From the West Coast to the East Coast and everywhere in between, electric cooperatives power more than 20 million American homes, businesses, farms and schools in 48 states—including Alaska and Hawaii. Despite geographical differences, one thing remains the same: a commitment to the members and the communities they serve through Seven Cooperative Principles.
1. Open and Voluntary Membership
Membership in a cooperative is open to all people who can reasonably use its services and are willing to accept the responsibilities of membership—regardless of race, religion, gender or economic circumstances.
“During the 1930s, the large, investor-owned utilities chose not to bring electricity to rural America because it wasn’t profitable. So the people formed their own cooperative utilities to serve the underserved. Anyone who wanted electricity could now have it, regardless of where you lived, who you were or how much money you had. We strive to meet the needs of our diverse membership through programs for all ages, from toddlers to great-grandparents.” —Elecia Copenhaver, marketing and communications coordinator, Benton REA, Washington
2. Democratic Member Control
Cooperatives are controlled directly by their members. Elected representatives are accountable to the membership, and members are expected to participate actively.
“Every member has a voice and they each play an important role. You have the ability to elect a director who is your neighbor and understands the dynamics of the area you live in. You have the ability to be involved and make suggestions on changes that will put the co-op in a better position. You have a dedicated team of employees that are also members just like you, working for the betterment of the co-op. You are a member-owner. Your involvement in the co-op is important in building the foundation of the best-in-class organization that everyone is striving for.” —Amy Carlson, manager of executive administration, Valley Electric Association, Nevada
3. Members’ Economic Participation
Members control the capital of their cooperative, which operates as a not-for-profit organization. Any surplus in capital is used to fund improvements or expansion, or is credited to members.
“Members have a stake in the ownership and operations of the cooperative. By economically participating in one’s cooperative, it ensures access to reliable electric service. This is a cornerstone of economic opportunity in a lot of areas. Any revenue collected over the cost of service is returned back to the members. Members’ economic participation is the most efficient and economical way to meet common needs.” —Emily Compton, manager of community relations, Plumas-Sierra Rural Electric Cooperative, California
4. Autonomy and Independence
Cooperatives are autonomous, democratic and always controlled by members.
“Any time I’m making a decision, I’m doing so in the best interests of my local membership. Through contested elections, we make sure we are talking to the membership and soliciting the best candidates for our board to look out for their interests. You get the best governance and the best autonomy and independence when you keep fresh leadership that is always up to speed. My board members take nothing for granted. We don’t sit around and let things run the way they’ve always been run.” —Scott Peters, CEO, Columbia REA, Washington
5. Education, Training and Information
Education and training for members, elected representatives (directors/trustees), CEOs and employees help them effectively contribute to the development of their cooperatives. Communications about the nature and benefits of co-ops—particularly with the general public and opinion leaders—help boost cooperative understanding.
“It’s incredibly important for our cooperatives to educate our youth on several fronts. Students that are exposed to the cooperative business model and the government become all-around better citizens. One of the most amazing things is remaining in touch with the delegates, seeing where their lives go and how that trip propels them into their careers. Youth Tour provides students with a boost in confidence, showing them they can do whatever it is they are passionate about.” —Addie Armato, director of member engagement and Youth Tour coordinator, Association of Louisiana Electric Cooperatives
6. Cooperation Among Cooperatives
By working together through local, national, regional and international structures, cooperatives improve services, bolster local economies, and deal more effectively with social and community needs.
“Mt. Wheeler Power is a small cooperative with a huge service territory. We have a couple of neighboring cooperatives in similar situations. When a crisis occurs, we are able to reach out. These kinds of relationships allow us to better serve our members in a timely manner than if we were left on our own to recover from devastating events. We would not have quite the impact if we didn’t band together.” —Christina Sawyer, communications specialist, Mt. Wheeler Power Inc., Nevada
7. Concern for Community
Cooperatives work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies supported by membership.
“Each employee at Golden Valley Electric Association has eight hours per year that they can use to volunteer in their community. This equates to over 2,200 hours of volunteer time from GVEA employees. Whenever there is an opportunity to become involved, we work to help causes that are important to us. As an integral part of the community, there is a responsibility to do whatever activities you can to help improve from an economic development perspective and quality of life.” —Meadow Bailey, director of external affairs and public relations, Golden Valley Electric Association, Alaska
“It really is how all seven of the principles work together,” Scott Peters says. “No single one of them would make the cooperatives what they are. It’s synergy. There’s more to them all together than they are separate. That’s the beautiful thing about the cooperative business model.”
CELEBRATING PUBLIC POWER
Public Power Week is October 3-9. It is a celebration of community-owned utilities that keep power affordable, reliable and environmentally responsible.
Collectively, public power utilities:
- Power homes and businesses in more than 2,000 communities—from small towns to large cities.
- Serve more than 49 million people.
- Employ 93,000 people across the U.S.
- Invest more than $2 billion back into communities each year.