Rural electric cooperatives

What are rural electric cooperatives?

Rural electric cooperatives are nonprofit electric utilities. Unlike the big investor-owned utilities, rural electric cooperatives (also called “electric co-ops”) are owned by member-owners, the customers for which they provide electricity. These cooperatives were created in the 1930s to bring electricity to areas of rural America that investor-owned utilities refused to serve due to cost concerns. Today, electric cooperatives provide electricity to 12 percent of Americans and own 42 percent of the country’s electric distribution lines.

Because rural electric cooperatives are owned by their customers, they are supposed to be responsive to their members’ concerns. Each member-owner has one vote in board of director elections. The board governs the cooperative and hires a professional staff. It also establishes policies and procedures.

A farm with grassy area in the foreground and building in the background, one with solar panels
Many rural properties are located in rural electric cooperative territories

How rural electric cooperatives support energy freedom

Unfortunately, many co-op members don’t know they are owners of their electric company, or that they have a say in its governance. As a result, many rural electric cooperatives are controlled by insiders who favor the status quo. Too many rural electric cooperatives still heavily rely on centrally-generated coal-fired power and have little interest in distributed renewable energy.

But, the democratic structure of electric cooperatives provides an opportunity for member-owners to upgrade their energy policies by demanding change. Many rural electric cooperative members are beginning to get involved in leading their cooperatives.

Download our Solar Best Practices for RECs Report

Rural electric cooperatives have a great opportunity to respond to members’ needs by making it easier for them to go solar. Download our guide to learn what your electric cooperative can do to boost solar.  Solar best practices at rural electric co-ops across the US are organized under 3 main goals: 1) Encourage Customer-Owned Rooftop Solar  2) Broaden Solar Access through Community Solar 3) Integrate More Solar, Storage in Co-op Energy Mix and Transition to Modern Grid. Examples range from Community Solar at Colorado co-ops to solar on-bill financing at Ouachita Electric in Arkansas to streamlined solar interconnection at Pedernales Electric in Texas.

cover of Solar Best Practices report


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Rural electric cooperative resources

Our work with rural electric cooperatives

  • Solar United Neighbors of Virginia is working with member-owners of the Rappahannock Electric Cooperative (REC) to support a campaign called Repower REC to bring democracy and transparency back to their cooperative. Read more about the campaign, its goals, and how you can help at
  • Solar United Neighbors of Virginia has worked with member-owners of the Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative (SVEC) to help them push for expanded solar options. We helped the group organize a campaign to contact SVEC leadership to advocate for increased solar electricity options for co-op members. This includes protecting net metering, creating real community solar, and installing solar on the new SVEC headquarters.
Members of the Shenandoah Valley Rural Electric Co-op meet with Co-op leadership to fight for more solar
Members of the Shenandoah Valley Rural Electric Co-op meet with Co-op leadership to fight for more solar

Learn more

We’ve compiled additional information about rural electric cooperatives in some states. Are you looking for information that isn’t covered here? Contact us.

  • Minnesota
  • Ohio
  • Virginia

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