Flip a light switch. Plug in a cellphone. Run a load of laundry. As long as it is there when you need it, odds are you don’t even think about where your electricity comes from.
But your power is more than a convenience. It’s a rich, locally grown heritage built by people like you. Each October, we celebrate the impact of public power. October is National Cooperative Month, and October 6-12 is Public Power Week.
From remote rural farming communities to booming suburbs and large cities, electric cooperatives and public power utilities collectively provide reliable, low-cost electricity to more than 90 million Americans across all 50 states.
Publicly owned utilities first appeared more than 100 years ago when communities came together to provide light and power to areas overlooked by profit-driven utilities. By joining forces to take care of their local needs, citizens discovered they are more powerful together.
Although structurally different—electric cooperatives are run by member-elected boards while public power utilities run as a division of local government—both are not-for-profit businesses, with a keen eye on doing what is best for the people and businesses they serve.
But providing affordable electricity is just the start for publicly owned utilities. More than utilities, they are powerful community partners working hand-in-hand with consumers to make life better in the areas they serve.
By the Numbers
Public power utilities:
- Service provided by 2,000 PUDs and municipals in all states except Hawaii.
- Serve 1 in 7 Americans, or 49 million.
- Average 48 consumers per mile of line.
- Service provided by 832 co-ops in all states except Connecticut and Massachusetts.
- Serve more than 42 million Americans.
- Average 7.4 members per mile of line.
A Local Lifeline
Decisions about how publicly owned utilities run are made by the people who live and work in the community. Local needs are considered when looking at rates and services, power generation and renewable energy alternatives.
By contrast, investor-owned utilities are controlled by shareholders who often are not customers and do not live in the community. Their goal is to operate the utility in a way that maximizes the return on their investment.Board meetings are conducted in private, and decisions are made behind closed doors.
Public power consumers—or members, in the case of electric co-ops—have a direct voice in utility policymaking, with an opportunity to express the community’s values and priorities at meetings that are open to them.
Built by and belonging to the communities they serve, publicly owned utilities are led by community members uniquely qualified to ensure the focus remains local.
Because member/consumers have a say at the ballot box in who represents them, they retain control. If they disagree with the direction of the elected board, they can run for a seat and help shape the utility’s future.
With public utilities, you are more than a number. You are a valued member of the team—and your voice matters.
Expert, Innovative Solutions
Because publicly owned utilities aren’t motivated by profits to sell more power, they care about helping consumers reduce energy use and lower power bills through everything from simple energy-efficiency measures to cutting-edge technologies.
Even though most electric cooperatives added members in 2017, residential power use dropped by 2%, according to the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.
Energy-efficiency and rebate programs vary based on local priorities. Some utilities provide energy audits to help consumers find the best ways to cut costs and improve comfort. Others offer rebates to help offset the cost of implementing efficient changes.
Innovation drives public power. Since 2010, electric co-ops have 145% more renewable energy capacity. Community solar projects give consumers a way to support local renewable power development. Wind is picking up too. Electric co-ops generate enough wind to power 2 million homes. To store renewable energy for the times it is needed most, public power utilities support battery storage research.
Public power utilities also are laying the groundwork to support electric vehicle use. By providing public charging stations and coaching consumers on the best times to charge, local energy experts are helping consumers tap into energy technology trends affordably.
Driven to Make a Difference
In areas served by public power, the community directly benefits. Powered by a shared vision, America’s public power utilities drive local economic development.
Public power employs 93,000 people in hometown jobs and invests more than $2 billion annually directly back into the community, according to the American Public Power Association. NRECA says electric cooperatives support 68,200 local jobs and invest $12 billion annually in local economies.
But publicly owned utilities provide more than jobs. Community-funded scholarships strengthen local talent pools. Public power staff volunteer in hometown groups.
These community-first utilities also give communities room to grow. They provide efficient, smart electricity to current businesses, while investing in a smarter grid and robust infrastructure to attract new businesses to the areas they serve. Every step is backed by the voices of local member/consumers like you.
Think about where your power comes from, and how you can get involved. You are a part of this continued success story.
Our community is more powerful when everyone works together to make our shared vision a reality.