Power to the People: The energy co-operative with 42 million customers

The Co-operative Party

Co-operative energy has become more popular in the United States and one particular company has emerged as a leader of the field. Ahead of tonight’s Parliamentary event on co-operative energy, Sharon Hou reports on Gareth Thomas MP’s recent visit.

Last week, Co-operative Party Chair and Labour & Co-operative MP Gareth Thomas visited the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) and witnessed first-hand the many benefits and services that the organisation provides its consumers.

The NRECA represents over 900 non-profit electric co-operatives in the US and serves about 12 percent of the population through providing electric services to more than 42 million customers in 47 states. In addition, the NRECA owns 42 percent or around 2.5 million miles of the distribution lines in the US. The association has assets that total to around $112 billion dollars and employ over 70,000 people in the United States. The majority of the members of the NRECA are non-profit, consumer-owned co-operatives, but also include around 65 generation and transmission (G&T) co-operatives that are owned by the distribution co-operatives they serve. The co-operatives were created to provide reliable electric services for members at the lowest possible rate.

The NRECA, representing 900 energy co-ops around the US

The NRECA has also become a big voice in politics on behalf of its members. For instance, the NRECA partook in the development of the Wetlands Mitigation Action Plan, intended to save and increase the number of wetlands in the United States. With co-operatives being the shareholders in different communities and providing services that cater to some of the most scenic regions of the country, the NRECA co-operatives are committed to policies that preserve natural resources and minimise the destruction of the environment while maintaining their obligation to their consumers.

Along with a voice in energy legislation, the NRECA also provides many projects that benefit consumers in addition to electric services.

The latest initiative from the NRECA is a $5 million demonstration project in Minneapolis that will upgrade the whole state of Minnesota’s electric grid through software and hardware contracts. As part of the project, the Great River Energy, Lake Region Electric Cooperative and Minnesota Valley Electric Cooperative will install in-home displays to indicate to homeowners when prices of electricity rise, create a system for customers to access their electricity usage data online, upgrade demand response management tools, and provide demonstrations of energy storage devices including residential battery storage systems and grid-interactive electric thermal storage water heaters. The project will benefit over 700,000 consumers in over 12 states and is part of the larger NRECA $34 million grant program.

“Nationwide, co-operatives are researching and developing new technologies that can drive down costs and improve service for their members. Consumer trust in their co-op has allowed cooperatives to make these investments in leading-edge technologies,” according to John Hewa, NRECA’s Vice-President of Research, Engineering, and Technical Services.

The NRECA works with many co-operatives to help foster a commitment to safety and encourage compliance of safety regulations as well as promoting federal safety and energy legislation that address the unique position of electric co-operatives. The NRECA is a pioneer in co-operative energy and a good model for future companies to follow.

The Co-operative Party and SERA – the Labour Environment Campaign are hosting an event tonight on co-operative and community energy in Parliament with Caroline Flint MP and speakers from the energy and co-operative movements.