Democracy in Action – How Community-Owned Utilities Power Lives

Most Americans get their power from a for profit utility, but 30% of Americans, they exercise control over the utilities where they get power.

Rural electric cooperatives and municipal utilities are democratically governed utilities. They share a history of communities coming together to develop the energy they need to power their own economies and lives. Today, they represent a big lever for driving the clean energy transition, Their democratically elected boards have the ability to lead the way.

Say more. What are these utilities? 

  • Rural electric cooperatives are not-for-profit corporations that are owned and managed by the community the utility serves in a cooperative. The utility is governed by a board of directors that is elected by the individuals who purchase power from the utility. Rural cooperatives got their start in the original New Deal, a time when cities had been electrified for nearly 40 years, yet rural communities lacked power for basic tasks like pumping water. Today, there are more than 800 rural electric cooperatives in rural and suburban communities. While they serve approximately 10% of the population, they provide electricity to an impressive 56% of the landmass of the US. 
  • Municipal utilities are utilities owned and managed by a local government, like a town or city. 1 in 7 Americans is served by a Muni in over 2000 different communities. These utilities can be governed in a variety of ways, but most commonly the utility is governed by an elected board or a board appointed by a mayor or other elected official. These individuals are responsible for setting the strategic direction of the utility — including a goals for 100% clean energy, affordable rates, and service reliability. 

These community-owned utilities are typically smaller than the average investor-owned (for-profit) utility, and as such, they are too often left out of the energy transition conversation. However, because they are institutions that are governed through local control and do not have the same profit motive as investor-owned utilities, these utilities have the opportunity to deliver huge benefits for their communities through the clean energy transition. 

With good leadership — and fair, transparent governing principles — these utilities have the ability to accelerate the transition to 100% clean energy, foster community resiliency, bring local economic development into their communities, and protect low income communities from high bills and unhealthy housing.