Electric Cooperative Innovation is Lifting Local Communities
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- Apr 1, 2020 11:18 pm GMTMar 23, 2020 11:38 pm GMT
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This item is part of the Special Issue - 2020-03 - Innovation in Power, 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.
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.