What the Co-op Means to Me

Coop CurrentsCoop News

A meditation on Co-op Month from a recently elected Director

By Betsy Allen

When I first moved to the Northeast Kingdom, I heard about a neighbor who was selling bulk food items from her home in town. I could fill out a piece of paper with how many pounds of flour or beans or dried fruits I’d like. Once a month, she placed an order, received bulk amounts, and then we all pitched in to divide up the food into the right quantities. It was exciting to join with neighbors as this food cooperative was born!

It is amazing to me that the Washington Electric Co-op was born in the 1930s for a similar reason: to meet the electric needs of neighbors that were not available to them at that time. Barry Bernstein explained it this way in the June 2009 Co-op Currents. “Electricity came to rural America after the Roosevelt Administration maneuvered the 1936 Rural Electrification Act through Congress. The Act created access to capital for extending power into the countryside by means of consumer-owned cooperatives, whereas, investor-owned utilities had declined to spend the money to provide rural Americans with electricity.”

Barry goes on to explain that the idea of a cooperative was not embraced by all; some thought it was a “socialist scheme.” But they prevailed; WEC was formed and people actually set poles themselves! No hired linesmen then!

When I moved to Plainfield with my partner, who was a long time WEC member, I initially had no idea about this cooperative. But these informative Co-op Currents kept arriving with interesting articles and I began to learn about WEC. In 2017 when I was looking into purchasing an electric car, I read about the rebate from WEC in Co-op Currents. That little extra incentive made it possible for me to purchase a Nissan Leaf. Then, coincidentally, I purchased a used Level 2 Charger from Steve Knowlton, who is now our current WEC President. 

My first WEC community meeting was shortly after my car purchase – a dinner gathering at the Worcester Town Hall in 2017, encouraged by our friend Annie Reed. It was packed! Barry Bernstein led a lively discussion during which I shared about my electric car. There was a strong feeling of community and interest in the Co-op which motivated me to attend other annual meetings and run for election to the Board.

As a new Board member, I am committed to considering the needs of all 11,000 members! As part of a team that works closely with Louis Porter, the General Manager, and the staff, we have to balance financial responsibility, Vermont utility regulations, renewable energy generation, customer solar generation, electrification incentives, line installations, clearing and safety for linesmen, support for income eligible families, grants for community organizations, and more.  

With climate change and environmental concerns, along with the move away from fossil fuels to renewable sources, the important role of electric utilities has grown.  I am glad to be part of this cooperative. WEC is about neighbors caring about neighbors as we make decisions and provide this essential service to our rural communities.

Betsy Allen of Plainfield was elected to WEC’s Board of Directors in 2022.