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California farmers consider utility co-op

In an unprecedented era of soaring utility bills and scheduled blackouts in California, what consumers appear to want most is predictability and stability of service. And to get it, some of those consumers are considering new electric cooperatives.

Take co-owner of Sunlet Nursery, Janet Kister, for example. Kister owns and operates the 20-acre greenhouse operation. Like most consumers in the county she has seen her energy bills skyrocket over the past several months. Kister also sits on a San Diego County Farm Bureau steering committee that is exploring the idea of forming a wireless rural electric cooperative.

Technically a utility, the co-op would own no power poles, wires or generation plants. Its only job would be to pool the energy needs of the county's farmers into one unit, then scour the deregulated marketplace for the best deals.

The fledgling plan promises relief to the region's avocado growers, dairy producers and greenhouse growers who face soaring electricity and natural gas prices.

Other groups are also investigating the idea. The Southern California Tribal Chairmen's Association - a group of 19 American Indian tribes - is also putting together a business plan for an electricity co-op.

Sources: The Union Tribune; NRECA

Co-op leader says consumers must come first

The troubled deregulation experiment in California has turned up the volume on the debate over a new national energy policy, but that debate is missing two important ingredients, according to Glenn English, chief executive officer of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA).

Energy policy legislation recently introduced by Senator Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska) "is a dangerous proposal that tips the scales against consumers," warned English, speaking to more than 10,000 electric co-op representatives gathered in March for NRECA's 2001 Annual Meeting in St Louis. "Instead of putting consumers first, it provides billions of dollars in giveaways for big power companies. In fact, the legislation doesn't even include consumers," he said.

English encouraged the electric cooperative leadership to deal with another key issue. "We must change our national transmission grid to match the changes occurring in our industry. We need a modern system, an equivalent of the interstate highway system, which provides for the movement of electric power, and we must have answers to these questions: Who controls the system? Who gets access to it and at what cost? "We must ensure that consumers come first," he said.

Cooperatives have a unique opportunity for leadership in consumer protection, English explained. "The failed deregulation attempt in California has exposed a whole new set of consumers at risk. The cooperative business principles can empower them through new cooperative development," he said.

Water quality help for landowners

The targeted planting of grasses, shrubs and trees improves water quality, reduces soil erosion, enhances landscapes and provides habitat for wildlife. To increase awareness of these conservation practices, the Illinois Council on Best Management Practices (C-BMP) and Trees Forever, both nonprofit conservation organizations, are joining forces.

Members of the council include the Illinois Corn Growers Association, Illinois Farm Bureau, Illinois Fertilizer and Chemical Association, Illinois Pork Producers Association and Illinois Soybean Association. Other sponsors of the effort include Novartis Crop Protection and Archer Daniels Midland Company.

"The Illinois Buffer Partnership brings public and private sector goals together. The five-year program will showcase positive steps to improve water quality by farmers and other landowners, and ultimately will speed their adoption," said Doug Wilson, president of C-BMP.

Illinois Congressman Ray LaHood (R-Peoria) was instrumental in securing federal funding for the new initiative. "The linchpin of our state efforts in rehabilitating our watersheds has been the focus on voluntary, incentive-based programs," said LaHood. "In combination with other successful programs such as the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program and the recent approval of the Illinois Rivers 2020 program, today's announcement adds yet another tool to the wide range of programs available to assist landowners throughout Illinois."

Buffers increase soil infiltration rates by up to five times that of cultivated crop fields, and reduce sediment in surface runoff by 60-70 percent in the first 10 feet and by 70-90 percent in the first 15-18 feet.

Source: C-BMP, (309)747-3136 and Trees Forever, (800)369-1269


Lewis and Clark bicentennial will take off from Illinois

In December 1803, Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark set up camp in Illinois, preparing for their historic journey to explore the American frontier. In 2003-2004, Illinois will celebrate this landmark exploration by focusing the nation's attention on the state as Site Number One on the national Lewis and Clark Heritage Trail.

Helping prepare Illinois to observe the occasion will be a 16-member commission named by Governor George H. Ryan. Commission members will research, make recommendations for, and plan events commemorating the Lewis and Clark Expedition; coordinate with the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Congressional Caucus to ensure that Illinois is identified as the official start of the Expedition; and help to prioritize federal commemorative events in the state.

A focal point of the celebration is expected to be the $7 million Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, currently under construction near Hartford. The 14,000 square-foot center will house a full-size replica of a 50-foot-tall keelboat and a theater that will show a movie depicting the Lewis and Clark journey. Completion of the center is expected in late 2002.

The co-op way is alive and well

Several months ago residents of Washburn, a rural community of 1,100 residents located in Woodford County (30 miles northeast of Peoria) faced the closing of their local grocery store. Determined not to let that happen, a group of concerned locals banded together and formed a co-op of sorts, selling shares in the Washburn Grocery Association for $50 apiece.

The "investors" said that their efforts were made to preserve their local community as much as it was to save residents the trouble of a 20-mile trip to the nearest grocery store in a nearby town. Losing their local store might be the first step towards empty storefronts and the quiet death of yet another small town.

Hundreds of local people bought the shares in the store association and board members were selected to provide leadership. Volunteers cleaned and painted the store. Then they rearranged the layout to maximize floor space and turned out to unload trucks, price items and stock the shelves early last November.

Now, travelers on state highway 89 will notice the banner "Washburn Community Foods, Your Friendly Hometown Owned Store." When people work together they can do great things. Whether it's selling electricity or phone service, marketing farm commodities or supplies, or operating the local grocery, the co-op way of doing business is alive and well, especially in rural communities. "Concern for community" is seventh of the 7th Cooperative Principles. That concern is evident in this project.

Four new Illinois heritage tourism projects announced

Four new Illinois heritage tourism projects will be added to the seven heritage projects designated in 1998 that brought Illinois' Heritage Tourism Program recognition as being a national model.

Governor Ryan said, "I'm particularly pleased that the development of the first African-American heritage area in Illinois is moving forward. Retracing the Underground Railroad has tremendous potential to bring new economic development to minority communities while ensuring that the history of African-Americans in Illinois will be remembered by future generations."

The Department of Commerce and Community Affairs awarded grants to the four heritage tourism projects, which include Freedom Trails, Illinois Route 66, and two projects recently designated as National Scenic Byways-The National Road and The Lincoln Highway.

The Freedom Trails "Legacies of Hope" proposes to link roughly six major definable routes of the Underground Railroad. The project will encompass 16 counties with the intent to partner with public, private and governmental entities to amass funding to create exhibits, publications and conduct research.

Illinois Route 66 is a project that will encompass a 12-county area. The Lincoln Highway, as the nation's first transcontinental paved roadway, connected rural farming communities with industrialized cities as it crossed through 13 states. The National Road of Illinois was also designated a National Scenic Byway in June 2000.

The Heritage Tourism Program was developed to boost cultural/historical tourism throughout Illinois. Selected projects qualify for six years of administrative support, grants to provide technical assistance, and priority funding from the Tourism Attraction Development Grant Program.


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