‘We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.’ Maya Angelou.
Steve Mitnick is Editor-in-Chief of Public Utilities Fortnightly and author of the book “Lines Down: How We Pay, Use, Value Grid Electricity Amid the Storm.”
The nation's rural electric cooperative sector has a long and successful history. The original mission to electrify rural America, through non-profit ownership by local citizens, has been fulfilled.
Today, coops continue to use this model to serve consumers and companies outside the country's cities. Yet the changes are evident.
Coops' customers are increasingly suburban rather than exclusively rural. The customer demographics increasingly resemble those investor-owned utilities with a significant suburban character. And, the strategic challenges and approaches of coops are converging with utilities from the investor-owned and public power sectors.
What's driving this convergence of coops with other utility types? And what are the implications for the future of the coop sector? Let's address these important questions.
Coops Compared to Other Utilities
List the nation's investor-owned utilities in order of the number of residential customers they served in 2014, the most recent year for which the data is available. The two largest are the giants in California, Pacific Gas and Electric and Southern California Edison, serving 4,560 thousand and 4,352 thousand customers respectively (with bundled retail service).
Florida Power and Light served nearly as many. And the remaining two investor-owned, that round out the top five, served around 2,100 thousand residential customers.