By CREA Executive Director Kent Singer
One of the highlights of my work as CREA’s executive director is the opportunity to attend the annual meetings of many of CREA’s member electric cooperatives. I’ve been fortunate to attend about a dozen co-op annual meetings so far this year in towns ranging from Kit Carson to Springfield to Cortez to Craig and many points in between.
The resumption of face-to-face annual meetings, a longstanding co-op tradition, has been particularly gratifying after two years of mostly remote meetings brought on by COVID-19 concerns. It’s been my pleasure to be a guest at these meetings and to chat with co-op directors and staff members to learn what’s new at the co-op and to share what’s new at CREA. It’s also been great to hear from co-op consumer-members about what’s important to them and their communities.
Electric co-op annual meetings are truly celebrations of our diverse Colorado communities. They provide a chance for friends and neighbors to say hello and share a meal; for high school students to be recognized as scholarship winners; and for the co-op leadership to provide an update on co-op operations. Who knows — you might also win a door prize!
And while each co-op has its own unique annual meeting agenda, there are two common denominators at co-op annual meetings. First, each meeting starts with the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance and the singing of the national anthem. Whether the anthem is sung by a soloist, a choir, a recording or the folks in attendance, in one way or another, there is always a tribute to our great country at Colorado co-op annual meetings.
The second common denominator at co-op annual meetings is the opportunity given to consumer-members of the co-op to pose questions to the co-op board and staff regarding the operations of the co-op.
Think about that for a moment. As a consumer-member of your electric co-op, you have the right to attend the annual meeting of your electric utility and ask the CEO and/or the board president any question you want (politely, and related to electric service, of course). You can ask about rates, services, facilities, co-op policies, power supply; really, anything that you deem important about your electric service. And if the CEO or board president doesn’t have the answer for you at the meeting (which is rare), you can bet they will follow up with a phone call in a day or two.
Again, think about that. I live in Denver and receive electric service at my home from an investor-owned utility. Since I’m not a shareholder, I’m not entitled to attend the annual meeting of the utility. You can bet that if I have a question about my bill or service, I will not be able to reach the CEO or a board director for an answer. More likely, my call will be directed to an out-of-state call center, to be forever lost in digital purgatory.
That doesn’t mean consumer-members think every decision made by the co-op is perfect or that they don’t have questions or suggestions. Far from it. At the meetings I attended, many consumer-members had questions about programs or services offered by their electric co-op, and they had definite opinions about how those programs or services could be adjusted and perhaps improved. But, in all cases, the questions were asked politely and in a spirit of cooperation.
These meetings show that the electric co-op business model and the cooperative principles are alive and well in Colorado. The second cooperative principle, “democratic member control,” is proudly exercised by the consumer-members of Colorado co-ops through board elections and membership meetings.
In the end, Colorado co-op consumer-members know that their electric utility is member-owned, member-controlled, nonprofit and operated for the good of the local community. In these times of uncertainty and unrest, it’s reassuring to know that there is at least one institution that you can rely on to provide great service at a fair price: your local electric co-op.
Kent Singer is the executive director of CREA and offers a statewide perspective on issues affecting electric cooperatives. CREA is the trade association for all of Colorado’s 22 electric distribution co-ops and one power supply co-op.