Rural electric co-ops were set up as democratic institutions, but have increasingly become unresponsive to their customers, who are also owner-members. In Virginia, members of two co-ops are challenging the status quo.
Electric co-ops are governed by boards who are democratically elected, and therefore supposedly responsive to their customers, who are also co-owners of these utilities. The Powell Valley Electric Cooperative in east Tennessee has stirred grave concern with its herbicide spraying policy, and members are speaking out.
“We do everything we can to keep energy,” Barbara Taylor says as she heads down the stairs to the basement of the home she has shared with her husband, Paul, in New Tazewell, Tennessee since 1980. Outside it’s a humid 78 degrees, but in the narrow basement room that houses the Taylors’ heat pump it’s cool and dry.