It’s doubtful that 2008 will be on
anyone’s “best year of our lives” list, save for romantics whose eyes
first locked on each other during ’08; parents who brought a blessed child
into a cursedly difficult year; or TV networks whose airspace and coffers
were filled with a bountiful harvest of political advertisements. The end of
another long, tiring political campaign was perhaps one of the best things
to happen in 2008, albeit at the very end of the year. But alas, that’s
democracy for you — messy at times, sure, but ultimately the best system
of government ever devised, because it’s the people themselves who set
their own course.
And that’s exactly why electric
cooperatives have been highly successful businesses for almost 75 years and
counting, because ours is a business structure based on self-determination,
with people working together to accomplish things that none could do alone.
Every member-consumer of an electric cooperative is an equal partner in this
enterprise, with an equal vote to elect board members, and to adopt or
change bylaws. Because we’re not-for-profit businesses, millions of
Americans for three generations have been able to receive affordable
electricity in sparsely populated rural areas, small towns and emerging
suburbs in 47 of our 50 states, including 13 regions of this Commonwealth.
And because we’re locally owned and
locally controlled businesses, cooperatives have been able to provide
electric service that is both reliable and responsive to our
member-consumers’ needs. Because cooperative employees are part of the
fabric of the communities we serve, they have a special stake in preserving
the environment in these communities, because they live and work and play
And yet ... while electric cooperatives
have helped make reliable, affordable electric service possible for 40
million Americans since the mid-1930s in areas that other utilities did not
want to serve, our success has been a quiet success. The fact is, most folks
in cities have never even heard of an electric cooperative, and even some
cooperative member-consumers aren’t aware that they are owners as well as
customers of their electric utility. And, of course, when the financial
conditions of cooperatives allow it, we return to our owners their portion
of any profits (we call them “margins”) from prior years of operation.
It’s interesting that this current
time of economic stress and distress mirrors in some ways the cauldron in
which electric cooperatives first were forged. Cooperatives were born during
a time of great economic upheaval, during the heart of the Great Depression,
as a way to bring farm families into the 20th century. During World War II,
most cooperatives had to delay hooking up eager farm families because many
of the materials used to build lines were instead going to the war effort.
Electric cooperatives came of age during the 1950s, when most
cooperative members were still connected
in some way to farming. Then our growth accelerated in the 1960s and has
hardly slowed since, as most cooperative service areas have blossomed with
homes and businesses and roads. Yet through it all, we’ve tried hard to
stay true to our core mission. And that is this: to provide our
member-consumers with reliable, affordable electric service in the safest,
most environmentally sound way possible. Period.
Such a business structure, and such a
business approach, may seem mundane, even boring, in a world where massive
diversification, global reach, and constant growth are the mantras of
business and industry. As we know from events of the past year, though,
large, high-flying firms have farther to fall if their economic engine
sputters, or fails altogether.
As we look deeper into 2009 and beyond,
every American is hoping and praying for an economic recovery that is
imminent, broad-based, and sustained.
And in this difficult environment, every
electric cooperative member-consumer can take solace in the fact that,
through good times and bad since the 1930s, your utility has continued to
build on the strongest possible foundation — that of serving you and your
fellow cooperative members.
Your cooperative will never be a
high-flying business; as always, we will keep our center of gravity low to
the ground, at a grassroots level, the better to understand your electric
needs, as we work hard every day to meet them.