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Minnesota is home to 50 electric cooperatives. These utilities provide reliable electric service to 35 percent of Minnesotans and cover approximately 85 percent of the state’s geographic area.
Electric cooperatives are distinct from their investor-owned and municipal counterparts, and that difference can be traced to the beginning of cooperatives. Areas now served by cooperatives were once not served at all. In the 1930s, large power companies could not make a profit from serving rural America, where there were fewer customers, so rural communities started electric cooperatives.
Cooperatives are not-for-profit organizations that are motivated by providing service to their members, all of whom have a financial stake in the cooperative. Great River Energy continues to be concerned about any cost increase that will harm the economic well-being of its member-consumers. As a cooperative business, cost increases are immediately reflected on members’ electricity bills.
Cooperatives are governed by democratically elected boards of directors who are cooperative members themselves. In a 2016 American Customer Satisfaction Index survey, electric cooperatives across the nation received an overall customer satisfaction score of 76, higher than investor-owned utilities (72) and municipal electric utilities (68).
An estimated 42 million people in 47 states are members of electric cooperatives. Twelve percent of the nation’s electricity is provided by cooperatives; however, cooperatives own 42 percent of the country’s distribution power lines. Such expansive infrastructure is necessary to serve their largely rural and suburban membership.
In Minnesota, cooperatives serve many of the counties with the highest unemployment and poverty levels. Cooperative customers are still mainly homes, farms and small businesses just as they were 75 years ago. When you compare cooperatives to other types of utilities, the difference is clear:
Cooperatives typically do not have a lot of commercial and industrial load (93.4 percent of cooperative meters in Minnesota are residential), so some state mandates can be more difficult for cooperatives to achieve. Here is a customer breakdown by utility type: