of the day’s meeting was learning more about issues that are important to rural electric cooperatives, with this update and feedback being essential in developing policies and legislation to support projects that make an impact for communities. Hinson discussed recent legislative matters including getting beyond the debt ceiling, work being done relating to the appropriations bill and the Inflation Reduction Act.

McCormick discussed the importance of an all-of-the-above energy strategy as a realistic option rather than an immediate switch to exclusively renewables. She described this measured approach as a way to avoid creating vulnerabilities in the energy grid.

Troendle discussed the need to streamline the permitting and approval process from a regulatory and government perspective. He noted that greater transparency throughout the extensive governmental and Department of Natural Resources (DNR) review process involves multiple phases and a considerable amount of wait time. Hinson noted that “red tape” has become a common complaint for organizations moving forward with infrastructure and broadband projects. She further noted the negative impact of inflation upon these types of projects and planning.

Marting spoke of ACEC’s efforts over the last 18 years in bridging the digital divide, the gap between different demographics of people in their ability to access and use technology. Marting noted that in 2005, ACEC was involved in the financial commercialization of a satellite internet service provider with this being beneficial although the sustainability of satellite internet was not meeting everyone’s needs. Marting talked about the 2014 launch of wireless point-to-point services and further advised that ACEC has been striving to offer better and faster fiber internet. Marting added, “By the end of 2025 every member in Allamakee County will have fiber to their home because the State of Iowa stepped up and offered these grants.”

The importance of cyber security was discussed, as well as the fact that data protection is taken seriously with processes in place that continue to evolve in keeping bad actors out. Marting discussed the role of technical support in fixing problems within 24 hours.

Following the discussion, Hinson shared with the newspaper media in attendance that the day’s meeting was designed to be a feedback session to learn more about how funds are being used, how programs are being implemented and what barriers are in place relating to federal programs. Hinson noted that she is primarily getting feedback in advance of the Farm Bill.

Hinson added that she serves on the AG/FDA Appropriations Subcommittee with conversations taking place relating to broadband and programs like ReConnect which bring fiber optic to underserved communities. She also provided a recap of other stops in northeast Iowa noting that the day’s visits in Allamakee, Clayton and Fayette Counties are the completion of her second 22-County Tour in 2023.

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig visited Allamakee-Clayton Electric Cooperative (ACEC) in Postville Thursday, June 8 as part of his annual 99-County Tour. Naig’s fellow travelers that day included his teenage son, Zach, and Iowa House District 68 Representative Chad Ingels. The group also made other northeast Iowa stops at Hightail Dairy in Plainfield, a water quality wetland in Winneshiek County, a water quality project in Clayton County, in addition to the visit to ACEC in Postville.

Early in his visit, Naig discussed some general questions and comments raised by his son, Zach, similar to questions and comments that would be raised by those not familiar with ACEC, relating to the cooperative’s relationship with members and ownership. ACEC Economic Development and Community Relations Manager Brenda Hackman noted that customers are members and owners with Naig and Hackman further discussing the role of members in voting for the cooperative’s board.

Executive Vice President/General Manager Hollee McCormick updated Naig about ACEC’s fiber optic expansion and ongoing installation. McCormick advised that agriculture is very important to ACEC with many members being directly or indirectly tied to that industry. She noted some misconceptions that fiber is only important to urban businesses and residents with fiber optic being an important piece of northeast Iowa’s future.

McCormick and Naig further discussed the connectivity needs of agriculture in general and rural residents, and that this upgrade will benefit the current and next generation of ag producers. Naig noted that this connectivity is needed beyond precision agriculture and tractor guidance systems and benefits other needs of rural Iowans, also involving medical and mental health services, including the greater availability of telehealth and counseling options.

In addition, Naig noted that fiber optic positively impacts the veterinary medicine side of agriculture. McCormick discussed future trends and the legacy of current agriculture practices with the next generation of farmers to utilize fiber optic and greater connectivity.

McCormick added, “If you don’t have fiber, you don’t have the speed, reliability and consistency that you need.” It was noted that ACEC is at the halfway point of the planned local fiber installation process.

Hackman noted that ACEC has 41 employees and 9,000 members. She provided an overview of the ACEC’s organizational structure and further discussed the economic development role of rural electric cooperatives (REC).

Member Services Manager Ryan Wagner discussed his role with ACEC and the organization’s support of solar and renewable energy. Wagner discussed the impact of the Inflation Reduction Act and the availability of tax credits to RECs.

McCormick discussed ACEC’s purchase of electricity through Dairyland Power, with generation taking place mostly from coal and natural gas with some power generated by wind and solar. Following the discussion with ACEC representatives, Naig was provided a tour of the ACEC facility and office areas.