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.