What is a Co-op?
The Washington Electric Cooperative is a business with a difference: your Co-op is locally owned and controlled by its members and is characterized by the various membership benefits we provide.
Members are Owners
Anyone who gets electricity from the Washington Electric Cooperative is eligible to become a Co-op member-owner. Co-op membership can be mutually beneficial to the member-owner and the Co-op. To gain the most from a Co-op membership, members purchase electricity, energy savings products, and other goods and services. In turn, the Co-op has a commitment to its member-owners to remain competitive and operate efficiently.
Guided By Members
A unique feature of your Co-op is that it is locally controlled. The Co-op’s one member household-one vote system opens up exciting opportunities for members to participate in the decision-making process of the Co-op. Members are encouraged to attend the Co-op’s annual meeting and participate in the cooperative process.
The Co-op’s Board of Directors is elected by its members. The Board oversees the operation of the Co-op, and directs it progress. It is also responsible for communicating with Co-op members to ensure that their needs are met. Co-op members can also have direct input by serving on committees, or by offering suggestions to the Board of Directors, General Manager and staff.
Savings Returned to Members
On the surface, the Co-op looks very much like any other local business. However, unlike other business, any savings generated by the Co-op are returned to member-owners, proportionate to the amount of energy purchased from the Co-op during the year. These member savings accumulate as equity in each member’s share account, so the more energy a member purchases, the greater his or her equity can become. At the discretion of the Co-op’s Board of Directors, a percentage of a member’s equity may be returned to the member in the form of a cash refund or credit. In any case, the money stays in the community to be used and reinvested.
How Does the Co-op Work?
Cooperatives are guided by seven internationally recognized principles, very similar to those adopted by a small group of progressive thinkers who formed one of the world’s first cooperatives (of weavers) in Rochdale, England in 1844:
1. Voluntary and Open Membership – Cooperatives are voluntary organizations, open to all persons able to use their services and willing to accept the responsibilities of membership, without gender, social, racial, political, or religious discrimination.
2. Democratic Member Control: Cooperatives are democratic organizations controlled by their members, who actively participate in setting their policies and making decisions. Men and women serving as elected representatives are accountable to the membership. In primary cooperatives (like the Washington Electric Co-op) members have equal voting rights (one member household, one vote); cooperatives at other levels are also organized in a democratic manner.
3. Member Economic Participation: Members “contribute” equitably to, and democratically control, the capital of their cooperative. At least part of that capital is the common property of the cooperative. Members may allocate surpluses for any of the following purposes:
- Developing the co-op, possible by setting up reserves, at least part of which would be indivisible;
- Benefiting members in proportion to their transactions with the cooperative; and
- Supporting other activities as approved by the membership.
4. Autonomy and Independence: Cooperatives are autonomous organizations controlled by their members. If they enter into agreements with other organizations, including governments, or raise capital from external sources, they do so on terms that ensure democratic control by their members and maintain their cooperative autonomy.
5. Education Training and Information: Cooperatives provide education and training for their members, elected representatives, managers, and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their cooperatives. They inform the general public–particularly young people and opinion leaders–about the nature and benefits of cooperation.
6. Co-operation Among Cooperatives: Cooperatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the cooperative movement by working together through local, national, regional, and international structures.
7. Concerns for Community: Cooperatives work for the sustainable development of their communities, through policies approved by their members.
Members of the Co-op elect a Board of Directors, which in turn, appoint committees to oversee the Co-op’s operations. The Board appoints a Co-op manager, who works with the Board to hire and train staff to run it. The manager and staff are there to serve the member-owners of the Co-op.
The Benefits of Being a Co-op Member-Owner
Being a Co-op member means that you own a share of your electric company. Through co-op membership, you can:
- Enjoy the convenience and benefits offered by your Co-op. Depend on it for top-quality services and products at competitive prices, and for friendly, efficient service.
- Purchase a variety of products and services from a business which, because you are an owner, is sensitive to your needs and wants as a consumer.
- Guide the affairs of the Co-op by participating in membership meetings and electing trustees to the Board.
- Share in any net savings that may be earned by the Co-op. This gives a direct economic benefit to your community, as the money is kept in the hands of the community’s members.
- Participate in special promotions for members only.
- Support a socially responsible organization dedicated to the well-being of your community.
- Become a part of the system comprised of autonomous energy cooperatives through New England and New York.
The benefits you enjoy as a Co-op member will be a direct result of the commitment you make to the organization. There are a number of ways you can get the most out of your membership:
- Patronize your Co-op through full support of the goods and services it provides. By supporting the business in which you share ownership, you have the opportunity to benefit.
- At your Co-op’s annual meeting, participate by: electing directors to guide the association, assisting in amending bylaws and approving the overall objectives and policies of the Co-op.
- Assess the performance of the organization as a whole and communicate your suggestions, comments, and needs to the Co-op through either the staff, general manager, or the Board of Directors.
- Help finance the Co-op over the long term. When net earnings are generated, part or all of your patronage allocation is retained in equity in your name to help finance the on-going operation of the cooperative.
- Participate in activities planned or sponsored by the Co-op, whether for members only or for the community at large.
- Promote your Co-op by discussing it with other members.
Co-ops Have Many Benefits
The electric cooperative in your community is an organization offering both economic and social benefits. While the Co-op is committed to operating efficiently in providing goods and services to members and their families, it also recognizes its social responsibility to help improve the quality of life in its community.
Making the Co-op a part of your life makes you part of a special community of people. Co-op membership gives you a true sense of belonging…of participating in an organization whose members help themselves by helping each other. The Co-op takes pride in being a business that makes a vital contribution to the well-being of your community.
Co-ops are Good Employers
Your Cooperative provides employment for local residents and offers them competitive salaries and benefits programs. Co-op employees, together with their families, rent or own homes in the community, purchase automobiles, pay taxes and use community services and facilities. As a general rule, every dollar paid to a Co-op employee as wages generates another dollar of economic activity within the community.
Co-ops Develop Community Leaders
Your Co-op provides the ideal opportunity for you to develop your leadership abilities by becoming involved in Co-op activities, participating in committee work, or serving the membership as an elected director.
Co-op employees also have many opportunities to benefit through training and development programs. Co-ops have, in fact, been the training ground for many capable men and women who have become leaders in their communities.
Co-ops Inform Their Members
One of the basic cooperative principles stresses the importance of member education. Members are able to obtain information about cooperatives and how they work; about their own association, its history and progress; and about the products and services we provide for members and their families.
There are many ways to keep members informed. The Washington Electric Cooperative provides general information about cooperatives, communicates with members through the newsletter, and is available at any time to answer questions. In addition, the Annual Meeting provides every member with a forum in which the Cooperative’s progress may be examined.
The Washington Electric Co-op and You
Your Cooperative helps in many ways to make your community a good place to live. A co-op, however, is only as effective as the members who support it. Participate in activities. Make yourself and your family truly a part of your Co-op. In this way, you will find the best way to make the Co-op a valuable part of your life.
Co-op…A Good Investment
When you become a member-owner of our Co-op, you are making a sound business investment in a community organization that provides both economic and social benefits. Your Co-op is an attractive alternative to private business because in a co-op, the profits belong to you, the member-owner. That is why co-ops refer to their profits as “savings”. Savings are distributed to each member-owner based on his or her patronage. And the more patronage a co-op receives, the greater the savings it can generate for its member-owners.
We are delighted that you, too, have become a member-owner of WEC and are now part of our Co-op community. Welcome to our Cooperative!