Rural electric cooperatives
What are rural electric cooperatives?
Rural electric cooperatives are nonprofit electric utilities. Unlike the big investor-owned utilities, rural electric cooperatives (also called “electric co-ops”) are owned by member-owners, the customers for which they provide electricity. These cooperatives were created in the 1930s to bring electricity to areas of rural America that investor-owned utilities refused to serve due to cost concerns. Today, electric cooperatives provide electricity to 12 percent of Americans and own 42 percent of the country’s electric distribution lines.
Because rural electric cooperatives are owned by their customers, they are supposed to be responsive to their members’ concerns. Each member-owner has one vote in board of director elections. The board governs the cooperative and hires a professional staff. It also establishes policies and procedures.
How rural electric cooperatives support energy freedom
Unfortunately, many co-op members don’t know they are owners of their electric company, or that they have a say in its governance. As a result, many rural electric cooperatives are controlled by insiders who favor the status quo. Too many rural electric cooperatives still heavily rely on centrally-generated coal-fired power and have little interest in distributed renewable energy.
But, the democratic structure of electric cooperatives provides an opportunity for member-owners to upgrade their energy policies by demanding change. Many rural electric cooperative members are beginning to get involved in leading their cooperatives.
Rural electric cooperative resources
- What are rural electric cooperatives? — This simple video from the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) explains the core principles.
- Solar and Rural Electric Cooperatives — NRECA’s snapshot of solar projects in rural electric cooperatives across the country, state by state.
- Freeing electric co-ops from fossil fuel serfdom — An episode of the Local Energy Rules podcast covers the opportunities and challenges of rural electric cooperatives and what many are doing to spur clean energy development.
- Reforming the electric co-ops — This article summarizes the ways Kentuckians for the Commonwealth is working to renew and reform the state’s rural electric cooperatives.
- Community Power: How Grassroots Organizing Coalitions Are Democratizing Rural Electricity – Three people who are working around the country to reform rural electric cooperatives discuss their efforts.
- Why rural electric cooperatives should provide financial support for home energy efficiency improvements — An article from Appalachian Voices highlights the need for greater investments in residential energy efficiency as an economic driver in rural Appalachia.
- Re-member-ing the electric cooperative — A report from the Institute for Local Self Reliance describes the challenges electric cooperatives face and the tools they use to overcome them.
- Rural Electric Cooperative Toolkit — These resources were developed by a team of organizations that work in rural areas across the country. It is designed to help member-owners take back power in their cooperative.
Our work with rural electric cooperatives
- Solar United Neighbors of Virginia is working with member-owners of the Rappahannock Electric Cooperative (REC) to support a campaign called Repower REC to bring democracy and transparency back to their cooperative. Read more about the campaign, its goals, and how you can help at RepowerREC.com.
- Solar United Neighbors of Virginia has worked with member-owners of the Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative (SVEC) to help them push for expanded solar options. We helped the group organize a campaign to contact SVEC leadership to advocate for increased solar electricity options for co-op members. This includes protecting net metering, creating real community solar, and installing solar on the new SVEC headquarters.