Re-Membering the Electric Cooperative

Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR)

Author +
John Farrell, Matt Grimley & Nick Stumo-Langer

Year: 2016

Electric cooperatives have been the backbone of the nation’s rural electrical system for more than 80 years. Their mission and business model now face more challenges than ever, from financial to contractual to basic member control. But the opportunity is equally great, with a chance for member-driven investment to power hundreds of local economies across the rural United States.

Electric cooperatives face diverse challenges, from their power sources to member engagement. This report details those challenges and the tools that cooperatives are using to overcome them.

The Challenges

Tied to Coal Power
Coal accounts for about 75% of energy generated by electric cooperatives, compared to just 32% for the United States’ entire electricity sector (U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2016).

Captured in Long-Term Contracts
Contracts with electricity suppliers extend for decades, sometimes past 2050, trapping locally-based electric cooperatives into increasingly expensive distant power plants and fossil fuel sources, while forbidding them from buying outside energy.

Losing Member-Owners.
Electric cooperative members have a right to vote for their boards of directors. But 70% of cooperatives have less than a 10% voter turnout, increasing the disconnection between the cooperative and its members.

Download Re-Membering the Electric Cooperative

The Solutions

Fortunately, the solutions lie in the best of the cooperative movement.

  • Finding Ways Out of Coal Power
  • Using Clean Energy and On-Bill Financing
  • And Empowering Member-Owners

Cooperatives may face their greatest challenge since the inception of rural electrification in the 1930s, but with their members, they have the power to overcome.

Table of Contents

The Challenges

1. Coal-Powered, Under Fire
2. A Contract Job
3. Missing Members
The Opportunities
1. Local Renewables Beat Dirty Power
2. Energy Savings at Home
3. Restoring Democracy
A Cooperative Future
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