This toolkit has a number of inspiring stories of owner-members creating meaningful changes in their electric cooperatives. The section on ”sample campaign timelines and case studies” contains a couple of fine examples – like the folks at Pedernales Electric Cooperative in Texas that ended decades of corruption and brought more transparency and democracy to their institution, and the members of Cobb EMC that blocked the creation of a coal-fired power plant and instead installed over 100 megawatts of solar production.
Advocacy groups in Kentucky were similarly able to stop the building of a coal-fired power plant, and began a conversation with East Kentucky Power Cooperative that eventually led to the creation of the second community solar project in the state.
But perhaps the best example of successful long-term REC organizing comes from Roanoke Electric Cooperative (REC) in North Carolina – because those successes have led to decades of progressive change and created ripple effects across the entire country.
Roanoke Electric Cooperative
This story begins in 1970, when the majority black membership first won representation on REC’s board. After a successful attempt by incumbent board members to dilute the votes of the two new black members by expanding the number of board seats, the membership was able to overturn that action and helped defeat an incumbent board member for the first time. They achieved this in 1981, by nominating and electing a challenger from the floor at the annual meeting. These efforts eventually led to an equal employment opportunity agenda, and Roanoke’s workforce is now more than 40% African-American, much closer to the representation in the communities it serves.
Roanoke Electric Cooperative’s CEO for the last twenty-one years, Curtis Wynn, is the first African American to lead an electric cooperative, and until 2021, he is the elected President of the Board of all electric cooperatives in the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA). Mr. Wynn has become a champion of expanding rural infrastructure and offering inclusive on-bill financing for energy efficiency retrofits, and Roanoke is now running one of the most successful inclusive financing programs in the nation, called Upgrade to $ave. Finally, REC is in the process of implementing rural broadband and community solar programs, and it is exploring options to accelerate the transition to electric school buses.
In summary, nearly 50 years of active engagement and organizing by cooperative owner-members has resulted in some of the most inclusive and impactful cooperative investments in the country, as REC remains explicitly committed to creating a customer-centric utility of the future.