After nearly 15 years working for electric co-ops throughout the Southeast, Tracy Bensley was thrilled to be able to return to his hometown of Quincy, Florida, in 2011 as general manager of the local power and water cooperative. “It’s an honor to be able to provide such vital services to these smaller communities,” Bensley says.
Talquin Electric Cooperative and Talquin Water & Wastewater serve homes and businesses across four counties in the Florida panhandle. Talquin is unusual in that it provides electricity, water and wastewater services, but Bensley says the arrangement works well for Talquin’s members. “Our members trust us and know we are managing the business with their long-term interests in mind,” he says.
Like all Florida utilities, Talquin has to plan for the ravages of weather—especially storms and hurricanes. In 2015, the co-op invested $750,000 in a new sewer main and pump station serving customers in rural Wakulla County. The facility was deliberately sited away from the coastline in order to minimize the risk of storm damage and environmental liabilities.
In addition to helping finance that project, CoBank provided a new $6.5 million loan for the water and wastewater side of the business in 2015, and is refinancing $15.4 million in Rural Utilities Services loans for the electric side. The refinance allows Talquin to reduce the interest rate on some of its long-term debt and pass those savings along to its members. The bank also provides the co-op with leases for its fleet of service trucks and other vehicles. “With the flexible payment options, buyout options and competitive rates, leasing really helps with our cash flow needs,” Bensley says. “We save a lot of money through that program.”
Christopher Shaffner, sector vice president for CoBank’s water and community facilities banking, notes that water and wastewater services are a critical part of the infrastructure supporting rural America. “Reliable, high-quality water services elevate the quality of life in rural communities and enable growth and economic development,” Shaffner says.
Bill LaDuca, sector vice president of the bank’s electric distribution portfolio, agrees. “Financing these systems is part of CoBank’s mission, and we’re proud to work with customers like Talquin that are doing so much to help people in their local areas.”