Member Moment: BENCO Electric Cooperative

“Member Moment” highlights one of Great River Energy’s member-owner cooperatives and how it uniquely demonstrates what it means to be a cooperative.

When cooperatives work together, great things can happen.

BENCO Electric Cooperative (BENCO), which has served southern Minnesota residents with reliable, affordable electric service since 1935, regularly demonstrates the “cooperation among cooperatives” guiding principle through partnerships with other local co-ops to the benefit of all their members.

For instance, BENCO joined 11 other cooperatives in 2013 to form Southern Minnesota Energy Cooperatives (SMEC) with plans to acquire Alliant Energy’s service territory in Minnesota. A representative from one of the partners called it an unprecedented purchase in terms of size and scale, as more than 43,000 customers and 70 employees transitioned from the investor-owned utility to SMEC.

This deal added 4,000 members to BENCO’s service territory in 2015 and resulted in stronger, more efficient electric cooperatives overall. SMEC was also presented with the Cooperative Purpose Award from the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association for their “outstanding contribution to improving the quality of life and the purpose of the cooperatives in their community.”

Through this acquisition, BENCO’s membership now includes residential, commercial and industrial businesses and farms located in communities ranging in size from 600 people to 53,000. The co-op now has 18,702 connected service accounts.

BENCO Electric Cooperative linemen are pictured wearing pink hard hats in October to support Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Beyond providing electric service, BENCO engages in strategic business partnerships that enable a diverse offering to those in its service area. For example, BENCO partners with three Great River Energy member-owner cooperatives to offer affordable, over-the-air antenna television service to area residents. BENCO is also one of 14 electric cooperatives that own Heartland Security, which installs and monitors security alarm systems and medical alert systems in homes and businesses.

BENCO invests in the communities it serves through its Operation Round Up program—a voluntary program that encourages members to round up their electric bill to the nearest dollar—and a revolving loan fund (RLF). The co-op donated $38,465 to nonprofit organizations last year through Operation Round Up, providing funding to nonprofits like food shelves, senior programs and childcare programs. Since the RLF’s implementation, it has provided loans to five organizations.

Outside of monetary donations, many BENCO employees volunteer their time and talents to different organizations throughout the co-op’s service area. BENCO truly is a community and cooperative partner.