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by Share Brandt

Cooperation Among Cooperatives

In 1936, the Wisconsin Electric Cooperative Association (WECA) had its beginning as the Wisconsin Rural Electric Cooperative Association. There were people in Wisconsin’s rural communities getting together to organize electric cooperatives to bring electricity to farms. They needed a voice in Madison and Washington, D.C., to assist them with state barriers and applying for low-interest Rural Electrification Administration (REA) loans. Since each fledging co-op could not afford to individually hire someone to represent them, the solution was clear: join together and form a state-wide organization.

WECA was born of a common need.

Beyond Our State’s Border

This model of cooperation among cooperatives has lead to the creation of many regional and national organizations, including our Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group and service provider, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. NRECA provides electric cooperatives across the nation with government relations representation; education and training services; employee insurance and retirement benefits; legal and management consulting; our brand, Touchstone Energy; and much, much more.

The evidence of need for just such an organization has never been more apparent than what we have witnessed in the most recent congressional sessions. Energy production and related issues have dominated much of the discussion. Electric cooperatives need representation at the federal level to fight for affordable electric rates for our member-owners back home. By cooperating with electric co-ops in other states, even the smallest electric co-op system can enjoy the peace of mind knowing their interests are being looked after in big-picture District of Columbia while the electrons flow reliably back home.

Insurance, Supplies

The same is true of our insurance company, Federated Rural Electric Insurance Exchange, which was created by a group of local folks assembled by the WECA. Working with electricity is dangerous for our workers; building lines and erecting poles is expensive. We needed an insurance provider we could rely on to have our best interests at heart while protecting our employees’ welfare and asset investments. Today the insurance company created right here in Wisconsin is now an insurance provider for electric co-ops nationwide. And it is organized as the closest thing to a cooperative that an insurance company can be, so when insurance losses are low and there is a margin of profit at year’s end, the cooperative family shares in the dividends based on their participation in lines of insurance.

During the WWII days when materials for building line were scarce, electric co-ops through their state association began buying and selling the essential supplies that cooperatively owned utilities needed to provide service to members. That effort ultimately led to the creation of  a stand-alone, merchandising cooperative. Today, the Rural Electric Supply Cooperative, headquartered in Middleton, is a wholesale supplier for electric-industry poles, wires, transformers, and related distribution and transmission materials in seven surrounding states. And true to its cooperative charter, RESCO shares its profits with its members.

Co-ops support all these organizations by paying dues or purchasing products and services. This cooperation allows us to be more effective in all areas without individually paying for the specialized expertise required to perform those functions. In the long run we save money by working together with our family of cooperative businesses.