In the fall of 2020, Dakota Resource Council (DRC) began an assessment into Rural Electric Cooperatives (RECs) in ND. The primary goal was to have conversations with DRC members who are also served by rural electric co-ops to uncover where our members stand on different REC issues. Many exciting things came out of these conversations and we are enthusiastic to continue to build the momentum that our members have shown.
Why rural electric co-ops? Why now? Good questions.
In these conversations, we learned from people who have witnessed slow changes to rural electric cooperatives and how they function. RECs were initially created as grassroots and democratic organizations for people to get their electricity from. People wanted to have a say on who, what, when, where, and how they got their energy. They didn’t want to be taken advantage of by greedy corporations.
Similar to DRC, co-ops have a board of directors who are elected by the membership to steer the organization in ways that represent what the members want. Seems pretty great, right?
Well, what we found from our conversations with DRC members was that many people are not aware of what it means to be a member-owner of a co-op anymore. Unfortunately, this means that many decisions are being left to the few at the top and those elected to boards by a small portion of member-owners that still participate in elections.
For example, if you live in Bismarck you are likely served by either Montana-Dakota Utilities Company (MDU) or Capital Electric Co-op, Inc (Capital). People assume these companies are not very different… it’s just electricity, right? In fact, they are quite different. MDU is an investor-owned utility while Capital is a REC. People who get their electricity from Capital are member-owners and have the right to participate in the co-op. RECs provide the majority of electricity (that is sold for retail) in North Dakota.
We found that DRC members want to be more involved and see more involvement in their co-ops. They want to see energy decisions that reflect their priorities and values. They want their voices to be heard on decisions being made on their behalf by co-ops. They want to run for board seats or help people they know to get elected. They want to see a co-op that is working as it was intended, for the people and for the member-owners, not industry profits.
Why is it important to participate in your co-op? Because that is one place where decisions about your energy (if you are a member-owner) and the future of energy in ND is being decided. Because you deserve to have your voice heard on energy issues.
Want more clean energy? Get involved with your co-op.
Want co-op board representation that reflects your values? Get involved with your co-op.
Want to install solar or wind on your property? Get involved with your co-op.
Want to ensure your electric bills are affordable? Get involved with your co-op.
Want to see diversity on REC boards? Get involved with your co-op.
Want to ensure a sustainable future for generations to come? Get involved with your co-op.
Now is the time that we step back into the democratic spaces that were created to serve member-owners.
If you want to have a say in the future of energy in ND, now is the time to speak up and speak out! Maybe you choose to run for the board, maybe you call your co-op to ask questions about their future energy plans, or maybe your work with DRC to address other issues.
DRC plans to help our members get elected to boards if they want to run. We also plan to work with our members to develop other possible campaigns for co-op reform. So stay tuned for webinars or virtual meetings!
One final note, if you made it this far, many RECs are burdened with coal debt and are stuck in long-term contracts that prevent them from making swift decisions that accurately reflect our rapidly changing energy economy. Moving on from coal debt and long-term contracts that are financially unreasonable will take some ingenuity and imagination. We know that our members, and future members, have what it takes to tackle these complex barriers.