Electric Cooperatives: Power to the People

By: Co+op

Back in the 1930s, nine out of ten rural homes had no electricity. Farmers had to milk cows by hand with only lantern light to illuminate the barn, and women had to cook on wood stoves and do laundry with a washboard. Going without lights and electricity made for a life of drudgery. Rural areas desperately needed electricity, yet power companies ignored them because it wasn’t deemed profitable to run electrical wire in areas with small populations.

Then, in 1935 President Roosevelt signed the Rural Electrification Act, which helped provide federal assistance to achieve electrification in far-flung and less populous areas. This meant that newly formed electric cooperatives could borrow the money they needed to run lines. Rural electrification had a profound impact on the lives of millions in America, transforming the way people lived and worked every day. Electric co-ops are still responsible for a significant part of our nation’s infrastructure, maintaining 42% of our country’s electrical distribution lines.

Rural electrification is an American success story made possible through cooperation. Investor-driven utilities were spurred by a profit motive and saw rural electrification as unrealistic. People in rural communities made it happen by working together to gain this important necessity.

Electrical co-ops operate as nonprofits, where power is provided to members at the cost of providing the service. These co-ops are very invested in the communities they serve, giving their time, money and expertise to build local economies. Electrical co-ops are also leading the way in offering their members renewable energy options, as well as investing in conservation, research and technology development in solar, wind and bio-waste fuels. Any return on investment for these activities directly benefits electric co-op members with better service and low cost.

There are more than 900 electric co-ops spread across 47 states serving 42 million Americans. Many of those co-ops are members of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA)—which brands itself as Touchstone Energy—a trade group that provides services to electric co-ops, including investment, health insurance and retirement benefit options for over 70,000 employees. These co-ops really know how to take care of everyone from members to staff. It’s a great example of how co-ops put people first.

Glenn English, the CEO of NRECA, said, “The bottom line is that co-op power empowers people and improves their quality of life. No one else in the electrical industry does all that. It’s a heck of a good deal.”

To find your nearest electrical co-op, go to