VMDAEC: Backing Your Local Co-op to Serve Members Better
The true power of locally owned electric cooperatives is the consumer-members living and working in the communities they serve, and when those co-ops are connected, their collective energy gives them statewide reach.
That’s the role that the Virginia, Maryland & Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives (VMDAEC) and other electric cooperative statewide associations play in supporting the goal of ensuring that co-op members always have safe, affordable, reliable energy.
Associations work to complement what electric co-ops do at the local level.
At the direction of their affiliated electric cooperatives, statewide associations are regularly involved in communications, education and training, legislative affairs, tax and regulatory matters, economic development and regional planning. They also provide a framework for coordination of many activities that provide more meaningful results when addressed through collective action.
It’s not unusual for Virginia’s lawmakers to deal with thousands of bills and amendments during a legislative session. Many never advance beyond committees or face numerous revisions during hearing and review processes. Keeping track of even major changes is no small feat.
Besides members of state legislatures or general assemblies, there are also regulatory commissions, typically made up of appointees who may be more familiar with major investor-owned utilities than they are with member-owned electric cooperatives.
“It’s all about making lawmakers aware of who we are, what we do and why we do it,” said Brian Mosier, chief operating officer for VMDAEC. “We need to do whatever we can to help them understand who we are and, most importantly, that we’re all reaching for the same goal — providing the best electric service we can at the lowest possible cost,” Mosier said.
When it comes to safety, operating efficiency and governance, skills and training can help an electric cooperative run more successfully and serve its members better. But when co-op employees are spread across several locations and committed to maintaining 24/7 operations, getting true value for training dollars can be challenging.
ENGAGING FUTURE CO-OP MEMBERS
Electric cooperative statewide associations also take a leadership role in many of the youth outreach programs supported by local electric cooperatives. VMDAEC and other statewide associations coordinate the Electric Cooperative Youth Tour, sending more than 1,800 high school students from 46 states to Washington, D.C., every June.
“As cooperatives, we understand that our student leaders of today are our community leaders of tomorrow,” said Andrew Vehorn, director of governmental affairs and youth tour director for VMDAEC. “What better time to teach these students about the cooperative business model and co-op careers than through our youth programs?”
For many Youth Tour participants, the co-op-sponsored trips are the furthest they have ever ventured from their home communities without their families. They also provide exposure to the state and federal government operations, and opportunities to learn and practice skills that will serve them for a lifetime.
“We promote the life skills that today’s generation value, like building relationships, developing leadership skills and enhancing their résumés,” said Vehorn.
Participants develop strong relationships with their sponsoring electric co-op that often include speaking or volunteering at annual meetings and other co-op events. The results are meaningful community service hours and experiences that often inspire college application essays or can lead to technical or member services career opportunities after graduation.
These are just a few ways that statewide associations like VMDAEC support electric cooperatives, and everything they do is aimed at one goal: bettering the communities they serve.
Derrill Holly writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the national trade association representing more than 900 local electric cooperatives. From growing suburbs to remote farming communities, electric co-ops serve as engines of economic development for 42 million Americans across 56 percent of the nation’s landscape.