By Erin Campbell
As we celebrate National Co-op Month in October, I find myself reflecting on the humble beginnings of not-for-profit electric cooperatives. Back in the 1930s, 90 percent of American urbanites had access to electricity while 90 percent of rural citizens did not. It was cost prohibitive for the investor-owned utilities to build miles of line to reach just a few farms, and most utilities didn’t think farmers would be able to afford electricity anyway. Our nation was reeling from the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl; life was hard for millions, but the lack of electricity made it even more unbearable for the vast majority of rural citizens.
But where determination is strong, the impossible suddenly becomes possible. Local farmers throughout rural Iowa and elsewhere banded together with President Roosevelt’s Rural Electrification Administration (REA) and organized electric cooperatives across the rural landscape. It’s an incredible legacy of American fortitude and tenacity that has endured through the decades.
And here we are 75 years later: In many respects, electric co-ops have successfully completed their original mission to “send the light” to underserved areas. But today, we face a new challenge: helping co-op member-owners use energy wisely. In a world increasingly reliant on electricity, consumers need a trusted source for information on energy efficiency, renewable energy, energy legislation, consumer-generated wind and solar power, and more.
The cooperative business model is still relevant in the modern economy as consumers engage with democratically owned and locally managed businesses that represent their interests. Co-ops exist only to serve the needs of their member-owners while adhering to a core set of cooperative principles, which include democratic member control, autonomy and independence, concern for community, and member education and training. The energy industry is changing around us as technological innovations in wind and solar power expand how electricity is generated, transmitted and stored.
Cooperatives will hold true to their original mission of improving the quality of life for member-owners as we all adapt to these new technologies. We are committed to supporting and educating those who pursue these new innovations while also protecting the interests, safety and system reliability of all co-op member-owners.
The directors and employees of Iowa’s electric cooperatives are proud of our rural heritage as we power the lives of member-owners throughout all areas of the state. We support the communities we serve through local jobs, education programs for schools, civic support and economic development initiatives. We stand up for your interests when legislation might threaten them. We’re working hard to be your trusted energy resource as we provide power that is safe, reliable, affordable and environmentally responsible.
That’s the cooperative difference, and it matters more than ever.
Erin Campbell is the communications manager for the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives, which supports 34 distribution cooperatives and seven generation and transmission cooperatives in the state.