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Electric Cooperative Innovation is Lifting Local Communities

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Curtis Wynn's picture
President & CEO Roanoke Electric Cooperative

Curtis Wynn is president & CEO of Roanoke Electric Cooperative & Affiliate Organizations.  He has nearly 39 years’ experience in the electric utility industry.  He formerly held a number...

  • Member since 2020
  • 1 items added with 4,171 views
  • Apr 1, 2020

This item is part of the Innovations in Power - Spring 2020 SPECIAL ISSUE, click here for more

Electric cooperatives keep the lights on for 1 in 8 Americans, but the scope of these member-owned organizations goes far beyond being rural America’s electricity providers. At our core, electric co-ops are mission-driven community leaders focused on driving economic development and opportunity.

The key to spurring local economic opportunity is rooted in innovation. At Roanoke Electric Cooperative in eastern North Carolina, innovation drives new energy products and services for our member-owners and helps them make smarter energy choices in their homes and businesses.

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While the economy has gained steam over the last several years, many rural communities still operate well below the poverty line. That’s the case in six of the seven counties Roanoke serves. They are considered persistent poverty counties by the federal government. And we are not alone. Ninety-two percent of U.S. persistent poverty counties are served by electric cooperatives.

Given the situations we see each day, Roanoke and many other electric cooperatives make it their mission to be more than an energy provider. We must also work to jumpstart local economies.

Whether you’re a hardworking teacher in rural Bertie County or a small business outside of Charlotte, if you can’t pay your bill, you certainly can’t invest in technology that eventually helps lower it. That’s a problem we can help solve.

Recently, electric co-ops in Kansas and Eastern Kentucky demonstrated how they helped their members overcome the unavoidable upfront costs of improving energy efficiency.

Their programs put energy efficiency within reach of those who need it the most. They conduct energy audits to determine where energy loss is occurring, how it can be corrected, and what it will cost. Then, the co-ops became ‘investment advisors,’ and offset the upfront cost of efficiency upgrades and used the members’ average energy savings to repay those costs over time.

Roanoke Electric Cooperative was able to apply lessons learned from those programs and launch a similar energy efficiency upgrade program—Upgrade to Save. Since August 2017, the program has helped 257 member owners get deep upgrades to their homes averaging an estimated $922 per year in savings and has provided another 431 member owners with lite upgrades helping them save an estimated $140 per year on average. Combined, that's $297,000 annually that is staying in members’ pockets or being spent within local communities

We’re not alone in this effort. Co-ops across the nation are investing more in the communities they serve, often aided by technology innovation and ingenuity.

No two electric cooperatives and the communities they serve are alike, but by working together and sharing resources, co-ops are fostering positive change for hardworking families across the country.

Looking to the future, electric cooperatives will continue learning from each other and their local communities to create innovative energy solutions to the problems facing our members.

That’s already happening as more than 100 electric cooperatives offer broadband, promote incentives for smart energy infrastructure like thermostats, transition school bus fleets from diesel to electric, and invest in community solar programs.

We have an incredible opportunity—an obligation—to modernize what matters to our members in rural communities. And the community-focused electric co-op business model provides the tools to meet every challenge. By working together, America’s electric cooperatives will continue to be a leader in energy innovation and a force for the future.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Apr 2, 2020

Thanks for sharing, Curtis, and for the great work to boost the communities of co-ops. You mention rural cooperatives more often operating in areas below the poverty line-- are there any other aspects of the typical electric cooperative that requires a different perspective when approaching innovation compared with larger, non-coop utilities? And conversely, where are some aspects where you can still learn from the larger utilities (and they can learn from you)?

William Buchan's picture
William Buchan on Apr 7, 2020

Curtis, thank you for the post.  As I focus much of my work on innovation and bringing new clean technology into the grid, I am very interested which groups are interested in adopting new technology and which are not.  Utilities are often slow to adopt new technology, though there are a few who will step forward.  I was very pleased to see that CO-OPs are leading the way in adopting innovation.  What drives CO-OPs to seek new technologies?...Bill Buchan, P.E.

William Fortune's picture
William Fortune on Apr 8, 2020

Something wrong !  The numbers just don't add up to anything that makes sense to my nose.   This morning the cost to generate (wholesale) is 2.2 cents/kwh, according to ISO-NE.  The average cost is about 2 1/2 cents and some days it's 1.7 cents.

I assume the cost to build new plants and maintain them to be less than 2 cents, considering estimates by ThorCon for their Molten Salt Reactors.

The Free Market cost for distribution within a State, like NH, is estimated to be about 2 cents.

This gives a total price 6 1/2 cents.  WHY ARE WE PAYING UP TO 19 CENTS ???


Steven Collier's picture
Steven Collier on Nov 17, 2020

Regarding Matt Chester's post . . . 

Matt, there are definitely special attributes and circumstances of electric cooperatives that affect their operations and ability to deal with the revolutionary changes in the electric utility industry. There are 834 electric distribution cooperatives in the U.S. They are generally quite small, averaging 28,000 meters, and very sparsely populated, averaging less than 10 customers per mile of line. Of course, there are several much larger electric cooperatives, and several who have greater consumer density. They are owned and governed by their members (customers) and tend to be very values driven.

You can learn more about U.S. electric cooperatives here:


Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Nov 17, 2020

Thanks for the follow up resource Steven, that's most helpful!

Curtis Wynn's picture
Thank Curtis for the Post!
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