Glossary of Co-op Industry Terms
(as adapted from Use or Usage: A Rural  Electric Guide to Style)



ACRE: Action Committee for Rural Electrification. A political action committee that gives financial support to national candidates who are supportive of electric cooperatives.

All-requirement power contract: An agreement by which a distribution system agrees to purchase all of its wholesale electric power from a single power supplier; primarily used by rural and municipal systems.

Alternating current: A flow of electricity through a conductor that continuously reverses its direction of flow, in contrast to direct current (DC). Nearly all electricity generated in the United States is alternating current.  

Amphere (amp): A measure of how much electricity is moving through a conductor. Amperas equal watts divided by volts; a 1,000-watt heater at 120 volts draws 8.33 amps. The term is commonly used to indicate the size of circuit breakers and fuses. 

Annual meeting: Once-a-year gathering of members held according to a cooperative’s bylaws for the purpose of electing directors and conducting other business. 


Base load: The minimum amount of electric power delivered or required from a generating system over a specified period of time; usually measured in megawatts.

Base rate: The portion of the total electric rate that covers the cost of doing business unrelated to fuel expenses.

Brownout: A small, temporary voltage reduction implemented by a utility to conserve electric power during periods of high use.

Bylaws: Rules for operating a cooperative approved by the membership.


Capacity: The electric load, measured in watts or kilowatts of a piece of electrical equipment or system. Also called capability. 

Capital credits: Margins or profits credited to members of a cooperative based on their purchase from the cooperative. Used by cooperative as working capital for a period of time, then paid back to the membership. Also called patronage capital or equity capital. 

Certified Rural Electric Communicator: A person who has completed a professional certification program for rural electric communicators. 

CFC: National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corporation. 

Circuit: A conductor, such as wire, through which electric current flows. 

Clean Air Act: A national law passed in 1963 and amended several times since, giving the U.S. government broad powers to limit air pollution. 

Cooperative: A member-owned business with membership open to those who use its services. Democratically controlled and operated on a non-profit basis, a cooperative returns any margins or profits to members on the basis of patronage. 

Cooperative Month: An annual October commemoration of the importance of cooperative organizations.

Cost of service: The cost of providing a consumer-member with electric service, not including the cost of electricity. 

Current: A flow of electrically charged particles. The unit of measurement is the ampere.


Demand: The amount of electricity drawn from an electric system at any given time, measured in kilowatts. 

Department of Energy: The U.S. agency responsible for planning and allocating the nation’s energy needs.

Deregulation: Major reduction of government oversight in a segment of private industry. 

Distribution system: The poles, wires, and transformers used to deliver electric energy from a bulk power supplier to the consumer. 


Easement: An agreement allowing a utility to use property belonging to another individual or organization for a specific purpose, such as building a transmission line. 

Economic Regulatory Administration (ERA): Administers regulatory programs for the Department of Energy, except those assigned to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. It oversees oil-pricing, allocation and import of programs designed to ensure price stability and equitable supplies of crude oil, petroleum products and natural-gas liquids. 

Eminent domain: The power of a government body to condemn and use private property for public use after paying the property owner; sometimes used as a last resort by power companies constructing power lines. 

Energy: The capacity for doing work; may be natural or manufactured. 

Energy efficiency rating (EER): A measure of how efficiently an appliance uses energy. Determined by dividing the Btu per hour output by the number of watts used. A higher EER means greater efficiency. 


FERC: Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.  Formed in 1977 to set and enforce the wholesale rates that investor-owned utilities charge rural electric cooperatives and other wholesale customers.

Fossil fuel: Materials such as coal, oil or natural gas used to produce heat or power; also called conventional fuels. These materials were formed in the ground millions of years ago from plant and animals remains. 

Fuel adjustment clause: A correction or modification of a consumer’s monthly electric bill caused by an increase or decrease in the cost of an electric utility’s fuel supply.  Also called power-cost adjustment. 

Fuel cost: The total cost of fuel delivered to a power plant, including freight and other transportation charges, unloading costs and maintenance and mine reclamation costs. 


G&T: Generation and transmission cooperative. A power-supply cooperative (such as ODEC) owned by a group of distribution cooperatives. G&Ts generate power or purchase it from public- or investor-owned utilities, or from both. 

Generation plant: A plant that has generators and other equipment for producing electricity. 

Gigawatts (gw): A measure of electric capacity equal to 1 billion watts or 1 million kilowatts. 

Grid: A system of interconnected high-voltage transmission lines and power-generating facilities that allows bulk-power suppliers to share resources on a regional basis. This system provides emergency generation and transmission. 


Heat pump: A system supplying both heating and cooling to a structure by moving heat into or out of the structure.

High voltage: Voltage in a power line higher than the 110 to 220 volts used in most residences. 


Industrial rate: A special rate for industrial customers of electric cooperatives. 

Insulators: Support electric wires and prevent undesired flow of electricity; usually made of glass or porcelain.

Investor-owned utility (IOU): A stockholder-owned power company that generates and distributes electric energy for a profit.


Journeyman lineworker: A non-sexist replacement term for journeyman lineman.

Journeyman lineman: An electrical lineworker who has completed apprenticeship training and has learned the trade. 


Kilowatt (kw): The basic unit of electric demands, equal to 1,000 watts; the average household demand is 10 to 20 kilowatts. 

Kilowatt-hour (kwh):  A unit of energy or work equal to 1,000 watt-hours. The basic measure of electric energy generation or use. 


Line: A carrier of electricity on an electric power system.

Lineman: A person who builds and maintains electric lines. 

Load: The amount of electric power drawn at a specific time from an electric system, or the total power drawn from the system. 

Load factor: The ratio of average demand to peak demand. It is a measure of efficiency that indicates whether a system’s electrical  use over a period of time is reasonably stable or if it has extreme peaks and valleys. 

Loop transmission system: An electric distribution system that allows consumers to receive electricity from more than one direction, allowing a backup in case of an outage.


Marginal-cost pricing: A method of determining the selling price of a commodity when the fixed costs are paid by units already sold so that the next units can be sold for less. 

Margin: The difference between a cooperative’s income and its expenses; returned to members in the form of capital credits as the cooperative’s financial status allows.

Meter: A device used to measure and record the amount of electricity used by a consumer.

Meter tampering: The unlawful and dangerous practice of interfering with the operation of a meter, generally to avoid paying for electricity used.

Municipal: Electric distribution system owned by a city to provide service for its residents.


National Rural Electric Cooperative Association: The Washington, D.C.-based national service organization representing electric cooperatives in the United States. 

Natural gas: A fossil fuel used for electric generation and space heating.

Non-profit: Business not entered into for the purpose of making money. 

Nuclear fusion: The combination of two light nuclei to form a heavier nucleus with the release of some binding energy.

NUTSEA: National Utility Training and Safety Education Association. 


Off-peak power: Electricity supplied during periods of low system demand.

On line: A generating plant that is operating. When an operational plant is not on line, it is “down.”

Outage: Interruption of service to an electric consumer because a power plant, transmission line or other facility is not operating. 


Peak demand: The greatest demand placed on an electric system; measured in kilowatts or megawatts; also, the time of day or season of the year when that demand occurs. 

Peaking unit: Part of an electric generating plant used only at high-use periods to provide sufficient electric capacity for the system to meet its peak demand. 

Powerhouse: An electrical generating station.

Power theft: Tampering with a meter to lower electric bills; a dangerous and illegal act. 


Radiator: A device that transfers heat to the air in a room.

Rate of return: The percentage of a profit a utility may earn from its electric rates; generally, it applies only to investor-owned utilities regulated by a state agency. 

Regulation: A government’s legal right to govern businesses. 

Right of way: Use of property covered by an agreement that allows utilities to construct and operate their facilities there. Sometimes acquired through the right of eminent domain. 

Rural Electrification Act: Legislation that established the Rural Electrification Administration in 1936 as a lending agency for electric cooperatives. 

Rural electrification: A term used to describe the introduction of electricity to rural areas  not served by power companies until then.

R-value: A number showing the ability of insulation to resist the transfer of heat. Higher R-values indicate more efficient insulation. 


SCADA: Substation Control and Data Acquisition. 

Single-phase power: An electric circuit that consists of one alternating current. 

Slag: A residue produced by the combustion of coal. 

Statewide Organization: A service organization for electric cooperatives in one or more states. See Virginia, Maryland & Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives

Substation: An electrical facility containing equipment for controlling the flow of electricity from supplier to user.

Surge suppressor: An electronic device that protects equipment from short-term, high- voltage flows of electricity such as lightening strikes. 

Synthetic fuel: A source of energy created by changing the molecular structure of hard-to-use fuel to a more usable state. 

System demand: The total amount of energy required to supply all consumers.


Three-phase power: An electric circuit that consists of three separate currents delivered at one-third cycle intervals by means of a three-wire circuit.

Time-of-use metering: Measures both electric use and time of use.

Transformer: A device used to raise or lower voltage in electric distribution or transmission lines.  

Transmission line: The poles, lines, and conductors used to move bulk electricity from a generating plant to a substation.

Turbine: Converts the energy of moving water, steam or air to rotation, which can then be used to power a generator. 


Utility: A cooperative or company that provides electricity, water or gas for residential and commercial use. 

Voltage: Potential electric energy. 

Watt (w): The standard unit of electric power, named for James Watt, a 19th-century Scottish engineer. 

Wholesale customer: A power purchaser that buys for resale to retail customers. 


Electric cooperatives were out in force on 2022 Legislative Day, as representatives of co-ops from across Virginia converged on the state capital to advocate for policies that will benefit their members. To read full story, click here: Electric Cooperative BARC Electric Cooperative Community Electric Cooperative Southside Electric Cooperative Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative Prince George Electric Cooperative Northern Neck Electric Cooperative NOVEC Rappahannock Electric Cooperative Powell Valley Electric Cooperative ... See MoreSee Less
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