The nation’s consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives are unique within the $391 billion U.S. electric utility industry. More than 900 cooperatives in 47 states provide electric service to 56 percent of the nation’s landmass. By providing safe, affordable and reliable power, many cooperatives are significant economic drivers within their local communities.
Co-ops are much more than energy companies: concern for community is a core principle of the cooperative business model. Typical cooperative-sponsored economic development initiatives include revitalization projects and job creation. In short, co-ops seek to improve the quality of life for their members and their communities.
Electric cooperatives are:
- Private, independent, non-profit electric utility businesses.
- Owned by the customers they serve
- Incorporated under the laws of the states in which they operate
- Established to provide at‑cost electric service
- Governed by a board of directors elected from the membership which sets policies and procedures that are implemented by the cooperatives’ management
All cooperative businesses adhere to these seven guiding principles:
- Voluntary and Open Membership
Cooperatives are voluntary organizations, open to all persons able to use their services and willing to accept the responsibilities of membership, without gender, social, racial, political, or religious discrimination.
- Democratic Member Control
Cooperatives are democratic organizations controlled by their members, who actively participate in setting policies and making decisions. The elected representatives are accountable to the membership. In primary cooperatives, members have equal voting rights (one member, one vote) and cooperatives at other levels are organized in a democratic manner.
- Members’ Economic Participation
Members contribute equitably to and democratically control, the capital of their cooperative. At least part of that capital is usually the common property of the cooperative. Members usually receive limited compensation, if any, on capital subscribed as a condition of membership. Members allocate surpluses for any or all of the following purposes: developing the cooperative, possibly by setting up reserves, part of which at least would be indivisible; benefiting members in proportion to their transactions with the cooperative; and supporting other activities approved by the membership.
- Autonomy and Independence
Cooperatives are autonomous, self-help organizations controlled by their members. If they enter into agreements with other organizations, including governments, or raise capital from external sources, they do so on terms that ensure democratic control by their members and maintain their cooperative autonomy.
- Education, Training, and Information
Cooperatives provide education and training for their members, elected representatives, managers, and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their cooperatives. They inform the general public, particularly young people and opinion leaders, about the nature and benefits of cooperation.
- Cooperation Among Cooperatives
Cooperatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the cooperative movement by working together through local, national, regional, and international structures.
- Concern for Community
While focusing on member needs, cooperatives work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies accepted by their members.