Green Utility Cooperatives

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Brendan Smith:

"One of the least known but most promising examples of this "localization" of climate politics is the greening of utility co-ops to create affordable and renewable energy, green jobs, and regional green development. These efforts may well represent the beginning of a "New Power Co-Op Movement" that can help jump start the shift to a new green economy.

Electric co-ops are owned by their customers, who are called "members" due to their dual role as customer/owner. Their primary mission is to provide access to electricity at affordable prices for every potential member in their service area.

Electric co-ops were created as one of President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal programs in order to promote rural development. The first electric co-op was born in 1934 in the back of a furniture store in Corinth, Mississippi. Within a few years, it had thousands of counterparts across the nation.

Today, America's 930 electric cooperatives are the sole source of electricity for 42 million people in 47 states -- nearly 12 percent of the nation's population. They control $100 billion in assets and $31 billion in member equity." (


Brendan Smith:

"In western Kansas, rural communities, farms, and businesses get their electricity from Midwest Energy, the electric co-op based in Hays, Kansas. The co-op has pioneered an energy conservation strategy known as "on-bill financing." It has developed a program called How$mart that provides money for energy efficiency improvements such as insulation, air sealing, and new heating and cooling systems for residential and small business consumers. Co-op members -- whether owners or tenants -- don't have to put up any money "up-front." Instead, they repay the funds through energy savings on their monthly power bills.

Members start with an energy audit to determine potential savings. The co-op develops an individualized conservation plan. Members choose a contractor. If the member moves or sells the property, the deal passes to the next customer at that location.

The program started with a pilot in four rural counties in the summer of 2008; it then spread through rural Western Kansas. A year later it had invested $1 million in more than two hundred rural homes and businesses. It is estimated that customers will save over 400,000 kilowatt-hours per year, enough to power forty homes. That will put 13,000 fewer tons of carbon dioxide into the environment over the next twenty years. The Environmental Defense Fund recently recognized How$mart as one of America's best energy innovations." (