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Catalyzing worker co-ops & the solidarity economy

Just How Democratic are Rural Electric Cooperatives?

With democratic control, cooperatives have the potential to be very responsive to member interests. Roanoke Electric Cooperative (REC) in North Carolina recently undertook an on-bill financing program to help their low-income members save energy and money while paying for energy efficiency measures on their monthly bills (what Randy Wilson was proposing for his cooperative). Farmer’s Electric Cooperative (FEC) in Iowa employs more solar energy per capita than other utility in the nation. The Kauai Island Utility Cooperative (KIUC) in Hawai’i guided the cooperative to attain close to 40 percent of its energy from renewable resources while stabilizing sky-high electric rates.

But even for these progressive cooperatives, voter turnout ranges from not-so-good to not-good-at-all, according to voting data acquired from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. From 2006 to 2011:

  • Roanoke member-owners voted for their board with an average turnout of 4 percent;
  • 17 percent of member-owners turned-out for Farmer’s Electric board elections;
  • Kauai maintained a 31 percent voter turnout, among the highest rates in the nation.

In all, according to research from ILSR, more than 70 percent of cooperatives have voter turnouts of less than 10 percent (including Wilson’s Jackson Energy Cooperative, which averages just under 3 percent turnout).

Read the full article at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance


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