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The Co-op Difference
By: Chris Reese, President & CEO
For many people, the ins and outs of their electric company don’t really matter until there’s an outage or a rate increase. Sussex Rural Electric Cooperative is very lucky to have many members that are interested in learning about the Co-op. There are many things that make us and other rural electric co-ops unique compared to the average investor-owned utility (often called IOUs). Here are four things that set us apart:
1. Member Focused, Member Owned
Rural Electric Cooperatives like Sussex Rural Electric Cooperative are owned by the members they serve. That means you, along with everyone else in our 11,000+ membership, are a part-owner of the Co-op. You get to exercise this power with the democratic voice you hold in our board elections, which decide the direction that SREC takes. Each member of our board of directors is a member themselves. You hold the power to cast your vote for board members and you may even run for a seat on our board if you feel that you would be a good fit.
Our board election is conducted by mail each year in May. Also around that time, our Annual Report is sent to members. This report gives member-owners the type of transparency into Sussex Rural Electric Cooperative’s financials and operations that they are entitled to. This year’s Annual Report is included in this very issue of Currents!
2. You Keep the Profits
As a member/owner of a not-for-profit, rural electric cooperative, our focus is always on you, not profits! This means that Sussex Rural Electric Cooperative does not base its rates on how it can best make a profit, unlike how IOUs may operate. Everything we charge members is designated toward a specific need. On your bill, you’ll see the two main ways we do this: the Energy Charge (which covers the amount of electricity you use at-cost) and the System Connection Fee (which goes toward equipment, maintenance, staffing, and all the essential pieces needed to keep your power flowing).
Any margins we make during the year are later returned to members as capital credits. Capital credits are returned to members after first being reinvested into our system to allow for needed upgrades and maintenance, allocated proportionally based on the amount of electricity the member used in a given year.
3. Grassroots Origins
How can Sussex Rural Electric Cooperative operate so differently than nearly every other electric company? That goes all the way back to the 1930s, when millions of rural Americans had no access to electricity or the modern necessities city residents could enjoy. In rural Sussex County, the IOU of the time had electrified the main roads, but would charge a farmer looking to electrify their property as much as $10,000.
Thanks to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Rural Electrification Act, local farmers were able to take collective action and form Sussex Rural Electric Cooperative, receiving an REA loan to construct their own electrical distribution system and bring power to their community. 85 years later, SREC continues to work for the benefits of its members and community.
4. The Co-op Network
You aren’t just a member of SREC – you’re a part of a group of over 42 million co-op member-owners across the US. We are the only rural electric co-op in New Jersey, but we connect to a larger network through our statewide and national organizations. We collaborate with co-ops in Pennsylvania through the Pennsylvania Rural Electric Association (PREA). These partnerships allow us to share ideas, attend training alongside other co-op employees, and provide mutual aid to one another during storms or large outages.
Nationally, we are members of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) alongside over 900 other not-for-profit, member-owned rural electric cooperatives. NRECA supports co-ops like SREC by providing learning and development opportunities, sharing information on grants and other opportunities for financial support, advocating for co-ops’ legislative needs, and more! You can think of PREA and NRECA as a vital part of our support system that helps Sussex Rural Electric Cooperative succeed and take care of its members.
Sussex Rural Electric Cooperative, and all rural electric cooperatives, have a different style of business than IOUs. Know that our focus will always remain on the wellbeing of members like you, just as it always has been since we were established in 1937.