Rural electric cooperatives in Minnesota

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 whose electricity they provide.

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Minnesota’s rural electric co-ops

Early image of a rural electric cooperative installing power lines.

Minnesota rural electric cooperatives have a strong presence in the state. Combined, they provide electricity to more than two million Minnesotans. And their footprint is incredibly large: The combined service territory of all rural electric cooperatives covers 85 percent of the state. Of the nearly 50 electric cooperatives in Minnesota, the vast majority only distribute electricity. They don’t produce their own electricity. Instead, they purchase it and deliver it to customers.


Of the two million Minnesotans who receive their electricity from a rural electric cooperatives, many don’t know they are member-owners of the cooperative and that they have a say in its governance. While some electric cooperatives are charting the future by empowering member participation in decision making, insiders who favor the status quo still control many of Minnesota’s rural electric cooperatives.

Installers put a community solar system into place. Source – Tri County Electric

Many cooperatives also rely on centrally-generated coal-fired power and see distributed renewable energy as a threat to their customer base, rather than an opportunity for their member-owners. In 2017, Minnesota lawmakers decided to remove state oversight of rural electric cooperatives in customer dispute resolution. As a result, it’s more important than ever that Minnesotans engage with their rural electric co-op and ensure that their utility represents their needs.

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