From Scott Carlberg

Electric cooperatives are a special breed of energy company. They really exemplify so much of what we consider traditional values in our nation, what has built our nation. Electric co-ops serve about 20 million Americans.

A centerpiece of co-ops is the annual meeting, and many of the co-ops are in the middle of annual meeting season. Traditional annual meetings were big events. They may have included snacks, if not even a chicken supper, and raffles, and door prizes.

Of course, this is not a normal time. That has changed a lot of meeting plans. What hasn’t changed is that co-ops are keeping people informed. Co-ops want to hear from members, and members should ask questions of their co-ops all the time.

Good, brief explanation of an annual meeting. Four County Coop

As a co-op member, what is reasonable to ask and to hear from the management of your co-op? Some possible questions:

  • Discuss the financial health of the co-op and anything auditors have noted.
  • How do you choose board candidates and ensure they are best for the work we have to do?
  • Discuss the way you see the electric industry changing and how that affects our co-op. How are you planning for that?
  • Discuss the way you work with employees to train them and ensure we have a workforce ready for the future.
  • How do you keep in touch with issues in our city and region?

Basically, if a question has to do with the efficient planning and operation of the co-op, it is fair game. A co-op, like any electric company, provides a service that impacts family health and safety, so it makes sense to understand how it serves you.

By the way, these questions should be asked of all electric companies, not just co-ops.

We scanned some co-op sites, wanted to look at the ways coops are communicating and point out some examples we liked.

Fairfield Electric Cooperative. Real transparency.

Fairfield Electric Cooperative bowled us over. Real transparency here! More than two years of board meeting minutes are posted.  The cooperative serves more than 29,000 customers in Fairfield, Kershaw, Richland, Chester, and York counties in SC.

We also saw board meeting material posted for the Lumbee River Co-op, headquartered in Pembroke, NC. The co-op serves more than 61,000 accounts, has more than 81,000 power poles, over more than 5,900 miles of four counties. Take a look at the clear and clean communications for members, including minutes here.

Another feature we saw was co-op member handbooks.

Energy United, based in Statesville, NC, has a good member guide (right).

The booklet explains, “This annual meeting allows you, as a member-owner, to attend and have a direct voice in the operations of your electric cooperative. EnergyUnited’s Annual Meeting serves several important functions:

  • It gives the EnergyUnited staff and board of directors an opportunity to give members an update on progress toward cooperative goals and present information on the economic strength of EnergyUnited.
  • It provides EnergyUnited members an opportunity to informally visit one-on-one with the board members and employees.”

The Berkeley Electric Co-op (SC) handbook for new members is brief, yet thorough, covering what is in front of and behind the meter, how to read the bill, various co-op programs, information about the board…

The handbook for Four County Electric Member Co-op (NC) is neat. Lots of detail about the co-op. We show the organizational chart of the co-op here because it does a nice job to show how co-ops work. (Left)

If you really want to see how annual meetings are changing this year, look at page 3 of the handbook (first photo above). That shows a past annual meeting and what looks like a band. Not in 2020!

Financial statements are typically part of annual meeting reporting. Here’s a look at Black River Co-op in Sumter, SC.

We have pointed out examples that look pretty good to us. Does that mean every co-op has thorough communications and operates at its peak? No. All organizations do best when they are open and have thoughtful customers and stakeholders who ask fair but tough questions. Management that is on top of the business welcome those questions because they know the answers.

If your co-op has an annual meeting, it is worth it to attend. Remember to ask what’s on your mind.