If your name is on your electric bill from Orcas Power & Light Cooperative (OPALCO), then you are a member of a locally-owned and operated non-profit co-op. You are not just a member, but a member-owner of OPALCO. You have the right and responsibility to elect the board of directors who make the policies and set the rates for your electric service. Your financial investment in OPALCO is calculated annually as a percentage of the year-end margin, that is, what’s left after expenses, that is allocated to a capital credit account in your name and returned to you (with Board approval) in the form of a check after 25 years.
Independent, democratically-governed businesses, electric cooperatives are organized under the Rochdale Principles, also known as the Seven Cooperative Principles:
- Voluntary and Open Membership—Cooperatives are voluntary organizations, open to all persons able to use their services and willing to accept the responsibilities of membership, without gender, social, racial, political or religious discrimination.
- Democratic Member Control—Cooperatives are democratic organizations controlled by their members, who actively participate in setting policies and making decisions. Men and women serving as elected representatives are accountable to the membership. In primary co-operatives members have equal voting rights (one member, one vote) and co-operatives at other levels are also organized in a democratic manner.
- Members’ Economic Participation—Members contribute equitably to, and democratically control, the capital of their cooperative. At least part of that capital is usually the common property of the co-operative. Members usually receive limited compensation, if any, on capital subscribed as a condition of membership. Members allocate surpluses for any or all of the following purposes: developing their co-operative, possibly by setting up reserves, part of which at least would be indivisible; benefiting members in proportion to their transactions with the co-operative; and supporting other activities approved by the membership.
- Autonomy and Independence—Cooperatives are autonomous, self-help organizations controlled by their members. If they enter into agreements with other organizations, including governments, or raise capital from external sources, they do so on terms that ensure democratic control by their members and maintain their co-operative autonomy.
- Education, Training, and Information—Cooperatives provide education and training for their members, elected representatives, managers, and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their cooperatives. They inform the general public—particularly young people and opinion leaders—about the nature and benefits of co-operation.
- Cooperation Among Cooperatives—Cooperatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the cooperative movement by working together through local, national, regional and international structures.
- Concern for Community—While focusing on member needs, cooperatives work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies approved by their members.
Electric cooperatives began to spread across rural America after President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) in 1935. Today more than 900 electric cooperatives serve more than 75% of America’s landmass. They provide reliable and technologically advanced service to more than 42 million Americans while maintaining a unique consumer-focused approach to business: members helping members. See The Nation’s Consumer Owned Electric Utility Network.
What can you do to be a responsible co-op member?
Take action: VOTE in the annual election; improve your household’s energy efficiency with a Home Snapshot Energy Assessment; round up your bill each month to help a co-op member in need through Project PAL; SUPPORT MORE local renewable energy by signing up to purchase blocks of green power on your bill; GO PAPERLESS with e-bill and/or AutoPay to save money and resources; talk with your family, friends and neighbors about co-op and energy issues.
To learn more about your extended family of electric co-ops, check out the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA).
Have questions? Contact us.