As an electric customer, being able to tap the shoulder of your electric company leader while at the local diner or grocery store is pretty cool. That kind of closeness is a trait of electric cooperatives, which typically have compact service areas compared to large electric companies.
Cooperatives operate on a non-profit, cost-of-service basis. North Carolina has 26 electric co-ops in 93 of North Carolina’s 100 counties, SC has 20 co-ops. They serve more than four million members in the Carolinas. (Customers are the members.)
Co-ops’ common bond is a high-touch, participatory governance. Management is chosen by and answers to members. That means that co-op members have a responsibility to know their management and their coop. No small responsibility since power providers fill important public health, safety and convenience needs.
ECC asked for an expert look at this responsibility. Lisa Crawley at North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives in Raleigh responded with three ways that coop members in her state can exercise their membership responsibility and improve their energy use, too.
Join in co-op events and elections
Electric cooperatives are democratically controlled organizations, which means the people, called members, who receive electric service from their cooperative, get to cast a vote for who they want to represent them on the co-op’s board of directors. Participating in the election is one of the best demonstrations of member engagement because the elected board of directors establishes the cooperative’s policies, goals and strategies. By casting a vote in the election, co-op members are making sure their voices are heard. The fact that co-op members are owners of their not-for-profit cooperative and have a voice and a vote in its activities is a large part of what sets co-ops apart from other types of utilities.
Participate in community programs
As locally owned electric utilities, co-ops are in tune with local communities and offer many programs to support vitality in those communities. Co-ops across North Carolina fund Bright Ideas grants for innovative classroom projects and support Touchstone Energy Sports Camp Scholarships that send deserving middle school students to basketball camp on college campuses for free. The wide variety of programs offered by co-ops also includes an annual Youth Tour to Washington, D.C., for high school students, and in some areas, a program that rounds up a member’s electric bill to the next dollar each month and donates the difference to benefit the local community or neighbors in need. Participating in these kinds of initiatives is a great way to engage with your cooperative, and live the cooperative principle of “concern for community.”
Engage in energy management
Co-op members can also join co-op energy management programs, many of which lessen the demand for electricity during times when it is most expensive, creating savings for the entire membership. Examples include internet-enabled device programs that allow the co-op to slightly adjust members’ thermostats and water heater settings during times of high demand for energy, without ever compromising comfort. There are also programs that give notice to members so they can take steps within their own homes and businesses to shift energy use to off-peak times. These demand response efforts are a great demonstration of how cooperatives live up to their name by allowing members to work together to save energy, bring down costs and work toward the collective good.
Programs and tools, like pay-as-you-use billing, special rates and energy monitoring portals, empower members to take control and better manage their energy use. Cooperatives in North Carolina are also pursuing a number of other innovative efforts—from microgrids to community solar to a statewide EV charging network—that give members more control and convenience, and opportunities to use electricity in new and beneficial ways. See them here.
Thanks, Lisa! Good advice.
ECC repeats this particular point from Lisa: By casting a vote in the election, co-op members are making sure their voices are heard. This is true of co-ops no matter the state: Members have to invest their personal effort to receive the best possible cooperative experience. It’s the members’ organization.
Not all cooperatives or state-level organizations operate exactly the same way. For specific information about South Carolina’s co-ops, here’s the website.