Press Release

Scorecards rate rural electric cooperatives in North Carolina

Cooperatives could do more to enable members to participate in governance, expand their access to renewable energy and help vulnerable households lower their bills

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 16, 2022

CONTACT
Rory McIlmoil, (423) 433-9415, rory@appvoices.org
Dan Radmacher, (540) 798-6683, dan@appvoices.org

Today, Appalachian Voices released scorecards examining how electric cooperatives in North Carolina measured up across a number of areas, including governance, transparency, energy efficiency, member access to clean energy and other factors. The results showed that the majority of the 26 co-ops in North Carolina impose significant barriers for customer-members to participate in the democratic governance of their co-ops, while only a few offer services or supportive policies to help members lower their electric bills. Though no co-op across seven states scored more than 65 out of 100 total points, co-ops in North Carolina achieved an average score of only 24 out of 100 points — the third lowest in the region.

Cooperatives were ranked according to their governance and transparency practices, energy efficiency and clean energy programs, and by whether they make information about their policies and energy programs available on their websites or include them in their bylaws, among other factors. The purpose of this evaluation is to ensure that electric co-ops are providing their members with the range of opportunities now available to rural communities.

While North Carolina cooperatives ranked highly for providing fair and democratic election processes, they also place significant barriers to participation in decision-making and overall co-op governance. Notably, co-ops in the state fail to maintain open board meetings, publish minutes from the meetings or offer ways for members to communicate with board directors outside of the annual meeting. As a result, North Carolina’s co-ops had the third-lowest score for governance amongst the seven Southeastern states.

“The barriers co-ops place on member access to key decision-making processes, such as preventing members from attending and speaking at monthly board meetings, limits the opportunities members have to meaningfully communicate with their board and democratically participate in the governance of their electric co-op,” said Appalachian Voices Senior Energy Analyst Rory Mcilmoil. “North Carolina law assumes that electric co-ops are governed by their members, and the co-ops themselves are always claiming that they adhere to the seven cooperative principles, including the principle of democratic governance. This means that co-ops have an obligation to serve in the most open, transparent and democratic way possible.”

Regarding member services, North Carolina ranked better but still scored low, achieving an average of only 10.7 out of 50 possible points. This is because most co-ops have failed to take policy steps expanding member access to renewable energy. Only a few offer community solar programs, and many don’t offer fair compensation for energy owned and generated by their members. In addition, despite the fact that low-income households served by co-ops spend more than one-tenth of their income on home energy costs alone, high fixed fees charged by the co-ops and a general lack of investment in energy efficiency make it difficult for vulnerable households to lower their energy bills.

The unique, member-owned structure of electric co-ops means that these utilities should be vehicles for meeting a range of needs in rural communities, first by modeling the democratic values the co-ops were initially built on, and then by offering new policies, programs and services that will help lower costs and improve the lives of their members.

New programs through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and Inflation Reduction Act provide co-ops access to billions of dollars more in funding opportunities. Given that electric co-ops are best positioned to invest in clean energy resources and economic development in rural areas, all electric co-ops should take advantage of every opportunity available to them.

“The Inflation Reduction Act will put billions of dollars into member-owned electric cooperatives but we need co-ops to take advantage of these programs,” said Maddy Koch, North Carolina field coordinator for Appalachian Voices’ Energy Democracy Program. “I hope these scorecards can inform members, but also inspire them to advocate for the changes needed at their local co-ops.”

The Southeast Regional Electric Cooperative Scorecard is hosted on the website EnergyDemocracyYall.org, a hub for organizations working to build energy systems that serve the communities they live in. Website visitors will find an interactive source of information where they can look up specific data about electric cooperatives like geographic and demographic details of their service areas, and information about governance, board composition and accessibility of electric cooperatives.

Members are trying to transform electric co-ops, modernizing them and speeding their transition from fossil fuels to clean energy, while ensuring they are operating transparently and addressing the needs of members who struggle to afford their bills. These scorecards, rating the performance of cooperatives in relevant areas, will show members how their co-ops are doing and where they need improvement, ultimately providing a roadmap for reform.

The scorecard release is part of a joint project between Appalachian Voices, Shareable, Partnership for Southern Equity, Energy Alabama, One Voice, Kentuckians For The Commonwealth and Mountain Association via the Advancing Equity and Opportunity Collaborative. Scorecards were released today for rural electric co-ops in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.

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