Press Release

Scorecards rate rural electric cooperatives in Virginia

Virginia co-ops lead the region, but have room to grow to meet governance standards and demand for clean energy programs

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 16, 2022

CONTACT
Emily Piontek, (314) 562-2341, emily@appvoices.org
Dan Radmacher, (540) 798-6683, dan@appvoices.org

A scorecard released today by Appalachian Voices reveals that rural electric cooperatives in the Southeast need critical reform to ensure they are operating according to good governance standards and providing clean energy programs to their members. The new scorecards build on a previous project, and find that while Virginia’s electric co-ops have made some reforms and are leading the region, there is still room for improvement.

Electric cooperatives are owned by their customer-members, not by shareholders or investors. An outgrowth of rural social movements and established by the Rural Electrification Act of 1936, electric co-ops helped bring electricity to communities that private corporations wouldn’t serve. These utilities are supposed to be governed by their member-owners, and aligned with principles of democratic governance that are supported by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. And yet, many electric co-ops have lost sight of such values over time.

The scorecards rank cooperatives 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 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.

Overall, Virginia co-ops outperformed those in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina and Tennessee, earning an average score of 49 points out of a possible 100. The highest-scoring Virginia co-op earned 65 points. However, not all Virginia co-ops earned high scores, in part because many have not modernized their governance practices or pursued clean energy programs.

For example, even though the Virginia legislature passed a bill in 2020 that enables co-ops to pursue on-bill energy-efficiency financing, only Rappahannock Electric Cooperative in northern Virginia has taken advantage of this opportunity. And Powell Valley Electric Cooperative, which serves the southwestern-most tip of Virginia, is the only co-op with an open meeting policy that allows members to attend the entirety of, and speak at, every regular board meeting. Virginia co-ops have an opportunity to truly embody the cooperative model by building on the better practices this scorecard evaluates them on.

“It’s great to have an independent evaluation of the governance practices and transparency of Virginia’s electric co-ops,” said Seth Heald, a co-founder of the Repower REC Campaign, which advocates for increased transparency and better governance at Virginia’s electric co-ops. “Some of the commonwealth’s co-ops have made significant transparency gains in recent years, but there is still room for much improvement. The cooperative form of business doesn’t really work without good governance practices and complete transparency concerning how co-op boards operate.”

“This tool reveals that Virginia’s electric cooperatives are capable of making innovative programs work under the cooperative model, things like community solar or on-bill financing for residential solar and home energy efficiency upgrades,” said Appalachian Voices field coordinator, Emily Piontek. “We hope to see more co-ops in the state making these opportunities available to their members.”

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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