In this space, I’ve expounded on why and how Tennessee’s electric co-ops are different. Our cooperative business model sets us apart from other utilities because we adhere to seven guiding cooperative principles that reflect core values of honesty, transparency, equity, inclusiveness and service to the greater good of the community.
Electric cooperatives have a unique and storied place in our country’s history. We democratized the American dream by bringing electricity to rural areas when for-profit electric companies determined the effort too costly. Back then, cities were electrified, and rural areas were not, creating the original rural-urban divide. Newly established electric lines helped power economic opportunity in rural areas. Today, that spirit of equity and inclusion is a vital part of our co-op DNA.
When our electric co-ops were founded, each member contributed an equal share in order to gain access to electricity that benefited individual families as well as the larger local community. Each member had an equal vote in co-op matters. That sense of equity and inclusion is still how Tennessee’s electric cooperatives operate today. They were built by and belong to the diverse communities and consumer-members they serve. Membership is open to everyone in their service territories, regardless of race, religion, age, disability, gender identity, language, political perspective or socioeconomic status.
By virtue of paying your electric bill each month, you’re a member of the cooperative, and every member has an equal voice and vote when it comes to co-op governance. This ties back to our guiding principles of equitable economic participation and democratic control of each co-op.
We encourage all members to vote in director elections, and we invite all members to participate in co-op meetings to weigh in on discussions that set co-op policies and priorities such as high-speed internet, community solar and electric vehicle programs.
We know members of our communities have different needs and perspectives, and we welcome diverse views on all issues under consideration by our co-ops. The more viewpoints we hear, the better we are able to reflect the needs of all corners of our communities.
While our top priority is providing safe, reliable and affordable energy, we also want to be catalysts for good in our communities. Because we are local electric cooperatives, co-op revenues stay in your community. In turn, co-ops invest in our diverse community bases through scholarship programs, charitable giving, educational initiatives and more. We strive to make long-term decisions that improve and enrich the communities we serve.
Today’s world is very different than it was when Tennessee’s electric co-ops were founded, but our cooperative values have stood the test of time and remain just as relevant today. We recognize that today’s co-op members expect more, and our pledge to you — the members we proudly serve — is to promote a cooperative culture of inclusion, diversity and equity for all.