Front Porch Blog

Stake a claim in your electric co-op!

Member-owners of Powell Valley Electric Cooperative line-up to vote for board candidates at an annual meeting in 2018.

The presidential election is behind us. The state and local elections of 2020 are behind us. But there are many upcoming elections in Virginia to pay attention to in 2021, including the governor’s, attorney general’s and lieutenant governor’s races, as well as House, Senate and local elections across the state.

And if you are a member (or as we like to say, member-owner) of an electric cooperative, you should put another election on your radar — that for any open Board of Directors positions at your co-op. If you know a thing or two about your co-op, or care about how well your energy system serves the people in your community, then you might even consider running for election to your board.

I’ve written about the importance of voting in co-op board elections before. Board members make critical decisions about how your electric co-op functions. These decisions impact the types of programs available to member-owners — and even the electric rates you pay every month. For example, board members set your cooperative’s budgets and oversee contracts with power generators. Board members also make important decisions about energy efficiency programs and rooftop (or other) solar programs available to member-owners.

When there is a board election happening at your co-op, there are a lot of reasons for member-owners to pay attention, and to vote.

But it’s not just about the act of voting, right? In order for a member-owner’s vote to usher in a board member who will prioritize reducing carbon emissions by supporting member-owned rooftop solar, say, or who wants to make energy efficiency programs more widely available to members, then board candidates who care about these issues need to be on the ballot. Member-owners of electric cooperatives are eligible to run as board candidates (although interested candidates should check for additional requirements that may be written into their co-op’s bylaws).

Running for election to your local co-op board might sound intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. There are advocacy organizations and grassroots groups across Virginia that have resources for potential candidates, and can guide member-owners through the process of running their campaign. Importantly, when incumbent members feel threatened by candidates competing for their seat on the board, the energy behind new board candidates can pressure a cooperative to respond to the priorities of its members.

A member-owner of his cooperative for over 12 years, Seth Heald has been advocating for democratic governance at Rappahannock Electric Cooperative since 2017.

For example, in 2020 Rappahannock Electric Cooperative (REC) member Seth Heald ran for a board position on a platform that supported better governance and transparency at REC as well as access to broadband — an issue made urgently critical by the pandemic. Heald didn’t win, in part because undemocratic board election practices were at play (but that’s a story for another time). However, REC announced both during the race and after the reelection of the incumbent that the co-op would be pursuing a number of the reforms that Heald campaigned for and that other reform candidates had urged the previous year.

And if that’s not an example of the power of a few individual member-owners (and their supporters!) to effect meaningful change, then I don’t know what is. Bottom line — keep the Board of Directors elections at your cooperative on your radar in 2021. And if you want to run for a seat, we’re here to help.

Contact Emily at emily [at] appvoices.org to learn more about Energy Democracy opportunities for board candidates at your co-op.

A transplant to Southwestern Virginia from the Midwest, Emily engages with communities and works to build a more equitable and sustainable energy system as our Virginia Energy Democracy Field Coordinator.


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