From Scott Carlberg

There have been headlines about the leadership of electric cooperative boards in the Carolinas, including speculation about who may lead the largest cooperative in South Carolina. Hot topic. So when Energy Consumers of the Carolinas saw a column about board leadership written by the National Rural Electric Cooperatives (NRECA), we thought it is worth pointing out. The column – Co-op Governance: Building the Future With Good Communication – hits important points about being a cooperative director. For people interested in their coop it is worth the time to see what this national organization says.

Being a board member of an electric cooperative (or “coop”) is challenging. Strategic and governance oversight for any organization can be tough. Even more so when the technology is changing so fast, as it is with the electric industry. What started years ago as a basic electric hook-up to a house or business can now have activities like data analytics, small scale generation and conservation efforts. That means that a lot is expected of board leadership.

More than power lines: Coop directors have to learn a lot and listen a lot.

From that NRECA column: “’Directors are having so much more thrown at them than ever before’ said Pat Mangan, NRECA’s director of governance education. ‘They have to make decisions about cybersecurity, broadband and complex power supply choices that not only involve co-op-owned assets but other options that have emerged, such as distributed energy resources.’”

Evidence of the broad range of coop strategic and management decisions facing board members is easy to find in the country. For instance: A Minnesota and Iowa coop is piloting battery storage. Another Minnesota coop is trying out batteries in homes to manage peak energy demand.*  Ozark Electric in Oklahoma and Arkansas is learning how to use drones to inspect power lines. Firelands Electric Cooperative in Ohio is working on community solar – in other words, solar for a neighborhood or more, not just a rooftop. These are forward-looking projects and take smart analysis.

While important attention is given to technical issues, the article stresses the nontechnical traits of a good director: “Directors have to be ready to listen to and understand changing member concerns because, like many consumers, co-op members are getting more involved in the management of their household energy needs.”

The NRECA article says five competencies are critical in a director:

  • Being a quick study.
  • Openness to new ideas.
  • Ability to engage members as needs change.
  • Ability to connect with directors of other generations.
  • Ability to analyze complex information prior to making a decision.

HOWEVER, this is no one-way street. It cannot just be about coop leadership. Listing the skills of a good coop director, and even getting them on the coop board may be important, but having members who communicate with directors and learn about their coop is essential for an electric cooperative to operate at its best. The board of directors of any organization changes and evolves. Consistent communication is vital for success. There are duties of leaders and duties of members to fulfill.

Check out the column. Good points. Then, if you are a coop member, learn about your coop; if you are a board member, keep reaching out to members.


*See our ECC blog: Power on – Rock On: A Peak Demand Analogy for an explanation of peak demand.