Friday, 26 April 2019 01:02

Rural Electric Cooperatives Defined

Written by Solar United Neighbors

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

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
  • 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.
Last modified on Friday, 26 April 2019 01:05

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