America’s vast network of rural electric cooperatives covers most of the country and serves more than 40 million people -- including many who live in areas with high concentrations of poverty. Arising to serve where for-profit utilities would not, these “democratic” cooperatives could be fertile testing ground for innovative policies and programs. In crucial community services, like Internet access, several cooperatives have provided affordable, next-generation service. In energy, on the other hand, rural electric cooperatives remain more reliant on last century's power sources (like coal) and retain less self-determination than many other utilities.
On this page, you'll find ILSR's original research and perspective on rural electric cooperatives and their role in expanding access to local, renewable energy.
Rural Electric Cooperatives Research Reports
October 30th, 2023
ILSR’s new report, The Rural Electric Rift, examines the struggle of electric distribution cooperatives and their members to restore local control over electricity purchasing and harness the benefits of affordable clean energy.READ THE REPORT
March 29th, 2016
Electric cooperatives have been the backbone of the nation’s rural electrical system for more than 80 years. Their mission and business model now face more challenges than ever, from financial to contractual to basic member control. But the opportunity is equally great, with a chance for member-driven investment to power hundreds of local economies across the rural United States.READ THE REPORT
April 7th, 2017
Karlee Weinmann, Research Associate for the Energy Democracy initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, delivered a presentation in New Orleans, Louisiana on March 28th, 2017 at an event called Decarbonizing the Electric Grid. In her presentation she discussed the untapped potential for rural electric cooperatives to democratically engage with their member-owners, commit heavily to renewable energy, and lift up their stories in the energy industry.EXPLORE...
April 7th, 2016
This week Ed Marston, former board member of the Delta-Montrose Electric Association in western Colorado, joins John Farrell on Local Energy Rules to talk about the electric cooperative world. He highlights the good, the bad, and what his and other cooperatives are doing to spur clean energy investment in a region that so desperately needs local economic development.EXPLORE...
A Kansas Electric Cooperative Offers Energy Savings with $0 Down - Episode 32 of Local Energy Rules Podcast
April 6th, 2016
On-bill financing is not new. The Tennessee Valley Authority has offered it for years. More recently, numerous municipal utilities and electric cooperatives have created programs. But Midwest Energy, on the prairies of western Kansas, might have the best track record. Brian Dreiling, manager of energy services at Midwest Energy, shared his utility’s story with Local Energy Rules this week, explaining the on-bill program, what makes it successful, and how an investment in the member-owner’s home is an investment in the utility.EXPLORE...
Members Reviving Atlanta Electric Co-op After CEO Takes Millions - Episode 31 of Local Energy Rules Podcast
April 5th, 2016
Cobb EMC serves around 175,000 member-owners just outside of Atlanta, Ga., and is one of 900 member-owned electric cooperatives in the United States. Mark Hackett, president of member-driven Cobb EMC Forum, joins John Farrell this week to talk about how an engaged membership continues to be essential to defending the vitality of a locally owned electric company.EXPLORE...
March 21st, 2014
The Hawaiian utility, made local when the investor-owned utility left the business a decade ago, is surging toward 40% renewable energy in the next year, with a third of that total from customer-generated solar. Half its daytime energy will come from solar arrays by the end of 2015. Learn more about how a cooperative utility has blown past purported technical barriers to renewable energy and pioneered energy storage to make solar a prominent part of their energy mix in this interview with Jan, recorded via Skype on Feb 25, 2014.EXPLORE...
December 5th, 2013
It may be one of the oldest cooperative utilities in the country, but in the next six months, Farmers Electric Cooperative (FEC) of southeastern Iowa will be leading the nation in this 21st century energy source. Upon completion of a new solar array, the 640-member cooperative will have over 1,500 Watts of solar per customer on their system, nearly double the #2 utility. It's also the most reliable utility in Iowa. How can this small, member-owned utility in Kalona be "America's Most Progressive Utility"?EXPLORE...
January 16th, 2013
What began as a group of neighbors hoping to reduce their impact on global warming has since become a major force for solar advocacy in Washington, DC. The Mount Pleasant Solar Cooperative was started by two teenage boys who wanted to make solar power convenient and affordable through a bulk-purchase programEXPLORE...
November 9th, 2023
Frances Sawyer and Maria McCoy discuss ILSR’s new report on rural electric co-ops and how federal dollars can meet the growing momentum of co-op member-owners organizing around affordability, clean energy, and local control.READ MORE
October 30th, 2023
ILSR’s new report, The Rural Electric Rift, examines the struggle of electric distribution cooperatives and their members to restore local control over electricity purchasing and harness the benefits of affordable clean energy.READ MORE
Two Rural Electric Cooperatives Overcome Barriers to Clean, Local Energy — Episode 66 of Local Energy Rules Podcast
December 13th, 2018
In our latest Local Energy Rules podcast, John Farrell joins leaders from Farmers Electric Cooperative in Iowa and Kit Carson Electric Cooperative in New Mexico, to discuss how rural areas can source their power locally and renewably. Rural electric co-op leaders Warren McKenna and Luis Reyes share from experience how local renewable energy provides win-wins for co-ops, member-owners, and their local economy.READ MORE
February 23rd, 2017
In this episode, Christopher Mitchell, the director of ILSR’s Community Broadband Networks initiative, interviews Hannah Trostle and Karlee Weinmann, Research Associates for the Community Broadband Networks and Energy Democracy initiatives, respectively. The three discuss the cooperative model of ownership and how this model can enable investment in gigabit Internet connections for their member-owners, but also how they are subject to a low participation rates in their elections.READ MORE