Open and Voluntary Membership
Like you, I am a member of a rural electric co-op. I am fortunate to have inherited a few acres of woodland along the West Fork of the Cedar River in Butler County, Iowa. It’s a beautiful place and my husband and I love to visit on weekends when we can. After a few busy weeks in Madison and visiting members around the state, our country place offers a change of pace.
We could have sold the property and not had the expense of maintenance, but it happens to be in our hometown and we’d like to retire there someday. We enjoy our visits “back home” with high school friends still living in town. Our kids and grandkids love to come once in awhile, too, and ride four-wheelers or snowmobiles. Sometimes we just sit and watch the woods for deer or turkey passing by or humming birds feeding at one of our nectar feeders. When we chose the wide-open spaces to have the quality of life afforded rural residents, we chose to be a part of the electric cooperative community.
It’s true, electric service territories are assigned to a specific utility to avoid the costly and undesirable duplication of facilities to deliver energy. You choose your utility when you choose to live in a rural, sparsely populated area—just like you choose to dig your own well and put in your own septic if you live in the country. Membership is open to you and your participation is voluntary. The electric cooperative will welcome you and invite you to be a part of the co-op’s decisions by attending the annual meeting and voting for your member-elected board of directors. The co-op will give you credit for what you purchase and keep you informed with the monthly magazine.
Electric cooperatives exist to bring quality-of-life standards in rural areas up to par with highly populated areas. Co-ops are not-for-profit so the business goals and strategy are much different from for-profit utilities. They serve a greater percentage of residential accounts and only a few commercial or industrial accounts. Because co-ops provide electricity in the least-populated areas, there are fewer people to help pay for the cost of the service available 24/ 7, 365.
Benefits for a Bargain
A bucket truck, a transformer, or a mile of distribution line costs about the same whether your utility is an electric cooperative, a municipal, or a for-profit utility owned by investors. Electric cooperatives in Wisconsin serve on average 5.4 member consumers per mile of line. On average, a municipal utility serves about 47 and a for-profit utility around 35 customers per mile of line. Electric cooperatives earn the lowest amount of revenue per mile of line.
The electric industry is the most capital-intensive of all industries. It costs a lot of money to generate, transmit, and distribute electricity to your home or business. Yet for pennies a kilowatt-hour you help pay for the entire process, whether you are a co-op member, an investor-owned utility customer, or a resident in a town with a municipal utility.
Electricity is a bargain. Just think about what electricity gives you: a nice hot shower, a night at the movies with the kids, a marvelous holiday feast with all the trimmings, the Super Bowl. Outside of the comfort of home, where else can you do all this for pennies an hour?