Last week in Atlanta, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) held their annual meeting, which brought together leaders from over 900 Electric Membership Cooperatives (EMCs) across the country. The annual meeting provides an opportunity for EMC leaders to discuss issues facing their cooperatives and strategies to ensure the long term stability of individual EMCs. In response to this national gathering, an informal analysis of EMC operations was released highlighting the best and worst practices of select cooperatives in the country. One of the very worst in the nation, according to the report, is right here, in Georgia’s backyard – Cobb EMC.
According to NRECA’s website,
Electric Cooperatives are private, independent, electric utilities, owned by the members they serve. Democratically governed businesses, electric cooperatives are organized under the Cooperative or Rochdale Principles, anchoring them firmly in the communities they serve and ensuring they are regulated by their consumers.
The ‘core’ principles of cooperatives mentioned on the website include voluntary and open membership, democratic member control, members’ economic participation, autonomy and independence, education, training and information, cooperation among cooperatives, and concern for community.
EMCs across the country are expected to follow these principles but unfortunately this is not always the case. In reality, EMCs range widely in their compliance with these core principles, particularly in regard to member engagement and transparent decision-making.
On Tuesday, February 16th a press conference and tele-press conference were held while the NRECA conference was happening, to highlight select EMCs that are engaging in good and bad practices across the country. A sample member’s bill of rights was presented, which if enacted could help EMCs, such as Cobb, re-align their operations with the core principles of membership engagement and transparency.
At the press conference, Pedernales EMC Board Member, Dr. Patrick Cox, presented information on how Pedernales Electric Coop of Texas was able to start turning itself around from being seen as one of the most corrupt EMCs in the nation to one of the more transparent. In his speech, Dr. Cox highlighted how Pedernales improved upon its effectiveness by advocating for members rights, ethical leadership, and supporting clean energy rather than new coal-fired power plants.
In contrast, Tom Barksdale and former Congressman Fletcher Thompson both of Cobb EMC both spoke about the bad practices of their cooperative, Cobb EMC. Congressman Thompson provided background on the corruption scandal recently seen in Cobb EMC leadership and how members were being shut out and not made aware of how their money is being handled. Mr. Barksdale highlighted the fact that Cobb EMC is planning to invest billions of dollars into new coal plants in Georgia – Plant Washington and Plant Ben Hill – without providing members with any documentation or studies showing what led them to make the decision to build new coal plants in Georgia rather than investing in energy efficiency and clean energy alternatives.
In addition, President Wes Perrin of San Miguel Power Association and coop member Steve Wilkins of the East Kentucky Power Cooperatives both highlighted the successes and failures of their own cooperatives in the tele-press conference briefing.
The key purpose of the two press events was to raise public awareness regarding the good and bad practices of EMCs across the country and how certain measures such as passage of a members bill of rights and investment in energy efficiency and clean energy can turn an EMC so that its on the right path to a sustainable energy future. Elections for new board members are pending in Cobb EMC and we urge members to pay attention, have their voices heard, and vote for change!