Member voices heard at annual meetings - Great River Energy

Member voices heard at annual meetings

Electric cooperatives are connected to their members by more than just the lines that power their homes and businesses.

This connection is demonstrated through what is known as the “cooperative difference”— the tangible and intangible ways the cooperative business model benefits members and their communities. Electric cooperatives are member-driven organizations guided by several principles that set them apart from other utilities.

One of the central principles is “Democratic member control,” meaning members actively participate in setting policies and making decisions. Members also have equal voting rights, which they can exercise yearly at the cooperative’s annual meeting.

Every cooperative is required to conduct an annual meeting of the membership. The event’s main purpose is to hold the election of the board of directors as well as share important financial information and occasionally vote on other matters such as by-law changes.

The board of directors is comprised of members who live and work in the communities served by the cooperative, so they are in the best position to know where community investments are most needed. They also have a say in helping direct where co-op dollars are spent.

But these meetings also serve as a community gathering. Members share a meal together. Often, students seeking to further their education receive scholarships. And door prizes are given out to lucky winners. It’s a time where neighbors can meet or members can catch up with old acquaintances. Few organizations are uniquely positioned like cooperatives to bring together all members of their local communities.

Member meetings

Wright-Hennepin Cooperative Electric Association hosted nearly 1,700 people at its 87th annual meeting held in April.

Approximately half of Great River Energy’s 27 member-owner cooperatives have hosted their annual meeting so far this year.

About 1,700 people attended Wright-Hennepin Cooperative Electric Association’s (WH) 87th event in April. WH’s meetings showcase the mission and purpose of these events, combining the business meeting and election with informational booths on industry topics to help educate members. WH also offers games and entertainment for children and every member is given a pound of butter as they leave the meeting.

“Wright-Hennepin’s annual meeting is an important way we demonstrate the cooperative difference. It promotes member engagement and increases loyalty and support. At our annual meeting, members spend time in our building, meet and interact with our staff and enjoy a meal with family, friends and neighbors. We believe it produces significant long-term benefits for the cooperative.”

— WH President and Chief Executive Officer Tim Sullivan

The cooperative also had a theme for this year’s meeting: “Delivering through the energy transition.” Sullivan centered his comments to the membership on how WH plans to meet their electric needs as the electrification of end-use technology continues to grow. He noted that infrastructure updates, other construction projects and three wind energy deals will save members an estimated $50 million over 25 years while maintaining reliable service.

“Simply put, the energy transition is the biggest transformation of the nation’s electric grid since it was first built out a century or so ago,” Sullivan said.

Minnesota Valley Electric Cooperative’s (MVEC) 87th annual meeting struck a similar chord with its theme of addressing industry challenges. Chief Executive Officer Marvin Denzer spoke about decisions made at the state and federal level — including Minnesota’s carbon-free standard — that will affect electric cooperatives for years to come.

Minnesota Valley Electric Cooperative Chief Executive Officer Marvin Denzer speaks with a member at the co-op’s 87th annual meeting.

Denzer assured the membership that MVEC is positioned well headed into the future and will maintain a balanced approach by continuing to invest in safety and reliability while ensuring rates stay competitive.

In addition to the business meeting and election, MVEC awarded 18 scholarships to area high school seniors totaling $27,000 to support their future education goals. One student was announced as MVEC’s representative for the 2024 Youth Tour, a national leadership trip to Washington, D.C. Select members also won bill credits via a drawing.

“The annual meeting represents our yearly opportunity to personally provide our member-owners with a comprehensive review of the co-op’s performance in 2023,” Denzer said. “It’s a vital element of the cooperative’s framework. Given the nature of a team-minded, member-owner cooperative, we do business differently than other utilities. Our fundamental purpose is to deliver a value-added service to our local member-owners, and this meeting shows our team’s commitment.”

Electric cooperatives serve both an economic and social purpose. While providing safe, reliable and affordable power is crucial to their missions, improving the quality of life for all members is at their core. The annual meeting serves as an opportunity for the membership to let their voices be heard through open conversation with cooperative representatives as well as their votes to help shape the organization’s energy future.

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