Rural Electric Cooperatives 101

Essential reading:

  • Map of America’s Electric Cooperative Network (Source: NRECA via Wyoming REA)

    Description: National map of the service areas for those served by electric co-ops

  • Understanding the Seven Cooperative Principles (Source: NRECA)
    Description: Outlines the seven cooperative principles in the context of electric co-ops including: open & voluntary membership, democratic member control, members' economic participation, autonomy and independence, education, cooperation among co-ops, and concern for community.

  • America’s Electric Cooperatives: 2017 Fact Sheet (Source: NRECA)
    Description: Gives an overview of rural electric co-op stats compared to investor owned utilities (IOUs) and municipal power providers in the US including that there are "834 distribution and 63 G&T cooperatives, a total of 897 NRECA co-op members, serve an estimated 42 million people in 47 states" with $45 billion in annual revenue.

  • Electric Co-ops: From New Deal to Bad Deal? A report by Congressman Jim Cooper (TN) (Source: Jim Cooper)
    Description: 2008 Journal article by US Representative Jim Cooper from the 5th district in Tennessee about the concerns that he has uncovered about rural electric co-ops. It includes a history of electric co-ops and focuses on a major concern about electric co-ops not returning capital credits of billions of dollars to member-owners. "Electric co-ops have a much smaller industry share than munis or IOUs, but they still control $97 billion of assets and $30 billion of member equity. This $30 billion may be the largest “lost” pool of capital in America, lost because so few members are aware of their ownership."

Suggested reading:

  • Economic Democracy and the Billion Dollar Co-op (Source: The Nation)
    Description: An article in The Nation about the potential of co-ops within the US economy with a focus on RECs. It includes some history and stats along with discussion of Delta-Montrose co-op in Colorado, the work of One Voice in Mississippi, and Congressman Jim Cooper's scathing 2008 article on RECs.

  • Bringing Power to the People: The Unlikely Case for Utility Populism (Source: Kate Aronoff, Dissent Magazine. 2017)
    Description: An article in Dissent magazine that provides some context and history along with the potential of organizing RECs.  Includes stories of organizing at Black Warrior EMC in Alabama, Roanoke Electric in NC, and Ouachita Electric in Arkansas and the How$mart program at 9 co-ops in Eastern Kentucky.

  • USDA Co-op Essentials: What They Are and the Role of Members, Directors, Managers, and Employees (Source: USDA)
    Description: A 50-page guide to co-ops produced by USDA. It includes chapters on: 1) Overview of Cooperatives, 2) Role and Responsibilities of Co-op Members, 3) Co-op Directors, 4) Co-op Manager, 5) Co-op Employees and an appendix with links to additional USDA co-op resources.  

  • NRECA Public Maps (Source: NRECA)
    Descripton: Provides links to NRECA interactive maps for: renewables, solar, energy efficiency, growth of co-ops over time, and co-ops serving persistent poverty counties (they serve 93% nationally).

  • Report: Re-Member-ing the Electric Cooperative (Source: Institute for Local Self Reliance, 2017)
    Description: A relatively concise report with great graphics produced by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. It focuses on 3 main challenges for RECs: coal-powered, stuck in long-term contracts, and losing members, and 3 main solutions: finding ways out of coal power, using clean energy and on-bill financing, and empowering members.

  • A Cooperative Approach to Renewing East Kentucky (2010) (Source: Sara Pennington & Randy Wilson, KFTC / Solutions Journal)
    Description: This article by Sara Pennington and Randy Wilson discusses pervasive challenges faced in eastern Kentucky, and proposes the Renew East Kentucky plan––a concrete plan to bring the region toward a more sustainable economy. Pennington and Wilson propose that the East Kentucky Power Cooperative (EKPC) launch a well-funded, five-year initiative that would expand residential efficiency and weatherization programs, make use of creative on-bill financing, and install local renewable energy projects in their service area. The proposed program would create thousands of local jobs, yield economic benefit to struggling families, and complement ongoing regional efforts for an Appalachian Transition. Pennington and Wilson argue that the Renew East Kentucky plan may serve as a road map for transition in other areas.

  • A Low-Cost Energy Future for Western Cooperatives (Source: Rocky Mountain Institute)
    Description: In this report, we examine the cost-savings opportunities renewables price declines have made possible for Tri-State Generation & Transmission Association and its member co-ops. Specifically, we consider their opportunity to engage in large-scale procurement of cost effective renewable energy projects, while maintaining system reliability requirements. We analyze two illustrative power supply portfolios based on publicly available data, and find that procurement of new wind and solar projects represents approximately $600 million of cost-savings potential for Tri-State’s members through 2030, versus continued reliance on legacy coal-fired generation.

  • Cost Effective Energy Two-pager (Source: Resource Media)
    Description: Summarizes "A Low-Cost Energy Future for Western Co-ops" report from RMI listed above in an easily accessible way.

Supplementary reading:

  • The Changing Nature of Electric Cooperatives in the 21st Century (Source: Appalachian Voices)
    Description: How will rural electric cooperatives figure into America’s energy future? This article is a great primer on the questions and issues that RECs are facing in today’s current energy landscape. Efficiency, renewables, and inclusive on-bill financing are just a few of the topics that are covered here.

  • Overview of Generation and Transmission Co-ops and All Requirement Contracts (Source: We Own It)
    Description: Overview of Generation and Transmission Co-ops includes FAQ about all requirements contracts and information about some co-ops that have exited their G&T contracts (People's in OK and Kit Carson in NM) as well as co-ops like Farmers in Iowa that are not part of a G&T and have the most solar per customer of any utility in the US!  

  • Cooperative Development Guide (Source: NRECA)
    Description: NRECA International produced this publication to advance the basic understanding of rural electrification development for policymakers, donor organizations, and practitioners. The publication leads the reader through 20 self-contained modules covering the organizational, legal, technical, and financial aspects of rural electrification project design and implementation and electric cooperative development." Modules include: guide for creation of electric co-ops, roles of co-op boards, business plan for RECs, design and implementation for solar PV systems, and more.

  • Rural Lines USA (book) (Source: US Rural Electrification Association)
    Description: About a 60 page booklet published in 1960 by the Rural Electrification Administration (now Rural Utilities Service within USDA) on the history of RECs. There are 20 chapters including: The Dark Land, The Rural Electrification Act, Organizing the Co-ops, Wiring the Farms, The Cooperative Spirit, The Price of Power, The Electrified Cox, More Meat Electrically, and Test of the Future.