Electric cooperatives are utilities owned by the customers, or members, that they serve, and which operate by a democratic model of governance. Electric co-ops were organized by rural people in the 1930s and 1940s who banded together to bring a critical resource to their communities and improve their quality of life. Today, these co-ops can offer broadband internet access, solar energy, energy efficiency and other unique programs to improve quality of life for their members.
But how do electric cooperatives in Alabama measure up to this ideal?
In the Alabama Electric Cooperative Report Card, we graded our electric cooperatives’ performance on democratic governance, programs for members, and how they handle member money.
Special thanks to Energy Alabama for leading the research and development of the scorecard and report!
1. Most electric cooperatives in our state have a long way to go on democratic governance, finances and the range of programs they offer to member-owners. Out of 120 total points in our grading system, no co-op scored more than 59.
2. The income inequality between co-op CEOs, board members, and the customers they serve isn’t quite as drastic as in Tennessee— using the criteria developed for the Tennessee scorecard, 19/22 Alabama co-ops received an A or B in the Financial Compensation category. However, every Alabama co-op received a D or F in the Member Programs category, revealing how electric cooperatives in Alabama are failing to provide their members with sustainable, cost-saving programs like community solar and on-bill energy efficiency financing.
3. Out of the 22 electric co-ops that we scored, over a third don’t allow their member-owners to attend board meetings (a standard practice for most publicly owned utilities). Only 5 of these co-ops even offer board member contact information on their websites.
4. Unlike electric cooperatives in other states, none of the electric cooperatives that we scored offer a community solar program for their members. No Alabama co-op offers an inclusive energy efficiency program for member-owners, an investment model proven to lower energy bills for participants.
5. More than half of Alabama’s electric cooperatives offer or are developing broadband internet programs.
6. All of Alabama’s electric cooperatives have a fixed fee, or basic service charge, that is more than $15 per month – significantly higher than fixed charges recommended by rate-making experts such as the Regulatory Assistance Project.