After those upstart colonists defeated King George III
and the British in the Revolutionary War, many New England towns and
villages flexed their newfound democratic muscles by holding town meetings
every year. At these gatherings, local folks would (and still do) discuss
matters of mutual concern, from the mundane to the critically important,
from roads to taxes. These meetings continue today, normally on a weekday in
March, after the cold has broken but before the onslaught of mud season, and
are a sweetly iconic reminder of the grassroots nature of the American
experience and its insistence on an equal voice for all.
The Annual Meeting of your electric cooperative is its
version of the venerable New England Town Meeting. Several cooperatives in
Virginia held their annual meetings in June, and nine more co-ops will hold
theirs over the next three months. The timing of the annual meeting is
linked to the cooperative’s rural roots, to a time when every rural
family’s life was synchronized with the rhythms of the seasons. So after
spring planting had been completed, and before the fall harvest, rural folks
would gather on a lazy summer afternoon or evening with their friends and
neighbors to discuss their member-owned electric utility.
The annual meeting is thus symbolic of the democratic
nature of the electric cooperative as a strongly local, strongly grassroots
institution, but it’s also the hub for conducting the affairs of what is,
after all, an electric utility business.
And while the electric cooperative annual meeting
doesn’t feature discussions of roads and taxes (although these topics have
been hot items for debate in virtually every corner of the Commonwealth for
the last few years), it does feature, like its New England cousins,
elections of board members, consideration of needed bylaws changes, and
reports on the progress of the past year.
For those folks who only recently moved onto
cooperative lines, a natural question is surely: Why should I spend a
morning, or afternoon, or evening going to a meeting of my electric utility,
and why the heck are they holding the meeting anyway? The answer lies, as
did the reason for the meeting’s timing, in the cooperative’s rural
And in its grassroots, as well. Cooperatives were
founded in the 1930s and ’40s by local men and women in more than a dozen
rural communities across Virginia, and in almost a thousand across the
country, to provide these sparsely populated areas with a service that the
big power companies had no interest in providing: electricity. From the
start, then, cooperatives were rural, grassroots-driven, participatory
mini-democracies. The consumers (we call them member-owners) would (and
still do) elect from among their ranks the members of the board of
directors, which then selects the general manager. The member-owners were
and are also responsible for considering and approving the cooperative’s
bylaws, and any bylaws changes.
And, in keeping with our business structure as a
cooperative, we operate at cost, charging our member-owners what it costs us
to generate or purchase the electricity, and then deliver it to the door
(actually, of course, we deliver it to the meter; it’s safer that way!).
So the reason for the annual meeting is twofold: First,
as a member-owned business, your cooperative is legally obligated to hold
such a meeting. But secondly, and perhaps more importantly, your cooperative
wants you to know about and understand the operation of your business, and
the role it plays in making your community a better place to live, work,
raise a family, and retire.
And while the landscape of America, and Virginia, and
our service areas has changed seismically over the last 65 years, the reason
for your cooperative’s existence has not. Cooperatives still serve, on
average, far fewer homes and businesses per mile than large power companies
or municipal utilities, even in our most populous areas. Cooperatives serve
much of the Commonwealth’s most challenging terrain, too, over mountains,
through woods and fields, delivering electricity to areas that would be
difficult for a large power company to serve profitably, but which
cooperatives are able to serve at affordable rates because we provide the
power at cost.
And the fact is, because of our local presence, the
quality of the service provided by electric cooperatives is stellar and
customer-satisfaction levels are the highest in the industry. Also, of
course, if there are “margins” (profits) left over at the end of the
year, your cooperative later returns them to you and the other member-owners
when the financial condition of the cooperative permits.
So, in summary, your cooperative is about: Service
provided at cost. Service quality that’s second to none. Service provided
by local people, operating a local business owned by the members of the
Is such a grassroots institution worth celebrating once
a year through a gathering of its member-owners?
We think so. But while we may gather together as a
democratic body only once a year, your cooperative’s board members and
employees are committed to serving your best interests every hour of every
day of every year.